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Obtaining the Nigerian passport with tears

By Ronke Osideko-Sonowo
20 November 2022   |   5:35 am
When I hear the name Nigerian Immigration, my first thought is, Oh Dear! The notion of renewing my Nigerian international passport elicits feelings of dread, despair, exasperation and exhaustion.

[FILES] A Nigerian officer holds passports. REUTER/Finbarr O’Reilly FOR/SM

When I hear the name Nigerian Immigration, my first thought is, Oh Dear! The notion of renewing my Nigerian international passport elicits feelings of dread, despair, exasperation and exhaustion.

This means I’m already stressed out weeks before my appointment at the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). We all know how that can take a toll on one’s mental and physical well-being. I dare say most of us have horror stories about our experiences with the NIS while trying to renew or obtain fresh passports. This ought not to be so.

The NIS is a government institution responsible for border security and migration management in Nigeria. It was initially extracted from the Nigerian Police (NP) in 1958; then, it was called the Immigration Department.

In 1963, it was revamped and established by an Act of Parliament. Its laws were amended in 2014, and again in 2015, resulting in the Immigration Act, of 2015.

With this series of amendments, it’s safe to postulate that various structures and restructuring have been set up(at least in writing) for tangible improvements by the NIS, but the proof of these implementations is yet to be seen as evidenced by the weariness the average Nigerian experiences in the process of obtaining or renewing passports.

It’s worthy of note that besides the issuance of travel documents like passports to Nigerians within and those in the diaspora, the NIS has various other responsibilities including but not limited to: control of persons entering or leaving Nigeria, border surveillance and patrol, the performance of certain para-military duties, forensic laboratory services of travel documents and monetary instruments.

Unfortunately, the situation we experience here in Nigeria, particularly in the NIS Lagos offices, is not peculiar to us. My sister, who lives in the United Kingdom, recently had a most traumatic experience trying to renew her Nigerian Passport. Below is the detail of her experience as narrated by her.

“After work yesterday morning (Sept 12th, 2022), I went straight to the Nigerian High Commission London to collect my Nigerian passport. I got there at about 10 am. I had done my biometrics in June (had to get there at 5 am to join the queue at the entrance of the commission before it got too long, till the officials resumed at 9 am. I was on my feet for 4 hours, and others including children for 5, 6, and 7 hours depending on how early you arrived… suffice it to say, it wasn’t a pleasant experience (well another horror story for another day).

“Upon arriving at the High Commission, I met others who were there for the same reason. We were told to wait and that someone would attend to us by 12noon. At 12:30 pm, we inquired about the person coming, they said they meant 1 pm. We waited. Then someone came at 1:30 pm, he said he didn’t work there but was helping the Department of Collection, so he collected all our forms. We did not see him again.

At 3 pm, we went upstairs … all the workers ignored us. We saw a room with the label, ‘Head of Immigration on the door, we went in and spoke to a lady inside. She said we should wait somewhere else, and that someone would attend to us shortly. We told her we’d been waiting since morning without being given any information. She ignored us.

At 4:15 pm we were told to go downstairs and wait for a man, who later came. It’s tragic to say, but out of 30 of us (please note that there were also children and babies there, tired, restless and hungry), he gave out just 8 passports. Though I was sad for the others, I was grateful to God that I got mine… I was exhausted, hungry and sleepy, after working a night shift.

“The most upsetting part is that we had all paid for special delivery and envelope that we had submitted during biometrics, meaning our passports should have been delivered to us in our various homes. My passport had been issued on the of August, so why had it not been sent to me? No one there could answer my question. I spent the whole day there and the network inside the building was terrible… 

I thank God I got my passport and I thank God I had applied for 10 years.

Advice: when renewing your Nigerian passport please pick the option for 10 years.”

Well, there’s her story. An all too familiar experience for most of us. It’s mind-boggling that the difficulties we face here in Nigerian government agencies can be replicated in a developed city like London. This only goes to show that an unwise man in Nigeria will not suddenly become wise because he relocated to Canada, Germany or The United Kingdom.

In the same vein, a lizard will not suddenly become a crocodile because of a change in location. You carry your values and character with you wherever you go. It’s not a function of your location, but of who you are.  I do feel bad for the other 22, who will have to go back and relive that better-forgotten experience.

In my sister’s case, it’s clear that someone wasn’t doing his job resulting in the needless and avoidable suffering of innocent citizens, this is the same for some of our government parastatals. We need a serious change of attitude across board. The way Nigerians are treated in some of our government parastatals is undignifying and simply unacceptable.

Being a civil servant, as the name connotes, your duty is to serve the citizens. But often in Nigeria, the opposite is the case. Dear Civil Servant, can you please be a bit more humane in your dealings. Indeed, our government is lacking in a number of facets, but is that an excuse to give up our humanity and refuse to demonstrate simple acts of kindness?

May I suggest to the relevant authorities, a retraining of our civil servants, or better still, continuous and consistent training of our civil servants as regards their obligations and duties to the Nigerian populace.Training in the technicality and professionalism of various official positions, with a deliberate focus on customer service.

According to recent reports in the dailies, the Federal Government, through the ministry of Internal Affairs, plans to open up to 1000 passport processing offices in bank branches and hotels across the country to ease the frustrations and hopefully eradicate hardships applicants experience. This is welcome news.

Being an eternal optimist, I believe Nigeria can be great…. I must believe…. for this is the only home I have. “Nigeria yi ti gbogbowani, ko ma gbodobaje.”

He has told you O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to show kindness and to walk humbly with your God, Micah 6:8

Osideko-Sonowo writes from Lagos.