by ‘Seun SALAMI
The child beside you kept tugging at his mother’s breasts. You tried to get your mind off the boy and his young mother. She must have been barely eighteen. Instead, you concentrated on the officers, walking hurriedly across the long waiting room, greeting one another, some stopping to share a few jokes, their uniforms grumpily ironed. You noticed some of the names on the uniforms. You thought the one who came back with people’s files called out names too loudly.
“Nwosu! Nwosu Henry!” he shouted before stretching his hands as he walked towards the owner of the file. You watched Henry walk up to the officer and filch his file off as if someone or something had upset him.
Then you looked at your watch and remembered that you had been on the queue, moving slowly from chair to chair towards the photograph capturing room, for more than an hour. That, you thought, was enough to upset anyone.
You wondered what would happen to the files after your international passports had been issued or in your own case, re-issued. Then the child began to yowl. His mother still hadn’t done what he wanted. You thought about talking to her to yield to his demands but you were discouraged by her age. It could be chary.
Then you noticed that a few people in mufti didn’t join the queue, they simply walked through to the door behind an officer and you never saw them again. Just as you tried to reason it out, you heard a man from the top of the queue begin to protest stridently. He had a fulani cap on, but didn’t speak with an accent.
“This is not right! This is not right at all. Are we not all human beings? We have been on this line for almost two hours. How will some people just come and go in, just like that? Because they know somebody?”
There was silence in the hall. The officers stood for about a minute, gobsmacked. Then they went on as if nothing had happened. Then another woman beside him offered solidarity.
“It is not fair at all. This is so wrong,” she said and hissed several times repeatedly. No sooner had she said that, comments began to fly around the hall. You kept quiet. Then you thought about the activities you had observed outside the Passport office, touts beckoning with promises of sharp sharp passport; officers you had seen at the entrance being ‘settled’ by the clients they were about to assist, but you didn’t understand it until now.
Suddenly, the officer who had taken the lady in mufti into the capturing room came back into the hall. He wore a frown. “What is it? Please let’s maintain decorum!” His scowl seemed to send the hall into simulated silence. Not the man in the Fulani cap.
“People have been on this queue for hours, yet you keep taking people in illegally,” he said and then looked away from the officer.
There was another deafening silence. You thought ‘illegally’ was too strong. Then the officer responded in a bogus baritone, “Better mind your business. This one is oga approved o! Order from above.”
The sweeping laughter that followed was bizarre, but you also laughed, the man with the Fulani cap laughed. Even the child beside you giggled, probably at his mother’s laughter.
Soon, it was your turn to go into the capturing room, and as you confirmed your details to the officer in front of you and had your photograph taken, you eavesdropped on another officer informing the man whose photograph she was capturing that he was going to buy her lunch for her efforts. You hissed on impulse.
“Take your print out from the printer to the officers outside, they’ll attend to you,” the officer in front of you said. You thanked him and walked out through the exit where you met two female officers seating languidly. Their job was to collect your file along with a photocopy of your printout and ask you to write ‘Original copy received by me’ on it.
“Drop your form na!” the first officer screamed at the young man ahead of you, before handing out lessons on how to behave in a public place to him. “When you come place like this, look as others dey do and do like that.” Then she turned to her colleague. “All these your ngba ti people sef.” You tried to ignore her as her colleague pointed towards a small kiosk and asked you to go make a photocopy of your print-out.
“You no fit write?” the first officer was asking the young man in front of her when you returned.
“I no school for here. I school for French,” the young man explained and then continued, “please, help me write.”
“Me I no dey write for free o. Na money I dey take write,” she retorted. You thought you didn’t hear her right and then she went on. “Abi you no know how much my parents take send me go school?”
As you walked out of the premises, you couldn’t get your mind off the phrase Oga approved. You thought about the deep seated corruption in the country’s public service. You tried to stay inspired.
‘Seun Salami is a writer, an author and editor. He became a back page columnist for National Standard News Magazine and also published his first book before his 21st birthday. His articles have also appeared in The PUNCH, The SUN and several other mediums.
Armed with a BSc in Journalism and currently studying for an MSc, Oluwaseun believes he can write to save his life, if need be. You can follow him on twitter @seunsalami