MANY Nigerians living abroad, who desire to spend the Yuletide in the country with their loved one, are likely going to miss the trip this year.
No thanks to their inability to have their expired international passports renewed at the Nigeria missions in their countries of residence.
More than 1000 Nigerians are believed to be stranded in Atlanta, United States (U.S.) because of expired travel documents for their inability to renew their passports.
The shortage of passport booklets and difficulties in obtaining the National Identity Numbers (NIN) from the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) also complicate the plights.
Investigations by our reporter who spoke with the parents of some of the stranded citizens showed that the situation is the same in all the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Bahamas, Cuba, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the parent said it was becoming frustrating to hear their children narrating their agonising experiences on the phone and the inability of the Nigerian government to immediately address the problem.
According to the parent, officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) conducted biometric capturing of the data of Nigerians resident in Belize, a Commonwealth country, since June this year, but the officials are yet to make the passports available to them.
“As we speak, the officials, who came from Jamaica no longer pick the calls of the Nigerian citizens let alone to reply email messages. He expressed disappointment that his daughter has been stranded in Belize and could not travel to US as planned,” the parent narrated.
Another parent expressed disgust that the situation was becoming hopeless considering the numbers of Nigerians who have been stranded in different countries around the world and the pressures being mounted on the concerned authorities to address the problems.
She regretted that most affected by the scarcity of passports are students, workers and professionals in different fields of endeavours.
However, The Nation gathered in Abuja that efforts are being made by the Federal Government and the Nigeria Immigration Service to address issues relating to Passport scarcity both at home and abroad.
But the concerned authorities are not folding their arms. They are working to resolve the delays in the processes of obtaining passports by applicants.
Investigations showed that Nigerians have been going through harrowing experiences in the past one year.
The NIN has become mandatory for the issuance and renewal of Passports for Nigerians at home and abroad. The NIMC is the statutory agency allowed to issue NIN.
In December last year, many Nigerians who came home to renew their Passports had difficulties as a result of shortage of Passport booklets and the procedures for obtaining NIN.
Early in the year, the NIS suspended fresh applications for Passports until the backlogs of applications were cleared.
The suspension, when lifted, opened the floodgates to more applications.
The Nation learnt that there have been pockets of protests by Nigerians over the difficulties they faced in obtaining the documents. The latest being the protest at the Nigerian Embassy in Germany.
Sources at the Abuja Headquarters of the NIS blamed the scarcity of the documents on payment system which made it impossible for printers/contractors to meet up with printing of Passport booklets.
A senior NIS official who pleaded for anonymity told our reporter: “Our job is to apply for release of funds to the contractors, once the authority concerned approved and release funds to the contractors they will go ahead and supply.
“But the truth is that you cannot supply when you are being owed. It was not like this when the Service was directly involved.”
The officer, who declined to give information on NIS indebtedness to its contractors, said there are different categories and only the office of the Comptroller-General can provide such information.
He also spoke of the need for NIMC to simplify the process of downloading its app for citizens to obtain their NIN within the shortest period, noting that “one thing is to advertise that the process is simple, another thing is to ascertain that yes it is”.
When contacted on the scarcity of passports in Nigeria and abroad, the Director of Press in the Ministry of Interior, Mrs. Blessing Lere-Adams said: “As we speak now, the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Shuaib Belgore, is holding a meeting with stakeholders on the matter.”
She said the outcome of the meeting would determine the solutions that would address the challenge.