THE recent sacking of a security guard with the Nigerian Embassy in Germany for allegedly demanding sex from a Nigerian in order to help her renew a passport has again exposed the pains that Nigerians in the Diaspora go through to obtain a travel document. It is bad enough that Nigerians at home cannot easily obtain a passport, but reports say it is far worse for Nigerians either residing, or in transit abroad.
Diplomatic missions are meant to solve problems for their citizens and not to compound them. Experts say they are to provide security for their own citizens; active towards their genuine concerns and be close friends to solve their problems. But it is no longer news that Nigerian embassies reflect the vices of corruption, impunity, inefficiency and sadism that define public service at home. Yet, remittances from Nigerians in the Diaspora have become a major source of external earnings for Nigeria, which still relies heavily on crude oil. Despite yearly Diaspora remittances averaging $24 billion according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, it has become easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for these Nigerians to obtain a travel document that would enable them visit home. This is most shameful, especially for a government that aims to improve the ease of doing business and boost tourism.
Reports have it that in some instances, it takes months for some to get passports. The most common excuse is the scarcity of booklets, but often, it is downright incompetence hidden behind bureaucratic red tape. The social media is flooded with videos depicting the awful experiences of applicants in some Nigerian foreign missions. While many are made to wait in the cold for hours, others who travel from far away for passport collection are told the passports are not ready and asked to come at a future date. The disdainful manner with which Nigerian foreign missions treat the citizens has no doubt contributed to the country’s poor image abroad such that Nigerians easily become the target of xenophobic attacks.
In June 2019, a frustrated Nigerian, Jeffrey Ewohime, lost his cool at the Nigeria High Commission in London, vandalising the vehicles of staff parked in front of the building after he was unable to obtain his passport. While his criminal action stands condemned, the Nigerian government must also take the blame for creating the conditions that could provoke such actions.
Technology has given humankind the option of doing things faster, better and more effectively, but Nigeria’s foreign missions worldwide seem to have deliberately made passport applications difficult in order to give room for extortion. Most of their websites contain stale information. For instance, the website of the Nigerian Embassy in China still displays a photograph of Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria despite leaving office since 2015. The telephone numbers on several of the websites are either not functional or are never responded to when called, while emails are never replied to. This is disgraceful for a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa.
But the shortcomings of the Nigeria Immigration Service merely reflect the larger failure of Nigeria’s public sector which has for decades cost the government huge revenue losses and alienates the citizens. The process of obtaining a driving licence or a national identity card has also been too cumbersome; applicants have to wait for months or years after data capturing to obtain the documents.
The Federal Government had established the Service Compact with All Nigerians in 2004 to promote effective and efficient service delivery in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies and ensure customer satisfaction in order to manage the performance-expectation gap between the government and citizens on issues of service delivery. Over 16 years afterwards, quality service delivery remains a mirage while extortion and other sharp practices thrive.
A 2019 survey entitled, ‘Corruption in Nigeria: Patterns and Trends,’ conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, stated that out of all Nigerian citizens who had at least one contact with a public official in the 12 months prior to the survey, 30 per cent paid a bribe to or were asked to pay a bribe by officials. It adds that an estimated N675 billion was paid in cash as bribes to Nigerian public officials in 2019. In the survey, which covered over 33,000 households, 33,067 Nigerian respondents across the 36 states and the FCT estimated that some 117 million bribes are paid in Nigeria on a yearly basis, an equivalent of 1.1 bribes per adult. The report is an indictment on the nation’s ineffectual public service and is enough to scare any potential foreign investor.
Transparency International, explaining why it ranked Nigeria low on its last Corruption Perception Index, said that fraud occurs at the highest levels of government and petty bribery blocks access to basic public services like health care and education. Little wonder Nigeria has some of the worst human development indices in the world.
But Nigeria’s case is not hopeless. The government can bring extortion and other forms of corruption to a minimum by reducing human interaction, embracing wider technology usage and partnering with the private sector more frequently. The Public Complaints Commission, which was established by the Federal Government to look into complaints of injustice, corruption, unfair treatment and abuse of office by public officers has become a backwater institution and must be awakened from its slumber. Anti-graft agencies must ensure that public officials caught in the act of extortion are exposed and dealt with decisively. Leaders should lead by example.
To get our embassies right, much depends on the quality of our diplomatic staff. The capacity to represent, unassailable integrity and the ability to protect national interests are the key skills that should guide the government’s considerations in appointing heads of the country’s foreign missions.