By Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
Corruption, visa racketeering, blackmail, lies, in-house collaboration with touts became the hallmark of the Nigeria High Commission in London even at a time the Federal Government was deploying efforts to launder the battered image of the country abroad.
Dumbfounded Nigerians and foreign watchers of the affairs of the High Commission could not fathom how it became a market place for socio-economic vices. Expectedly, the local and international media became awash with reports of the rot with its damaging effect on the image of Nigeria.
How to address the decay at the Commission has since been of concern to well meaning Nigerians. Of course cleaning the augean stable requires commitment, courage and the cooperation of all the stakeholders.
Sarafa Tunji Isola knows this. And he is confident that he will redeem the image of the Commission. He has since swung into action following his appointment as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
He has turned the table against those who are bent on damaging the image of the Commission and the nation at large, making discipline a top priority in his agenda. He also knows that the cooperation of all stakeholders, particularly the Commission’s staff is required.
Thus, upon resumption he was quick to seek the cooperation of the staff of the Commission. He has held series of strategic meetings, including engaging the immigration section of the mission “on the best was to address the incessant allegations of corruption and other negative reports on the issuance of the Nigerian passport”as well as “to restore the Mission’s credibility in the process.”
Ishola made a breakthrough shortly after one of the strategic meetings held on Wednesday, May 19, 20121. “The High Commission was able to identify and break the gang of passport racketeers in London.” Hold your breath.
“The Mission also discovered 18 innocent Nigerians paid between £200 and £350 to racketeers in their desire to urgently acquire or renew Nigerian passports.”But what gave the lead to the discovery of this scam?
The Mission says“unfortunately, the racketeers issued them with forged documents with a promise to assist the applicants through a “non-existent Abuja list “in the Mission.”While sympathising with the victims, the Mission admonished Nigerians to always explore official channels when seeking the support and assistance.
It said Nigerians should “always avail themselves with official channels in the Mission for assistance on compassionate grounds and desist from patronising unofficial agents/touts.”
With the successful turnaround, the Nigerian High Commission has bounced back without the fear of the activities of touts and their in-house collaborators.
The process of passport application has started. “There was a backlog of 18,000 applications awaiting processing, which were accumulated between December 2019 and March 2021. Officers and staff of the Immigration Section, worked tirelessly to run a crash programme to reduce the backlog. Currently, the Mission has issued a total of 8,852 passports out of 9,964 passports that were captured from the backlog.”
Certainly, Nigerians resident in the UK are elated over the new face of the High Commission. “There has been a surge in the applications between April 2021 and now, in addition to the existing backlog. Meanwhile, the Mission has cleared backlog of applications up to August 2020.”
In the face of the progress being made daily, the High Commission has called on “any applicant yet to be captured within the period under reference”to “come to the Mission with proof of payment, while applicants whose dates of payments fall after August 2020 should await the Mission’s letters of invitation.”
Meanwhile, the Mission has confirmed “the availability of sufficient passport booklets for deserving applicants in the United Kingdom throughout this period and beyond. It is for this reason “the Mission wishes to express its strong appreciation to the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, for ensuring adequate passport booklets are made available to the Nigeria High Commission.”It appealed to applicants to “be patient, as it endeavours to deliver on its mandate to all Nigerians in the UK.”
It assured Nigerians that it has reviewed its activities during this period, adding that it acknowledges the need to attend to Nigerians who have urgent reasons to renew their passports. “In this regards, the Mission would resume the Fast-Track Services in line with global best practices.”
Even with the achievements made, Isola and his aides are mindful of the fact that the army of racketeers operating within and around the High Commission may be plotting new strategies to break the fence again. Therefore, measures have been put in place to put them in perpetual check. The measures include:
1. Continuous processing of applicants and dates of appointments in line with the current practice.
2. Administrative charge of £20 on all passport processing.
3. To resume the £100 Fast-Track service with effect from Monday, May 24, 2021. All payments must be in postal order clearly addressed to the Nigeria High Commission, London for transparency and accountability purposes.
4. The Nigeria High Commission shall continue to adopt extra vigilance to discover and eliminate corrupt actions associated with passport application and processing in the Mission. This is in line with the zero tolerance of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration as clearly spelt out in the Mission’s Charter.
5. Future reports of corrupt practices must be fact based with evidence and devoid of frivolous innuendos and allegations. This will assist the Mission in its onerous task of anti-corruption drive. The Mission seeks the cooperation of the public to report anyone aiding and abating corrupt practices to: [email protected]
6. The Mission will continue to investigate possible in-house collaboration for appropriate disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, the High Commission has commended Nigerians who in their applications followed laid down rules and due processes since the commencement of the exercise.