Obtaining Nigerian Passport/Visa In The USA Is A Nightmare

By SKC Ogbonnia

The change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari has received positive reviews so far from theUnited States of America. Many American businesses appear ready to take a chance again onNigeria. But some are beginning to develop cold feet so soon because many tales on Nigeria are still very emblematic of the inept shadow of the immediate past regime.

Perhaps many factors contribute to the bad image, but none has been more annoying than the case of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). For example, the process of obtaining ordinary Nigerian Visa or Passport defies common sense. The primary headache is Innovate 1 Services, a maladroit company contracted during the past regime by the NIS to process passport/Visa applications. Quite frankly, it is not an overstatement to quip that the old NEPA was by far more efficient. At least Nigerians could easily relate to the voices at the then NEPA. Put differently, besides the prevailing challenges at the Innovate 1 Services, the contractor also has the audacity to outsource the few jobs from a critical component of Nigerian national security to our Indian friends whose relentless brawl with the English language makes a typical Nigerian sound like an Englishman. Yet, millions of our highly qualified citizens roam the streets home and abroad in search of any kind of job.

Make no mistake about it, many would care less if the Innovate 1 Services and its “Oyinbo” staff could provide the desired service. But the reverse is obviously the case here. In fact, nothing seems to work right in that company from web technology, applications, method of payment, customer service, and what have you. Attorney Stefano Fabeni, the Executive Director, Global Initiatives for Human Rights at Heartland Alliance in Washington, DC, had a first-hand experience and was able to tweet the matter exactly how it belongs: “Applying for #Nigerian visa with Innovate 1 services is a nightmare. They should NOT be allowed to operate in the US.”

As a foreigner, Fabeni’s harrowing account was on Visa, but the passport process for our citizens in the USA is even worse. Not only do these fellow Nigerians have to grapple with the Innovate 1 Services system, those who live outside the regions where the embassies or consulates are located incur costs of an average of $1,000 to obtain a common passport. To mitigate the costs, the Nigerian Embassy designed an intelligible intervention program whereby passport services are entertained in major cities outside the consulates. However, apart from a potpourri of unprintable details, the intervention program itself is fraught with two daunting challenges.

First, the exercise is extremely time-consuming in a country where time matters most. The reason offered for this failure is that each consulate office in the USA is equipped with only two Immigration bio-data capturing machines. To that end, a consulate can only afford to lend one machine for interventions, and understandably so, since the other machine must remain at the consulate for its normal operations. Second, the consulate does not seem to have the desired number of staff to contain the type of volume usually generated from the passport interventions.

A good case in point is a recent passport intervention conducted from February 19 through 22, 2016 in Houston by the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta. Over 1,000 Nigerians applied and showed up at the venue. Although the consulate staff had to work over 15 hours per day, only less than 400 of the applications were captured by the lone machine. The majority had to go home dispirited, wondering why simple things are made difficult once associated with their native country. And you cannot fault the frustrations. In attempt to obtain ordinary passports, these fellow Nigerians had to take off from work to queue in line for days only to come out empty-handed. Even when the passports are finally processed, it takes anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks before they are received by the applicants.

The most mind-boggling is that Nigeria does not have a permanent consular post in the Texas/Oklahoma region. For those unfamiliar with the American geography, the area in review is similar size to the entire Nigeria and features big cities, such as Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, andOklahoma City. More notably, the area includes Houston, a city recognized by the US State Department as boasting the largest concentration of Nigerians in America. Moreover, Houston is the energy capital of the world with a hive of Oil & Gas businesses tailor-made for Nigerian investment.

Buhari’s vision on foreign investment requires a holistic approach—targeting foreigners as well as Nigerians in the Diaspora. It does not require a clairvoyant to discern that these Diaspora-based Nigerians, who have been remitting home an average of $21 billion per year, actually hold the key to foreign investment into our country. To start with, they are highly vested in the different nations and serve as unsung ambassadors in their respective fields. Furthermore, most of them are nearing the retirement age and are pondering whether to invest at home or abroad. Best of all, their foreign-born children, most of who are also highly placed in different societies, are naturally eager to explore opportunities in the African country. Yet, while their parents might have been used to the “Nigerian factor”, the younger generation expects better.

The way forward is not too complicated. The change agenda of President Buhari must also be rooted in the government agencies that implement his policies. This case requires professionalizing—without any delay—the NIS services in the United States of America in line with international best practices. Very importantly, the government should ensure that the Nigerian consulates in the USAare strategically located, easily accessible, and fully equipped with adequate and competent staff, the desired number of bio-data capturing machines, and ready passport/visa booklets. First impression truly matters. The very few who venture to explore opportunities in Nigeria ought to have good stories to tell, beginning from the processes of traveling to the country.

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PDP’s Charge Against Buhari Is Of Non Compos Mentis By SKC Ogbonnia

Since assuming power, President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressive Congress (APC) has been able to unmask mind-boggling cases of corruption under the immediate past regime of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Such heartless looting of our commonwealth has resulted to loss of several thousands of human lives as well as serious economic crisis and ought to be condemned by all, regardless of the political or tribal shade. Yet, typically expected at this juncture—from the PDP apologists—is the mundane mumbling of vendetta, selective justice or what have you. What eventually woke me up is the latest salvo from the PDP spiritual leader, Governor Ayodele Fayose, equating the plan to reform Nigeria’s Judiciary in the course of the war against corruption to another form of witch-hunt. But this piece is set to compel the idle narratives to finally rest in peace.

First and foremost, the critics of Buhari’s war against corruption cannot in their right senses moot the idea that the culprits did not loot the public funds. They cannot in a straight face suggest that the looters did the right thing. Not surprisingly, rather than welcome the singular will to confront the criminals, the critics have opted to go after the president, stoking the flames of resentment as well as ridicule, however feigned.

The most common jab yet is that Buhari’s anti-corruption sphere does not extend beyond this century down to the Babangida era, at least. But it appears that the naysayers are in conflict with the history. Lest we forget, Buhari’s electoral victory was never a coup against the regimes of Adulsalami Abubakar, Sani Abacha, Earnest Shonekan, and Ibrahim Babangida. It was not necessarily about Obasanjo and Yar’Adua democratic regimes, which President Goodluck Jonathan interestingly claimed to have probed. The change was provoked in most part by the massive corruption in the immediate past government under Jonathan proper.

Besides, if corruption had any semblance to stealing during his tenure, Jonathan had the ample opportunity to have exercised the kind of mandate his supporters now expect from Buhari. That is, Jonathan should have truly probed and prosecuted the looters in the previous regimes beginning with his own immediate predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, down to the time of Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard. Make no mistake about it, other past administrations have serious questions to answer and must at some point. At the same time, even if Buhari is to eventually travel as far back as Adam and Eve, which is perhaps most equitable, we must not lose sight of the ancient saying: a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

Secondly, President Buhari must not be expected to arrest members of APC merely to satisfy the wishes of a cabal whose sole aim is to undermine the war against corruption by any scheme necessary, including inane charges of vendetta, et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately for them, though, our memory is still fresh. We can still remember that the APC—as the then opposition party—did not superintend the national projects currently being probed by the present government. Moreover, common sense dictates that the political logic of looting public treasury or rigging elections does not favour individuals in the Nigerian opposition parties. It is no wonder then that many of the cases presently preferred against the PDP bigwigs dated back to petitions during the time their party held sway.

The testament for PDP’s pattern of impunity is not difficult to fathom. With the possible exception of Sani Ahmed Yerima (Zamfara), it is not a coincidence that the big-name politicians indicted by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) during the regimes of Olusegun Obasanjo and Umar Yar’Adua were in fact the members of then ruling party. Notable among them were Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), DSP Alammieyeseigha (Bayelsa), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Adamu Abdullahi (Nassarawa), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), James Ibori (Delta), Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), Peter Odili (Rivers); and PDP chieftain Olabode George. And contrary to popular belief, the list above also features the close allies of the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, particularly Nnamani, Ibori, Odili, Igbinedion and, of course, Olabode George.

Also instructive is that, before APC assumed the presidency, most—if not all—governorship elections overturned in theFourth Republic saw the then opposition candidates prevailing in the courts over their PDP counterparts who had grabbed power through rigging. Such opposition beneficiaries included Peter Obi (APGA, Anambra), Adams Oshiomhole (ACN,Edo), Olusegun Mimiko (LP, Ondo), Kayode Fayemi (ACN, Ekiti), and Rauf Aregbesola (ACN, Osun). The same trend manifests post 2015 elections where many PDP candidates, who had claimed victory by fraudulent means, have continued to lose in the courts.

These granular instances only go to underscore the bare truth that PDP cronies were more likely to have engaged in brazen corrupt practices because of a pattern of impunity while their party was in charge. And you can’t blame them. The PDP was, after all, hyped to stay in power for unbroken 60 years. This predicament explains why John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton did not mince words when he intoned earlier in time that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority.”
Thirdly, if the truth is told, Buhari can be accused of many other things thus far in his democratic regime but definitely not the penchant to absolve his party men truly charged for abuse of office. If anything, the president has made good on his promise that he owes no allegiance to anyone. What has consistently escaped the minds of pundits is that the first set of politicians quizzed by the EFCC included top promoters of Buhari’s presidential campaign, particularly Murtala Nyako, Bukola Saraki, and Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, to name a few.  If Buhari is as selective as being impugned; come on, there was no way the EFCC could have beamed its light near Kwankwaso, a close ally that delivered in favour of the president 1.9 million solid votes from Kano State.

Still trending in the polity is the palaver about the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, who was arrested for his part in the $2.1 billion Dasukigate. His sympathizers believe that placing Metuh on handcuffs or granting him bail on stiffer terms is a clear sign of witch-hunt. But that is total balderdash. Being a spokesman for the opposition party is not a license to looting public money, wreaking havoc or obstructing justice. Unruly suspects typically attract harsher conditions in the criminal justice system world over.

This analysis will not go down well with critics who have always insinuated that their usual punching-bag, the APC national leader Bola Tinubu, is also roundly corrupt and thus deserves a permanent residence at Kirikiri. But enough of the puerile gossip! Though Tinubu can never claim to be holier than the Pope in terms of virtue, it appears that only a divine intervention can convince these gadflies to embrace the gospel truth: The former governor of Lagos State was the ‘Number 1 Enemy’ of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria throughout its time in power. Tinubu had also been accused time after time in the past, gone to court on a number of occasions, and won his cases fair and square. Whose fault then if the PDP failed to nail Bola Ahmed Tinubu during its long 16 years of dominant regime? Rather than disparage the iconic leader unceasingly, it is time to consider uniting in fairness to prepare a place for the Asiwaju in Nigeria’s democratic kingdom for bearing the huge cross of the opposition while PDP lorded it over our people.

“Okay, how about Fashola?…What of Amaechi?”, they would query. Then again, the state does not indict its citizens on mere tittle-tattle. Best of all, the Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, recently came up with an answer that should place the matter exactly it where belongs. The man said, “Such accusations have come up a lot, but we work with petitions before us. In fact, I am eager and waiting for something from the other side, but nothing has come so far.”

Surely, there should be no scarecrow on the war against corruption. The PDP and its promoters, therefore, have their work cut out. If the genius of common sense still holds, instead of peddling pedestrian accusations, it should behoove them to embrace the challenge from the EFCC chairman: Level true petitions against members of APC on the federal projects currently being probed, lodge them with the anti-corruption agency and make public.

Let me close by echoing with every cadence that opposition is vitally essential for Nigeria’s democracy and must be encouraged at all cost. But it is necessary to recognize that credible opposition is usually of sound mind and able to demonstrate the capacity to reason. Thusly, the PDP must not continue to pose as if it is opposing the anti-corruption war anyhow. Instead of the hoopla about rule of law on Buhari’s style against corruption, PDP can regain a level of credibility by devoting serious time on alternative solutions to the myriad of problems it brought upon the Nigerian people. Its leaders ought to sense that, while the rule of law remains sacrosanct, the masses are keenly aware that if the PDP ever had any regard for the rule of law, the unprecedented earnings in the past 16 years should have been poured into the public good rather than individual bank accounts.

This article was first published on The Paradigm.

PDP Is Too Corrupt And Too Sick To Lead The Opposition By SKC Ogbonnia

It is a common knowledge that any government without credible opposition is open to dictatorship and abuse of power. Recently, there was an array of hope for Nigeria.  For all intents and purposes, Nigerians had witnessed a formidable opposition activity by the time for the 2015 elections. But that is no longer the case. The current main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria (PDP), has turned out to be too corrupt and too sick to play a leading role.

So far, President Muhammadu Buhari is doing a commendable job grabbing the corrupt PDP henchmen one after the other. Yet, the attitude of the culprits once they are granted bail is not funny at all. Instead of standing firm to defend themselves and the cause of the opposition, these PDP leaders are usually befallen with one form of acute sickness or another. To rub in the ploy, the sick looters typically opt for treatment abroad while the masses are saddled with poor medical facilities at home.

Interestingly, the ardent supporters of the former ruling party still see hope. They believe the party will soon usher in some credible leaders in the crucible of a party convention, whenever that might be. But don’t hold your breath. Of course, PDP still boasts of fairly untainted figures like Ken Nnamani, Nuhu Ribadu, Donald Duke, Segun Mimiko, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Ibrahim Shekarau, and so on. Alas, the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria is not ready to entrust its future on any novice in primitive accumulation of wealth. The dilemma, therefore, is that virtually all its anointed leaders with deep pocket—from the north, east, and west—wear loud beads of corruption around their necks. Take a look at the lineup below.

Namadi Sambo: In a normal clime, the mild-mannered former Vice President would be the shoe-in to the leadership vacuum. However, he is yet to recover from an overseas medical treatment resulting possibly from the new wave of sickness common with PDP chieftains being fingered for abuse of office. Moreover, Sambo cannot feign ignorance to the monumental corruption that rocked the National Economic Council while he was at the helm.

Enter the man of the hour, son of a former Sultan, and the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki who has been in dire need of foreign medical treatment in midst of dizzying criminal charges. Dasuki had exhibited a measure of political shrewdness when he stormed the London Think-Tank Chatham House to make a case for the postponement of Nigeria’s 2015 elections. But it is clear that his was a fall before the rise. The Sokoto prince will forever be remembered for freebooting $2.1 billion defense funds budgeted to save human lives—now referred to as Dasukigate.

The case of the recent PDP Chairmen does not exude hope. Haliru Mohammed Bello, for one, has become a permanent fixture in the contemporary discussion of corruption in Nigeria. Currently confined to a hospital bed but indicted in connection to the Dasukigate, Bello is the same character thrust into the position of Defense Minister during the Goodluck era despite being embroiled in the infamous £8.6 billion Siemens bribery scandal. Similarly, though he is been out of the public scene since stepping down after failing to account for N12 billion party funds, Nigerians will never forget how Adamu Mua’zu ascended the top party post in the face of pending allegations for stealing N19.8billion from Bauchi State coffers. Even more, not only is the former governor rumoured sick somewhere, Mua’zu remains an integral quotient in cracking the various Dasukigate equations.

Sule Lamido is a well-nurtured party stalwart then widely seen as the heir apparent to 2019 PDP presidential ticket. Sadly, the ex-governor and son are now awaiting trial for plundering Jigawa State treasury. The plight of the past Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, is equally sad. Not long ago all roads pointed to Aliyu’s Minna residence, but that was then. Today, the erstwhile “Chief Servant” of Niger State is mired in N2.9 billion fraud charges at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The timbers of the 7th Legislature, particularly former Senate President David Mark, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, and former Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha are pondering what could have been. They were well groomed as the picture perfect babyface of the opposition with every resource in tow. However, not surprisingly, the trio has suddenly grown too old and too impotent due to a raging fear of imminent probes into the billions budgeted for Constitutional Review and Constituency Projects from the year 2007 to 2015. Ordinarily, PDP could have explored Senator Godswill Akpabio, the official opposition leader in the Legislature, but the former governor has become dumbstruck out of the blue after an encounter with the EFCC for allegedly carting away N108 billion from Akwa Ibom State treasury.

That brings us to Olisa Metuh, a man of cerebral pedigree, then packaged as a fearless patriot in his role as the PDP National Publicity Secretary. Regrettably, the party has just found out the hard way: Promoting Metuh as its official mouthpiece is akin to bursting the Pandora’s Box in a public square. Lo and behold, the credibility of the Nnenwi High Chief is deep down the tubes at the spur of the moment after failing to make sense of how and why a portion of the Dasuki corrupt largesse landed in his individual business bank account.

The most brazen is the spectacle of Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State grandstanding as a self-appointed “Leader of Nigeria’s Opposition”. A man of voluble tidings, Fayose is the shameless fugitive ex-governor previously impeached for corruption but drafted back by his party to recapture the seat by any means necessary. Ultimately, he is rattled by the anti-corruption war and has been roaming the political space inciting the public with all manners of innuendo against the ruling party as if PDP had shared the stolen billions among the poor masses. But Nigerians have become wiser. We are well aware that the commotion is nothing but the wailing of a highbinder awaiting serious time for his involvement in the N1.3 billion poultry scandal plus 2014 Ekiti election fraud.

It will be a gross disservice to the reading audience if this exposé is to conclude without a special attention on Femi Fani-Kayode. Quite frankly, at the chagrin of friends, I was overjoyed when the former minister was acquitted of money laundering charges. Though always traducing, Fani-Kayode’s kind of verbal opposition is not totally bad for the polity. At least, his bombastic style has entertainment value—a radio station away from a poor man’s Rush Limbaugh. The issue with this one, though, is that new revelations from the Dasukigate have shown that the constant bravado is not only to blind the gullible masses but also to fan the embers of crises in anticipation of looming indictments over new graft allegations.

This whole picture portends a troubling future for Nigeria. Although President Buhari has recorded a measurable success thus far, he is far from sainthood. Like in any human undertaking, excesses abound. Very unfortunately, however one views it; and no matter the line of argument; it is clear the PDP brand is hopelessly banal—too corrupt, too sick, and too witless to checkmate the party in power. Even if the PDP is to succeed in its dream of a makeover, the ensuing leadership will always be dismissed, and rightly so, as an appendage to an unrepentant corrupt cabal. The posterity beckons on patriotic minds within the different opposition camps, therefore, to unite towards the path to a true democratic culture. Instead of the maddening rush to the ruling party, it is time to explore a new opposition party that is steadily alert to expose the weakness of the APC central government and credible enough to offer alternative solutions.

The opinions expressed in Op-Ed are solely those of each individual author and does not represents Osun Defender editorial policy.