Monday, August 15, 2011

Of the Nigerian Immigration Service, the e-Passport and its reissuance: my story

2013  UPDATE: Passports are now being reissued in many places other than Abuja. Ikoyi in Lagos, Port-Harcourt etc,  and in many Nigerian representations abroad. I understand the ABUJA-ONLY thing was to centralise all passport data.

Its been well over one week now that I got my electronic passport reissued in Abuja, Nigeria.  I needed to give some time before this blog, because I did not want it colored with personal sentiments. I always do this when I think something is important.  Give it time, think through it, and it gets clearer.

By the time I got ready to go to Nigeria for this passport, I had used up 5 Nigerian international passports and 2 ECOWAS Travel Certificates.  So I was on my 8th travel document.  For frequent travelers, you learn a bunch of lessons. Lessons related to travel.  The first is to know what the priority is: mainly to get to destination.  So you dont waste time, energy or sentiments on things and issues that do not have direct links to your destination.  The second is to keep a financial reserve.  As I tell many new travelers, there is no fixed amount for a plane ticket.  It is the same with a trip, you can never say exactly what the costs are until you get back and calculate. For starters, the ticket from Abidjan to Lagos cost  1088$ on ASky. 

I have come to prefer doing my passports in Umuahia.  That is my State capital.  So I go home, check in with my folks, and go to Umuahia.  If I am required to come back at a short notice or the next day, I can always do that at a short notice.  Inter-State travel in Nigeria does not go beyond 10$.  So I call the immigration office in Umuahia to say "my e-Passport has filled up and I need a new one". I got the response, "we are waiting for you, please buy us a handset when you are coming". I am like "Did they not hear there has been war in  Côte d'Ivoire?"

I log on to to check out information about re-issuance of passports. ABSOLUTELY no information.  How much does it cost? What is the process? Can someone do it on your behalf? Where can it be done?  Which form needs to be filled? What administrative papers are required?  How long does it take? No information, nothing! I ask online, someone tells me 15 000 Naira.  That is 100$.  I dont believe it.  Why? Because the first time issuance of the Passport costs less than 9000 Naira, which is like 60$. So why should re-issuance be more expensive.. anyway I tell myself that the cost wont go beyond that.

I get home and call again.  I am coming in on Monday to Umuahia.  Then the gentleman said "I think Tuesday is better". I call on Tuesday. "Ah, Aunty, it's like we now have to take the passport to Abuja and do it oo". Oh Yeah? Why was I not told this before. I ask how much the re-issuance itself costs "I don know, I have to find out". Good gracious me! I am speaking with an agent of the Nigerian Immigration Service and he has no clue about how much the fees for the re-issuance of a Nigerian passport costs?  My antennae go up.  Something is not smelling right.  The man offers to send someone to Abuja to do it for me.  I say no.

Abuja Day 1.

I get to the gate with my bag and the airline tag still hanging.  The Nigerian  Immigration Service (NIS) office is on the road to the airport.  Far from the city itself.  I arrive before the gates open.  In such things, I have learned to be there before time.  The guards at the gate  tell me the luggage is too big.  I keep it at the gate after the controls.  The man "kindly" handed me over to an Officer, who hands me over to another Officer.  They take me aside, assess what they call "my problem".  "Okay, we can help. When do you want to get the passport".  I said same day. "Do you know the price?" I said not exactly.  I too have been wondering but someone has told me 15K. "Mhmm.  For the kind of problem you have, you need between 30 and 40K" I smell a rip-off. I said no, thanks.  .

I go to queue up normally.  By now, I was decided to "go and renew my passport in a proper manner so I can get first hand information". I am told I need to go to "ACG" Office.  The door number is 316. I go there and I explain my mission.  I am told to write a letter to the "ACG". I ask, what does ACG mean?  The officer cannot explain.  Does he know? Or is he feeling I am being too inquisitive? Anyway I write the letter. I write on a plain A4 sheet, explaining I need a new Passport because the old one is full.   He says come back in 3 hours. I ask "Please can you explain the process, what is the next step after the ACG okays my request, how long does the whole thing last?" I dont get a reply

My brother calls me. "Do you have someone helping you?" I said no.  I dont get the process but it does not seem complicated.  He says "Girl, get someone fast".  I said I am not getting anybody. I should be able to fill any forms needed and make any payments. If I cant take care of the process of renewing my own passport in my own country at the official service point.. then I will feel like a challenged person.

My brother begins to make parallel arrangements. Apparently a lady working there is married to one of the guys from my village. I get calls, SMSes.  Where am I?  At what stage? Where exactly?   Why did I not say I was coming? Why do I want to do this all by myself? Why did I have to go and queue up in the first place?

Hang on!! What is happening here?

Anyway.. the lady says I should have told her even before beginning.  It would have made matters easier.  She takes me to one other lady. J Someone. It appears the request could have been made to the Comptroller General.. it is faster.  I sit in the waiting room.  I catch a wifi. NISWLAN1. 3 Hours later, I go back to door 316. I see my letter has been approved. What is the next step? "You need to go and make payment downstairs". Okay.  Let me have the approval so I can go make payment. "No, we cannot hand it over to you.  An officer needs to come and sign for it"

Haba! Shebi na me write the letter? Shebi na me dey renew passport? Abi na the Officer go pay the money?
I lose 1 hour waiting for an Officer to come and pick my approval. By this time, it was 1 PM.  I have spent 4 hours at the Immigration office.

The J Someone comes and takes the approval.  "My sister, we have to go and make payment". How much, I ask? "Give me 10 000.  The price is 9000 something.." If you like, you can go and pay in town, or I can pay for you here.  Now we are at the Passport Hall.  Only officers are entering. Four tents have been mounted outside.  Each tent sits around 100.  Each tent is full. People are standing.  I ask if the total cost is 10k. J Somebody says Yes. "But when the Passport comes out, you can now show appreciation".  I get the info. I hand 10K over to her. I find a place at the tent, I sit. I boot up my Netbook.  There is NISWLAN1 still here. Thank you Lord, for wifi.   I start to tweet. to update my Facebook status.  I am too mixed up to do real work. I  go for lunch.

And between 2PM and 6PM nothing happens. The only info is that my file is waiting to be "vetted" after which I will be photographed. I never got a receipt for the payment.

End of Day 1. I need to find a hotel in Abuja.  I hear the "Honourable Minister" is visiting Nigerian Immigration Service Headquarters the next day.  So work wont begin until 11 am.  I take a taxi, someone says to go to Area 1 or 2. I can get reasonable hotels there. Taxi fare, 2000, hotel 15000, without breakfast.

Day 2.

August 15, 2011

As at 12 noon. Minister was still at the headquarters. He was at the Passport area the time I got in.  He comes out to greet the people under the tents. The Director General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, a lady, says "Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Honourable Minister of Interior" Some people clap.  I bring out my camera from my handbag. I take a photo. Two men sitting by me are angry. Hopping mad! A number of others were  mad too. Why wont the Minister  wait so we can ask questions?  Why will he just wave and say hello and go away? Others think he is humble.  At least he came to say hi to "Fellow Nigerians". I cannot tell whether the anger is directed at the Minister or just an expression of the frustration that people are having with the whole passport thing.

And frustrations there were! The man whose file was lost right at NIS office itself.  The boy whose file was being handled by an officer who just died, and nobody knew exactly how to help him. The people who were there the day before and were told to come back because the system crashed.  The guy from UK whose choice of interview date came out with 2012, the wrong year..The stories were many. 

All e-passport renewals from the whole wide world are now being done at headquarters!! So Nigerians all over have to come to this one office in Abuja. Questions!! Why is this information not online? How long is the process? Why are Nigerians being reduced to a helpless state, to the point where you need "help" from an Officer. What exactly does "Help" mean?  What is the Officer "helping" you with exactly. Why does Diaspora not have a separate handling? What are paper files STILL doing in the era of electronic Passports? Why cant information on the process of re-issuance and lost passports be made openly available and put online?  Why cant other NIS offices in the states renew filled ePassports?

On my part, I keep calling the Officer married to someone from my place.  I also keep calling the J Someone to find out when I will be photographed. I notice that there is a kind of selection at the NIS. People automatically "hire" Officers who speak their languages to "help" them. Since I dont live in Nigeria, I am astounded by the many officers speaking the many languages to their "clients". I hear all sorts of Nigerian languages.. my head is in a swirl. 

Finally, I get my photo taken. My mind asks, "Why will an Immigration Officer in Umuahia promise that he can get someone to come and get your passport re-issued in Abuja when the owner of the passport needs his or her photo taken?" The man who took my photo writes August 15 for pick up. The day was August 4th. My flight back to Abidjan from Lagos is August 7th which is a Sunday. The only other working day was August 5th, the next day.  I look at it and I ask the man "Is this date for real?".  He says "Yes Madam" and squeezes his face in a kind of knot that means "Please get out of my sight".

My mind is blown. I make calls and get calls. I get a call from a friend at the Ministry of External Affairs. A Diplomat, I had worked with him when he was on post in Geneva where I had an office.  I was to have dinner with him while I was in Abuja. He too says he knows someone who can help.  He begins to make calls too. I call J Someone. Now, I am visibly unhappy. And I began to see the possibility that I may not get the Passport on the Friday. "You have to see  Officer N, she is the only one who can help you". Where is this Officer N? " She is with Madam still accompanying the Minister. Just wait till she is back.  I dont know Officer N, and I sit.

Till 6 PM, when someone tells me, "Ah, Officer N just left".  I was the last  person to leave the tent that day!
I head back to the hotel. I pay another 15000 Naira for the night.

Day 3

It is Friday. My flight is Sunday.  There is no work on Saturday. I arrive early at the Immigration Service Headquarters. I sit before Passport Hall opens.  I am angry with the J Someone.  She says she is on her way. I ask and know who the Officer N is. I had decided it was useless leaving my fate in the hands of J Someone. And at this time,  the little tiny voice in my head was beginning to say "Maybe it was better to pay 30 or 40k on day 1".  I shut the voice up vigorously. I tell myself  "If you have come this far, sit it through.  The worst case is that someone picks up the passport on August 15 and sends it to you through DHL"

I speak with Officer N.  I explain that I will be leaving Abuja on that day. She looks at me, and asks me to come with her to the office. I feel that I dont need to be given a "VIP" treatment. But something tells me to just shut up. "When you woke up to pray and ask God for favour from men, this is it". She finds my file and assures me the passport is coming out same day. She will take the file herself to production room. Check me in 2 hours, she says. I send out text messages. I give Twitter and Facebook updates. I call my mother, to reassure her.

After 2 hours, I check on Officer N. She says she is yet to get up. Once she does, I can be rest assured.

I pick a taxi to town.  I need to get a ticket to Lagos. Can I leave this night? I check online.. tickets are now between 30 000 and 45 000 Naira.  That is 200 or 300$. I hear weekend flights from Abuja to Lagos are almost always full 3 days before. I begin to foresee road travel. I call a Road Transport Company.  Ticket is okay but departure is at 3PM. Passport is not coming out by then! I go to the Bank, I withdraw 20 000. At this time, I had about 40000 Naira in all.  I needed to pay the hotel if I was staying for the night and the "Thank you" thing..  Another  friend calls back, there is a flight to Lagos. Saturday morning. 29100 Naira. I ask him to pick it. I make out another check of 30 000 Naira for him.  I shut my eyes tight and I pray "Thank you Lord, for savings in my bank account". I get a confirmation for the flight.  I leave Saturday morning.

Friday afternoon in Abuja is another story. All the roads are cleared and all the mosques are full and  those who are not praying are heading down the airport. I pick a taxi from Area 8 to the Immigration Service, an air-conditioned one.  I needed to cool off! Price 4000, finally came down to 2500.

I get back to Immigration services. J Someone is smiling. I force a smile. Passport is ready.  An officer is needed to sign it off. J Someone does that. Then we look for those who will "cancel without prejudice" the preceding passport. I begin to give out envelopes.  To the lady whose husband is from my place, to J Someone, to Officer N. I send more texts.. call my mother... family at home in the East is rejoicing.. like the new passport is a kind of "arrival of a new baby". I feel sick, thoroughly sick.

I head back to the hotel. Room 310 has been given out to someone else since I did a check out in the morning. I get room 309.  The room is not as good as the first one, but since it was weekend, the hotel was giving out the rooms with 15% discount.  I did not really care..

All I wanted was to give myself the farthest  possible space from  the Nigerian Immigration Service, from Abuja, from Nigeria, from the electronic Passport, its issuance, re-issuance

My mind (the legal, intellectual me) and my heart (the sentimental optimistic me) begin a debate:

Heart of Nnenna: Na wa oo. Maybe you should have just paid 30 or 40K on day 1.
Mind of Nnenna: Nonsense, I would still be ignorant of the process and I will not be able to inform others
Heart of Nnenna: They shaa had good Nigerian food at "Mama" the restaurant area.  You enjoyed the food.
Mind of Nnenna: It was not free, I paid. I could have had the same anywhere else in Nigeria.
Heart of Nnenna: Do you recall when you were offered a free passport some time ago?
Mind of Nnenna: Yes, that was another country. I am a Nigerian. The Nigerian Passport is my right.
Heart of Nnenna: Na legalese and right go kill you. For this country na money dey talk
Mind of Nnenna: The country needs to move from a corrupt one to a competency one. I will do my part
Heart of Nnenna: How much has it cost you so far..
Mind of Nnenna: The cash is one thing, the authentic experience is another

That is why it took 10 days.. to write this blog!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cote d'Ivoire: Government Ethics Charter

Government Ethics Charter


The Ministerial function represents  a very important public responsibility at State level. It is based on confidence, on one hand, between the sovereign people  of Côte d’Ivoire and the President of the Republic and, on the other, between the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, Head of Government and each minister.

By our free adherence to the present Charter “Government Ethics Charter”, we, members of the Government of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire,  show our engagement to be at the service of the President of the Republic and  the people.

Having received the confidence of the President of the Republic, on one hand for the reconciliation of Ivorians and the reconstruction of our country, and on the other hand, for the  sustainable socio-economic development  and the consolidation of a State of rights, we declare our adherence to the ten (10) cardinal values that follow:

1. Sense of State and  love of Country: Each member of Government shall uphold the fundamental values of the Republic: Union, Discipline and Labour. S/He shall, in speech, action, and behaviour, honour the Country and behave in conformity to the principles of our motto. The love of Côte d’Ivoire shall be upheld over regional, ethnic, political and religious particularities.

2. Respect for Dignity and human Life:  Each member of Government  shall consider life as sacred. Therefore S/He shall abstain from all manner of speech, and action that is susceptible to endanger dignity and human life.

3.  Primacy of the General Interest: All decisions, actions, or task shall be geared  and implemented in the perspective of the general interest, according to  requirements and standards in place and to  the quality which justifies the available resources. Conscious of the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity of the our country, each member of Government  must make efforts at her/his  personal level as well as as  within the department under her/him  to only consider the  general interest.

4.  Solidarity and Cohesion:  All decisions and actions of the Government  are guided by the principles of collegiality and solidarity.  They involve each member in their elaboration and in their implementation. Members of Government are therefore  under the obligation of reserve and confidentiality  that behoves  government work.  The right of reserve shall include all debates in State Council, Ministerial Council, and in a general manner, all government meetings, as well as their  related correspondences.

5.  Good Governance:  Each member of Government shall seek to cultivate excellence and promote the practices of good governance in her/his ministerial department  and within the structures placed under her/his authority. The strict respect of the laws of the Republic is a national interest necessity on which depends  both the moral rise of our country and its sustainable and integral development.  In keeping with the right to information of the sovereign people, each member of Government also pledges to account for  the actions of her/his department whose results shall be imputed to her/him

6.  Responsibility: Each member of Government is the sole responsible of her/his ministerial department and pledges, in her/his being and conscience, to assume the charges and carry out the mission to which s/he has been called for the greater interest of the nation. Members of Government have an obligation to results. They shall assume the success or the failure of their actions and mission according to the principle of responsibility.

7.  Integrity and Probity: As a model for fellow citizens, each member of Government pledges to cultivate, at all times and in all places, the moral  and ethical values that shall induce higher morals for the Ivorian society: rightness, integrity, probity and incorruptibility.

8. Justice and Equity: In the respect of differences and particularism, members of Government work in a spirit of justice, of equity and of balance among them, in their respective departments and in their relations with users.  Equity shall be promoted in public practices.

9.  Permanent Dialogue and Availability:  Each member of Government shall consecrate her/himself, as a priority, to the exercise of the missions  that constitute her/his attributions and shall be wholly available to this effect. S/he  shall, by the way, maintain a permanent and objective  dialogue, based on republican ideas, notable with  other members of Government, the social bodies and other actors in the sector

10.  Civility, Courtesy and Moderation: Each member  of Government  pledges, in words and action, to the respect of the rules of decorum, courtesy and moderation which constitute the  fundamental conditions on which  group, organisational and societal cohesion is built.

We, members of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, pledge to respect this Charter  which we have freely given ourselves on this Tuesday August 9, 2011.

And consequently, we  sign in the presence of the President of the Republic

The official and original document is found on the site of the Government of Côte d'Ivoire.  This  English version is  graciously offered  by NNENNA.ORG