Our appointment at the Immigration office located at Alagbon close, Ikoyi – Lagos was for 8a.m. Knowing what Lagos traffic could be like, we didn’t want to be caught up in the Third Mainland bridge wahala, and so with my wife in tow, I set out quite early that Tuesday morning with our minds made up to spend the better part of the day at the Immigration office.
We were traveling from Surulere and were quite surprised that the traffic was smooth. There were hordes of LASTMA traffic wardens enroute trying their very best to keep impatient Lagos drivers in check. As we drove past Ijora Bridge, I counted a million BRT buses whizzing past on their special lanes. These buses and their drivers are the new shining stars on Lagos’ many roads, helping to put a smile to the faces of commuters, thanks to Raji Fashola, the hardworking Governor of Lagos state.
We got to the passport office at about 7.40a.m. On hand to receive us were the usual Lagos temporary ‘landlords’. You will see them everywhere in Lagos where there is limited parking space. They will direct you to particular spots to park your car claiming that the spots belong to them. As I was about maneuvering my car to an identified spot, a security man in a nearby building signaled that I drive into the compound he was guarding instead, I obeyed. The bargain cost me N200.
It looked as if the heavens were about to shower the lands with rain blessings and so we took shelter by the specially constructed visitors’ shed near the entrance. Promptly at 8.00am, some gun totting but very polite immigration officers at the gates ushered us in with big smiles. Talk about wonders never ending. I couldn’t see the connection between the armed guards and their civil disposition. We were in for more surprises.
The guards consequently directed us to a waiting area inside the immigration compound. There were long lines of chairs under a large stretch canopy, enough to seat at least a 100 people. We all sat and eagerly waited. Many of us wondering aloud if indeed we were at the right office, especially because of the friendly and client-oriented service we have witnessed thus far. Not quite long after, a preacher man appeared from nowhere and stood in front of the waiting passport applicants and began to pray. First he prayed for our country Nigeria, for peace and security. He also prayed for the wellbeing of the president, we all chorused Amen at each punctuation.
Next he prayed for all wishing to process their international passport applications, he didn’t forget the almighty visa officers at the embassies. He prayed that those who had come to process their passports should find favour at the hands of the visa officers. Everybody chorused Amen. As the prayer went on, I noticed a bearded Alfa join him at the front. He was waiting for his turn to pray for the Moslems in the gathering.
When the preacher man was done, the Alfa took over. He chanted in Arabic language and at every punctuation, the crowd which I guessed were predominantly Christians will chorus Amen.
Halfway through the Alfa’s prayer sessions, I began to see the irony of the situation. A Christian preacher man and a Moslem Alfa united for a moment in a common purpose. Devoid of hate and bickering, they were battling for the survival of the souls of Nigerians and Nigeria. I wondered what God will be thinking at that moment.
Prayers concluded, neither the preacher man nor the Alfa asked for nor received alms. As they made their way to wherever it was they had come from, the voice of an immigration officer awakened us all to the realities of our mission that morning. We had come to apply for the new Nigerian digital passport supposedly meets U.S Homeland security and UK Home Office specifications.
In less than no time, the officer called out people’s names and directed them to the relevant sections. Inside the offices, I saw energetic young immigration officers looking smart and sharp in their starched khaki uniforms. It was almost as if they were on a mission to restore the pride and glory of uniformed men in Nigeria. There were rows of seats carefully arranged to aid faster service. When it got to my turn to have my picture captured, I took the liberty to banter with the female officer attending to me. I told her how surprised I was at their fast and efficient service, she smiled proudly. Business done, it was time to leave but I knew I owed the uniformed men and women something. Not bribe because they didn’t ask for any like the days of old. I needed to show my appreciation that in a long while, I was at least being served by a government official in a manner that every Nigerian would wish for.
I requested to see their big Oga. They took me to this bullish looking man who saw me immediately without the fuss of having to fill appointment/visitors forms. I quickly thanked him for seeing me at short notice, he looked surprised and gave me a ‘I’m doing my job’ look. When I announced my praise and thanks mission, you could see the surprise in his smile and the appreciation in his look. I told him that he was doing a wonderful job with his team and that my 30 minutes stay at the Ikoyi Immigration office that morning has shown me that a New Nigeria is possible. That private sector work ethics could actually be applied in the public sector.
This was indeed another lesson in the Nigeria we all live in, and the Nigerian society that we all yearn for. Two weeks after my visit, as announced in the slip we received during our application, we promptly collected our international passports. Another and better Nigeria is still possible and the generation to champion the change are already here, I saw some of them at the Ikoyi passport office.