“I am a graduating student waiting to write my final examination but I can’t do that because I don’t have a valid passport and visa.”
The last may not have been heard from Nigerians in the Diaspora, particularly regarding the challenges they go through while carrying out their individual engagements in their host countries. For some, those challenges have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which has continued to affect the lives of many spread across the world.
Many Nigerians across the world have tabled challenges regarding the services, professionalism and attitude of the officials of the Nigerian Mission domiciled in their host countries.
The same experience is similar to that experienced by some Nigerians who live in The Philippines with expired passports and visas. Individually, their challenges differ but collectively, they risk eviction from the land. The fear of eviction is one they wake up and sleep with everyday.
Their complaints started when as part of COVID-19 management, The Philippines government imposed travel restrictions. A development which made it difficult for officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand to easily travel to the country to handle passport renewal issues.
Some of them who narrated their ordeals told Saturday Tribune via the telephone that the Nigerian Embassy in the Philippines is not equipped to handle passport renewal requests. As such, they depend on their counterparts in Thailand who come in periodically to handle such requests.
Upon the completion of his aircraft maintenance training in 2020, 32-year-old Abia State native, Immanuel Chukwueze hoped to deploy to Australia before a lockdown was instituted in The Philippines. Now, he cannot travel out of the Philippines now that his passport is no longer valid about a year after.
Chukwueze said: “I have no valid passport and I’ve reported it to the Nigerian Embassy in the Philippines since last October. Till now, nothing has happened. I also communicated with the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand and they said I should be patient. I have been deprived of a lot of opportunities here in the Philippines and I don’t even have access to my bank account so as to claim money from Western Union. I have a valid visa but my passport is no longer valid.
“I came to the Philippines for training on aircraft maintenance in November 2019. I was done with my training and was waiting for a deployment to Australia before the lockdown started. So the company that is sponsoring my training encourages us to downgrade our visa to a working visa so that we can have a long stay before the border will be open. I’m not the only guy that came for this training, there are other guys but mine is that my passport has expired and it needs to be renewed earlier before the border will open so that it can delay my deployment.
“Nigeria is 61 years old; I haven’t benefited anything from Nigeria. If they can make provisions to renew my passport as soon as possible, I think I will consider it as a benefit. There are many ways this passport renewal process can be done without those from Thailand coming over
“Our passport can be sent to them via a courier service, then we will go to the Nigerian Embassy here in the Philippines to do the biometric data capturing process immediately.”
A 21-year-old criminology student at the Panpacific University, Northern Philippines, who identified herself as Deborah hopes the officials from Thailand would be in the Philippines to process passport renewals so she can complete her semester registration in school.
Deborah said: “My passport expired in April 2021. The Nigerian Embassy said they do not know when the officials from Thailand would be in the Philippines to process passport renewals. They now brought about the passport extension. This extension is just like a stamp at the back of the Nigerian Passport to help students be able to enroll for the semester. The extension is valid till September 2021.
“Note that with this extension you cannot travel out of the Philippines. Still, the Nigerian Embassy did not inform the Philippine Immigration about this new passport extension programme. A friend of mine who stays in Manila went to extend his visa. And immigration was reacting to why he wants to extend a visa on an expired passport. That’s when the immigration said they didn’t know about the passport extension. Immigration now charged him 40,000 pesos (N400,000) for trying to extend his visa with an expired passport.
“The Nigerian Embassy gave us two options: either to go back to Nigeria to renew the passport or to go to Nigerian Embassy in Thailand to renew it. These options were given to those whose passports were still valid for about four to five months. As at the time I got the message, I had two months validity left on the passport.
“I really haven’t benefited anything from Nigeria. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, Summary is just that I don’t see Nigeria getting any better.”
Stephen Ajayi’s belief in the Nigerian system after 61 years of independence is very slim. He berated the officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Philippines and Thailand for showing little or less concern about their plight.
Ajayi told Saturday Tribune that: “It is not right that there’s an embassy here and I, as a Nigerian abroad, feel the burden of my need to the point where I have to email the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand because they are the ones who tend to it here; and I don’t see enough or any concern shown by the concerning this matter. It seems all they want to do is just wait until the pandemic is fully over before moving a muscle.”
“I have contacted the Nigerian embassy here via email since September 2020. They said due to travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic, they cannot have a passport renewal exercise. It has been the same story till date. The passport renewal exercise is usually carried out with assistance of officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand.
“I contacted the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand via email last week and they also said they cannot come to the Philippines for a passover renewal exercise due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. My passport expires in September. I graduated in July. I plan to start my Masters outside of the Philippines by October but I cannot apply for a visa to travel unless I have at least six months validity on my passport. This is how this difficulty in renewing the passport affects me personally.
“I’ve only been alive for about half the years of Nigeria’s existence. I have been out of Nigeria to study for six years and now is the first time I’m needing my passport renewed in the Philippines. With respect to my need, and considering the Nigerian embassy is the official presence of Nigeria here to ensure services to her citizens like renewal of passports are conducted quickly and smoothly. It is sad to say that I am yet to gain any benefit with respect to my passport renewal.”
Another student, Joy Emmaobong, is presently living in fear that she won’t get the opportunity to write her final examinations as a result of holding an expired passport and visa.
Emmaobong said: “I am a graduating student waiting to write my final examination but I can’t do that because I don’t have a valid passport and visa. Without my passport I cannot have a valid visa and my school is ready to help extend my visa till after graduation but I am worried by the inability of the Nigerian Embassy to renew my passport.
“I already sent my biopage which is needed for the process since the beginning of this year but until this moment, I am yet to receive any news that would help me. We have been waiting for the officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand who come to the Philippines to aid with the passport renewals but they said they cannot submit themselves to the two weeks quarantine when travelling.
“We are not even sure if the immigration of the Philippines recognizes the extension for the visa. Someone actually applied for the extension of passport to renew his visa, but the Philippines Immigration said they were not aware of the extension.
“My programme ends this year but I need to take some exams. My passport would expire by August and the extension does not cover the visa extension and I would be required to pay a fine of almost 500 dollars in addition to the payment for passport renewal.”
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Sunday James, said he was carrying out an assignment on the orders of the Commandant-General and asked our reporter to send his questions via SMS. He is yet to respond to the enquiries as of the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, the Head of Media and Public Relations, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abdur-Rahman Balogun, told Saturday Tribune that the commission will submit a report to the NIS in order to see how the issue can be resolved.
Balogun said: “The Nigerian Immigration handles that. But you know we network and our work is to link Nigerians in diaspora with the agencies of government they have issues with. This one particularly news to me. We just got a report about the backlog of passport renewal in the UK. Now that I know about the Philippines now, I’ll compile and pass that report along to the Immigration and the Mission.”
**some pseudonyms have been used to conceal the identity of the respondents.