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Saturday, 25 March 2017

My about-to-expire Nigerian passport - Kaduna experience

So I decided to renew my about-to-expire Nigerian passport in Kaduna, believing that the NIS passport office there would be less crowded and thus more efficient than the one in Abuja. I had previously taken advantage of visits to Nigeria to renew my passport, so I expected this to be routine. Boy, was I mistaken.

The first day was smooth. The NIS folks ushered me in, gave me a spot to park, and one of them accompanied me to the right office where I submitted my old passport, paid the N24,000 fee they demanded (I simply obliged as I didn't know the prevailing official rate), and supplied the information they requested. They did not even give me a receipt but I didn't want to be fussy or tick them off.

The NIS officer who accompanied me then asked me to expect his call later in the day when they would be ready for me to come back for the biometric capture. Sure enough he called around 3:30 pm and I immediately headed back to the passport office and got my biometric data taken after a brief wait.
That was the beginning of the drama. My guiding NIS officer told me that he would call me when my new passport was ready. That vague promise spooked me a bit as I had expected that it would be ready for pick up the next day. Also, I was to travel back to my base in the US in about a week and was leaving Kaduna before that. I pressed him for a more specific timeline and asked specifically if it would be ready by Wednesday of that week, as I planned to leave Kaduna on Wednesday or Thursday. He simply said he was sure that it would be ready "before the end of the week." That was not specific enough but I reckoned that that was the most precise promise I was going to get from him. Anyway, I held out hope. At any rate, I was already neck deep in the process and had paid the fee, so I could no longer withdraw.

The next day, Tuesday, he did not call.

I waited till Wednesday afternoon. Still no call from my contact.

I decided to call him. He said he hadn't called because they were having trouble with their printer. It had broken down and they were trying to fix it. Panic seized me, but he assured me that they would fix it that day. I wasn't the only one affected, he said, as many others ahead of me also had their application stalled for the same reason. That was little comfort. I called later that evening but he said the machine was still under repair. Even more panic. My old passport, which was still valid, was with them. As I explored my plan B, I decided that the next day, I would simply go over there and ask for my old passport and do the renewal at one of the Nigerian consulates when I returned to the States.

I called him Thursday morning. Same story. Not even an apology or sympathy in his voice. He seemed to be giving me a routine response.

I had had enough. I drove to the office, located him, and explained to him that I was leaving Kaduna that day to go to Lagos from where I would travel to the US. I had not previously told him that I was traveling to the States. I had merely told him that I was leaving Kaduna. Upon hearing about my travel to the US, his countenance changed and he asked why I hadn't told him that. I said I didn't think that was necessary. He then said that since my passport had less than six month validity on it, I couldn't use it to travel anyway, so I would not be able to use it for my US trip even if the US visa in it was valid. I told him that I had a US passport. If you have a US passport then you don't need the old Nigerian passport and can ask one of your relatives to pick it up when it's ready, he quipped. I told him that as an NIS officer, he should know that there was no way that they let me board my flight at MMA without my Nigerian passport, especially since I didn't have a Nigerian visa on my US passport. It would raise the question of how I came into the country. That ended the back and forth, and he asked me to sit and wait while he tried to sort out the mess.

He paced around for a while and came back to tell me that the person who kept the old passports along with my file was not around. I must have waited for two hours. My guide could still not produce the old passport and kept asking me to be patient. Finally, he said he was going to talk to one of his superiors to intervene. As he came back later to fetch me, he told me to explain my situation to the Oga.

The young, friendly, more senior NIS officer welcomed me to his office and asked for a brief explanation of my situation. Even before I finished explaining, as I was saying that I wanted my old passport back so I could travel to my base in the US, he interrupted and asked me to sit on one of the couches in his office. He politely apologized for the delay, confirmed the problem with the machine, but said that it was not completely broken but that it was printing and stopping, in other words, just being finicky.

He called someone and told him to go to the "production room" and tell them to try to print my passport. While the person was gone, he said that if I was lucky the machine would print my passport and that it was better to give it a shot before giving me my old passport.

About thirty minutes later, he returned with my old and new passports and handed them to me. I couldn't believe it. I was so delighted that I decided to make small talk with him, asking him if he was from Zaria, since I saw Zazzau memorabilia in his office. No, he said, he is from Katsina. We talked a bit about Katsina and he wished me a safe trip back to the US, saying that whenever he is able to visit the US he would call me.

The contrast between this more senior officer's attitude and that of my guide couldn't be sharper. The latter had been cold, somewhat rude, and unfeeling. The former was warm friendly, and professional.

Still, somehow, this chap who had not been completely honest with me about the machine, who had neglected to call me with updates as he had promised to do, and who had been cold and uncaring when I called to inquire about the status of my application apparently expected me to give him money. For what, I wondered.

As I excitedly left the office with my passports I did not see him and did not look for him. Not only was I in a hurry to get out of town, quite frankly I was happy that I no longer had to deal with him and didn't see any reason to seek him out.

About 20 minutes after I left the office, my phone rang. It was him. He apparently had learnt that I had collected my passports. Had I left the office?, he asked. I said I had. He asked if I would come back and see him. I knew what he meant. I said I was headed out of town but that I might call him later. I guess he expected me to call and ask for his bank information so I could wire the "see me" money to him.

He called me two more times--one more time that day and the next day. I did not answer. I did not owe him anything. Besides, he had caused me so much anxiety and panic and had not been entirely honest or professional with me. I reward good services and conducts, not bad ones. Cunny man die cunny man bury am.

Moses Ochonu
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