Archive for May 2009

How Nigerians Work At The Passport Office

May 5, 2009


A recent visit to the passport office in FESTAC, Lagos here, did quite a lot to renew my hope that Nigeria may not after all be a totally lost case. Nigerians will always reciprocate with positive responses whenever and wherever there is purposeful, exemplary leadership to show the way and dictate the tempo. Indeed, I never imagined that the Nigerian Public Service still had in its fold such wonderful Nigerians whose industry, dedication and warm, friendly approach to service delivery could constitute worthy, ennobling benchmark even to many private organisations.

My business at the FESTAC passport office was to obtain an E-Passport to replace my old copy which had recently expired. I had arrived very early on the appointed day, as I was advised to, thinking I would wait for ages to be attended to, based on my previous knowledge of what obtained in government offices in Nigeria. But the lady that addressed us before we were ushered to the place we were to sit down to await our turns to take the photographs and complete other formalities was punctual. She was also polite, friendly, but firm and resolute. She simply explained to those intent on obtaining more than one passport or supplying wrong information that the law would naturally take care of them. There was a touch of humour in her speech, but there was no doubt that she meant business. I was impressed.


                                                   The E-Passport

Inside the building, those smartly dressed men and women worked with a sense of urgency, dedication and meticulousness that was rare, peculiar and hope-restoring. They worked with the gusto, cheerfulness and carefulness of people who enjoyed their work. As they fed the information the people supplied into the computers, they displayed remarkable understanding, patience and accommodation that permeated the entire room with soothing warmth and friendliness, reducing every discomfort arising from having too many people queuing at several tables at the same time and having to stand for a long time to complete all the process.

Even though the people were so many, and the lines seemed interminable, these officers managed to convey the impression that they were not bored or tired, but rather derived immense pleasure doing their job. I sought in vain for the slightest hint of irritation or snapping patience towards those who either kept making mistakes or were slow in proofreading their information. I can’t recall ever feeling at home in any government office, but at the FESTAC passport office that day, I really felt welcome and at home. Their seemingly inexhaustible patience was also on display at the thumb-printing and photograph points. Some people, especially children and old people, took their photographs several times before good copies could be obtained. I looked at the faces of the officers to see any signs of exasperation, but saw none. They kept beaming. Even when the persons concerned tried to suggest, after a couple of attempts, that the photographs were manageable and could go in like that, the officers still politely asked them to allow them to try again. And they would help the people to arrange their heads properly until good copies were obtained. Though the work usually dragged through several hours, with   hardly any pauses, the workers remained their cheerful and friendly selves.

But this friendly atmosphere never existed at the expense of thoroughness. They ensured every information is correct before it is posted. They also watched out for people intent beating the system. While I waited for my turn, I observed a scene that would make an excellent comedy. A woman had come with some kids, and one officer who had been sitting meekly on a desk observing everyone insisted on speaking with her before she could be attended to. Suddenly the man was telling her that the kids were not hers. The woman argued furiously, and showed serious offence at such a suggestion. Then the officer asked her to excuse him, so he could speak with the kids. But as the woman went outside, he called the woman’s husband instead, whose number, I suppose, he got from the forms. There and then, his suspicion was confirmed that the woman had come to obtain those passports for the children without the consent of their father, and that the letter of consent she had presented was forged. When the woman was brought back, he confronted her, and as she continued insisting that the letter was duly written and signed by her husband, she was gently led out of the room.



Now, I was thinking that the exceptional work attitude I saw at the FESTAC passport office only flourished there until my wife recently went the passport office in Ikoyi, and came back with even more wonderful stories of how they attended to people there. Please, let’s not just gloss over this. If we are serious about breathing some life into our public service, a close study of the work attitude at these passport offices needs to be carefully undertaken to determine the secret behind the pleasant stories emanating from there. Dates for collection of passports are automatically generated once you are through, and on that day, you would go there and pick your passport without any hassles. I   suppose these exciting stories are replicated at all passport offices across the country. Although, there are still vestigial remains of the Nigerian thing there, like touts crawling about and “helping” people to bring forward  dates for passport collections or get early appointments, what remains clear is that it is difficult to encounter these passport offices and not move away with lasting hope-restoring impressions. With such an efficient system in place, the touts would soon run out of patronage.

What is the secret behind this functional system in the midst of extreme passivity, crippling slothfulness and boundless decay in the public sector? What kind of orientation was given to these men and women to turn them into such shining models of excellent service delivery? The Comptroller-General of the Immigration Service should be given a platform to explain to all of us the secret behind this totally odd situation.


Somebody might say: Ugochukwu, why are you getting unduly excited and praising people for just performing their duties very well, for which they are paid every month? Well, you must pardon me? I have been to several government offices where officials see anyone demanding some modest service as only coming to disturb their peace. They are usually very discourteous, resentful and sometimes outrightly hostile. Your reward for making a simple enquiry could be an angry outburst. People remain idle all day, chatting away or sleeping. At the passport office, I never heard that anyone’s file developed legs and disappeared only to reappear when the person had parted with some crumpled notes. Selflessness and commitment appeared deeply entrenched in all their operations.

So, today, I wholeheartedly pronounce the workers at the passport office, and their leader, the Comptroller-General of the Immigration (I don’t even know his name), the Heroes and Heroines of this column for this month for keeping hope alive that Nigeria is not a lost case, and that Nigerians are capable of being great models of excellence given the right atmosphere, motivation and leadership. Indeed, with focused leaderships at the highest points of power at both the federal and state levels, Nigeria would easily find its way back to the path of recovery and development. No doubt, Nigerians are ready to be led, but alas, where are the leaders?



Dora Akunyili,This Is Becoming Too Ridiculous!

May 5, 2009


f before the end of this year it becomes clear that the sterling performance of Dr. Dora Akunyili as Director General of the National Agency For Food, Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC) has been completely erased from the people’s mind and rudely replaced with the clearly odious role she now plays as the ebullient head of President Yar’Adua’s misinformation machinery, she would have no one to blame but herself. And it would be very sad indeed. No doubt, the costly, but naïve decision she took to become the image-maker of a passive and rudderless regime must, without fail, exact an even costlier price. 

Never a one to miss an excellent opportunity to strike when the head is still on the block, Mohammed Haruna has stepped forward with the strange theory that the indisputable and widely acclaimed success of Dr. Akunyili in her determined battle against fake and substandard products may have been unduly exaggerated. “The problem with propaganda is that it almost always leads to self-deception. Akunyili may have succeeded possibly well beyond her wildest  imagination in turning NAFDAC into a well-known brand, but the reality of food and drug administration in the country is that her success has been more of image than substance,” wrote Mr. Mohammed in a March 4, 2009 column. He did not stop there: “The fact is that contrary to the image that NAFDAC under Akunyili has virtually eliminated the phenomena of fake drugs and drug abuse both have hardly experienced any significant decline. In spite of all her efforts, the open and illegal drug markets in the country including the three most notorious ones at Onitsha, Kano and Aba, have never really gone out of business. So also have those who openly hawk prescription drugs on our streets”, Mohammed declared.                                                                                          


Dora Akunyili: Attempting The  Impossible?

A few months ago, before Akunyili accepted to work for the very unpopular Yar’Adua regime as Information Minister, Mohammed, despite his sterling reputation in matters of this nature, would have thought twice before launching such an unfair broadside, but now, who would want to fight for a once widely-admired Dora who, for reasons that can only be less-than edifying, has chosen to hasten her self-immolation with her own hands? 

As DG of NAFDAC, Akunyili was regularly celebrated in my newspaper column even though I have never met her.  The same way, most Nigerians who had loved her, prayed fervently for her and had pleaded with her to resist the temptation to soil her shinning reputation by accepting to become the spokesperson of this clearly bankrupt regime, did not know her personally.  And they would regard as gratuitous insult Mohammed Haruna’s suggestion that they may have been hypnotized by Akunyili’s successful propaganda and media hype. 

No matter how revolting we may find Akunyili’s present engagement, we cannot in all honesty deny that she did quality work, as NAFDAC DG, to restore the people’s confidence in drugs and beverages circulated in Nigeria. So, solid was her work that as not a few Nigerians entered shops and confidently bought fruit juice or other beverages, and left with full assurances that their livers would still be intact after they had consumed them, they gratefully remembered Akunyili and thanked God for her life. As a baby suffered from jaundice, and the mother rushed to a nearby chemist shop and purchased the antibiotic prescribed by the doctor, and the drug saved the baby instead of killing him or her, that mother, depending on how informed she was, more often than not, would remember Akunyili. As drug manufacturing firms which were almost forced out of business (many multi-national drug companies actually closed shop and left the country) because their products were being indiscriminately counterfeited returned en masse and began smiling to the banks with their millions and billions instead of singing tales of woes, they remembered Akunyili, and thanked God for such a rare gift. To most Nigerians, Akunyili meant the return of sanity in a society overrun and made unsafe by heartless counterfeiters; the safeguarding of many lives which would have been lost because of the desperation of some devilish souls to rake in blood-stained millions at the expense of precious lives. 

As I read recently the Daily Trust web copy of Mohammed’s March 4 article and saw the comments posted by readers, it dawned on me that Akunyili’s lower descent may even happen faster than I had feared.  But then, it has always been evident that the first thing a public officer acquires in Nigeria is thick skin. That is why the very damaging allegation by one of Mohammed’s readers (which Daily Trust allowed to be posted) may not even bother Akunyili. That may also explain why she is most stubbornly going on with her overly exasperating re-branding campaign despite widespread agreement among the citizenry that it is nothing but a useless and wasteful exercise.   

I have heard that when people enter government they tend to be willingly ignorant and blind in order to survive for too long there. Else, how can somebody with Dr. Akunyili’s intelligence, training, exposure and endowments wake up one morning and convince herself that by attacking my phones daily with the very uninspiring slogan: “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation,” she will succeed in intimidating me into suddenly forgetting all the indescribable pains tormenting me in this country as a result of the abysmal failure of leadership and character on the part of our rulers, and start grinning from ear to ear? Does a country become great simply because some fellow stood in some cosy office in Abuja and attacked my phones with silly slogans he or she does not even believe?  What do these people really take us for? A population of empty-headed fools? Now, if a father who had wasted his money on wine and women, and, consequently, starved his family sore, suddenly woke up one morning and started reciting: “My Family: Healthy, Well-fed!” won’t his wife and neighbours think he has gone crazy? How can such a useless slogan better the lot of the family he had irresponsibly neglected? How would that secure him the love and cooperation of his family members and make them to stop seeing him as an irresponsible and failed family head? 

I seriously think that this is becoming too ridiculous! There is a disgusting penchant in Nigerian leaders to always throw money at problems and expect a magic to happen – a clearly lazy, insincere man’s option that would always be rewarded with resounding failure.  We always want to seek a shot-cut to glory by seeking to purchase a good image. How can any nation hope to re-brand itself in a vacuum, with practically nothing to showcase? Will the potential tourist or investor simply start rushing down to Nigeria because of one meaningless slogan when the verdict of Country Risk Analysts about this same country remains alarming? Why this indecent haste to re-brand? Why not Yar’Adua now set a realistic date to achieve uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria, for instance, and when that has been achieved, use it as a milestone to anchor a re-branding campaign? 

To clearly underline the fact that the rest of the world is unimpressed by our infantile campaign of misinformation, Nigeria was recently excluded from the G20 Summit of world leaders which it had before now attended as merely an observer. What it means then is that even as an observer, the global community is sick and tired of enduring the unprofitable company of this perennially sick baby. And when this happened, Yar’Adua mourned in Abuja: “I must say that today is a sad day for me. And I think it should be for all Nigerians, when 20 leaders of the leading countries in the world are meeting and Nigeria is not there. This is something we need to reflect upon,” he cried. 

Well, I can only hope that Yar’Adua and his unwieldy crowd will truly reflect upon this, and tell themselves that even if a G40 Summit is holding tomorrow, Nigeria may still be excluded, even if we sink billions to re-brand and re-brand and re-brand.  Somebody should please tell Akunyili what I think she already knows too well, namely, that when a room is horribly messed up with the indiscriminate droppings of a very reckless dog, what you must do is to bend down and carefully wash the place with an active detergent.  Only then would you get back the fresh, pleasant air that makes a room worth inhabiting. But if you take the unhealthy short cut of spraying the dog-shit with heavy dose of deodorant, then you will get a putrid scent that will make the room more repelling than ever before.  Indeed, it is time to discard this unprofitable and ridiculous exercise and roll up the sleeves to work to move Nigeria forward.  Without any re-branding campaign to hoodwink anyone, companies are closing shop here, and relocating to Ghana. Yar’Adua and Akunyili can also reflect on this. A good market, they say, sells itself.