As defined in literature (Wikipedia), a ripoff (or rip-off) is a bad deal. Usually it refers to an incident in which a person pays too much for something. A ripoff is distinguished from a scam in that a scam involves wrongdoing such as fraud; a ripoff, on the other hand, is in the eye of the beholder. A scam might involve, for instance, a scheme in which a person pays $20 for a startup kit related to stuffing envelopes for a living, but the kit never arrives; upon receiving the money, the recipient flees. A ripoff, on the other hand, might be a business opportunity in which a person pays $375 for bulk vending machines worth $75. The fact that the advertised product actually arrives – even though it is worth far less than the purchase price – makes it a ripoff, not a scam.

Not content with the daily looting of treasuries, bribes and all other forms of corruption perpetrated on the Nigerian people, home and abroad, it seems officials of the Nigerian Government, through the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has devised a very innovative way of ripping off Nigerians who live abroad.

It is the cost of the new e-Passport.

If you live in Nigeria, the cost of the e-Passport is 8,750 Naira. This, taking US$1.00 to be 175 Naira, and British £1.00 to be 250 Naira, translates to US$50.00 and British £35.00 respectively. Please note that there will always be fluctuations in the exchange rate every time.

If you are applying from outside Nigeria, the cost is US$110.00, translating to a whooping 19,250 Naira or British £75.00. It is outrageous. I do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that this a government trying to make money from Nigerians living outside the country on the misplaced premise that these set of Nigerians are making their money in hard currencies like the Dollar and the Pound.

What this means is that were I to be living in Nigeria, I could get two e-passports for two of my children instead of one, and still have change left.

I can understand if there is an add-on cost of maybe £10 to £15 to cover administrative costs of processing the e-passports from Nigeria and then sending them abroad in bulk, but charging well over twice the amount for the same product fits snuggly with the above definition of a ripoff.

Furthermore in the UK, as from 5th May 2009, the Nigeria High Commission will be adding £50.00 to the cost of the application to cover, as they said, administrative costs, since the $110.00 per e-Passport is repatriated directly to the Nigeria Immigration Service. This means the total cost of applying to have a Nigerian e-Passport in the UK will be £125.00.

This is one hefty sum, but because the mentality in Nigeria in general is that
those Nigerians living abroad literarily pick money off the ground, from gold-lined streets or grow money on trees, this perception adheres even in the bureaucracy. And of course, knowing our government officials, they will probably embezzle the vast proceeds from their ripoffs, and only an infinitesimal amount of it will end up in the government coffers. Pardon me, but I just find it extremely difficult to trust our bureaucrats, civil servants and politicians, not to talk of the uniformed services such as Immigration, Prisons, Road Safety, Customs, and, you guessed it, the Police.

I will nevertheless give some credit and commend both the Nigeria Immigration Service and our Diplomatic Missions abroad for making the application for Passports a bit technologically modern, less arduous and less chaotic than previously, but the costs is a big concern, I am sure, to many Nigerians living abroad.

The application process itself could be revised. Before you can apply, you need to have a Google e-mail account. It is from your Google account that you can now go on to the Nigeria Immigration Service website and enter your details.  Why force people to have Google accounts?

Another flaw in the application procedure is that when you scale through the application and payment processes, you are then allocated an Interview date. Unfortunately, what you are given is a date to attend an interview, bring in the required documents, but there is no Interview time given. This kind of makes it a free for all, because it means first come first served, and you may spend the whole day at the High Commission. This should be reviewed and put right.

Yet another great concern is that of security on the site. I had wanted to use another credit card to pay for the application for my daughter, because I was making two applications. The moment I completed the second applications and pressed “Payment Options”, the site immediately recognised my previous credit card and processed the second application using my first credit card, which I had no intention of using. It did not allow me to input my second credit card details, and just proceeded using my apparently stored first credit card without allowing me to change the details. This I find very alarming and dangerous.

So how do we complain about this rip-off deliberately directed at Nigerians living abroad?

Nigerians abroad can contact the Nigeria Immigration Service on http://www.immigration.gov.ng and email them at  info@immigration.gov.ng or write them at Nigeria Immigration Service, Old Federal Secretariat Complex, Area 1, Garki ,  P.M.B. 38, Garki, Abuja or Fax them on +234-9-2341550.

We should also protest this ripoff to Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives and the overseeing Ministry of the Interior at their appropriate addresses in Abuja.

A concerted protest might help, but we should not just sit back and watch while they rip us off everytime.