Multiple passports for rich, powerful Nigerians?

LAST week, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. Muhammad Babandede, indicated that the agency was contemplating the idea of issuing multiple standard international passports to high net worth Nigerians who are frequent travellers to facilitate their business trips overseas. Speaking at the Ikoyi passport office in Lagos, the NIS boss said the initiative followed pressure from businessmen and frequent travellers. According to him, the most affected persons were those with passports trapped at embassies and high commissions as they sought to get visas to travel to different countries while having many businesses to attend to at the same time. The issuance of multiple standard international passports would allow such businessmen and high net-worth individuals to attend to different needs without the constraint of possessing a single passport, he added.

The NIS boss however added a caveat, namely that the issuance of such passports would be subjected to rigorous scrutiny, such that only individuals who do not pose security problems and are not involved in narcotic or other nefarious activities would benefit from the scheme. Babandede added that there were over 70,000 uncollected international passports at the NIS offices nationwide, attributing the negative trend to Nigerians declaring their passports missing in order to meet up with visa requirements at some embassies or high commissions, and fraudulent declaration of lost passports, either to escape justice or for “irrational excuses.”

It is indeed a fact that Nigerians of high net worth often experience the inconveniences highlighted by the NIS CG in their bid to attend to various businesses abroad. However, the proposed solution to the problem is fraught with so many potent challenges as to render it completely undesirable. In the first place, how does Babandede hope to define individuals of high net worth? For instance, is a university professor necessarily of high net worth or not? And are the consultants to the various state governments high net worth individuals or not? More fundamentally, why is the NIS considering further reinforcing the social inequalities in the country by creating a special category of Nigerians and placing them over and above others simply because of their perceived social standing?

All too often, the structures in place in various spheres of life in the Nigerian society reinforce inequality and seek to punish the underprivileged rather than seeking to empower them. The rich and powerful easily get away with crimes for which their poorly circumstanced compatriots would readily rot in jail or even face the hangman’s noose. Instead of jail, they are rewarded with the veneration of a society fast losing its moral fabric. Traditional rulers compete with one another in bestowing chieftaincy titles on felons simply because they have enough money to throw around. Indeed, everywhere you go, even at supermarkets, that pernicious culture that Nigerians sometimes refer to as ‘bigmanism’ stares you in the face, daring you to do your worst. The rich, powerful and well-connected often do not bother to join any queues—they are unable to share the same space with ‘ordinary’ people. After all, they did not ask anyone not to make money. Unwittingly, the society is asking people to get rich very quickly or die trying.

Actively, the society preaches the message that it is a crime to be underprivileged and if the proposal by the NIS sails through, it would have further confirmed the unstated truism that all Nigerians are equal but some are more equal than others. To say the least, we do not think that it is a wise decision to seek to delegitimise certain categories of Nigerians and venerate others via official policy. As a matter of fact, this practice of undue privileging of certain persons and groups is even being consistently pursued at inter-ethnic levels. Consider, for instance, the recently proposed Ruga policy whereby members of the over 400 ethnic groups in the country were called upon to yield their ancestral lands to nomadic herdsmen simply because they (herdsmen) belong to a privileged class whose interests must always be placed above the collective interest of other Nigerians.

Do the laws of the land recognise giving undue privileges to certain categories of Nigerians? The NIS should perish the thought of multiple passports for the high and mighty. There is too much segregation in the country already. What the NIS should do is to ease the process of passport issuance while not compromising national security. As for the passports trapped in embassies and high commissions, the Federal Government can take the issue up and ensure that Nigerians get the best official treatment possible in their own country.


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