Summer passengers stranded over scarcity of passport booklets - BUSINESSDAY
by IFEOMA OKEKE
Passengers in Nigeria travelling to various destinations for summer have been stranded in the country for the past two to three months over scarcity of passport booklets.
BusinessDay’s checks show that the passport booklets are currently scarce because the government owes its technical partners abroad huge debts running into billions of naira.
Passengers who have booked flights ahead for summer have had to cancel the travel plans and had to forgo the money spent in purchasing flight tickets.
“I was supposed to travel to London last week but I couldn’t travel because the Ikoyi passport office is yet to issue me a passport I applied for two months ago. Apart of the money I have wasted buying tickets, I have had to cancel my travel plans. It is so frustrating that a country like Nigeria has failed in all ramifications,” Romoke Akiyode lamented to BusinessDay.
According to Akiyode, she had been visiting the passport office since she applied for the passport and the immigration officers kept giving excuses that the passport booklets were scarce but assured her the passport will be ready in a near date.
“It cost me so much to buy tickets and with this new development, I cannot travel any time soon,” she told BusinessDay.
Another applicant who identified himself as Ifeanyi said his three children were supposed to go for vacation in the United States but couldn’t because their passports were not ready after 5weeks of application.
BusinessDay observed that touts are using the scarcity as an opportunity to exploit applicants by collecting as much as N20,000 to N25,000 from Nigerians who are desperate to get their passports.
A source at the office also told Business that Nigerians who live outside the country have had to reschedule their flights in order to secure their passports.
BusinessDay’s checks show that the passport booklets are presently being produced by Iris Smart Technology Nigeria (ISTL) through its parent company, Iris Corporation, based in Malaysia.
A company in Netherlands is responsible for the biometrics and security details inserted into the passports, while South Africa provides the ink used for the printings done in the passports.
Amount spent on the production and printing of passport booklets annually is about N24.3billion.
Unfortunately, this development is happening at a time when air fares are relatively stable as a result of availability of dollars and airlines being able to repatriate over $600million trapped funds to their home country.
Recall that two years ago, United Airlines and Iberia airlines suspended flights into Nigeria over inability to repatriate their earnings to their home country.
Foreign airlines trapped funds were over $700million, making airfares very high. The direct effect on passengers was many could not travel and those who managed to travel, paid through their noses.
However, air fares are relatively cheaper compared to last year because airlines have been able to repatriate their earnings.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it was encouraged by the recent developments in Nigeria where the Federal Government succeeded in clearing $600 million backlog of airline funds trapped in Nigeria.
“Summer fares are always higher because demand outweighs supplies but unlike last year summer when there were no seats because airlines could not repatriate their funds, right now, there are seats and there is access to dollars. So, there is competition and there is a lot going on. The prices of tickets are cheaper than last year. Things are stabilising this year. People have more disposable income this year, “Bernard Bankole, President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) told BusinessDay.
Bankole said people are still travelling to the conventional destinations like London, Dubai, South Africa and America, adding that Paris and Kenya are the secondary most sought destinations.
BusinessDay’s checks show that last year, Emirates airline return economy class ticket on the Lagos-London route, which was sold for N500,000 to N550,000, currently costs N380,000 to N450,000.