Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has commenced a process to introduce private agents for the processes of applications for relevant immigration documents such as citizenship and residency permits, business permits and formation of statutory marriages, among others.

This is contained in a fresh advertorial published on page three of the Tenders Journal of 23 January, and signed by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Shuaibu Belgore.

The new process, when approved, would empower the private agents to impose service charges on applicants, and that personal applications may no longer be processed.

But this new move by the Minister is against the act establishing the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) which places the responsibility of processes of issuance of international passports, residency permits, and visas, among others, at the doorstep of the NIS and its comptroller general as the accounting officer.

It is also against the Minister’s avowed commitment to eradicating middlemen in the process of relevant documents such as international passports. Mr Aregbesola has never insisted on the introduction of technology to limit human interface in the application and acquisition from relevant agencies under his watch.

But an aide to the minister, Sola Fasure, has defended the policy, describing it as part of the ministry’s efforts at ensuring improved coordination, accountability, and efficiency.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson at the NIS, Tony Akuneme, denied knowledge of the development, saying he was yet to be briefed on the matter by the management.

However, an insider at the ministry, who does not want to be quoted for fear of sanctions, has described the new initiative as “fraudulent” and a channel “to find food for the boys.”

New process

In the advertorial, which was titled: “Selection of Licensed Agents for the Processing of Applications Related to the Grant of Business Permits, Expatriate Quota, Formation of Statutory Marriages, Citizenship/Residency Permit and Licensing of Public Places of Worship Request for Expression of Interest (Eoi),” interested bidders are expected to submit their applications on or before Tuesday, 7 February.

The notice further states that the application documents shall be opened also on 7 February at the expiration of the deadline for submission.

According to the notice, the tasks for the successful agents shall be “to facilitate and seek approvals on behalf of their clients for expatriate quota related matters, citizenship applications, licensing of public places of worship, as well as applications for the formation of statutory marriages.”

“The Agents will be charged with the responsibility of verifying the information provided and ensuring all requirements are satisfied while ensuring their clients meet the conditions of their permits. They would also have reporting obligations to the Ministry,” it added.

Similar failed past attempt

It is not the first time Mr Aregbesola is attempting to commercialise the services provided by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

In 2021, the former Osun State governor introduced middlemen in the processes of passport processing with the launch of what he called: “Passport Express Centres.”

At the inauguration of the pioneer office of the express centre in the Maitama area of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 2021, it was announced that applicants in need of international passports in 24 hours would pay a service charge of N30,000 while those in need of the documents in 48 hours would pay N20,000.

However, following the criticism of the process by many Nigerians, who described the move as exploitative, President Muhammdu Buhari ordered its cancellation and that the NIS should be entirely responsible for issuance processes. The President had cited the security implications of exposing the nation’s travel documents to too many middlemen and the need to protect its sanctity and integrity.

What law says

The Immigration Act 2015, which repealed the Immigration Act, Cap. I1, LFN, 2004, and the Passport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Cap. P1, LFN, 2004], “sets out the provisions for matters relating to immigration, passports, visas, resident permits, work permits, and the prohibition of smuggling of migrants into and from Nigeria, and for the protection of and provision of remedies and assistance to objects of smuggling of migrants offences in Nigeria.”

Though the minister serves as the Chairman of the Civil Defence, Correctional, Fire and Immigration Service Board (CDCFIB) which is in charge of the policy direction of the agency, the NIS establishing Act in Part 1, Section 2, empowers the Comptroller General of Immigration to oversee the day-to-day running of the organisation.

The Act states in part: “The Comptroller-General shall subject to directives by the Minister on matters of policy, be charged with the responsibility for the day-to-day administration of this Act or any other enactment conferring immigration duties upon him, including the performance of those duties specified in Section 2 of this Act.”

But investigations shows that the Minister is executing this without carrying along the NIS leadership.

Minister defends action

In a telephone interview with the minister’s media aide, Mr Fasure, he said there is a department of Citizenship at the ministry that is responsible for such matters and that it is within the purview of the minister to take make such decisions that can improve services rendered.

He said: “As I have said, the new process is to help the applicants to perfect their applications. That is all.”

Asked about the cost of the new services by the agents, Mr Fasure said the details are not out yet and that he could not comment on “such aspects for now.”

When Mr Fasure was also asked about the timing of the new policy he said it is only a coincidence with the period the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is winding down.

“I think it is just the maturation that is now seen but many processes must have gone into it. So it could only be by coincidence,” he said.

“NIS unaware”

In a telephone interview with the NIS Public Relations Officer, Tony Akuneme, he was unaware of the development and would not be able to comment on the matter.

He urged the reporter to forward a copy of the advertorial to him for onward delivery to the management of the agency for appropriate response.

However, since the document was forwarded to Mr Akuneme as advised he was yet to respond as of the time of filing this report.

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