by Okhiaofe Ivharue
It is interesting to note that Nigerians, both home and abroad, are tired of the routine of making long trips to apply for passports at Immigration offices or embassies abroad. Their next best option is risking the chance of getting swindled on the many fraudulent websites that pose as accredited online passport application sites. The question is what can be done about that?
There are thousands of Nigerians living in the diaspora all with different reasons for being there. Many seek work opportunities while others are students pursuing higher education. Some are there because they seek asylum or refuge from domestic or international violence. While abroad, these Nigerian citizens have to apply for Nigerian passports at the Nigerian embassy. For many, especially those who have limited knowledge of the terrain, access to Nigeria’s embassy can be an issue.
Besides the constraints not knowing the terrain poses, obtaining a Nigerian passport abroad has been famously labelled tedious and frustrating because of the distance to the embassy, transit time, long queues and waiting time, endless and futile visits, and there is also complaints of insolent treatment by the frustrated staff.
All of these have made the experience degenerate and discouraging. It becomes even more so when you realize that frauds now capitalize on this inconvenient process to build fake websites that lure people in with the promise of a convenient passport application and delivery process – fast and easy. Some people allow themselves to be vulnerable to these fraudsters because, well, they seek convenience.
Convenience is a major driver for humans especially in the 21st century because of everything technology has given us and still promises to give us. For this reason, it is disheartening to know that a lot of processes are still far from convenient. In the case of passport application, the problem stems from the centralization of these sites such that everything must be done here or nowhere else.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the dynamics of service delivery in every sector of the economy and shown us that there is immense benefit in flexibility — allowing a business, institution, agency, or any venture to grow beyond one physical space. Passport issuing centres will have to operate at maximum capacity to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and also ensure Nigerians can meet any deadlines they have for passport submission.
There is an urgent call to decentralize the passport application process for Nigerians in the diaspora by creating accredited application sites at accessible locations, away from the embassy, where applicants can walk in to apply, get their photos taken, submit their biometric data, and obtain their passports without having to make long trips or go through all the painful plights as cited above.
Just like what NIMC (National Identity Management Commission) has achieved in the diaspora, using a decentralized network of accredited agencies in accessible locations to enrol NIN for Nigerians abroad. Companies now apply to get a licence to set up enrolment centres, complete with trained enrolment agents at the ready. The process is even more seamless when Nigerians can book appointments that fit into their schedules from an online platform and make their way to the nearest enrolment centre.
Mirroring this process for passport application for Nigerian’s in the diaspora will make passport application more accessible to Nigerians no matter where they are — applicants from small towns will enjoy the same services as those in locations close to the embassy. These accredited sites will be manned by licenced trained agents who will work on behalf of the Nigerian Immigration Department. Empowered with mobile digital platforms, they will be able to register new applications on digital forms by collecting applicants’ data — biometric, demographic, signature, and image on the spot.
This decentralized approach will help reduce human traffic to the embassy, and staff will no longer have to deal with long queues; the experience will be pleasant for both applicants and staff as opposed to endlessly frustrating.
The benefits can go even deeper to economic growth. Nigeria ranks top among countries with high diaspora remittance in Africa and the number could be even higher. According to a report by PWC, migrants remittance flow (Diaspora Remittance) will grow to $34.8 Billion by 2023, which will be 11 times more than our foreign direct Investments flows.
Moreso, the gross national product of Nigeria depends on the number of foreign funds that Nigerians in the diaspora transfer into the Nigerian economy. Hence, the ability to easily access immigration services, like passport application and renewal, can encourage Nigerians in the diaspora to sends funds home to invest in local opportunities thereby supporting economic development.
The use of VPN technologies will ensure that data stays within the confines of a secure location and cannot be routed anywhere else. On data security, the data will be secured using Standard Encryption methods for Data-At-Rest, Data-In-Transit and Data-In-Memory. Also, all data transition will be done via secure synchronization protocols; HTTPS or SFTP.
The agents will be trained, and if deemed worthy, will be issued licenses by the Nigerian Immigration Department to carry out enrolment effectively.
Several Mobile Device Management solutions exist that can ensure devices are used within business rules and data can only be accessed by authorized personnel.
Conclusively, passport application doesn’t have to be only for people with patience, time and money. Nigerians deserve an opportunity to exercise their rights to own a national passport and use it to travel whenever they please. Let this basic right not be hindered because of an inconvenient application process.
Convenience should no longer be an unattainable luxury. It’s about time passport application for Nigerians became easy and safe. We are ready to work with the Nigerian government to make this possible.