Despite several passport renewal requests from Nigerians in the country, the Nigerian high commission in Canada announced an indefinite suspension of its activities on Tuesday.
According to a statement provided on its website, the embassy hinged the decision on the fact that people show up at the chancery uninvited, adding that the special intervention arrangements for emergency cases have been suspended.
Also, some citizens were accused of assaulting one of the embassy’s staff on Friday.
“On a number of occasions people seeking passport renewal came to the chancery without an appointment and acted in a most unruly manner, disturbing the peace and acting in an abusive manner, banging windows Etc.
“Matters came to a head on Friday August 14, 2020 when a group showed up at the High Commission and refused to allow the embassy staff members to attend to those who had appointments. They insisted that we had to attend to everybody who showed up. They went as far as holding a female staff member who went to address them hostage for over twenty minutes and subjected her to physical abuse,” the statement read.
The embassy added that it does not have enough passport booklets available, owing to the closure of airspace by many countries including Nigeria, to check the spread of COVID-19.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that many Nigerians residing in different parts of Canada have applied for the renewal of their passports for the purpose of extending their work permits, study visas or seeking medical care abroad.
These categories of people, after paying for the new passport, meet a gridlock at the embassy’s only office in Canada located in Ottawa.
One of the applicants who identified herself as Ruth told PREMIUM TIMES that she contacted the commission in July and told the officer how desperate she was for the passport.
The researcher, who lives in Edmonton, should be in Turkey for the second phase of myomectomy, the surgical procedure to remove fibroid, in September.
The trip will be cancelled if she fails to renew the passport, which will expire in October, she said. The validity of her passport should not be less than six months for the Turkish authorities not to turn her back at the airport.
According to her, the staff in charge of passport renewal mentioned that they have been attending to 10 Nigerians daily on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
She fixed an appointment with the officer at the commission for Friday but was not attended to. She had flown into Ottawa, a five hours trip from Edmonton.
“The man who I had informed before booking my flight ticket, told me that they couldn’t attend to me because I did not tell him prior to the trip. I spent 1,500 Canadian dollars on the trip alone. I was so angry.”
“I was not the only one. I met so many Nigerians who came from Alberta, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and other cities in Canada. They were all angry,” she said, while narrating her ordeal.
“We all need to be socially responsible in Nigeria, honestly, or no progress would be made. Tomorrow everyone will shout “government” but the injustice we show each other is worse. People should learn to respect the lives, resources etc of others,” she advised.
Speaking on the alleged assault, Ruth, who said she did not witness such, described it as an expected revolt from the frustrated individuals.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say much. However, it is to be expected that people will revolt when being treated like they don’t matter on sensitive issues. They must have been extremely frustrated. We push people to the wall too often as Nigerians.”
Calling for the intervention of necessary authorities, she urged that with the commencement of operations in Ottawa and Ontario, the embassy should not delay on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now, businesses have started opening in Ottawa, Ontario… So, COVID-19 is not an excuse as long as you put safety measures in place.”
Long Before COVID-19…
The embassy’s seeming ineptitude, poor communication and bad service delivery had been on long before the COVID-19 pandemic, PREMIUM TIMES gathered.
A frustrated Nigerian, Oluwakemi Ola, in a viral video filmed in 2019, promised to burn her Nigerian passport after obtaining her Canadian citizenship.
The young lady, who busted in tears in the interview with CBS network, said she had spent 300 dollars on transportation from London Ontario for biometrics only for the embassy office to be on lock.
“I spent $300, came here last night. I’m a student. I don’t have $300 to spend. My rent is $300 a month. I spent $300. You come here. And how do they treat you? there’s no courtesy. they don’t even treat you like you’re human.
“All they had to do two days ago was put something on the Internet. People cancel their flight. This $300 I spent, I don’t know where I’m gonna get the money to come back and I have to. I’m not Canadian yet. But the moment I am Canadian, I am burning this passport. I will burn it and I will never ever in my life get a Nigerian passport.”
Jackson Ude, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, also attested to the poor service delivery in the embassy office.
“Nigerian embassy in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, has been in a horrible mess since 19… I lived in that town for one year while in grad school and twice I went there, I never went back!” he once posted on Twitter.
Agboola Peter, a public speaker and consultant, took to his Twitter page in March to accuse the high commission of not processing passports because the machine was faulty.
“The Nigerian embassy in Ottawa, capital of Canada could not process passport renewal because the machine has spoilt and the Engineer to fix it has to come from Abuja, Nigeria.
“The funniest is that the person was rejected Canada Visa last week Thursday.”
Another user, @_Adunns, posted “For any Nigerian living in Canada, when you need services of the Nigerian embassy, just know you’re in for bullshit. First of all, just know they gist about your concerns/complaints/issues as soon as you finish the call with the customer service representative. (I witnessed it).”
A young man, who does not want his name in print, narrated how he was compelled to pay extra charges because the embassy office had run out of 32-page booklets at the point of capturing his biometrics in March.
“Eventually we were made to wait. When it was time to get our details taken, they told everyone that they didn’t have 32 page passports. They claimed to only have 64 pages and as such, we had to pay another fee! I asked them why couldn’t we just pay the balance left and they strictly refused.
“The financial firm for the Nigerian embassy in Canada is called “Innovate Services” but the email I was asked to send my money to was “nimble services”, he said, providing a proof of payment.
Commenting on his experience, he said they were not allowed to eat inside the embassy and he had to stay on the staircase to have his lunch.
“The staff were rude! They yelled at us! One even insulted me!” he told this newspaper on Wednesday morning.
As of the time of filing this report, the embassy is yet to respond to enquiries sent to its direct email address about its services.
Nigerian authorities speak
The spokesperson of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Sunday James, denied the shortage of passport booklets when contacted on Wednesday morning.
“Not all embassies have reopened and this is because of the policies of the host countries,” Mr James told PREMIUM TIMES.
He, however, promised to render his assistance to those with special concerns like Ruth and demanded that their details be sent to him.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) spokesperson, Abdulrahman Balogun, condemned the ill-treatment of the nationals in Canada.
“It is highly condemnable. I have heard from your end and we’ll also reach out to the high commission there for their side of the story,” Mr Balogun said.