Elizabeth travelled to Port-Harcourt to see her family and decided to renew her passport in Port-Harcourt. Her elder sister knew someone at the passport office, so it was going to be a walkover. She got to the office early enough and took the necessary capture for the passport. She got a text before leaving the passport office notifying her about the success of her payment fees for her passport. Almost immediately, she got another text notifying her about the failure of her NIN application and thus inability to renew her passport. She had applied for NIN in the past and was sure that this would turn out to be a minor issue. Some bells rang in her ear telling her that nothing was ever minor with Nigerian processes. It was past twelve in the afternoon and still enough time to make it to the NIN office. The passport officer had graciously given her a note to give to the lady in charge at the NIN office.
She met the lady- middle-aged with a pleasant disposition. There was a snag, however. There was no light. “Hmmmm…my dear sister, that is what we suffer here o! And the weather is hot so everywhere is stuffy. We normally depend on the goodwill of some our clients to help out with fuel for the generator.” Elizabeth got the message as her eyes were now firmly fixed on her bag. “How much fuel do you use to run the generator?” “My sister…anything you give us is fine. The fuel runs so fast. Anything. Nothing is too small. If we see 5k, we would be able to fuel the generator.”
Elizabeth brought out the sum of five thousand Naira from her bag for fuel. Soon enough, the office generator came on and she was asked to fill some forms. She asked what happened to her old NIN and why it could not be used to renew her passport and was told that her names were not all captured in the earlier NIN and so it was necessary to do a new one. Additionally, she would have to only choose three out of her four names as the form did not have space for all her names. “Are you saying that I need to omit my names as they appear on my birth certificate to fit into your form? That doesn’t make sense.” “Madam that is the only available option. We can’t design new forms because of you.”
After a heated exchange, the NIN official graciously allowed her to fill out all four names. She posed in front of an odd-looking computer and had her photograph taken. She left the office just before 4pm and was told to expect her NIN within 48hours. It took Elizabeth another hour to meander through traffic and get to her house. The next day she left back for Lagos and intended to come back in two weeks to sort out her passport.
On Monday, she got a phone call from a strange number. “Hello, am I speaking with Madam Elizabeth?” This is Patience from NIN. Abeg no vex, we would need you to come in again. That Friday you took your photograph, we were unable to store all your details because there was no network. We didn’t know until Abuja informed us after you left, that they were having network challenges. Abeg no vex. Come any time you can and let me know when you can make it.” Elizabeth was too stunned to make any intelligent remarks.
And then there was Chief Ugo who came in from America after the New Year holidays. He planned to stay for three weeks and head out in the last week of January. He also needed to renew his passport. Chief Ugo paid about twenty thousand naira to his friend who worked in NIN office in Abuja to help facilitate the renewal of his passport on time. He also went to the NIN office in Lagos to procure his NIN. It would take another three weeks for the NIN to be integrated with the immigration system. Each day was the same story-“network challenges”, the “system is down”. It stayed that way and each passing day made it look less likely that he was going to go back to the States on his original departure date. Chief Ugo paid about two hundred and forty thousand Naira to effect a date change on his ticket.
Nigerian processes are hardly ever flawless and/or seamless. It is always a journey fraught with high stress, tension-inducing, and energy-sapping moments. As a minimum, it must involves the loss of productive man-hours. And then vacuous platitudes:
“Do you know who I am?” “I’ve been standing on this line since 9am and the line is not moving.” “The server is down. Come tomorrow.” “There is no light at the moment.”
As if to underscore the above, at the time of writing this article, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy says there are plans to replace the bank verification number (BVN) with the NIN. In 2014, not a few Nigerians would recall the stress involved in getting a BVN for most Nigerians at home and in diaspora. It remains to be said that there is not a whole lot to be said. At the end, it’s all Lori iro.