Strong indications emerged on Saturday that the Federal Government had ordered the Nigeria Immigration Service and other security agencies to mount surveillance at all ports of entry into the country and arrest unauthorised holders of diplomatic and official passports.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the order was issued following a report on the arrest of a former lawmaker in Saudi Arabia.
According to the report, the lawmaker was believed to be holding a diplomatic passport that had been cancelled when he was arrested.
President Muhammadu Buhari had recently directed former public office holders who were still holding diplomatic passports to surrender them since they were no longer representing the government.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that such violators would be charged to court for impersonation.
A senior security officer at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, confirmed the development.
The source said, “Following reports on illegal use of diplomatic passports, the government has directed that surveillance should be mounted at airports nationwide. Any illegal holder of such passports will be prosecuted.”
On Monday, the NIS, in a statement by its Comptroller-General, Mr. Martin Abeshi, urged 21 former governors, 42 ex-ministers and 309 former members of the National Assembly to return their diplomatic passports.
Also affected by the directive are former members of state Houses of Assembly, ex-commissioners, ex-special advisers and former local government chairmen.
It was gathered that the Federal Government had instructed the security agencies to specially scrutinise the passports presented by Very Important Persons, including former public office holders.
The agencies were also directed to arrest any former public official who presented diplomatic passports at the nation’s airports and land borders.
The Public Relations Officer, NIS, Mr. Ekpedeme King, also confirmed that the Service would confiscate diplomatic and official passports from former governors, legislators and other former public officials at all entry ports into the country.
He said any illegal holder of diplomatic passports would be handed over to the Police for prosecution.
The NIS’s spokesman also warned holders of the passports, who were not entitled to them, to return same to avoid embarrassment.
King, who declined to give the number of those who had returned theirs to SUNDAY PUNCH, said many former government officials had started returning the passports, adding that compliance to the directive was high.
King said, “Many former officials have started returning their official and diplomatic passports, but I can’t give you a figure now because we have to inform the government on the progress being recorded.
“For those who have yet to return theirs, the Nigeria Immigration Service will confiscate the documents at all entry ports and borders, and this may be embarrassing to the holders, hence we want to urge everyone who is illegally holding the passports to return them forthwith.”
He urged those who had yet to surrender their passports to do so to avoid being embarrassed.
King added, “It will amount to impersonation for anyone to present the diplomatic or official passport in a foreign country in his former capacity as a government official, governor or legislator when he is no longer occupying that position.
“Such a person will be referred to the Police for investigation and prosecution for impersonation.”
He explained that the passports were issued to the holders when they were in office for use during official trips.
According to him, holding on to the passports after retiring or after leaving office is akin to impersonation, which is a criminal offence.
Abeshi, in his earlier directive, had stated that the diplomatic and official passports issued to former government officials had been revoked and should be returned immediately.
He had said, “Failure to comply with this directive will amount to an offence under the Immigration Act 2015. Such unauthorised possession will be impounded at our control posts on arrival or departure.”
The NIS said many former government officials had yet to return their diplomatic passports, hence a repeat of the directive, which was issued by the Ministry of Interior last week.
FG to get report on ex-senator from S’Arabia
Meanwhile, the Federal Government is expected to get a full report this week on the circumstances that led to the detention of a former senator in Saudi Arabia.
It was learnt that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had reached out to the Nigerian Embassy in the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for full briefing on the circumstances that led to the senator’s arrest and detention.
Sources at the ministry said the report would be delivered to the Federal Government during the week.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ahmedu Ogbole-Ode, said the ministry had reached out to the embassy and was waiting for the report, which is expected to be turned in during the week.
Ogbole-Ode had informed one of our correspondents that the ministry was expecting a full report of the incident, which he said, would determine the next step from the government.
“We are waiting for a full report on the incident from Saudi Arabia; it is when we get the report that we can decide the next step to take. I have made attempts to reach the embassy there, but the telephone network was bad and I couldn’t reach them,” he explained.
Our members are law-abiding – PDP, APC
The Peoples Democratic Party has said its members must have complied with the directive to surrender their diplomatic passports to the Federal Government.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Olisa Metuh, stated that all Nigerians were accountable to the government.
He said, “The Federal Government made a rule; it is the rule of the government. We are a law-abiding party; we are a responsible party and all citizens must obey the constitution and the laws of the land.
“If you have no reason and you are not covered, protected, empowered and you are not supposed to have a diplomatic passport, why should you have it? You should submit it accordingly as the government has directed.
“I do not believe that there is anybody among our members who has not submitted the passport. Our people must have complied.”
Similarly, the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said members of the party were aware of the rules about diplomatic passports and the consequences if they flout them.
“Why the government is doing this is to ensure that nobody will impersonate an official of the incumbent government and being entitled to what they are not entitled to,” he said.