When I was going through the process to get a passport for the first time, I silently prayed for it to be the last time I ever had to go through such a procedure. That meant I was planning on never returning home after leaving the country, eventually becoming a citizen of the country I was traveling to or never leaving the country again. All three interpretations of my prayer were of course wishful thinking. The first was impossible because at the time, I knew I had to return home at least to see the girl I was crushing on at the time (please do not ask me how that ended). The third was invalid because as Beryl says, I am America gbe! The second was the most desirable of the three but my political aspirations preempts that from being a reality.
You might be wondering how hectic my experience was for me to be contemplating giving up my nationality or taking up autarky as an individual. If your imagination runs wild, picture a post-apocalyptic dystopia where 50 bags of rice has to be rationed to a hundred million over a cause of 1 year. Yes, that is how messy it is! So when I realized we had barely a week left for the year to end and the date of issuance on my passport being January 2011, I knew it was going to be Armageddon 2.0 for me.
I might be making a mountain out of a mole hill but the picture I paint is not exaggerative if you decide to acquire a passport through the “normal way”. That means simply getting a passport and submitting it, getting your picture taken and appending an electronic signature. Sounds easy right? Sorry to burst your bubble. What I just narrated only happens if you “know someone” at the office who also “knows you”. Of course everyone knows the president but of what value is that if the president does not also know you? So to get your passport without any stress, you have to know a director or some official who facilitates the process for you. If you did not win the lottery of birth, a “brown envelope” might just do the trick for you. Stuff it with 3 times the cost of getting an “express” passport and you get the privilege enjoyed by those who know and are known by the big men.
So what if the highest ranking public official you know is your local assemblyman and economics made you lose the lottery of birth? A dystopic encounter awaits you at the former foreign affairs ministry. Getting past the Guantanamo Bay like entrance is even hustle. You have to be in line as early as 2 AM or even earlier to have a chance of submitting your forms. Once that hurdle is scaled, you sit through a painful period of waiting as the officials chat their way through work at the pace of a snail. If you are lucky enough to have your picture and signature taken that day, do not think that is the end of the world. Next comes “getting the passport” after it has been processed. Even the “express” forms which costs twice as the regular forms and is supposed to ensure you get the forms after 3 days does not guarantee a speedy return. It can take you 2 months or even more before you feel the leathery touch of your passport.
What happens at the passport office is a microcosm of the bigger picture. Going through the “normal” procedure never gets you results. You need to pull strings here and there and weave your way through the intentionally instituted bureaucratic structures. Even when you try doing a social good like volunteering to clean up a street or undertaking some training session in a high school which needs some level of state approval, you only get an expedited action if you “know someone” or push a brown envelope.
So I shudder as I count down the days left until my passport expires. The dilemma I find myself is a double edged sword: do I play good citizen and follow the regular procedure only to get a renewed passport 6 months from now or do I ignore all the admonitions of Anas and the rants I have made against corruption on my Facebook wall and pass on a brown envelope.
If only I knew someone who did know me back, all this would have been simple. So for now I sit back behind my keyboard and abhor all those who know someone who knows them back, blabber against unfair privilege and preach Marx and Engels. The only question is, would I give up an “unfair” privilege if I did have one?