Consulate, Nigerian Union SA at loggerheads over exorbitant passport charges

The tense relationship between Nigerians in South Africa and the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg appeared to have worsened with the imposition of R2,000 (over N60,000) charge on citizens applying for replacement of their lost passports. Applicants will also pay R150 for capturing as well as R50 for OIS services in addition to the official $106 fee.

To execute its new policy, the mission has licensed 10 agents to handle the passport applications. The agents were said to have each paid R10,000 registration fee to the high commission for the deal.

The Consular-General, Abdulmalik Ahmed, in a public notice dated May 26, 2021, informed the embassy staff and the general public that the passport process had been restructured, noting that passport applications would  henceforth be received only from the registered agents.

The agents are Banesa Khanya Travel and Tours; Walxx Travel and Tours; Wideworld Trading, Travel and Tours; St. Val and Helen Solution Pty Ltd; Josijo Business Group; Oj Job Enterprise; Waleus Travel and Tours; Femtrans General Trading Pty Ltd., Jerimoyamah General Merchant Pty Ltd.  and CEPP Holdings Pty.

But Nigerians in South Africa rejected the policy and protested at the consulate a day before the policy took off.  Protesters from different parts of the rainbow nation besieged the mission in anger on May 25 following moves to further compound the woes of Nigerians in that country. Leading the protesters, the President, Nigeria Union in South Africa, Mr Adetola Olubajo, alleged that the CG labelled Nigerians applying for replacement of their lost passports as criminals. He faulted the R2,000 being charged for replacement of lost or missing passports, arguing that a criminally-minded applicant could easily pay the fee and obtain a second booklet to perpetrate his nefarious activities.

He said, “The CG in one of his press statements wrote that those applying for lost passports are criminals based on the information he received from the ‘grapevine.’ We consider this a disservice to Nigeria and Nigerians in South Africa. ’We are still in shock that a top official and representative of the Nigerian Government in South Africa can claim that his only method of addressing the issue of crime is to impose a monetary penalty on the people regardless of whether their claim is genuine or not.

“This is a serious allegation against Nigerians in South Africa that is capable of having negative consequences on our people.  At this point in time, it is reasonable to submit that anyone who really wants to have a second passport with the sole aim of engaging in crime-related activities will just pay the CG the R2000 and the passport will be issued without much ado.’’

The association cautioned the CG against making unproven allegations that could endanger the lives of Nigerians in South Africa. The union noted that it believed the CG had less than altruistic reasons for subjecting Nigerians to high passport fees other than his stated claims. Olubajo noted that the engagement of agents would further inflict more pains on passport applicants, arguing that the agents would further milk Nigerians desiring new passports.

The NUSA President in a letter to Ahmed alleged that the new policy was a way for the CG to collect kickbacks from the passport agents.

 The letter read, ‘’Consul-General, you claimed in one of your numerous communiqués that passport touts are milking Nigerians yet, you are requesting them to pay a non-refundable bond deposit of R10,000 for them to be able to operate within the premises of the  Consulate.’

 ‘’It is obvious that your intention is not to help Nigerians but to further inflict more pains on them by collecting kickbacks from these passport agents. These agents will, in turn, charge Nigerians exorbitant amounts to meet up with your demand for R10,000 non-refundable deposit. It is not true that you are stopping touts; rather, you are strengthening them to further milk Nigerians. We have it on good authority that most of the agents are your friends. We shall name and shame them in good time.’’

The association equally frowned on Ahmed’s directive to Nigerians in South Africa to always keep their passports, noting that foreign nationals were required by law to produce their passports upon request by immigration agents as required by laws.

“Be aware that all foreign nationals in South Africa are required by law to carry their passports on their bodies at all times. Failure to do so could lead to temporary detention until they are able to present their residency permit,” the association added.

It called for the refund of the R10, 000 to the agents and threatened to intensify its mass action if this was not done. Olubajo said his association members were waiting for the police to give a date for the planned protest. “We have requested more members, we would not back down, we would continue to use every available mass action instrument to make sure that he accedes to our demands,’’ he stated.  NUSA is expected to hold a meeting this weekend after which it would take up the issue with Abuja.

The Consul-General  could not be reached for comments on the situation as he did not respond to calls while attempts to get the government position on the new charges were rebuffed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, who refused to comment on the legality of the Consulate-General’s action.  “I will not respond to your question, quote me; that’s what I said,” he said on the phone.

Our correspondent also contacted the Ministry of Interior which referred all inquiries to the Nigerian Immigration Service. The NIS similarly passed the buck to the foreign affairs ministry.

But speaking on the situation, the Executive Director, United Global Resolve for Peace, Olaseni Shalom, described as unconscionable the Consulate’s attempt to transfer the financial burden associated with its licensing of third party agents for passport processing to Nigerians in South Africa.

“While the operation of these agents can be argued to benefit both sides- the consulate and the citizens in terms of time and convenience in the entire process- the additional cost of such a service that directly saves the Consulate man-hours should have been negotiated into the official rate ab initio. Anything else is an attempt to transfer the burden of cost on the diaspora in South Africa, and this is unacceptable,’’ the activist said.

Shalom proposed a dialogue between the Nigerians and the consulate, saying it would be embarrassing if the demonstrations continued where a simple conversation could resolve the issues.

Also, Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said the face-off between Nigerians and the consulate in South Africa was indicative of the desperate measures being pursued by the Federal Government to generate revenue.

He said, “For President Buhari and cohorts, they believe that the Nigerians in the Diaspora would be able to spare some money not minding that people are going through difficult times outside Nigeria. For a government that is lacking in vision, and wisdom on how to make money, a government that has failed to prioritise human resources or attract people that can help to solve problems, Nigerians should expect more; it would not only stop in South Africa.

‘’Some of the embassies are even broke. They don’t know how to survive because no money is coming from the government. I sympathise with our brothers in South Africa and they should continue with their agitation and sustain it. It is important for the government to understand that this is not how to make money; exploiting the people would not in any way give the government the kind of money it is looking for.

‘’For how long are they going to do this? This has also shown Nigerians that the current administration is lacking in the capacity and acumen to solve the country’s socio-economic problems. The government is looking for every means to feast on the people and that’s the result of what we are seeing now.’’

A former NIS officer and lawyer, Daniel Makolo, noted that the Federal Government failed to implement the reforms needed to sanitise the passport processing system, adding that it was merely recycling policies which failed to improve the situation.

Adelani Adepegba / PUNCH NG
This article was previously published on Punch NG

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