I am particularly traumatised because I have professional and social engagements abroad, but I am “imprisoned” in Nigeria as a result of the unavailability of a Nigerian passport as an obligatory travel document. It is important to emphasise for effect that many Nigerians, in their tens of thousands, are faced with this same dilemma, foistered on the populace by cocky, insensitive and trivialising officials of the Ministry of Interior and their minister…
The Nigerian passport is the travel document that all Nigerian citizens are obliged to possess, especially those among us who desire to travel out of the shores of this country, for whatever reason, whether for pleasure, holiday, recreation, business, attendance of conferences, visit to friends and family members. Therefore, it is correct to categorically submit that this is a most essential proof of citizenship that Nigerians who apply for it should possess.
In other countries of the world, even the West African sub-region, the processes of application, processing and obtaining this most vital document is seamless, stress-free and sorted out without much fuss or need for gratification. In some countries, the passport is mailed to the applicant, especially if it was submitted for renewal. However, the contrast is the case in Nigeria, due to the notoriously verifiable fact that the officials of the Ministry of Interior (being responsible for issuing this document) makes the process a living Hell.
At the helm of affairs in this Ministry is Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who was a former commissioner of Works in Lagos State and former governor of Osun State.
Being constrained to limit myself to this issue of the passport and National Identification Number (NIN), to avoid a conflation of issues and sporadic imputation of intentions by government spokesmen and politicians, I categorically submit that the Ministry of Interior, its Passport Offices, as it were, are places where most Nigerians pray fervently not to have any contact whatsoever with and if obliged to make contact with, supplicate to the heavens through prayers and fasting that the Almighty God will intercede with the officials to make the experience minimally traumatic, as a result of the convoluted process involved in the labyrinthine journey that an applicant is obliged to go through.
You need patience and pleading with the personnel and officials of the Passport Offices before you can get anything done, while you spend valuable time there, and must be generous to boot!
These officials earn their salaries and emoluments from taxpayers, but their starched uniforms may be the only dignity that they possess. The environment in the Offices is unfriendly, you are ignored, and wait endlessly.
My personal experience is that: I paid for a Nigerian Passport, completed the process of filling the forms, payments, and surrendering my former passport, but more than six weeks after, I am yet to be ‘captured’ (a euphemism for having my physical data documented in the Passport Office). This is the same story of professional colleagues, family, friends and associates. It is a very sad testimony and a complete aberration from the boastful remarks (everywhere) by His Excellency, (Ogbeni) Rauf Aregbesola about the process being easy and seamless. This claim is deceptive, false, unrealistic and a forlorn statement by a man who does not know the going-ons and happening in a parastatal of his Ministry. It is patent falsehood from what obtains in reality.
Apparently, Ogbeni is more obsessed with the politics and political gerrymandering in Osun State and struggle for power, and wrestling for power with his political godfather and political mentor than effectively supervising the officials of his Ministry or discharging his obligations to our dear nation and its citizens. Maybe His Excellency, Rauf Aregbesola should spend more quality time to see the going on in the Passport Offices, especially in Lagos (Ikoyi) and Abuja or resign and relocate to Osun State, if the outcome of the gubernatorial election in Osun State is far more important to him than his assignment in the Ministry of Interior.
I am particularly traumatised because I have professional and social engagements abroad, but I am “imprisoned” in Nigeria as a result of the unavailability of a Nigerian passport as an obligatory travel document. It is important to emphasise for effect that many Nigerians, in their tens of thousands, are faced with this same dilemma, foistered on the populace by cocky, insensitive and trivialising officials of the Ministry of Interior and their minister (who ought to liase with the ICPC and EFCC, disguised) to witness what is going on in the Passport Offices.
We as a people have never had it so appallingly bad. How did we get here? What is happening locally is well replicated in the Embassies and High Commissions abroad, where the trauma our diasporean counterparts experience on a day-by-day basis, is better imagined than copiously written about.
The Federal Government of Nigeria should forthwith deal decisively with this matter and alleviate our pains, trauma and sufferings as the administration winds down towards the forthcoming elections in 2023.
It is indeed important to also highlight and bring to the attention of government the situation with the agency that issues the National Identification Number (NIN), which is also a very sad compliment to the issuance of passports.
From my experience in Lagos, especially in the local government offices, it is not a seamless exercise. However, in the recent past, an application was made for a NIN in Abuja, with all conditions satisfied, and the NIN was issued. Unfortunately, an error was made by the official who issued this NIN, which was discovered by the Passport Office. The error was in writing the date of birth of the applicant as “5” instead of “6”. To correct this simple error, the sum of N15,000 was demanded officially, an affidavit requested and some convoluted conditions stipulated to effect thecorrect, while the process was said would ordinarily take a minimum of two to three months. But in the alternative and to speed up the process, the officials demanded gratification and a bribe of an amount in excess of N15,000. If obliged, the error will be corrected within five working days. This is where we are now.
A juxtaposition of the complimentary assignments of the Passport Offices and NIN is a glaring testimony of where we are as a nation and the appallingly repulsive treatment meted out to us on a day-by-day basis by government officials at all levels.
It is most important to emphasise that under the prevailing processes put in place, a Nigerian passport will not be issued, except all statement on the NIN align. In the case study above, except the “5” becomes “6” on the NIN certification, irrespective of the fact that they have all the data information of the applicant, a few days preceding the identification of the mistake of their own officials.
As a result, and in the circumstances, the applicant cannot travel anywhere, no matter the nature of the need, even if an emergency.
The pertinent question to ask:
1. How did we get to this stage as a nation and how did we become a people, whose leadership has no respect whatsoever for the citizens?
2. Who did we offend or why are the gods so very angry?
Hitherto Nigerians were well respected everywhere in the world, because of our cerebral competence as civilised and hardworking people. But now? How did we end up with this type of minister of Interior who spends the bulk of his time doing every other thing, except his clear mandate in his Ministry? What legacy will this government leave behind in terms of our rights as citizens and its concomitant duties, responsibilities and obligations to us?
Erudite Professor Emeritus Chinua Achebe wrote his book, There Was A Country forty years after the last novel, in frustration of where we have remained from whe the initial book was written. He must be turning in his grave, very sad, restless and unhappy, seeing where we are now and what we have become.
Our Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka must be saddened about the unfolding horror in a nation that he has struggled the better part of his life trying to correct. Indeed, “The man dies in all who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.” He (Soyinka) continued: “In any people that submit willing to the ‘daily humiliation of fear,’ the man dies”, (December 14, 1971). Fifty one years later, where are we and what has become of us in Lady Shaw’s named Nigeria (coined from the area around the Niger River)?
Our present situation and living can (only) euphemistically and literally be compared with the allegory in John Milton’s, “Paradise Lost”. We have continued to descend from the bottomless abyssmal pith of Paradise into Hell. Apparently, our leaders have been incapable of recalibrating this ominous journey and spending the bulk of their time, at our expense as taxpayers, traumatising and making life and living most difficult for us.
Our lives are no longer secure as a result of a legion of challenges, which includes killings, kidnapping, insecurity, lack of meaningful medical care and tacit “imprisonment”, in contravention of constitutional provisions by our Ministry of Interior.
Who did we offend? Are the gods to blame for our travails and tribulations? Are the gods angry? How do we appease these gods?
We spend good time in Mosques and Churches eulogising the Creator of the Universe and paying tithes and Sadaqah, but our economy is awful, our universities closed, poor medical care in all available government hospitals, while our leaders and their families are abroad to seek good medical care in countries whose former leaders sought treatments in our own dear beloved country.
What is the hope and future for the ordinary citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the homeland and the Diasporas?
Erudite dramatist, Ola Rotimi in The God’s Are Not To Blame, captured the difficulties embedded in an ominous prediction by the gods. He affirmatively concluded that it is very difficult to reverse such predictions. Sophocles made the same damning conclusion in Oedipus Rex.
As it were, It is easy to periscope the government of Nigeria and the outcome of its lazy and poorly coordinated efforts to reverse the ominous glide to the bottomless abyss of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is time now to be back to the trenches in a salvage mission, time for us all to challenge ourselves and speak up. It must no longer be business as usual. We all must reinvent the #EndSARS protestations, devoid of violence. It is true that “the Pen is stronger than the sword.”
‘Kunle Uthman, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lekki, Lagos.
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