By Pat Steven
The Nigerian constitution stipulates that one can be a Nigerian by Birth, Registration and
Naturalization. While this seems straight forward enough, the constitution also defines a Nigerian as anyone whose parent is from an ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria. For instance, Yoruba race is an ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria but Yoruba’s are also found in Benin Republic, Togo etc. Therefore, can one say that if parents from these countries give birth to their children in Nigeria is that child a Nigerian? My focus is on how do you properly identify a Nigerian?
Successive governments have tried to solve this nagging problem without success. It was only former President Olusegun Obasanjo that seemed to have unraveled the misery behind our inability to properly identify ourselves through the botched National Identity Card Project.
Subsequent governments have unsuccessfully tried to bring back the identity card project. However, Nigerians seem to have lost fate in the project as many of those qualified have not turned up for registration for obvious reasons and even though those that have had, the relevant agency of government saddled with the responsibility to register and issue the card has not lived up to expectation. I said so because I have done the registration since 2014 and up until now my card has not been issued.
Nigerians at various times have also tried using other instruments issued by government as a means of identification. For example, the Voter’s Card and driver’s license, but this just like the National Identity Card has limitations. Until a Nigerian is 18 years of age, these forms of identification cannot be applied for. The National Identity Card, driver’s license and the Voter’s registration are limited in the number of Nigerians they can cover.
This then brings us back to our focus in this article, how can Nigerians properly identify themselves without any limitations?
Nigerians seeking to be properly identified are therefore left with one option and that is the International Passport. Often times, many are reluctant to process this document because from the official point of view, it has a validity period and many are of the opinion that it is mainly meant for travelers.
Investigation however shows that applying for international passport goes beyond the above mentioned reasons.
However, the need for proper identification has made the procurement of International passport a compelling need especially for class a of Nigerians in the informal sector that needs identification from government for bank transaction and trans-atlantic businesses.
This therefore makes me shift my attention to the agency of government responsible for the issuance of International Passport which has become one of the most acceptable means of identification for Nigerians.
The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) since 1988 has been saddled with the responsibility of issuing International Passport to Nigerians. Since international Passport is the only instrument of identification that covers all classes of Nigerians, young or old, male or female. This seems to have put intense pressure on passport offices across the country with passport applicants thronging in drooves.
Earlier in the year, there was scarcity of passport booklets and the attendant crisis that followed the scarcity but not many were interested to find out why the scarcity?.That problem has since been resolved though, but as a curious journalist on a facts finding mission, I deemed it necessary to investigate the reason for the scarcity.
That curiosity, took me on a tour to the Passport offices at Ikoyi, Festac Town and Alausa all in Lagos State, for on the assessment. I decided to focus on all the passport offices at in Lagos. As soon as I entered through the gate, at Alausa an officer, politely asked me what my mission was and while smiling, he directed me to where I will be attended to. Of course I did not tell him I am a journalist.
As a journalist, I mingled freely with the crowd of applicants.
From my interactions and conversation with the members of the crowd of applicants, I found out that majority of the applicants want the international passport for identification purpose.
The crowd got me thinking about the extent of the challenge the Alausa Passport Office being the newest in existence and smallest in space of all the passport offices in Lagos faces in meeting the demand.
From my investigation, the Alausa passport Office caters for between 350 and 400 applications daily. That means that on an average, this office caters for between 1,750 to 2,000 applicants weekly.
If that is so, in this passport office, then one can imagine how many applications are being handled daily in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt and other major cities in Nigeria.
Without knowing who I was, my application was received and attended to, so also scores of other applications during the three days while my application lasted.
We compared notes on the issue and some of the applicants shared their experiences.
One Mr. James Thomas said “I came to the Alausa passport office for my passport so that I can get a means of identification that is generally acceptable. When I saw the crowd initially, I was scared and wanted to go back but I decided to stay and try as my friends who had gotten theirs earlier at the Alausa office told me I will not waste much time. From the gate, an officer greeted me with a smile and directed me to where other applicants are seated. In less than ten minutes, another officer started calling people in. I noticed that every ten minutes, they call the applicants in. In less than one hour, I was attended to. I did my capturing and in three days, my passport was ready for collection”
A woman Mrs. Titilayo Madu was at the Alausa passport office with her three children too. She said “. I brought my children here so that we can renew our passports. I started visiting the Alausa passport office before I got married now here I am with my children. This should tell you that we have competent hands at Alausa passport office and their service is fast, efficient and customer friendly”.
Without any doubt, therefore, from my personal experience at the Alausa Passport office, my submission is that among many government agencies that are supposed to attend to our identity needs as Nigerians, the Nigeria Immigration Service is the only agency of government in my humble opinion that is living-up to that mandate and instead of castigating them, they should be commended for doing a great job. My submission is coming from the backdrop that this is what obtains in all the passport offices in Nigeria.
As a wake-up call I would like to bring out the obvious fact that Nigerian passport is only valid for 5 years, therefore there is need for other government agency (ies) especially the NIMC to redouble their efforts in the registration and eventual issuance of National Identification Cards, as this will go a long way in relieving Nigerians financially who are compelled to renew their passports as a means of identification. Conversely and in sharp contrast to the commitment, dedication and high level of professionalism displayed by the management and personnel of Alausa Passport Office, there is an absurdity I observed caused by insufficient space within the premises. This space constraint, so observed with utmost dismay is the irony of subjecting quite a good number of applicants to stand on their feet come rain or shine as the case may be, with the attendant inconveniences while waiting to take their turns. In conclusion and in order to alleviate the inconveniences the esteemed applicants go through by standing, I want to call on the Ministry of Interior and the Federal Government to expand the Alausa Passport Office to create more space that will accommodate the teeming applicants with relative ease and without much stress.