Just when you thought there is nothing to write home about, then, there is!
You will not believe what happened at the consulate of Nigeria in New York, last month, on Wednesday, August 26, 2009! The day was ruined, as far as assumed public knowledge or familiarity with laxity and lack of work ethic among certain public officials was concerned. Those who service Nigeria at various diplomatic missions or outposts have frequently been reported to be experts at treating Nigerian citizens with utmost levity.
I needed to make a quick trip to Canada, a country which shares a common border in the northern part of the United States and my home state of New York, which is more like traveling from Lagos to Ogun state or from Maiduguri, Borno state into Chad Republic. It is a very local trip, but the law is the law and the formalities of international travel has to be followed, even though it is at time so inconvenient in our hurried over-schedules and lives in North America.
Life in New York City can be quick and busily hectic; this frequently means needful things have to be prioritized and some other equally needful things may fall below over-schedule radars and left untouched. And so it goes that my passport expired and I never felt the pressure to renew my old faithful Nigerian passport, despite my knowledge of its expiration. Then I had to be in Canada on a fly; and my procrastination met its match! I cannot cross the border from my home state of New York into Canada without a definitional certainty of my nationality, which is Nigeria, my homeland. Despite haven lived in the United States for decades, my nationality has remained Nigerian, part, happenstance, and part, the deliberate choices I made since arriving at my economic refugee camp here in the United States. I have as yet to do the usual summersaults or taken the victory lap, American passport in hand
Most Nigerians are quick to tell anyone who would listen, the lamentations, and the dread often associated with visiting and interacting with Nigerian bureaucrats. Some Nigerians would actually insists, that Nigerian bureaucrats abroad, are a little bit more disdainful of Nigerians, than the bureaucrats at home, bureaucrats, disdainful of Nigerian citizens, who may commit the unforgivable sin of requiring anything, resembling the provision of public service to Nigerian citizens.
With these historical burdens in my mind, I proceeded to the Consulate of Nigeria in New York situate on the grounds of that green glass mammoth edifice known as the Nigeria House at 828 on Second Avenue.
Ever the optimist, I deliberately relegated any seeping concerns to the bottom pit of my stomach. I mulled over the anticipation of what could be my seething rage, if my day is consumed in waste without the renewal which I sought coupled with the possibility that my people would wound up treating me in truculent manner which I never allow, in non-Nigerian environments or entities.
The schedule time during which the Passport Office section operates is 10:00AM. And as is my practice with appointments, I arrived at least twenty minutes ahead of schedule, factoring, transportation bottlenecks etc. The passport officer arrived two minutes before schedule 10:00AM opening and in resplendent hunter-green Nigerian attire. His Nigerian attired pleased me. One of the many qualities for which I admired Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and my other sister, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Dr. Dora Akunyili then of NAFDAC, they are policy wonks in their own unsurpassed rights, and they wowed me with their cultural ambassadorship, with their ever resplendent African attires.
Well, Mr. Passport Officer arrived and surprised me with his “good morning all” He greeted, good morning all! Sat was my turn. I did not have the requisite paperwork or the publicly available information. And I was frankly embarrassed upon being confronted with my lack of preparations! I never would approach any other diplomatic mission or high commission of other countries without calling or visiting their websites to ascertain their requirements and I quietly embarrassed that I did not research my visit to the Consulate of Nigeria, before I actually embarked on the trip there! And now even as I write this, I wonder how many Nigerians visit our diplomatic mission without adequate preparation as to what might be required of them. There are forms, money, procedures and other basic necessities common with these sorts of processes, with Nigeria and other nations. I also have to wonder now, what roles this lack of preparation or knowledge of requirements probably plays in familiar frictions between officials and recipients of services.
In my particular case, the facts of consulate general New York website was known to me and I could have gleaned the details of passport renewals before marching audaciously to the consulate for my renewal. Additionally, when I deal with government departments or agencies, of the United States and or other nations, I usually ensure that I know and have necessary information at my finger tips. And as I routine matter, I do so, for work related or personal contacts or interactions with private entities, corporate for profits or not for profit organizations. In hindsight, I wondered why I did not think it fit, to conduct due diligence, which is my routine and universal approach and precautionary standard outlook?
I was ill-prepared, but he made me comfortable and the entire process took less than three minutes! I was ill-prepared to the extent that I was unfamiliar with the new processes which require a download or print of passport forms from the Consular Internet Website, and be ready with the prescribed fees etc. I was completely ignorant of the required necessities to obtain a new passport or what it entailed to renew an old one. I was completely at the mercy of my passport officers for my ignorance.
The process began in most orderly manner. Upon arrival, guests are required to pick a number and mine was 82, and I worried. There are 82 persons ahead of me? I was quietly nervous upon believing that I was spending the rest of the day at 822 Second Avenue which would have ruined my schedule for the day’s other activities.
Now, I am face to face with the officials, Mr. Bello Osagie, the guy in Nigerian attire called me, and I quickly confessed my ignorance, and lack of due diligence and proceeded to ask him, what I must do to correct lax preparation and still ensure that my mission to renew my passport and to soon after embark on my quick hop to Canada is not aborted. I was scheduled to travel in a matter of days. Mr. Bello assured me that I could renew my passport that day same day, so long as I quickly complete the forms, and accompany it with the stipulated money order, and he gave me the forms, forms which applicants were supposed to download and print on their own, this I failed, and neglected to do, out of my ignorance and to my peril! Well, I rushed out to get the money order, then, submitted it with the completed forms, all in a few minutes. And I was told to return in the afternoon between 2:30PM and 3:00PM
Upon arrival, in the afternoon, I was soon joined by numerous other clients who returned to collect new or renewed passports. There was no one present. And some clients were already grumbling; Complaints about 2:30PM is past and where are the officials? I was quietly concerned myself. And yet, I politely urged patience, because we all know that sometimes, lunch break comes with glitches and snafus, and that could possibly be the same case with the passport office folks. I also reminded others, how the service in the morning was smooth. Jokingly, I also intoned that some Nigerians who spent overnight at the American Embassy or arrived at 3:00AM and spent the whole day in a bid for American visa, are now the same persons now, too quick and too eager to blame Nigerian officials for two minutes lateness! And as it turned out, Ms. Damole or Damolekun merely went upstairs to fetch the newl
y issued or renewed passports, and it turned out that the folks at the passport office section of the consulate of Nigeria, had not gone on some frolic for fun. They were upstairs for a mere couple of minutes to fetch our ready passports.
Both Mrs. Comfort Damolekun and Mr. Bello Osagie were epitome of strictly business attitude (passport officers)? and security operatives at the entrance to the consulate were on the same page as if they all read a script or memo which they are following; and dotting each i and crossing each. Everyone who I interacted with behaved as if they were deliberately and calculatingly announcing to me that the Consulate of Nigeria in New York is under new management. They were efficient, effective and very businesslike.
To my surprise and delight, my visit to the consulate of Nigeria was seamless and painless and briefest encounter with this consulate and any branch of the strata and levels of our government. This speaks volumes, positively, of the current unassuming technocrat at the helms of our consulate, Consulate General Anwal Ibrahim He is obviously very competent and seasoned, and a superb administrator it, who knows keenly, competent persons to delegate to carry out key component of consular tasks, among other things, such as being Nigeria’s public face, for culture, for tourism and travels to Nigeria and for sorely needed investments and sundry interactions between the diverse peoples of Nigeria and the rest of the wide world. While at the consulate, I had a chanced but brief encounter with Professor Joy Ugwu, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United Nations, who I saw last in Canada, while she was foreign minister. Again, she as well looked resplendent in her culturally appropriate Nigerian attires.
All said and done, we all received excellent service deserving of a five star rating and I enthusiastically offer the Consulate General of Nigeria and his entire staff, and in particular, the Passport Officers, thunderous applause for very efficient and effective delivery of service and a superb representation of Nigeria. The Consulate General and his staff exemplified and epitomized all the excellent things we Nigerians are able to accomplish when we set our minds to national tasks. Bravo for making Nigeria proud!
Consulate of Nigeria New York on the Web: http://www.nigeriahouse.com/