On Tuesday, 2nd May, 2023, the ancient town of Oyo played host to the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who commissioned the Passport Front Office of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) sited in the town since 2017.
One of many wishes of the late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi was having another Federal Government institution in his domain. In his characteristic approach to issues of importance, he walked his talk, assigned right people to ensure his dream come to reality.
Adeyemi invited his alter ego, the ubiquitous Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu (retd), who doubles as Chairman, Oyo Metropolitan Development Association (Igbimo Atunluse). The latter took it up from there, working collaboratively with his body and other personalities.
While Alaafin was talking with Aregbesola and the NIS in the Federal Capital Territory, Ladigbolu was interfacing with the Oyo State Governor, Engineer Seyi Makinde, all for that common goal.
These and other efforts yielded fruits when on June 13, 2017, Oyo was named among 68 new immigration service projects approved by the ministry. The Daily Trust newspaper published the advertorial on that day, inviting tenders for the project.
Thereafter, officers visited Oyo for inspection of the appropriate location. Chairmen of four local governments in Oyo were cooperative with the Alaafin, and the Oyo East Local Government donated its Guests House at the GRA, Apitipi as a take off point. That location interestingly is the same spot where the office stands now.
TheTabloid.net gathered that construction of the office had been completed on record time in 2018, raising hope of the town that an end had finally come to their regular journey to the Ibadan office of the NIS.
However, one year after, there was no more movement on the project. Then arose apprehension, especially with a piece of news that a similar project in Sagamu, Ogun State, had been commissioned. It was learnt that the Sagamu office was started after that of Oyo.
That moment of uncertainty, therefore, impelled Ladigbolu to pay a Save-Our-Soul visit to Governor Makinde soon after he had assumed office in 2019. The governor obliged his request on the spot.
“In my presence, he called late Deputy Comptroller-General, Olasunkanmi Olaitan, who, with the governor, approached the Immigration Service Headquarters, Abuja on our behalf. In our continuing frustration over the delay in commissioning Oyo Passport Office, I spoke to the Honourable Minister of Interior twice,” he recalled.
As a compliment to the struggle, a member representing Afijio/Oyo East/Oyo West/Atiba Federal Constituencies at the House of Representatives, Prince Akeem Adeyemi in December 2019 sponsored a motion on the floor of the House to address the issue.
He explained, “The House is concerned that while the physical structure is ready, working equipment to make the office functional for full operation are yet to be installed.
“The House is also concerned that despite much entreaties and royal representation to the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, nothing has been done to commission the office.”
Consequent upon this, the House mandated its committee on interior to open talk with the Comptroller-General with a view to facilitating the equipping of the Passport Office.
All these events now belong to history with the commissioning during which the minister justified the office on the ground of high demand for passports in Nigeria, revealing that about 14,000 applications are waiting for appointments at the Ibadan passport office.
Aregbesola, who had earlier inspected a guard in his honour, added, “The new passport office is a welcome development for residents of Oyo town and its environs, who will no longer have to travel long distances to obtain or renew their passport booklets.”
The minister spiced the occasion with his usual dance skills which earned him instant ovation. In his company to Oyo were the acting Comptroller-General, DCG Abdulmumin Haliru, the State Comptroller, Mr Muhammed Umar and other senior officers of the service.
The former governor of Osun State said the new office is part of the long term initiative to make the process of data capturing, production and collection, all critical areas of the passport process, easier, to address the growing concerns of Nigerians.
“The demand for passport by Nigerians has skyrocketed in the past three years. Nigeria has a growing population. This means that in the past 30 years, more people are being born than are dying. More people have therefore grown to the age they will need the passport to travel outside the country, for identification and for other purposes.
“All these shot up demand, more than our production capacity. But thankfully, we have addressed the challenge successfully and cleared the arrears. We are now producing on the schedule of six weeks after biometric data enrollment for fresh applications and three weeks for renewal.
“But we still have the challenge of the waiting period between application and biometric data capture. Depending on the location, sometimes, the waiting period can take up to two months. This is because there is a limit to the number of applicants that the existing passport offices can attend to in a day, making it impossible to attend quickly to all the applicants, and necessitating the long waiting period.
“A front desk is a facility for application completion and enrollment, where applicants will submit their biometric data. No judgement will be made here. But the application process will be completed and collated for processing and production. It is also where the applicant will collect the passport when it is ready,” he said.
He revealed that despite the challenges the NIS faced in 2022, it produced 1.9 million passports, against the one million produced in 2021; about 80 per cent increase.
The minister further said, “the reform introduced to the NIS led to the Automated Passport issuance process which has eliminated touts and racketeers in Passport administration, introduction of E-border Management, MIDAS and the commencement of E-Passport across Passport Control Offices and Diplomatic Missions.”
He also explained that the private sector would be engaged to provide lounges for a fee, with the equipment and personnel provided by the NIS to make the waiting period after application, more seamless.
Aregbesola added, “Getting the passport is a right of all Nigerians and for those outside the country, it is a necessity. The passport validates your person and existence and without it, you stand the risk of being classified as a stateless person outside the country. But our mandate is to provide the passport for all Nigerians desirous of it seamlessly, without any stress.
“This is the essence of the citizenship integrity mandate President Muhammadu Buhari gave us – that any Nigerian interfacing with the government in any area must not encounter any difficulty, but rather do their business joyously.
“It goes without saying that the more of this (front desk office) we have, the less the waiting period. Our long-term plan will be to involve private operators who will provide the lounge for a fee, but the equipment and personnel will be provided by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). With this, it is possible to cut the waiting period to a few days.”
Representing Governor Makinde, the Special Adviser on Migration and Homeland Security, ACG Segun Adegoke (rtd), assured of the state government’s continued support to the Service, thanking Aregbesola for the new office and acknowledging “It will in no small way help facilitate legal migration of our people.”
In his remark, the acting Comptroller-General stated that the office would boost social and economic activities in the town while calling on officers to be of good conduct and always be professional on duties.
Also at the ceremony were the Bashorun of Oyo, High Chief Yusuf Ayoola, Imam Daud Igiogun and others, including the eldest daughter of Oba Adeyemi, Princess Folasade Adeyemi, who wished her father was alive to witness the occasion.
“It saddens my heart, that you are not around to witness the commissioning of the new Passport Office. At the same time, I am extremely happy that another great achievement was added to your legacy. Baami, you were loved by people who truly appreciate and treasure your vision; they came together and put the finishing touches on the project, completed it and went down in history.
“Honestly, words cannot express my appreciation to Imam Daud Igiogun for ensuring that this project was completed in your Honor.”
Ladigbolu, in his goodwill message, appreciated Aregbesola, Makinde and others whose contributions, he noted, birthed the Passport Office and its eventual commissioning. He revealed that former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Ajibola Afonja, an indigene of the town, provided accommodation for senior officers of the Passport Office. Ladigbolu also acknowledged Honourable Adeyemi and Senator Monsurat Sunmonu for their respective efforts.
“Next is a Muslim cleric and academician who has used his influence and contacts in many ways beneficial to our Oyo Metropolitan Community. He has been a source of blessings to Oyo Metropolitan Community in many ways. I am talking about Imam Daud Oladele Tijani Igiogun who was recently turbaned Khadimul Muslimeen of Oyo Kingdom,” he noted.