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Nigeria Embassy in France hit by passport racketeering

•Officials engage third party to perpetrate fraud
•Applicants pay between 150 and 500 euros for passports that normally cost 90 euros
•We can’t comment as matter hasn’t been reported to us –Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Nigerian Embassy in France is currently hit by passport racketeering, following applicants’ claim of underhand dealings of some of its officials. In a chat with many of them on WhatsApp, they accused the embassy officials of acting through third parties to perpetrate fraud.

They claimed that the embassy officials engaged agents to hike the official rate of E-passport appointments that was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to some of the applicants, the official fees have been inflated from $106, which is about 90 euros, to between 150 and 500 euros depending on one’s connection and the urgency. The embassy had shut down its passport portal following the COVID-19 lockdown and suspended all Epassport appointments.

It however, rescheduled earlier appointments with notifications via the telephone and emails to the affected applicants, even as it warned applicants not to physically visit the embassy for health reasons.

One of those who chatted with Saturday Telegraph and identified himself simply as Jacob, said since last year, a lot of them have been trying to get their passports done. He said after the due process of paying online the sun of $106, they were supposed to get an appointment online, which, according to him, is free.

He said: “It was put on the embassy site that because of COVID-19, no appointments for now. But, it came to our knowledge that the embassy officials have been selling appointment slots at a price between 150 to 500 euros through third parties. “We have been calling but we kept getting the excuse of COVID-19. Meanwhile, some people who are either in a rush or have no choice, paid the amount requested by these officials. “Personally, I paid in December 2020, as well as my wife.

I couldn’t get an appointment. So, during the holiday I got talking with a friend, who alerted me to the fact that I might have to pay through a third party. “I was told by this friend that he had to pay for his family (his wife and two kids) to get their passports done.

“My wife still called the embassy today (Thursday), and she was turned back as usual. She was told she should call back next month (which has been their tactics). “When she pressed further that she has seen people getting their passports done, she was told by the last person that attended to her that she should do what others have been doing, that is to go and pay a third party for the appointment without remorse.”

Similarly, another applicant, identified only as Toyin, told this paper that it has been pretty frustrating for most Nigerians living in France, as, according to her being a Nigerian is becoming crazy. She said that these underhand dealings by some unscrupulous Nigerians are the reasons many of them are not respected anywhere in the world. “Now, it is our own embassy that is supposed to protect our interest that is now taking advantage of her citizens. “Right now, it is impossible to get appointments after making payment for our passports. It costs $106, which is about 90 euros, after which you get your appointment online. “But, they have been hiding behind COVID-19 not to give appointments and perpetrate this fraud. “They operate through third parties, who propose appointments for various amounts, depending on one’s inside contacts.

The amount varies from 130 to 500 euros depending on how urgently you want the passport. “It is just a shame and a sham. I did call the embassy today (Thursday), I was told point blank that they have no appointment in view. “When I pressed further, telling the receptionist on the phone that people have been doing their passport, she said I should do what they have been doing to get appointments.

That is I should go and pay the illegal fee. “My kids are French; I spend less than 30 minutes to get their passport done. And I even get the luxury of a text message or a phone letting me know their pass-ports are ready.

“All we ask is for them to do the right thing. Why are they collecting payments when they can’t make provisions for the passports? These are fundamental questions that need to be asked. “This issue is ongoing all over Europe. Same thing happens in Holland, Switzerland, UK, Belgium, and everywhere across Europe,” she said. Also, Oyin, who lives in Paris, stated that the Nigerian Embassy in France was in shambles. She said: “I have paid for my passport but I couldn’t get a date to get it. I called several times all to no avail. “It was later I got to know that they are collecting bribes to make passports for us and you have to know someone.

“Aside from that, the way they are treating people over here is heartbreaking; even outsiders will never treat us like that. I just hope they can change for goodness sake. “A friend told me that they said if we can pay 250 euros per person, they are going to make it for us, and I have already paid online for the passport. How can we do that when we are not engaged in illegal businesses here,” she asked. For another, who simply wants to be addressed as AY, the Nigerian Embassy in France is characterized by inhumane treatment. He said that extortion and bribery rule in the embassy as one could only do anything with the officials if such knows anyone.

“You can’t do anything without knowing an insider. “If you want to fast track your appointment, you must know someone, I mean an official. Also, they have agents, who are working for them. They work on proxy. “An official will tell you to contact someone or you deal with them directly. Some of our people don’t mind whatever amount they spend on things when they need them urgently. “There is no way you can do anything in the embassy here at fixed or official price. I heard some people paid as much as 170 euros for express appointments. “And the embassy officials are keeping a blind eye to this? This is shameful to say the least,” he stated. Efforts to reach the Ambassador were initially unsuccessful. But, after persistent calls, the telephone rang and one Mr. Lawal Fatai picked it, but explained that the Ambassador had gone home.

Fatai, who also said that the Deputy Ambassador left just five minutes before our call came through, transferred the call to the embassy’s immigration attaché after our explanation of why we wanted to speak with the Ambassador. However, the immigration attaché just like Fatai, responded by saying he was not qualified to speak to the press, and advised we call back next week to see if the Ambassador would be willing to respond to our inquiries.

But the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr Ferdinand Nwoye said he cannot provide a response on the matter because it has not been officially reported to the ministry. When contacted on WhatsApp, Mr. Abdulrahman Balogun, spoke for Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM). He said: “COVID-19 made all countries and embassies in Europe to shut down all processes now. Show evidence of this allegation please.”

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