by Wobia Akani
A piece of brotherly or sisterly advice to my Nigerian brothers and sisters who “bleach” or lighten their skin colour – you are better off heading for a tanning bed or enjoying the luxury of our Nigerian sun, or you may be mistaken for an “oyinbo” and subjected to rigours you did not bargain for, should you require a Nigerian passport.
I hear you need to look like a thorough bred black Nigerian, with Afro puffs on your head (probably throw in a few scarification “tribal” marks for good measure) to renew your Nigerian passport outside of Abuja, or to get a new one issued. Every one aspiring to get a Nigerian passport from the Nigerian Immigration Service office in Ikoyi, Lagos has to pass the skin test of “Nigerianness”. Shocking right?
Given that Sections 25 to 31 of the Nigerian constitution expressly set out what makes one a Nigerian citizen, by reason of birth, registration and naturalization, it is appalling and no less a show of racism to think that Nigerians would be denied the requested service at a service point based on skin colour alone.
It is an outright flout of one’s right to freedom from discrimination. By what orders, laws or regulations were the Immigrations officers told not to issue or re-issue passports to “yellow Nigerians”? There is no official documentation of such a policy, or is it just some instruction based on the whim of an oga at the top?
These are issues that grossly affect Nigerians and should be brought to the attention of the legislative houses. I am certain that there are committees within the upper and lower legislative chambers with oversight functions over the Immigrations service. And yet rather than concern themselves with the plight of the common man who voted or rigged them in as the case may be, they focus on propagating their personal agenda of enshrining immunity for themselves in the constitution. It is absolutely embarrassing when one thinks of the hassles a Nigerian goes through at a foreign embassy, and then has to face a similar situation within his own country.
I would want to think that the idea of decentralising the immigration service offices is to make the service more accessible to Nigerians, but when Nigerians are made to travel long distances to obtain this service, the purpose is defeated considering the cost of transportation, accommodation and sometimes even having to pay more than the official fee to obtain the passport. This is taking for granted that the citizen can even afford to pay those bills. What about the individual who can barely pay the processing fees for the passport and is perhaps merely taking the steps because it may have been requested of him at some point, maybe at the bank or on a job?
While it would be improper, illegal and completely contrary to the provisions of the constitution to have such a policy in circulation (assuming but not conceding that it is an official directive), I believe that this is a situation that calls for judicial pronouncement as people who have been victimised would only get respite in heading to the courts for the enforcement of citizenship and fundamental human rights. There may be no recompense in retrospect but it would ensure that other yellow Nigerians do not suffer the same fate.
So like I said earlier, set aside your bleaching cream and head for the tanning bed, but while you’re at it, try not to get too black or you may be confused for a Ghanaian or Somalian and you still won’t get a passport. Perhaps the shade of brown that we need to be has to be included on the list of requirements for processing a Nigerian passport.