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EDITORIAL

The Proposed 10-year Passport

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Passport

President Muhammadu Buhari recently launched a ten-year enhanced security passport designed to change the current pattern of the document and bring it in line with global best practices. According to Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mohammed Babandede, the new passport, to be unveiled on March 4, 2019 will have over 20 enhanced features to make it easier for security management.  International passport is one of the most important documents any citizen can hold, giving them a sense of national pride and allowing them the freedom of international travel and also a means to prove their identity. Sadly, recently, it has also become a target for fraudsters who try to create fake passports, or tamper with existing ones for criminal gain.

The Nigerian passport as a travel document was first introduced into the country in 1948 after the Second World War and was then called the British West African Passport. The colour then was brown and was bulky with 63 pages. At Independence in 1960, Nigeria changed the colour to light green and reduced the pages to 32 with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs becoming the issuing authority. The qualification then for working in the Passport Office was only good hand writing as the passport was manually written. The mode of transaction was cash and was paid over the counter.

In 1988, the authority to issue all travel documents in Nigeria was transferred to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), thus bringing about a major change with the introduction of the machine readable passport (MRP), which is a computer based passport, thereby presenting a major shift from the hand written manual method.

The introduction of the new 10-year validity passport is a welcome development as, among other things, it will go a long way in helping to reduce the stress many Nigerians face of renewing their passports at short intervals.Many Nigerians have had to forfeit renewing their passports because doing so can be quite cumbersome and have led many to lose the opportunity of engaging in international trade,while some others have fallen prey to unsuspecting criminals, thereby losing their money and their passport.

It is in this regard that this newspaper call on the federal government to stay several steps ahead of forgers and fakers who may want to abuse the new passport for criminal gain by ensuring that the security features to be so embedded are regularly updated. In the United Kingdom for example, the latest design of its passport makes it almost fraud-proof as many of the features are top secret, such that criminals are prevented from knowing all security details contained in the passport.

It is so trusted internationally that the UK passport allows its holder to travel without a visa to 173 countries around the world. No other passport offers more visa-free travel. This trust is built on not only the document’s physical and security features that help to retain its integrity and meet strict international standards, but also the rigorous process that a person must follow to obtain the passport. The UK passport is a universally trusted document which allows its nationals to prove who they are in a wide range of situations, and the freedom to move around the world. Nigeria, no doubt, can learn a lesson or two from the British model.

Nigeria’s proposed 10-year validity passport should be such that can prevent the Personal Details Page from being removed or tampered with because the personal details page is a key target for passport fraudsters who seek to manipulate the information and holder’s image for criminal purposes. One continuous sheet of paper is used for the laminated details page, through to the page that is adjoined to the back cover. This construction is designed to cause irreparable damage if tempered with, which would become obvious to any person who may need to check the document. Also, a chip containing an electronic image of the passport holder is embedded into the document. This can be used to compare and verify that the printed images of the holder shown within the book are the same as on the chip

It is, however, our opinion that government should review downward the cost of the proposed passport. According to Comptroller General Babandede, the 32-page passport will cost N25,000 in the country and 130 dollars abroad while the 64-page document for five years will cost N35,000 and 150 dollars abroad with the 64-page 10-year validity passport costing N70,000 and 230 dollars abroad. Every citizen deserves the right to own a passport and this right should never be denied on account of cost.

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