Expired passport: how N2,000 got a Nigerian into the country from the UK
Jonathan (Not real name) left Nigeria some years ago to escape what he said was hardship and hopelessness back in Benin, a major city in Edo State, Nigeria. Jonathan is one of the lucky who escaped abroad and made a decent living out of the toil and grind of living in Europe.
He’s made the United Kingdom home after legalising his stay in the country. He didn’t disclose how he did it but he was quick to state how he can’t wait to take back with him to the UK his wife and two of his three kids.
I met Jonathan on the way back to Nigeria after a brief visit to the UK. We sat next to each other on the British Airways flight to Lagos on February 28, 2019. As young black men, it wasn’t long before we connected minutes after the humming bed took to the skies. While still contemplating sleeping or watching a movie, the dark complexioned lad bellowed “Hello” and asked if I was a
Nigerian of which I affirmed I was. From that point on, the conversation dovetailed into Nigeria and the state of the country.
It appears Nigeria is the very first topic on the minds of fellow citizens living outside the country whenever you come across one. In the course of my short stay in the UK, I had taken an UBER ride at some point and coincidentally the driver was a Nigerian. The moment he knew I was from the same country as his, the conversation started.
For the 44 minutes it took to get to my destination, we talked about the state of affairs of the country- the many challenges facing the nation and the people, if we would ever get it right as a country and not have to run away from home. It amazes me how we never get worn out talking about Nigeria.
Back to my new found friend, Jonathan. From discussing Nigeria, we moved to the nation’s recent election and it was at that point he told me that his elder brother had just been elected as a member of the House of Representatives.
The moment I heard that the hair at the back of my neck rose. I felt uneasy. First thought was here is another of the family members of those ruining Nigeria. Before I could adjust to the news, he dropped another news and asked if I can imagine how much money his brother spent to win the ticket and election.
His brother is a member of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress. He said he feels sorry for his brother and doesn’t ever wish people had to spend money to get into public offices. He talked about how his MP in the UK is accessible and must listen to the people in his constituency. I was quiet for a while as I kept wondering why we don’t have politicians who are accountable like they have in the UK.
“So are you heading home because your brother has just been elected into the Federal House of Representative?” I queried. He retorted “No”.
But he added that he may stay around for his swearing-in. However, his kids and wife are his major priority while in Nigeria.
His first child, a girl, missed the opportunity to have her application to come over to the UK accepted by the authorities as she was now over-aged and no longer eligible, he told me. Regardless of that, he told me he was happy to get the younger lads and their mother out of the country as he was determined to give them a better life.
After we had spoken about our dear nation, he asked if I was a British-Nigerian citizen and I responded I wished I was. I told him I am a full Naija boy but won’t think twice if I had the opportunity to switch nationality to saner countries. We laughed about it.
Jonathan dropped another bombshell about two hours into the flight. He was travelling with an expired Nigerian passport. He said he was unable to renew the document in the UK and asked what the implications of his actions were if he landed in Nigeria. I am not very vast in immigration matters but my gut feeling was that it must be illegal to be travelling with an invalid document and I told him so.
His response didn’t shock me. Like it’s ingrained in most Nigerians, he was so sure there would be a way out upon landing. I agreed with him. This is Nigeria! In the remaining hours of the flight we chatted, slept, ate and stretched our legs at intervals.
The plane finally landed after close to six hours in the air and we gradually taxied to a stop. Once we deplaned, we made our way into the steaming hot, dingy arrival hall. The stark contrast of where we were coming from and where we currently are hit home. The cooling system at the airport was best turned off then left on as it was blowing more heat than cool air.
Jonathan had earlier mentioned to me during the flight that he didn’t have any Naira notes just in case he is halted by immigration officials and needed to do the usual.
He stuck right by me as we marched to the immigration desk at snail speed. At this point, I might just be his saviour if he hoped to step his foot again on his fatherland. After a long queue, it was my turn. I didn’t expect to be delayed as I wasn’t the one whose passport expired on March 16, 2019.
While I was being attended to, Jonathan was called by the next free immigration officer. Not long after, the expected happened. “Please, step aside sir,” the immigration told him. I looked towards him and knew immediately there was no getting away for Jonathan. Next minute, the immigration officer called his colleague and handed over Jonathan’s passport to his colleague.
“Come with me sir,” other the immigration officer said. I had crossed the immigration point and was watching proceedings. The conversation started and I could see my new friend was becoming uneasy. He motioned to me to come. I stepped forward and he asked that I give him N,1000.
I opened my wallet and handed over the note. Here I was about to abet a crime. I stepped back again to continue watching proceedings. I saw the officers didn’t seem happy with what they were being offered. At that point, I stepped forward again and intervened.
“Oga, what is the way forward? He is a Nigerian just like you. Advise on what to do.” To respond to my appeal, the officer raised a receipt and announced to us that the fine for travelling with an expired passport is N150,000. Yes, you read right. N150,000!
At that point, I could see the panic in Jonathan’s face. I tried to plead on his behalf but the officer wasn’t listening to any of my pleas. An officer who appeared to be senior in rank stepped in and stated that if we were not ready to cooperate, we should pay the fine. Jonathan didn’t have that amount, neither did i.
I had parted with my hard-earned N1,000 already, I wasn’t ready to part with N150,000. I didn’t even have that in my account anyway. At that point, I told Jonathan I needed to leave as my friend who had come to pick me had arrived and was already waiting outside.
Jonathan stepped away from the cubicle and asked that I give him another N1,000. I suggested he considers the visa on arrival option since he had a British passport. I never sighted that though.
But he responded that he wasn’t ready for any tedious process. I felt sorry and pity for him and hastily brought out another N1,000 from my wallet to add to the first one. I needed to go.
He moved closer to the officer and muffled some words in his ears. I watched as he squeezed the notes and dropped it on the desk. The immigration officer, Aminu was what he had on his name badge, at this point had moved to another desk to bring what appeared to be a stamp and in a few seconds, Jonathan had his passport inked as ‘Seen On Arrival’ with a warning to make sure he renew it while in Nigeria before he jets out again.
I wasn’t shocked in any way. Bribery has become a way of life for most Nigerians. Despite the reforms carried out by the Federal Government at Nigeria’s airports months back, it hasn’t stopped officials from fleecing travellers.
The ugly trend has continued brazenly. The only way to avoid being harassed for bribe is to be clean and devoid of any blemish because even if you have all valid travel papers or are carrying legal consignments, you can still be harassed and fleeced. Anyway, that was how N2,000 got a Nigerian with an expired passport back to his fatherland.
This is Nigeria!