The Director of the Ekiti State branch of the National Identity Management Commission, Gbenga Ifayefunmi, recently disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed an Executive Order that makes it mandatory for Nigerians to present the National Identity Card before they can obtain Nigeria’s passport.
Unlike civil service-wide government circulars issued from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Executive Orders, signed by the President, emanate from the Office of the President.
Following is a narrative of the experience of a Nigerian citizen, who wanted to obtain the National ID, in order to get the passport. He arrived the NIMC office in the Central Business District at Alausa, in Ikeja, at about 10am on a certain day.
This fellow, call him Citizen Muda, met fellow victims at the entrance, without anyone attending to them. After what seemed to be an eternity, a young female came out to tell the frustrated crowd, that because there was no electricity, her office could not perform its statutory responsibility to them.
She advised that they should all come the next day, and if they were lucky -the municipal electricity company willing- they would be “captured” then. The citizens, who had no choice, agreed, and dispersed.
She then called, as they trudged away, that it would be advisable to come as early as 7am the next day. The earlier they came, she explained, the earlier they would be attended to. A repeat call is one of the hidden costs of irregular electricity supply in Nigeria.
Tomorrow came, and many of the frustrated citizens returned. After another long wait, another female NIMC official came out, only to apologise that there was no electricity, and so it would be difficult to attend to them.
Sensing the frustration of her victims, she suggested they could contribute money to buy petrol to power the agency’s generator. Citizen Muda walked away, as some of his compatriots were pulling out wads of currency to ante up for the ransom subtly demanded.
Citizen Muda went to another NIMC office, only to meet an extremely rude female official, who got very cross because Citizen Muda sat on a vacant seat in her office. Then, the young man, who would do the capturing, sauntered in.
He surveyed the unfortunate souls, whom the indifferent Nigerian state had brought his way, drew an arbitrary line, and swept those at the back of his hand away, telling them they should come another day.
Those to his fore palm were the lucky ones that he would attend to that day. He motioned them into the inner recess of his office. After some murmuring, the unfortunate ones shuffled along and dispersed. Their tormentor sternly announced after them, “Better luck next time.”
Then, he announced that anyone without a Bank Verification Number should go away. Many of the victims fell out of the line. Whereas a citizen should be identified in a bank by his ID card, it is the bank that identifies him to the agency that has statutory responsibility for issuing him an ID card. This can only happen in a confused system.
A faded form was shoved into the hands of Citizen Muda, who was in the lucky batch, and rudely instructed to collect N20 from each of the other captives, and go procure photocopies. Those who didn’t have N20 were asked to come back another day.
Note that those who were lucky to be attended to on that day had gone through three levels of weeding; by the arbitrary hand of the officer, lack of a BVN, and the mark of poverty. This naturally reduced the workload of the day.
After some delay at the business centre – there was no electricity initially – Citizen Muda got the photocopies, and returned to the office. He shared out the photocopies, filled his own copy, and submitted to the “jailer,” who motioned him to a large iMac screen.
After his details were entered into the system, Citizen Muda was asked to change his location, for the “capture” of his fingerprints, and to take the mandatory passport size photograph. Finally, “Oga” told him that his ordeal was over. He should return in one week to collect the temporary ID card.
Citizen Muda was too relieved, and sufficiently terrorised, to raise any query, as to why he couldn’t collect the real thing. He left quietly. He returned the following week, to collect what turned out to be the temporary of a temporary ID card. The “final” temporary ID would be ready on another day!
Citizen Muda returned on another day, to collect the final temporary ID Card. He was invited to a backroom, to meet a man who spoke easy, in low tones. Mr. Speakeasy conned him out of some N200, payment for “voluntary” lamination of the temporary ID. The oxymoron of the deal was that Speakeasy’s low voice was loud and clear.
As Citizen Muda was about leaving, Mr. Speakeasy told him that he should expect a text message that will inform him when the permanent ID card would be ready for collection. From that day, any time he showed his inpatient face in that office, he was always told, “Oga, wait for the SMS nah!”
Nineteen months after, Citizen Muda is still waiting for the text message. He was however miffed when told last week that his friend, who was taken by an “accredited” tout to a certain NIMC office, obtained the final temporary ID card in one day, but after paying an exorbitant fee! They are both still awaiting the permanent ID card, though.
Because that Executive Order signed by President Buhari has full legal effect, despite Section 58 l(1) of Nigeria’s Constitution, which provides that “The power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives… (and) assented to by the President,” Nigerian citizens have become hostages of an inefficient state.
In this case, this is how the held-hostage-by-the-state works out: To get a Nigerian passport, government wants you to first obtain a BVN, from a bank, that may, or may not, provide it on time. Thankfully, most banks are quick about it.
You provide the BVN to apply for a National ID card. But on your way to the NIMC office, you have to recite many Hail Marys so that God will uphold the hands of the electricity distribution company so that there will be electricity to work the computers and other equipment necessary to produce your new ID. You also have to hope that the NIMC officers are in a good mood.
And, as you would have seen, it takes anywhere from one day, to never, to obtain the National ID card from the NIMC that has become a halfway house of sorts to the passport office. With the pernicious Executive Order, the Nigerian state found another boobytrap to frustrate Nigerians.
With this device, law abiding Nigerians will never get a Nigerian passport if the men and machines of the NIMC do not cooperate. Now, imagine you needed the passport for a medical tourism, you might as well regard yourself as dead.
If that sounded grim, that, unfortunately, is going to be your reality.