The Nigeria consulate located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has descended from the flimsy to the absurd in its excuses for its incompetence, lethargy, inefficiency and corruption. Besides its incapability to render any service beyond providing passports, it appears now it can no longer deliver even this essential service to Nigerian citizens living in the Kingdom. Simply put, the consulate has outlived its usefulness.
Since the beginning of the year, the consulate has degenerated in its flip-floppy ability to produce passports to Nigerians. For months, it has been a load of excuses for its failure to provide this basic service to Nigerians resident in Saudi Arabia. Annoyingly, some of these excuses are outright stupidity.
Six months ago, it said the production machine had broken down and it was taken to Nigeria for repair. Four months ago, it was the printer, which was also taken to Nigeria for fixing. Then in April, it was the finger print capturing machine they purported was faulty and it was taken to Nigeria for repair. At one time, the printer hung probably for being switched on for too long, yet they were waiting for somebody from Nigeria to tell them to switch it off and restart it again! About a month ago, it was the laminating sheet for the data page that they were waiting for from Nigeria. Again, since the last two weeks, the passport section, I am not sure if they have any other department there anyway, has been claiming that they want to update the system and the compact disk (CD) for this task is also being awaited from Nigeria! How ridiculous can these people be?
Many families travelled thousands of kilometers to this haven of incompetence and corruption only to be welcome with this kind of outlandish, if not, gross inanities. How in a twenty-first century that an operator of computer-based system does not know that when a computer system hangs, the solution ninety-nine percent of the time is to reboot the system; switching it off and switching on again. Why would a CD to update a machine running in Saudi be kept in Nigeria? Does the CD also contain the intelligence data of President Buhari and Aso Rock that it sounds too risky to have it kept in Jeddah? And how many weeks it would take to move a CD from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia? Is the courier riding on a camel? It is either that the consulate has run out of excuse and the people asked to manufacture one are plainly silly, or they think all Nigerians in the Kingdom are dimwits. This is just a tip of the iceberg of the ineptness called consulate, as more thoughtless events and information have been dished out by the consulate.
Nonetheless, the Nigeria community in the Kingdom has condoned and encouraged this level of incompetence and corruption to a large degree. As it is in our character, we remain silent when pain is deliberately imposed on us by inefficient government department, yet we are ever ready to bribe our way to obtain services that is naturally our inalienable right. This may be a topic for another day.
And when you survey the equipment for the passport production, it is nothing of a complex hardware. It is a camera, computer, and printer. Yes, the type of camera you use for social media communication! The only underlying thing therein is the interfacing software. Yet the consulate staffs would be sounding like it is a rocket science to provide passport service. They talk and behave as if Nigeria is the only country on earth that uses e-passport.
Nothing is even more annoying than when incompetent characters are also being arrogant. The consulate staffs are so nonchalant, lethargic and haughty. These are the defining characteristics of the fellows in charge of the passport production. On your arrival at the consulate, they get busy as if they are doing anything, but it is just a grandstanding in absolute nothingness or only prying out for who can bribe them to provide the service they claim is not available.
They arrive late for work. The earliest time for work in the consulate is 11:00 am in a country where office hours begin at 7:30 am. In fact, the consulate staffs mirror the corruption-tainted, inefficient and unproductive civil servant back in our home country.
With an expired passport, one cannot renew his/her expiring Iqamah (residence permit). This can potentially qualify one to be declared an illegal resident in the Kingdom. In addition, the way the system works in the Kingdom, every aspect of one’s life-from recharging your phone to accessing your bank account- is tied to a valid Iqamah. Thus, once the Iqamah expires, as it is for many of us currently, you are barred from accessing any service in the Kingdom, including withdrawing money from ATM, bank account and accessing health service. You are barred practically from everything. You can even lose your job. Travelling around the Kingdom with an expired Iqamah is a crime. Many Nigerian residents here are stranded and confused.
The more adverse effect of the consulate’s incompetence is that it exposes family and individual to danger and risk when traveling on the Saudi road, which has a handful of careless road users. In 2011, I travelled for more than a thousand and five hundred kilometers to obtain a passport for my family including my six-month-old baby. I arrived there as early as anyone could be because I slept over in Makkah. But for a consulate whose staff resumes work at nearly midday, our data could only be captured late in the afternoon. This gave them the excuse not to produce the passport for us that day, claiming that it was already getting dark. Like the Rivers State Residential Electoral Commissioner in the 2015 general election, our consulate needed more light to print out passport in spite of the availability of twenty-four-hour electricity in the Kingdom.
Since I had no accommodation arrangement in Jeddah, I had to drive my family back to Makkah, even though we were thoroughly exhausted. But for the Mercy of God, I would not have been alive writing this piece today because I slept off while driving. It were the hooting from the vehicles beside and behind me that woke me up, probably when they noticed I was veering off the road unusually. I quickly pulled out of the road to a service station where my family and I slept over in the open. Alhamdulillah, I am alive to tell this story. I have heard other family lamenting their experiences due to the incompetence of the consulate and its lack of regard for time.
Many other countries go into provinces to provide consular services to their citizens residing in the Kingdom. Our own consulate would not do same unless they get a pecuniary inducement, a corrupt act which some section of the Nigerians community here have encouraged.
I am serving this as an SOS note to both the federal ministries of foreign affairs and interior to wake this consulate and its passport department up. We have endured pain for long. Besides, the location of the passport facility in Jeddah is inauspicious. The choice of location in the first place was motivated by corruption. The Kingdom capital, Riyadh, where Nigeria has an embassy is a more central location to where Nigerian residents can travel between 500-800 kilometers from any part of the Kingdom to obtain passport service.
The relevant ministry should either provide an additional system or decentralize the operation of the current one. More so, the ministry of interior should consider the possibility of extending the passport for another five years after its first-five year as it was with the old passport. This issue was raised recently in the house of representative. I pray it pulls through.
A. S. M. Jimoh (twitter @anehi2008).