• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Nigerian agencies are designed for corruption: A personal experience

In late December 2021, with six months of validity remaining on our passports, my family and I decided to apply for the renewal of our Nigerian passports at the Nigerian consulate in Atlanta, Georgia. We filled out the forms, paid the required fees online, and were given a number to call to schedule an appointment for our biometric capture at the consulate. We called the number for two days non-stop, and no one picked up the calls.

We asked around and were told that is the usual practice at Nigerian consulates and embassy in the United States. They deliberately refused to automate that part of the process and will not pick up calls to the numbers supplied.

The rationale is to force you to come to the consulate without an appointment and then charge you $130 for presenting yourself without an appointment. I asked about 10 Nigerians who had renewed their passports in the last two years, and they gave the same account.

 

By digitising everything, he was not only making them redundant, but was also cutting off their main source of income in the forms of bribes and mandatory unreceipted levies they charge

Satisfied that we weren’t getting an appointment, we headed to Atlanta on December 30 to complete the process for the renewal of our passports. We left our station around 3am to ensure we could be in Atlanta by 8am so that we could get it done and return to our station the same day. The first three hours of our journey went well. Just after entering the state of Georgia, a heavy downpour began making driving extremely difficult.

We continued the journey cautiously and just when we were at the precincts of Atlanta, the worst happened. Our car hydroplaned and headed for the gully beside the road. We were, however, incredibly lucky it happened just at the portion with a guardrail. That stopped our descent into the gully, but the car got mangled.

Within minutes, a state paratrooper appeared and after satisfying that we were all OK and got the car towed, we called an Uber and headed to the consulate, some 10 minutes away from the accident scene, still dazed but thankful we’d escaped alive. Despite explaining our plight to the consulate officials and showing them copious pictures of the accident scene and damaged car, the best they could do for us was to move us to the front of the queue but insisted we must pay the fraudulent $130 per person in lieu of appointment. Repeated questions to them to explain exactly what the $130/person payment was for and why it wasn’t receipted, the only explanation we got was that it was caused by Covid-19. Case closed!

But looking at the large crowd at the consulate and talking to as many people as are willing to talk to me, the reality began to sink in. I could not find anyone that got an appointment. All the people I spoke with said they do not give dates and force everyone to come without an appointment so they could pay the compulsory bribe of $130 to be attended to.

The Nigerian bureaucracy agency exists only for extortion

We often hear politicians talk about fighting corruption, improving the efficiency of public-facing institutions, etc. It’s all talk. The sad reality is that these agencies are deliberately designed right from the top to be extremely corrupt and predatory.

A technology entrepreneur never stops recounting his encounter with Nigerian bureaucratic organisations that are public facing. He said one such agency contacted him to digitise their services such that most of the process could be done online. Excitedly, he and his team digitised the entire process from beginning to end without the need to interface with the agency. He said two weeks later, he was angrily summoned back to undo what he and his team had done. The intention of the agency, he recalled, was for applicants for the agency’s services to fill the forms online and then physically present themselves at the agency’s office for final approval.

Read also: Corruption remains built into psyche of the Nigerian state – Pierce

By digitising everything, he was not only making them redundant, but was also cutting off their main source of income in the forms of bribes and mandatory unreceipted levies they charge.

That is exactly what the Nigerian Immigration Service, embassies and consulates around the world are doing. Biometrics do not change and are captured only once or over a long period of time when one’s physical features have changed. But to provide avenues for corruption and extortion, the rule in Nigeria requires Nigerians to present themselves physically and have their biometrics captured again and again every time they want to renew their passports.

Of course, you never pay the official fees. You are forced to pay more than double the official fees- and with the current scarcity of booklets, the available few go to the highest bidders.

Most other African countries, however, do not require their citizens to physically present themselves at embassies and consulates to have their passports renewed because their biometrics have already been captured and in the system. They simply fill out their application forms, pay the fees and get their renewed passports mailed to them. To even reduce contact and the occasion for corruption, many countries are now outsourcing the biometric capture exercise to third parties.

But not the notoriously corrupt Nigerian system specifically designed for extortion. No service can be entirely contactless. Every excuse is used to bring in people for extortion. But this is done at great costs to Nigerians. At the consulate, I met Nigerians who had to spend thousands of dollars in flights, hotels and lost hours of work to fly in from far away California, Arizona and Washington state, over a thousand miles away, just so they could pay a $130 illegal fee that can’t be paid online. The $130 extortion fee at the consulate was the only reason why my family and I had to drive hundreds of miles, almost lost our lives in the process, and lost a car of over $15,000 in the process. But I guess that is the prize of being a Nigerian!