Disquiet over arbitrary passport fees in Nigerian mission

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Nigerians living in Johannesburg, South Africa, have been involved in a protest over what they termed arbitrary fees charged by the Nigerian Consulate office for the replacement of lost passports.

The protest, which was led by a registered non-profit organisation, Nigerian Union (registered with the South Africa Intellectual and Property Commission), had chronicled its displeasure over the R2,000, which translates to N60,000.

They also demanded the removal of R10,000 ( N300,000) demanded of the agents as deposit fee, and another R120, which translates to N3,600, imposed on Nigerian citizens for lost passport processing and passport capturing respectively.

Prior to the protest, the union had, in an open letter to the consular-general, Mr Abdulmalik Mike Ahmed on April 29, demanded that the extra R2,000 and the R120, as well as an additional R50 imposed by the Consul, outside the legitimate R106, be stopped forth with.

The letter, which was signed by the head of secretariat of the union, Collins Thomas Mgbo, added that the open letter became necessary as previous communiqué and plea to the embassy fell on deaf ears.

The consular-general, in a response dated May 5, which was seen by our correspondent, described the union letter as a campaign of calumny targeted at distracting members of the mission by vested interest.

The consular, who did not deny the R2,000 charge, described it as a deterrent fee imposed by the mission in response to a high turnover of purportedly lost passports.

According to him, “At a rate of nearly 60 lost passports per month, it is apparent that there is something sinister and untoward about the astronomical high rate of declarations.”

He quoted sources from the grapevine as revealing that these passports are not actually lost or stolen, but that Nigerians have devised an ingenious means of securing a second passport in furtherance of criminality, and to break immigration rules to facilitate crime, including human trafficking.

The consular further admitted in his response that before now, prospective applicants were levied without recourse to the mission in the excess of R6,000 for processing lost cases.

Mr Abdulmalik said, “The defunct Nigerian Union, South Africa (NUSA), in its bellicose tone aimed at inciting law abiding Nigerians, has painted a picture of doom and gloom and a faith accompli. The money so realised is paid into a dedicated government account through electronic means, devoid of any corruption.”

In a last ditch move by the consular to dissuade Nigerians from protesting at the embassy, he stated in a press release on May 23 that the penalty for lost passports, instituted to check abuses and immigration violation, was not peculiar to the mission in Johannesburg.

“It is on record that agents and their accomplices have always collected and pocketed the fees, even before the current order aiming to streamline the same for accountability,” he added.

Findings by Daily Trust further revealed that 24 hours after the protest of May 25, the Consul released another circular, restructuring the operations of passport agents wherein it announced 10 companies as official agents.

The Consul noted that the business had affirmed that their engagement was contingent on strict adherence to regulations outlined by the mission.

The circular, however, failed to address the concerns around the exorbitant cost of these services to Nigerians.

The president of the NUSA, Adetola Olubajo said, “The consular imposed these charges since last year, and he is now baptising touts to become agents, asking them to pay a whopping R10,000 ( N300,000) for just six months, after that, they renew

“In Namibia, the same southern Africa, no money is collected for consular services. For visa services, the High Commission in Pretoria charges R250, while the consular’s office in Johannesburg charges R750. The question is: Are they serving different governments? If it is a directive, it has to be uniformed.

“Most of us are affected because our wives are not Nigerians. To do a South African visa from Nigeria costs around N40,000 only, plus VFS, but to do a Nigerian visa for them here costs around R4,000 (N120,000) official price. Because these agents have paid these bonds of R10,000, the charge is anywhere around R6000 because they have to recover. So the consular is competing with the touts.

“A lot of people are sitting with expired and lost passports and have been exposed to abuse and harassment, detention and jailed as a result of this attitude.”

Reacting to the actions of the consular, Sod Lawal, a Nigerian based in South Africa said, “Not every lost passport is into trafficking. We have some people that were robbed, some due to car hijacking and they lost their valuable things. Others submitted their passports at the asylum centre, and now that the DHA has allowed asylum holders to change their permit, they don’t have any other choice than to come for passport replacement.

“The Nigerian Embassy in South Africa has turned most citizens living in the country to illegal immigrants. When there is no passport, how can someone renew the permit?. This is very bad; a lot are crying inside.”

Jude Onyetoniekwu said, “There’s no part of the memo where it is stated that you must apply for services at the Consulate using an agent. Consular services remain directly available to Nigerians and others who seek such services. However, the aforementioned rules are for the protection of people who choose to use agents for whatever reason; hence the term, application by proxy.’’

Chukwudi Ibrahim Sylvester also said, “Imagine the statement, “Sources from the grapevine have revealed… Do they even know the plight of an average Nigerian living in South Africa? Have they called a town hall meeting to ascertain the circumstances surrounding issues of lost passports?

“Imposing a fine of R2,000 is senseless and absurd. Anyone who wants to have a second passport to commit crime will not be deterred by R2,000, so what will the Consulate achieve?”

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