(By Shayera Dark)

To say I was irritated would be a major understatement – I was incensed!! Why didn’t I express my displeasure? You may ask. Of course, I couldn’t because I’d be the only one doing so, even though there were others in the office who felt the same; plus, I didn’t want to risk their punishing me for highlighting their irresponsibility by asking me to return later for my passport. If there’s nothing Nigeria teaches, it teaches you patience in the face of patent stupidity and ineptitude.

FOR the most part, I try as much as possible to avoid the rigmarole of dealing with the Nigerian government. Since I don’t drive, I’ve been spared the ordeal most motorists have to experience when obtaining or renewing their driver’s licence. I also don’t have to worry about obtaining the new number plate that have been imposed on all motorists for no reason other than to make money from long-suffering Nigerians. Furthermore, since I don’t drive, I’ve not rammed into or been rammed by any vehicle, and thus avoided the Nigerian police and their web of corrupt practices.

  However, as much as I have avoided the government in certain areas of my life, I haven’t been entirely successful in shaking off the government from all aspects of my life. Case in point: If you live in a house, you’ve got to pay the monthly electricity bills – electricity bills that usually don’t correspond with your consumption for the month in question. How the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the government agency responsible for distribution and generation of power, arrives at the arbitrary, incredulous figure on the bill remains a mystery, but most months would require a trip to the PHCN office to dispute the bill. The good news now is that people have been able to avoid the government in electricity consumption matters by purchasing prepaid meters, which means they pay solely for what they consume without awaiting a visit from a PHCN agent to record the meter reading. That being said, as a Nigerian citizen living in Nigeria, you can only evade the government for so long as I was recently reminded.

   About three weeks ago, I realised my passport was approaching its expiry date, so I completed the renewal form online and went to one of the participating banks listed on the immigration website to make the mandatory N8,750 payment. Unfortunately, the nearest bank to my office wasn’t able to connect to the immigration website on the two occasions I went there. As I didn’t want to delay my application any further, I enlisted the help of the immigration personnel assigned to the company where I work to commence the application process. I gave him all the requisite documents, my passport and N18,000 for the renewal of my passport. By the way, it’s an open secret that the N8,750 stated on the immigration website is a joke, because most people end up paying more for it, hence the reason for N18,000.

   The immigration personnel informed me that I could go from Wednesday through Friday to have my photograph taken – bear in mind that he submitted my documents on a Tuesday. So Thursday afternoon of the same week my documents were submitted, I went to the immigration office only to discover that my file was missing! I was told to “exercise patience” and join the queue for those waiting to have their photograph taken. After two hours of “exercising patience”, I left the place but not before informing the immigration officer, who’d been assigned my file, I’d be back the following day. The immigration officer assured me that my file would be found before I returned the following day.

  Friday morning I returned, only to be told that my file still hadn’t been found, and just like the previous day, I was told to “exercise patience”. After waiting two hour or so, I left as there was no point waiting since no one was making any moves to locate my file. As I was making my way out of the building, I heard a random immigration officer announcing to a crowd that the Abuja office hadn’t open for the day, so they couldn’t start work. This was about 10 o’ clock in the morning – and government offices were still closed? I shook my head and walked away wondering why the government was hopelessly inept and quite comfortable with being so.

   When I got to my office, I informed our immigration personnel that my file hadn’t yet been found, and I was getting irritated of going there and not being attended to.  He convinced me that by Monday my file would be found, and true to his word, my file was found.

  Wednesday morning: I made sure I got there before 8 a.m., just so I could avoid the crowd, but my plan appeared futile as there was already quite a crowd upon my arrival. I met another immigration officer who’d been assigned my file. He requested that I wait a while as they hadn’t started working. As I sat waiting, I heard an immigration officer appealing to the crowd to exercise patience as there were only 3 PCs in use – two for first-time applicants, and the third for re-issues i.e. applicants renewing their passports.    At that point I wondered if I would be spending the whole day at the immigration office. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to wait too long, because after about an hour, I was directed to the office where I had my picture taken.

   Once my picture and bio-metric data were taken, I rushed back to work thereafter even though I was told my passport would be ready almost immediately. Knowing “almost immediately” could mean anything from five minutes to four hours in Nigerian parlance, I quietly advised myself it would be best to go to work and return later for the passport.

And return I did on Friday.

  Again, I arrived few minutes before 8 a.m., and again I met a crowd. And although the offices were open and immigration officers were up and about, they were in the least bit interested in attending to people.  After about an hour or so, a lanky immigration personnel approached the area where I have been standing (there are very few seats for applicants, so most have to stand) to retrieve the confirmation slips issued at the end of the bio-metric exercise. Each slip bears a unique bar code that is used to confirm if the bearer’s passport is ready for collection. Bear in mind though, that the collection date is written on the slip, but this isn’t necessarily adhered to as some people got to find out that morning.

   Some minutes later, the lanky officer reappeared with some of the slips and informed their owners they’d have to return as their passports weren’t yet ready. There was a bit of a protest when some people pointed out that per their confirmation slip their passports should be ready, so they didn’t understand why they were informed otherwise. With no apologies uttered by the officer, he told them to come back later and returned to his office.

   I waited for another 10 minutes before proceeding to the passport collection office to ask the lanky officer whether he’d return to us with our passports, or if we should wait in the collection office. Of course, the enquiry was a ploy to get into the office to ascertain why it was taking him forever to locate the passports.  True to form, he wasn’t doing anything when I saw him, but said he’ll bring the passports to where we were. So I went back out to wait. Then after what seemed like 20 minutes, I went back to the office where I found a chair to sit. I wanted to see for myself what exactly was preventing Mr. Lanky from releasing our passports. Lo and behold, there was nothing and no one obstructing him. Rather than look for the passports, he was more interested in exchanging inconsequential stories with his colleagues.

  To say I was irritated would be a major understatement – I was incensed!! Why didn’t I express my displeasure? You may ask. Of course, I couldn’t because I’d be the only one doing so, even though there were others in the office who felt the same; plus, I didn’t want to risk their punishing me for highlighting their irresponsibility by asking me to return later for my passport. If there’s nothing Nigeria teaches, it teaches you patience in the face of patent stupidity and ineptitude.

   Then around 10 a.m., one of the officers decided it was time to begin work, so she rose from her seat and began sorting out the passports. After I collected mine, I asked for my old passport, but was informed it was locked in another office, and the occupant of said office wasn’t at work yet. I could only shake my head in annoyance and bewilderment. How could anyone be so cavalier and derelict in their duties knowing full well passports were locked in your office? Needless to say, I returned later in the day to collect my old passport which, considering the number of centuries it takes to get anything done at the immigration office, I was surprised to collect in five minutes.

  Why is the Nigerian government hell-bent on punishing its citizens for no apparent reason? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if the validity of the passport was 10 years as opposed to five? And how can only three PCs be used for processing passports in a city of over a million people? Doesn’t this beg the question of what exactly happens with the money budgeted for these government parastatals and agencies? Oh, I know – it’s siphoned into someone’s offshore bank account! Sometimes I wonder if there’s an actual government running the country or if this is the Wild West where anything goes and everyone does as they please, because it’s getting harder to explain the shoddy services the Nigerian government offers its citizens. For my money, most of us have accepted the fact that we live in the Wild West; it’s the only way to survive in the prevailing state of affairs in which we find ourselves.

Dark wrote from Eco Hotel and Suites, Lagos.    


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