Jamaica becomes Nigeria's regional e-passport centre
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
In what has been dubbed a landmark move, the Nigerian government has set in motion plans to establish Jamaica as its e-passport centre for the region.
A small group of Nigerians turned up at the Nigerian High Commission's Waterloo Road, St Andrew, offices yesterday to witness the unveiling of e-passport equipment.
The equipment is expected to enable them and their compatriots to apply to the local centre to renew their passports and receive them within 24 hours.
Armed with direct responsibility for the process, Assistant Comptroller General T.A. Hundeyin, told The Gleaner that it has been in the making since Nigerian President Dr Goodluck Jonathan's 2012 visit to Jamaica.
Hundeyin said Nigerians in Jamaica had prevailed on Jonathan to do something to ease the burden imposed on them, in reviewing travel documents.
Martin Obafemi Olutola, charge d'affaires at the high commission, said many Nigerians living in Jamaica and other sections of the Caribbean have been deemed illegal.
He said while Nigerian nationals are not necessarily criminals, they are frequently deemed illegal because a centre to facilitate renewal of passports was not located in the region.
"And so Jamaica has been designated the e-passport centre for the Caribbean," said Olutola. "This means that passports will be issued from this centre to all Nigerians living in the Caribbean."
He added: "As it stands currently, we don't have a centre in the region that caters to Nigerians. There are centres in Brazil and Argentina that cater to Latin America ... . The United States and Canada also have centres."
The Nigerian government introduced e-passport in 2007.
Olutola said an estimated 5,000 Nigerians are living in the region.
"This will affect Nigerians who have become refugees," he said."Jamaica has been selected because the population speaks for itself: it's more economical to set up one here."
Minister of Interior Patrick Abba Moro, whose presentation was delivered by his permanent secretary Abubakar Magaji, said the historic occasion marked another milestone in the accelerated development programme of the Jonathan administration.
"The equipment being rolled out today by the Nigerian Immigration Service will be used to enrol, process and produce, and issue e-passports to Nigerians in Jamaica and the countries of the concurrent accreditation for which this mission is responsible," said Moro.
He said the Nigeria Immigration Service has earmarked the Nigerian missions in Jamaica and Russia for roll-out of the e-passport equipment in furtherance of efforts of the service towards meeting passport needs of Nigerians in the diaspora.
"This is in line with citizen-diplomacy being one of the key foreign policy thrusts of the federal government and the transformation agenda of the Jonathan government," said Moro.
"Having considered the teeming population of Nigerians in the Caribbean islands and the strategic location of Jamaica, among other things, it was resolved that the Nigerian mission in Jamaica should be accorded priority in the quest for establishment of an immigration desk to enhance seamless issuance of immigration facilities to Nigerians and foreigners alike."
Moro said this was expected to drastically ease the financial burden of applicants who, in the past, had to travel to Nigeria or the nearest e-passport production centre for the acquisition of e-passports.