Nze Sylva’s Corner: The Nigerian Passport Booklet Scarcity & Other Scarcities

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One word every Nigerian is familiar with is Scarcity. You don’t live your life without experiencing some form of it, a product of the gross inefficiency in the system and our many years of enduring, as it were, a scarcity of good leaders.

There is the perennial fuel scarcity that shuts down our lives, paralysis the economy and turns our street into car parks. And because we have learnt over the years how to survive it, it transforms us all either into fuel hawkers or hoarders, employing jerry cans and sometimes dying of petrol fire infernos that arise when mistakes happen. This particular scarcity is a direct product of our seeming inability as a people to make our natural endowment work for us, due to corruption, very bad management and in some cases, pure mischief.

Many areas suffer from perennial water scarcity because the politicians that promise them pipe borne water during the elections suffer from amnesia when they enter office and the citizens are gifted with an uncanny ability for suffering and smiling, re-electing such politicians over and over again on the strength of those very same promises.

There is the ongoing and well celebrated scarcity of dollars. Those precious green backs on which everything in our economy seem to depend suddenly went out of circulation and nothing has been the same again. Or maybe not really. As with all scarcities, its presence has been restricted only to few pockets and hands, with the CBN actively creating, it’s been alleged, a sleaze that will be perhaps more massive than the fuel subsidy mess, as they play god, allocating at whatever rate they deem suitable to conies, friends and invisible sector players — whatever that means.

We have scarcities of many other things, indeed, virtually every other thing. Motorable roads, working hospitals, good schools, efficient airlines, modern rail lines, sincere religious leaders, inter-religious and ethinic love, sincerity among leaders and even common sense seen to be scarce too.

But there is currently one scarcity that is of embarrassing proportion which is yet to actually get the kind of attention it deserves and this is the current scarcity or, put more appropriately, complete absence of booklets for the issuance of Nigerian passports to our citizens.

For months now, the Nigerian Immigrations Service has been unable to meet demands for passports be it fresh applications, renewals, or replacements. The excuse has been simple put at “no booklet”. This is something we have seen in the past though but not here at home. I recall not too long ago, the report of Nigerians abroad being frustrated by the inability of our embassies to fulfil simple passport renewals because there was a booklet scarcity. It seemed so distant and one felt very well shielded from it. Perhaps it was simply a logistics problem that will be easily resolved, one had thought back then. Well, that logistics problem, or whatever it was, has hit right at home. For months now, no passport office in Nigeria, not even the National Headquarters in Abuja has been able to issue passports.

How shameful is this really? A country of Nigeria’s size and status is unable to provide what is essentially a few pages of paper stapled together with a data page, for the identification of her citizens. It is appalling to say the least. Is it that we depleted stock and nobody was taking note that it was time to restock or as usual everybody was sleeping on the job? And since this situation which is quite frankly a crises became obvious, what has been the response beyond the very terse “we no get booklet” response of the immigration staff?

The implications of this situation are enormous. A passport is the right of every citizen, indeed one can say it confers on you your citizenship and with that the rights and privileges provided in the constitution. In more sensible climes, people are issued passports right from birth. The inability of our government to do this basic task, is a failure in its most primary responsibility and it is really shameful.

People are unable to process visas to make important business and personal trips because of this situation. Just how cool is that? Think of Nigerians abroad, in climes where possession of the passport is what keeps them away from law enforcement raids, who are unable to renew their passports. Imagine the frustration and the inconvenience we are putting our people through?

And as with all scarcities, this one has given room for corruption. How ironic that this government claims to be fighting corruption. The ‘no booklet’ scarcity has empowered touts and people of not so respectable character within the immigration service to make a killing, feeding off the desperation of Nigerians to charge all sorts of fees and receive all kinds of inducement to assist in getting them thefew  hoarded booklets or moving their names up the ladder of those to be considered. It is that bad.

In a country where food on the table is a daily battle, owning a passport is like luxury. It is not surprising that this passport scarcity is not a widly known issue.

People are trying to survive the next day. So those who have found their lives seriously hampered by this situation have simply been suffering silently. Quite naturally, our leaders, especially those in the Ministry of Interior and the Immigrations service have not deemed it important enough an issue to address the nation about, at least to acknowledge the situation and state precisely what is being done and when we expect this scarcity to end.

I hope this intervention changes that or at least brings this to the knowledge of those who can take it to the front burners of national discuss even if only on social media. Something serious and very shameful is happening and we should not let it go on as if it is not happening. For surely, it will happen again sometime in future and then, we might be the ones caught in it.

Fiction writer, op-ed columnist, social commentator. Sylva lives in Lagos Nigeria

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