Passports And The Travails Of Nigerians In Diaspora - NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
NOVEMBER 22, 2021
NIGERIANS in the diaspora are having a taste of the sloppy manner official matters are handled in the country. This time around, they are experiencing the sordid state of affairs outside the shores of Nigeria and they are not amused by it at all. They are decrying the scarcity of passport booklets for those who want to obtain the important document for themselves and/or their children and those who wish to renew their expired passports. They are unable to fathom why it is literally taking the Ministry of Interior and the Nigerian embassies an eternity to provide passport booklets months after capturing the biometrics of applicants. This is a sad and worrying development, but the truth is that the situation is even much worse for their compatriots who reside in Nigeria, not only in terms of passport issuance but also in respect of official provision of other basic social services.
For instance, it takes months for ordinary Nigerians who apply for passports in the country to get the booklets, whereas the affluent can be issued with theirs within twenty four hours of applying for the document. And that is after paying multiples of the official price to unscrupulous officials who keep the difference between the bloated payment and the approved price for themselves. One can only hope that the unavailability of Nigerian passport booklets in missions abroad has nothing to do with the characteristic ignoble desire of civil servants in the embassies to issue the booklets to the highest bidder, just like their counterparts allegedly do back home. Otherwise, it would spell doom for the diaspora as it will negatively impact their chances to stay and earn their livelihood without running afoul of their host countries’ laws.
It is saddening to know that some of them are already losing their jobs because they were unable to complete vital documentations that required details of their valid International passports as critical inputs. Indeed, an organisation, the Nigerians in Diaspora Network (NDN), Germany chapter, released a video few days ago chronicling the travails of many Nigerians in that country and the consequences of the protracted scarcity of passport booklets. The group was worried that the prolonged delay in the issuance of the document to its members would create more “hardship for Nigerians and even put them at risk of deportation.”
There are quite a few questions that the Ministry of Interior will need to answer: why is it that there is still a supply-demand gap for Nigerian passports after many years of its handling of their production and issuance? Is it that after all these years, the ministry has not been able to establish the demand patterns for new passports, renewals as well as variations in normal and seasonal requests? Or is the scarcity, especially in Nigerian missions abroad, artificial, and to what end? The usual refrain from the Ministry of Interior is that it is working on the issuance. Diasporan Nigerians are said to be losing their jobs and some cannot get their children officially registered with the state in their host countries, yet the minister keeps saying that “the government is working on it”. What is so hard in printing booklets? And should production and issuance of passport booklets be an intractable challenge to the country in this day and age? This is really depressing. The ministry’s action is not only causing untold hardship to ordinary Nigerians and the diaspora, it is also bringing shame to the country.
The revelation by NDN, Germany, that many of its members visited Nigerian embassies in other European countries, like they did in the past, to obtain or renew their passports, only to discover that the situation was the same in those countries too, is very concerning. That means the challenge is not just pervasive but also recurrent. Public sector service delivery in this country is deplorable and there is a need to reset it to conform to international best practices. Without doubt, and sadly so, the Ministry of Interior is representative of other government agencies in terms of ineffective service delivery. Its shortcomings are currently in the front burner of discourse just because of the sensitivity around its mandate. There should be a painstaking reform in the public sector to engender effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery, reward system for outstanding performance, and sanction grid for lacklustre execution of mandates.
It is imperative to mention that the victims of official tardiness in service delivery who live in Nigeria can always find their ways around the impacts of government agencies’ ineffectiveness. But the same cannot be said of Nigerians who live in saner climes where it is virtually impossible to get away with the circumvention of processes and procedures. It is also important to remind the authorities that many Nigerians decided to live abroad not necessarily because of their preference for foreign lands but because the socioeconomic situation in the country would not permit them to earn a decent living. It would, therefore, be the height of insensitivity and even cruelty to put the diaspora at risk in the countries of their sojourn due to official sloppiness back home. Thus, in addition to unraveling the causes of the current unavailability of passports booklets in Nigerian missions abroad, we urge the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to up the ante and ensure that Nigerians living abroad are issued with their passports on request.
That is the least we expect from a government that promised to be different but chose to follow the despicable footpath of its predecessors in office by repeating the failure of governance that caused many a Nigerian to travel out of the country in search of greener pastures.