t is not strange to be treated poorly and unprofessionally by most Nigerian Civil Servants in Nigeria who only respond when tipped. It is also not out of the ordinary to be asked for bribe to get something done in Nigeria by public workers who suddenly become efficient once money has changed hands. How else can you explain the quick turn-around for obtaining Nigerian International Passport if you decide to skip the queue and rather pay a higher price than the official amount? Meanwhile, those who want to pay the exact amount end up waiting endlessly before getting their passport. This is common in Nigeria and it is almost accepted as if this is the norm.
However, what is not so common is when private enterprises engage in this kind of practice. My cousin (a Canadian citizen) recently had to register his SIM card with MTN and therefore proceeded to MTN office to get it done. He was told by some hawkers that it was better to register it through them for just a payment of N2000 rather than spend the whole day on the line at the MTN office attempting to do it free of charge. He ignored these guys and proceeded to the office to queue up. He was on the line for a very long time before deciding to heed the advice of the hawkers. He paid N2000 and in a matter of minutes, the SIM card registration was done. Consequently, he took one of them aside and asked what made the difference. He was told that, some of the MTN staffs collude with them and once someone pays up, they place a call to their insider who effects the registration. The call placed by the hawkers take precedence over the folks queuing up which explains why they end up staying in line for a significant amount of time. The hawker further said whatever amount made is shared with the MTN staffs inside. This episode about MTN is just to underscore the prevalence of corruption in several of our institutions whether Government or private.
In stark contrast to this practice is what obtains in most developed countries. In most developed nations, most public workers are very much accountable and do their job without requiring any sort of inducement. Furthermore, most public workers know that their job is to serve their country in whatever capacity. The case is different for most Nigerian Public workers who make it look like they are doing those they are supposed to serve a favour. This attitude help explain why an Immigration officer who is supposed to produce passport for Nigerian citizens assume that she has to be commended, cuddled, or even bribed for doing his or her job.
Two treatments meted out to me and my wife epitomises the unprofessional and shabby treatments Nigerians receive at the hands of Nigerian High Commission, Ottawa staffs who are supposed to serve them. I do need to give some background before highlighting the shabby treatments.
In April 2010, I was in Winnipeg, Canada when agents from the Nigeria Immigration Service came from Nigeria to facilitate the issuance of e-passport to Nigerians in Diaspora since the e-passport machine was not available in the Nigerian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada. The process was coordinated by NAMI (Nigerian Association of Manitoba Incorporated) and anyone interested in obtaining the e-passport was asked to pay CAD$30 to NAMI which was used to provide accommodation and feeding to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) agents, CAD$30 (money order) to Nigerian High Commission, Ottawa, US$65 for the e-passport, and a self-addressed envelope which would be used to send the completed passport to the applicant. A lot of Nigerians in Winnipeg including my wife and I participated in this exercise. We were advised by the Immigration Agents to sue one self-addressed envelope as families.
After waiting about a year (at this time we had relocated to Ottawa), my brother in Winnipeg received the self-addressed envelope from the Nigeria High Commission, Ottawa. However, only my wife's passport was processed. I was alarmed and consequently went to the Nigerian High Commission's office here in Ottawa to find out what had happened to my passport. I was subsequently told that mine had not been processed which was the same problem facing a lot of Nigerians in Winnipeg at the time. Mr. Njita who was the immigration agent at the Nigerian High Commissionís office at the time showed me the list containing all the names of Winnipeggers that had not yet received their passport. I was one of them. I was patient and visited the Embassy several times to find out the progress of my passport. Each time it was the same story. They were waiting for Abuja to process mine. I gave him my number for him to give me a call once mine arrives since my address with them was no longer valid and I was just 20 minutes drive from the Embassy.
Unfortunately Mr.Njita who knew about my case and was a member of the group that came to Winnipeg for the passport issuance was no longer in the Nigerian High Commission, Ottawa's office as he was redeployed. Ms. Helen who took over could not find my name in the list she had. Note that at this time I had no documentation to show I participated in the exercise in Winnipeg. After several attempts from 2011 to 2012, she finally agreed to capture my image and collect my data as if she was issuing a fresh passport but it was shown in the system that my passport was in Abuja. She subsequently got my passport when she travelled to Nigeria. She called me to come and pick up my passport and I went to get it thinking it was going to be easy. I was shocked when she requested for proof of payment. I kept explaining to her that I have no documentation showing proof of payment but she did not want to hear anything of sort. She walked out on me stating that she was very busy and had no time to listen to me.
I left there feeling really sad for Nigeria since I know the treatment was rather callous. First and foremost, all my payment notification was submitted to NIS in 2010 during the exercise and no one I know (my wife included) who received their passport was asked to resubmit their payment notification since completed passports were just mailed out to applicants in their self-addressed envelope. Secondly, I searched my e-mail and got a Google checkout from 2010 indicating my payment and I took that to Ms. Helen but she was irate. She told me categorically that she did a favour for me by even processing the passport. She was insistent on the payment notification from NIS as the only panacea. She basically gave me no time whatsoever to explain. Note that after almost 3 years, I could not find my application ID and reference ID that was required to get the payment notification from NIS that she wants. All I could provide is the e-mail from Google checkout indicating I paid the US$65 and for all intent and purpose that should have sufficed. If she had requested for a statement from my MasterCard showing that US$65 was charged to my account I was willing to provide but she was not willing to talk to me at all. In addition, there are NAMI executives at the time that will easily corroborate my story if she was willing to listen.
I thereafter contacted the High Commissionerís office through telephone calls and several e-mails and never got even an acknowledgement of any e-mail. What I find is that the Immigration Officer acts as if she is a God unto herself and absolutely nothing anyone says is sufficient to change her mind. She once threatened a guy that even if her mother begs her she will not produce the guyís passport.
The second episode that highlights the shabby treatment meted out to fellow Nigerians by the Embassy was when a friend in Winnipeg asked my wife to help her secure a Nigerian Visa for her son as they were travelling to Nigeria. She sent all the documentations and the child passport to my wife including proof of payment. The grandmother of this baby is equally a top immigration Officer in Nigeria who had come to Winnipeg to visit her daughter. The grandmother had contacted Ms. Helen about my wife coming to help secure the Visa for her grandson and Ms. Helen assured her that the Visa will be processed quickly. Based on this assurance my wife went to the embassy in the middle of her work. When she got to the Embassy at about 11:00 AM Ms. Helen had not arrived and my wife was asked to see the second Immigration agent who was a subordinate to Ms. Helen. At this time my wife had called the grandmother who insisted that she wanted to talk to the Immigration Officer there at the time. As my wife was talking to the Immigration Officer he started making a Nigerian call completely ignoring her. My wife kept telling this guy that there was someone on the telephone who wanted to talk with him. He kept babbling away with the guy in Nigeria and in the middle of his conversation he stopped and picked the telephone from my wife. However, since his mind was so focussed on the other conversation he could not even handle any conversation with the lady on the other end. Consequently, in frustration he handed the telephone back to my wife without any conversation with this grandmother. He was so absorbed with his personal conversation that he could not even serve the people he was supposed to attend to.
What these episodes point to is the lack of checks and balances in the Nigerian public service. There are questions that need to be asked. For example, who is responsible for keeping the Immigration Staffs in the Embassy proactive, diligent, and dedicated to their duties? What are the parameters for promotions? How do average Nigerians address injustice when it is perpetuated by an Embassy staff? Who monitors how long it takes to get a Nigerian International Passport and ensures that happens? Note that in most developed nations, you know how long it takes for you to get your passport. If you want it faster, you pay for express and you get it within the time stipulated. I have applied for several Canadian Passports both for myself and my family and we always get it when you are told you will get it. These and many more questions need to be asked and answered before we see a transformation in the service delivery of Immigration Agents. As long as there is no incentive for being efficient, these agents will continue to throw curve balls at the people they are supposed to serve. Nigerians deserve better from those that are supposed to be serving them. Not to be told they are being done a favour when they spend money and time trying to get their passport for almost 3 years.