By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor
Once upon a time, you actually had to know someone high up in the civil service who would use his or her influence to contact the relevant personnel, before you could apply and be given a passport in this country. This was in the sixties and seventies.
I can’t say what happened before this period. As can be imagined, fraudulent activities and fake passports abounded as the common man was desperate to possess the green booklet, and have the gates of overseas travel opened to him.
Then came the eighties, when social activists told us that having a Nigerian passport is the right of every Nigerian – high or low, and not a privilege or a luxury to be granted to the favoured or preferred Nigerian, by the authorities. .
The gates to existing passports offices became open to the general public and more offices were opened. Obtaining a passport became a reality; whether you used ‘long leg’ or touts, and got it in twenty-four hours, or waited in the queue for a year because ‘the booklets were not available’. There was hope, and going to renew your passport for the other five years of its life span, was possible.
Came the nineties and we were told that as from December 2010, the old passport would cease to be accepted around the world and we can only use the e-passport.
Since then, many Nigerians have been going to get the e-passport, and I must say that though there might be some delay, with patience, you get to have it.
Several journalists have told me that some Immigration officers have been very helpful to them when they needed the e-passport for urgent assignment abroad. Praise God!
Then came the cases reported in this column the other week, of two young Nigerians abroad – in the United Kingdom and Australia, precisely, – who had to rush back to this country to obtain the e-passport, because the High Commissions in these two countries were unable to give them because the machine had broken down, or something else, which no staff could confidently explain. These two people had to abandon their studies and jobs to come down here in order to beat the deadline.
We got many responses to our write-up, and it seems the need to grease palms in order to be issued a passport has not been buried. One is not in a position to know exactly what the real problems were in those two case cited, but should there be a break-down of the machine, or a shortage of the booklets, barely eight weeks to the deadline? Shouldn’t the Immigration and the High Commissions have ensured that there would be no hitch in the exercise, both here in the country and abroad?
We got a lot of reactions to our write-up.
‘Madam, regards your article on the e-passport and our foreign missions, corruption is the basic problem. My daughter has been unable to get a passport in the last six months because they claim there’s a shortage of booklets, but that if she’s ready to pay six hundred pounds, she would get one in 7 days.
‘Sister Helen, isn’t it amazing that at this point in time, there should be some wuruwuru about getting the e-passport abroad? Why should there be a problem at this very tail end when the old passport is being phased out at the end of the year? I’m sure these are artificial problems created by the staff of these missions for selfish purposes.
Even if problems cropped up unexpectedly, since they’ve not just started to issue this type of passport, shouldn’t it be possible to solve them in record time? If the machine breaks down, shouldn’t there be one sent by air to replace it, or, even one in reserve? Shouldn’t staff ensure that they have enough booklets at any given time? Should they be caught napping about these things?
I’m disappointed. Fancy having to come all the way down to Nigeria from Australia to get the e-passport! Think of the enormous cost and of course, the time! It’s a shame on the Nigerian authorities! – Ms Suzanne T, Lagos.
‘Helen, have you been contacted by the representatives of the High Commissions in the U.K. and in Australia, to confirm or deny that they’re not able to issue the e-passport? Has the department of Immigration which handles passports written or phoned in to explain what the problems are? In societies where there’s good accountability, they would have clarified the matter in twenty-four hours. Don’t tell me that no staff of the Immigration department or foreign office saw that headline.’ – Shola, Kabba.’
‘When you think that things are moving forward for the better in this country, you have something like what you wrote on. Who are these people who man our missions abroad? How competent and suitable for their jobs are they? I’m sure there are other Nigerian High Commissions and Embassies abroad where there are problems concerning the acquisition of the e-passport, but which haven’t come to the notice of the media, and thus, have not been reported..
What are the heads of these missions doing about it? I know it’s Immigration that issue the passport, but since they’re attached to the High Commission, the Head of the Mission should ensure that everything about his post goes smoothly.
That includes seeing that citizens have access to the e-passport. There should be cohesion and cooperation among all arms – immigration, defence, information, etc. – in our various foreign missions, for Nigeria to present a good image to the world. Thanks, Freddie, Agege, Lagos.’
‘Ma, I’m sure it’s the Nigerian factor that is responsible for the inability of the Nigerian missions you mentioned in your write-up, to issue the e-passport. You know how we love to make things difficult for our fellow human beings. We like to demonstrate that we have power.
Those missions should have been prepared to deal with whatever problem there could be about issuing the e-passport. There should be no shortage of booklets, especially at a time like this, and there should be spare machines. Not everyone would have the time and the money to return to Nigeria to obtain the passport, and anyway, isn’t it the responsibility of our missions abroad to issue passports to Nigerians in their areas?
If there’s a problem, the head of the mission should be aware of it, and report back home to the relevant authorities. That your write-up, ma, provoked anger in me against our authorities. There’s no accountability and they treat our citizens shabbily.
Thank you, ma. – Demola, Ikeja.’
‘Madam Helen, I wasn’t surprised about the inability of our missions abroad to issue the e-passport at this point in time. In fact, I was expecting it. Isn’t it typically Nigerian, to have problems about getting it at this time, when the old passport will cease to be legal tender around the world?
I may be wrong, but I’m not convinced that they actually have problems. It may be a case of wanting to be given money before the passport is issued. Of course the oga in the place may not be aware of this.
Sometimes, the underlings are more powerful in a thing like this than those on top. The heads should investigate. Nnamdi, Abakaliki.’
We thank all those who wrote in, including those whose views could not be published due to a lack of space. No, we didn’t receive any reaction from the missions concerned or from the Immigration.