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Thursday, 30 November 2023 17:04

Attention: Hon Minister Engineer Dr. Tunji-Ojo Olubunmi - Frank McMaye

In the month of September 2023, the new Federal Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Minister, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, declared that all passport backlogs would be cleared in two weeks. Passport Backlogs To Be Cleared In Two Weeks, Says Minister. Did that apply to the diaspora also? It didn't happen out here!

Passport Backlogs To Be Cleared In Two Weeks, Says Minister

The interior minister said owning the green passport is a right of every Nigerian and not a privilege.

The purpose of this article is to identify a serious problem with consular services, particularly passport intervention services to some twenty-five thousand (25,000) underserviced Nigerian citizens residing in the West Coast of the United States.  The community has been ignored by the Nigerian government for a long time. The only service offered to Nigerians in this region is occasional Passport Intervention conducted by the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC. As has been reported by many sources, these interventions have been fraught with problems: failures to return collected passports, overcharges, double charges, lack of process transparency, the list goes on.

For the Nigerians who live in the West Coast of the United States this issue is compounded by the total absence of consular services in this region. The Nigerian Embassy (marked 1 in the map below) and the two consulates (marked 2 and 3) are all located at the edge of the US East Coast. Thus, for Nigerians in the Central and Eastern US, with relative ease, they can go to the Embassy or Consulate try to resolve their issues. 

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This is the reason why the Passport Intervention that the Embassy conducts from time to time is very much appreciated here. It is also the reason why it is very painful and costly when the process gets screwed up and the services promised and paid for are not delivered – with absolutely no reason or explanation given to the Nigerian citizens as to why the passports they had paid for are not being returned to them.

Current Issue:

In 2022, the Nigerian Embassy in DC reached out to some members of the Nigerian community seeking collaboration to review the entire passport intervention process to root out corruption, violence, extortion, and other complaints that the then new Ambassador to the US had received. It was reported that the ambassador wanted to make sure the process was cleaned up, transparent and affordable to all Nigerians. This was a noble vision and welcomed by the Nigerian community. It was the first intervention at the end of the COVID. The community members worked with the Embassy to create this process. For the first time the intervention was well-planned, announced to the communities with specific details: list of cities, fixed cost for processing, points of contact for each city and posted at the Embassy website.

This was hailed as a ground-breaking step by the Nigerian government to do things the right way. The But it didn’t last.

1.      Halfway through the intervention, the Nigeran Immigration to the US to change the passport processing system. The Embassy, which was directly involved in the intervention for the first time assured the community that they would hold of the changing of system until the intervention was over in order not to seriously disrupt the on-going events. They didn’t or couldn’t. The system was changed, and for the first time, NIN was made mandatory for all passport activities. Hundreds of Nigerians who had already made appointments and applied online were instantly and unceremoniously disqualified! Why? No one could explain.

2.      The resulting disruptions were significant, the new process was abandoned, leading in some cases to so much conflicts between the Embassy and the communities that the local police had to be called in. Such chaos was one of the negative complaints that the new Ambassador aimed to address with the new process.

3.      Worst of all, for over nine months many of the passports that were picked up not been returned. Hopes by Nigerians to get their passports back and go home for Christmas were dashed. Let alone people planning to go home to bury their dead. The matter was so bad that it had to be escalated to the former Comptroller General of Immigrations (CGI) and even to the office of the President of Nigeria. Some of the passports got released as a result of that but not all. It has now been over a year and as at the writing of this article, some 300 passports still have been returned to their owners.

4.      Many citizens have given up on waiting for their passports. Some have decided to spend more money to apply all over, some have flown to Washington DC where they were able to pick up their passports, but a good majority can’t afford it and continues to wait and hope. Why?

Some of the reasons that have been given are nothing short of embarrassing for our country, the largest economy in Africa, one of the largest producers of oil in the world. Reasons such as:

·        The passports are being processed in Nigeria and the Embassy is waiting for approval to print and mail out.

·        The Embassy ran out of ink to print passports, and is waiting for ink to be shipped from Nigeria – for month?

·        The Embassy has held the passports for so long that the cost of postage in the US has gone up and they don’t have enough money to mail out the passports.

·        There will not be new passport intervention yet because the Nigerian Immigration has not given the Embassy the new system to the Embassy to go around with.

We are aware that these are not issues created by the current government or the current Embassy Immigration leadership. We, however, expect the new government and the new Embassy Immigration crew to address and resolve the issue as soon as possible without compounding it.

It came as a shock when a flyer suddenly came out stating that the new Nigerian Immigration has decided to come out here to conduct a passport intervention themselves from Abuja. Really? While passport intervention is always appreciated under normal circumstances, the question from most Nigerians here is what happened to our passports from last year? They are very upset and asking the question why?

1.      Is the Nigerian government aware that they are holding on to hundreds of passports that belong to the people? Why would they want to come and collect more passports and payments for processing just before Christmas? Without any formal announcements?

2.      What is the plan to ensure that all the passports that were collected in 2022 from this region will be returned to the owners before they come to collect more? This amounts to services paid for but not delivered. That’s an offense in the United States, it is not an image that our new government wants to portray so early.

3.      What is the plan that the passports, if collected, will be returned to the applicants on time – to the Nigerian citizens in the United States who love their country and just want to go home to visit in peace? If the Nigerian government did not provide the Embassy with ink to print all of the 2022 passports, over 15 months, where will they find the ink to print the ones they are about to collect now?
4.  Most importantly, why is not one honestly talking to the citizens and explaining what's going on?

We strongly call for Nigerian Immigration Services to:

1.      Provide the Embassy everything they need to return all the passports that were collected from Nigerians in 2022 as soon as possible before the Nigerian government should go around and collect more passports, especially from Nigerians in the West Coast of the United States so far away from any consular services. 
2.      Follow through with the well-designed and well-intended, but never executed process that was developed last year, or come up with their own process, that is transparent, responsible, predictable, and affordable for all Nigerians, with commitment to timely processing of all passports.
3.  Protect the image of Nigeria and Nigerian government as an entity worthy of doing serious business with. Nigerians are constantly having to defend the image of their country out here. What is happening with the last passport event, is a serious setback to this effort. Many Nigerians are stranded without their passports, and others are asking, why is your government doing this to you?
4.  Provide frequent communication and update to the people about their passports and other consular services so they are not kept in the dark, helpless and assume the worst.
We commended the decision to bring NIMC and NIS under the same leadership. We also noticed how the current leadership of NIMC responded to the pushback from the Diaspora and reversed its ill-advised shut down of the NIN process without adequate warning, which caused serious problems for Nigerians in the diaspora. Such responsiveness is deeply appreciated. We hope the current government will continue listen to the people and do the same here.
Frank McMaye
African Foundation for Education Technology & Arts Research (AFETAR)
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