The Culture of Exploitation and Officialization of Fraud: A Discourse on E-Passport 419neering
Nigerian society has since its independence being budding, the effect of which has significantly been affecting the country, its people’s fortune, attitude and the entire socio-political polity. With the country’s independence from colonial despots, the founding fathers of the Nigerian state began a journey which was to place the country in the orbit of great countries in the annals of humanity. They laid down the foundation of patriotism and sacrifice by selflessly placing people before their personal interests. The people of the land imbibed this culture and so, patriotism became a culture not of governance alone, but also, a symbolism which personifies the Nigerian citizenry. With this, came the sweeping development of the country and so, Nigeria and Nigerians became cynosure of attention in the world, and in Africa, a continental model. Then, there was a conscientious government led by corrigible and futurist leaders who were responsible and responsive for providing the citizenry with the indispensable needs of life, ranging from sound education to efficient socio-economic infrastructure. As the country continued its journey through the path of evolution, then, it started experiencing the law of diminishing return, which saw patriotism and sacrifice being replaced with self-aggrandizement, extortionism and then corruption. This downward plummeting trend has since become definitive of Nigerian culture and mode of governance both at the public, private, state and individual levels. With this at its crescendo, some dedicated and altruistic Nigerians have been taken up the responsibilities of righting what is wrong about their system by making public statements as well as exploiting the barricade and the legal options. This article is one of such attempts as it exposes how the culture of exploitation and officialization of fraud has trailed the advent of E-passport, with a paid focus on the Diaspora community.
Before I left the shores of the country, I was fully aware of how immigration officers engaged the services of fronts in processing international passport at special rates. Suffices it to say that for this special rate is the benefit of a short processing time which in their diction is referred to as express. Although I did not experience this because I obtained mine through the university of Lagos Student Union’s special student package, I have met scores of thousands who have had such nasty experience. In my discussion with them, I have come to learn that it takes two to tangle. There is one party who is not interested to wait endlessly in obtaining an international passport and the other who exploits his status to getting things done on time, yet, at a premium monetary terms. In this instance, a normal amount of money will be paid to the appropriate quarters while at the point of delivery; a non-receipted amount will be paid before the release of the passport. So, there is the due process and undue process, which leads to the official and unofficial payments involved in this unpleasantness. To enable them make more money, the processing time for obtaining a passport through the normal process is often delayed. This is to dissuade one from giving it a second thought before soliciting the services of the money-for-hand express service passport’s agents. These willing agents or scouts are often within the premises of the passport office.
What was a rip-off through an arrangement of taking two to tangle continued with the dawn of the E-passport, otherwise known as the Biometric machine, yet following the same format. More precisely, there is the 8,750 Naira processing fees and a premium arrangement for express/Korea service. This was the situation until I left the country. However, I have since visited the Nigeria High Commission where I reside on a number of occasions for different reasons, one of which was to renew my passport. All I did was to pay the stipulated amount and get the damn thing processed. With the announcement that the electronic passport issuing machine has been secured by our commission, I was at least happy for some of my colleagues who had once complained of the involvedness in getting a new passport. Since I have no pressing reasons to obtain the E-passport, I have merely being involved in helping friends make payments with credit cards, especially those without one. What began to prick my curiosity about matters related to the E-payment arrangement was when an elderly colleague of mine exploited a Nigerian get-together forum to raise questions about the legality of the two regimes of payment. He demanded explanation from officers of the commission why 110 USD is to be paid into central account and another receiptable 30 USD, which by all intent is into the commission’s purse. I listened to the argument on both sides of the divide, though with reservations. I made up my mind to conduct personal and high level investigation with a view to get my facts and figure on the smoldering issue. So, I began to make contacts with friends and the first one turned out to be heart trembling, as I was told of one article written by one Akin Tokunbo Adejumo, a social and political commentator. This was published on 1 October, 2009, edition of Nigerian Tribune. The same article was earlier published on the author’s blog on 21 April 2009 and by Daily Triumph on Tuesday June, 16 2009. The article was an icebreaker. Although it mainly centered on the specifics and general rakishness within the Nigerian immigration, it was all I need to read meanings into 110 USD as an outright exploitation of the Nigerian diasporas citizens. While exposing the exploitation that goes in the name of 110 USD, Akin Tokunbo submits, “If you live in Nigeria, the cost of the e-Passport is 8,750 Naira. This, taking US$1.00 to be 175 Naira, and British £1.00 to be 250 Naira, translates to US$50.00 and British £35.00 respectively. Please note that there will always be fluctuations in the exchange rate every time. If you are applying from outside Nigeria, the cost is US$110.00, translating to a whooping 19,250 Naira or British £75.00.” The first thing that came to my mind was to find out, if this is the case with nationals of other countries, who apply for same thing outside the shores of their countries. My findings happened to be an indictment on the Nigerian government as that which luxuriates in exploiting her people.
In the case of the country which prides itself as truly Asia, the normal price is RM300.00 for 32 pages and RM600.00 for 64 pages passport, either for those at home or in abroad. For the underage, students and some other categories, there is a rebate. With the United State, the standard amount is US$75.00, for first time applications and renewals. Ghana collects £65.00 for both local and foreign applicants. Kenya, Canada, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, and the hosts of other countries add up to the list of countries which do not levy on their citizens, foreign and local residents, different regimes of charges. This makes a case for the culture of exploitation which has penetrated deep into the fabrics of Nigeria polity such that it has become part of our governmental policy. If one is to look at this logically, the production cost of this passport in Nigeria will be more expensive than in any other parts of the world. This is for the simple reason that operation/production costs such as electricity bills, internet charges, maintenance fees are higher in Nigeria than in other places where our country’s Commission or Embassy have acquired this biometric machine. At least, one is sure that generators will be used more often times in Nigeria based immigration offices than the usually electricity being supplied by PHCN, after all, in the latter’s offices nationwide, generators are used in supplying electricity. What a failure! My interac
tion with a couple of foreign nationals from other parts of the world buttresses this claim. A friend from Turkey who lives in Asia authoritatively told me that it takes half the application amount payable at home to process their international passport elsewhere. Another acquaintance from Sudan, one of the troubled countries in Africa narrated the same experience. It is possible that in these countries, the amount payable is decided by the cost of production. So, it requires a government whose watchword is integrity, transparency, love of its people and open- heartedness to charge lesser fees when the production cost is reduced. On this frame of analysis, the Nigeria government has wronged its citizenry in the diasporas for charging 110 USD. I think it will be not be too sane to expect a government which annual milestone is looting the common resources of the land; a government which engages the services of convicts and offer official cover for those who are indicted of stashing the country’s resources in overseas banks. How will one expect a government which rode on the back of fraud and fraudulent proceeds/earnings to emerge as the leadership of the country to be magnanimous with its citizenry? Someone who rose to power through ballot smashing, stuffing, voters’ intimidation, ballot manipulation and manicollation will never have the moral wherewithal to see 100 USD as being abnormal because he is simply fraud personified.
Beside the governmental exploitation culture, there is also the possible influence of the Nigerian mentality about those resident abroad. Nigerians have this wrong conception that living abroad is better than being at home as they do think that you can easily accrue wealth sufficient to herald your arrival in life. This is one reason why a lot of people are always in the mad rush to travel abroad, only to meet the disappointment of their lives. To worsen the situation, a substantial percentage of those abroad, engage themselves in crooked and dubious activities in order to paint a false picture that money is so easy to come by in abroad. It is so sad that the government of Nigeria has been inflicted with this disease as to think that making those abroad to cough out an amount twice what is payable at home for obtaining biometric/e-passport is an orderly act. Nay!, this is a stark act of disorderliness being perpetrated under the auspices of a government whose head is suffering from mental and bodily disorder. For doing this, the government of Nigeria, whose ineptitude has been forcing its people to look elsewhere, has added to the causes of the get-rich-quick disease which is affecting most Nigerians abroad. On this note, rebranding exercise is another attempt in futility because, of what vantage is the need in rebranding when the government has branded and patent sleaze, exploitation, corruption, bribe and false pretence as its official crest.
My concern about the biometric/e-passport took a drastic turn when I came across another article written by one Okon Francis. Tilted, ‘EFCC and Well-Meaning Nigerians: Save Our Soul from E-Passport Rip-Off,’ Francis narrated his Malaysian experience by raising sensitive questions on another additional fees of 30 USD which is to be paid to the pursue of the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia before the biometric passport can be processed. He intimated his readers that this receipted amount has been explained by the cornered authorities, one time as administrative fees and on the other, as maintenance fees. If one may ask, what is the difference between 6 and half a dozen; barawu, thief and ole; asewo, prostitute, domitila, karwa and aristo; scammer, 419, looters and fraudsters, if not semantics. Some critical minds might raise eyebrows about the last grouping particularly about aristo, and asewo because aristo is a term used in addressing campus babes who trade their body by enlisting themselves on sex market for any willing hands. What qualifies one as an aristo is the studentship identity and this is unlike asewo, prostitute, domitila, karwa, who is doing the same business with different identity. But in reality, all of them are offering their body for sales, so, the grouping is still in order. In the case of a scammer, 419, looters and fraudsters, the same level of analysis suffices. A scammer uses internet to dupe and divest people of their belongings but 419 may broadly mean using all sorts of means, including the internet, privileged position and etcetera to swindle and rob people of their property and wealth. So, by suggesting that the 30 USD is official E-scam, then, on all fronts, the naming is justifiable and if it were to be official 419, it also passes as a valid nomenclature, because it translates to using official position to deprive citizens of their earnings. In another sense, this goes for official robbery. One way to take a look at the aptness of the last terms is to sit back and think of what an arm robber does with his gun. This is his advantage over the intended victim(s) and with this; an arm robber snatches the property of others. Since those involved in charging these exploitative fees are government officers, by implication, they are leveraging the instrumentality of government as a tool of robbery through which people are extorted of their hard earned money. Anyway, those who have paid the purported amount said they paid 150 Malaysian Ringgit, which is approximately equivalent to 43 USD. This is the opinion of those, who have paid the said additional fees. Is this exclusive of the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia and or, a directive of the government? Readers will need to wait a minute.
According to reliable and informed sources, in Ireland, there are the 80 USD payable online to the central account and another 40 Euros payable to the embassy’s account. The Nigerian New York consulate is reported to collect additional 20 USD payable to the consulate’s account in addition to the 110 USD. In London, there is the additional 50 pounds payable to the Commission. Same amount as it is with London is being paid to a dedicated account in Dublin. Authenticated report has it that in Spain, no extra amount is paid to any coffers’ dedicated account except the 110 USD payable to the central immigration account. With the Spain’s revelations, the illegitimacy of the amount is exposed, thus rubbishing any claim from whatever quarters that the money is official. Again, this leaves us with the possibility that the Federal Government may not be aware of these regimes of additional fees. But, what can we say about the fact that the Comptroller General of immigration is aware of these extortive fees? Though he is the government representative in this sector, but, the mental and bodily health of the president may be what he is exploiting. If this is to be accepted, then, it is a fraud being perpetrated by the concerned Ambassadors and High Commissioners, the Comptroller General, and possibly, the minister of Foreign Affairs. We must not rule out the involvement of other powerful forces within the establishment. The discernible interpretations which can be inputted into this seems to be endless. In event there are special directives which sanctions such exploitative acts, then, debate can then shift from the question of legitimacy to that of appropriateness as earlier argued. This is a terrifying situation which calls for people of integrity to stand eye-ball-to-eyeball
with the exploiters, by looking them straight in the eyes and penultimately making them to face the music for extorting and 419neering us. This is the time for the diasporas community to act by standing up against this fraud and unmitigated act and culture of exploitation. Those whose honour is their policy and pride is to walk the talk, should support the advocacy for the prosecution of those behind this exploitative fees and must begin to challenge the 110 USD because there is no justification for the astronomical hike. As Nigerians, we no longer have anything other than soiled and blackened image; we are often looked down upon as those from the den of corruption; a country whose leaders are convicts, followers fraudsters and national pride being bribery. It is left for the government to set the record right that its hands are clean, but, cannot simply do that in respect of the exploitative 110 USD.
We cannot and should not be crying and smiling because that is simply impossible. The situation calls for taking the government and those involved to task, by using all tools of advocacy which include bombarding all media of communication with voice of grievance, staging non-violent demonstrations within the premises of the Nigeria Embassies and High Commissions, and of course using the negotiation option. The spirit of self-determination and indefatigability makes me to vouch my commitment to all of these because a man that is worth his salt does not need the permission of anybody, not even his in-laws before he can enjoy conjugal bliss with his wife. This is just his right, which requires no permission. To root out the exploitative 43 USD, 50 pounds, 20 USD and other USD’s payable to someone’s/ a body’s dedicated account, we need not rationalize the permissibility of challenging it. We must simply stand up against those people who have made exploitation, a culture of governance and fraud, an official identity.