Since the Federal Government (FG) last year mandated the use of the National Identification Number (NIN) for all transactions in the country, some private and public sector officials have resorted to exploring the bureaucracy surrounding its process to exploit Nigerians.
TheNewsGuru.com (TNG) in the first series of this special report carried out by its undercover reporter beamed its searchlight on activities of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), uncovering how officials of the agencies engage in massive extortion of innocent passport applicants in their offices.
The NIS headquarters, located along the ever busy Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua expressway in Abuja, is one full of activities anytime, anyday; such that a first time visitor might easily be frustrated.
Arriving at the NIS headquarters, it does not seem as though the rotten practices going on can ever happen there. There are two gates, being two layers of security, and there are immigration officers stationed at the gates, who profile people before they are allowed access into the NIS headquarters premises.
Immediately after the second layer of security, by the right is a building housing the data centre of the NIS. The data centre, on a good day, is more of a beehive, filled with people, not to mention there are no air conditioners, and the place is usually stuffy. Meanwhile, there is a waiting area, but the experience is generally frustrating.
When a person applies for a Nigerian passport, usually done online, they, thereafter, go to the data centre of the NIS to have their biometrics captured. To be captured, the bio data on applicant’s NIN must be verified against data the applicant filled while applying for the passport online. When there is a mismatch, the data have to be corrected.
TNG findings reveal that most often, the mismatch is usually with the data on the NIN. When this is the case, the passport application returns NIN verification failed.
As a matter of fact, NIMC already has a presence at the NIS headquarter in Abuja to make passport and NIN application easy and simultaneous. This means passport applicants make use of the NIMC office inside the NIS headquarters premises in droves to have their data corrected.
However, the experience at the data capture centre of the NIS headquarter was not any different from the NIMC when a TNG reporter visited both in the course of gathering facts for this report.
The visit notwithstanding the exhaustiveness afforded our reporter the opportunity of discovering first hand (with evidence) how officials of both agencies are extorting money from persons applying for Nigerian passport.
TNG reports the NIMC, under the purview of the Minister of Commission and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, especially might be the culprit in abetting the extortion of passport applicants through what is known at NIS offices as “your NIN never drop” or “your NIN is yet to drop”.
Mandatory requirements for NIN data modification
Meanwhile, to have data on NIN corrected, the NIMC has listed the mandatory requirements for the modification of NIN data to include the presentation of the original copy of the NIN slip issued after the first registration and printout of the Remita Retrieval Reference (RRR) Number given at the bank after payment or a printout stating the payment details if the payment was made online.
Other mandatory requirements for the modification of NIN data are an application letter duly signed by the applicant for change in the data fields he/she wishes to modify stating the reason, and the supporting document to back the proposed changes to be submitted accordingly.
After meeting the mandatory requirements above, the supporting documents for data modification applicants are expected to provide in the case of change of name are sworn affidavit, newspaper extract or marriage certificate (in cases of marriage).
In the case an applicant is applying for change of address, they are expected to present a utility bill, tenancy agreement, bank statement or community leader attestation.
For change of phone number due to loss or mechanical damage, change of level of education and change of occupation, applicants are required to present a police report, certificate obtained and employment offer letter respectively.
TNG gathered that for every data field to be modified, a service fee of N500 per field is expected to be remitted by the applicant, except for change of date of birth, which attracts a service fee of fifteen thousand Naira (N15,000.00) only.
However, TNG findings reveal that NIMC officials do not comply with the mandatory requirements for modification of NIN data, as officials of the Commission cut corners and flagrantly flout the laid down procedures for the modification of NIN data.
While some fields in the data are non-updatable and cannot be modified, the NIMC listed updatable fields as names; date of birth; addresses; phone number; place of birth – State; place of birth – LGA; place of birth – country (if different from Nigeria); place of origin – State; place of origin – town, village, and place of origin – LGA.
Other updatable fields are father’s NIN; father’s town, village of origin; father’s State of origin; father’s LGA of origin; mother’s NIN; mother’s town, village of origin; mother’s State of origin, and mother’s LGA of origin.
TNG reports the non-updatable fields are gender, NIN, State of registration, LGA of registration, registration centre, ward, polling unit, date of death, date of death type, tracking number, date of registration; originating centre; loading centre, ID card number, applicant’s fingerprint, applicant’s fingerprint reason and applicant’s signature
TNG reporter’s experience
Findings by this medium when its reporter visited the NIS headquarters revealed that NIMC officials coerce applicants who want to modify their NIN data, fraudulently collect money from them, and jump the mandatory requirements to modify the NIN data for them.
“To change your name you have to present an affidavit, newspaper extract and pay N500 to NIMC through Remita for us to do it. But, if you give us N5,000, we will get it done for you immediately,” an immigration officer [names withheld] who serves as a partner in crime to an NIMC official [names withheld], told a TNG reporter who presented himself as an applicant at the NIMC office inside the NIS headquarters in Abuja, the federal capital territory (FCT).
However, despite making the requested payment, the modification of the reporter’s names was yet to reflect at NIS weeks after. When the reporter approached the NIS official, he was told to make another payment of N5,000 before the NIN could drop. He specifically dropped account details with which to receive the payment.
Meanwhile, several other passport applicants, some at the NIS headquarters have narrated similar or even worse ordeals to TNG. TNG observed based on applicants’ accounts that the practice, which began almost immediately when the FG made NIN mandatory last year, has now turned to norm.
Checks by TNG on the official Facebook page of NIMC show the page is replete with similar complaints. However, the Commission never responds to the complaints nor gets the complaints addressed. Calls pulled through to the telephone number shared via the Facebook page were never answered. Text messages are never replied to.
A probe by TNG revealed that when a modification is done on an NIN data field, the update does not immediately synchronize with the central database of NIMC. The modification is not automated with the central database of the NIMC and usually takes weeks to months, providing the loophole for NIS and NIMC officials to collude with themselves in extorting money from passport applicants in their numbers.
Several efforts to reach NIS Public Relations Officer, Mr Amos Okpu, an Assistant Comptroller, and Director of Corporate Communications of NIMC, Kayode Adegoke to address the matter proved abortive.