A Tale of Two Visas
By: Deji Yesufu
On my trip to Germany in March, since I flew with Turkey Airlines, we had the usual stop-over at Instanbul, capital of Turkey. It was very early in the morning and my colleague and I were about to begin navigating the huge airport, when I did a quick visit to the convenience. My colleague also needed to freshen up. We were concluding the whole process, when this guy came into the massive toilet facility in the airport we were using. At a glance, I knew he was Nigerian. My colleague and I were conversing in Yoruba and in a jocular manner, this guy came into the conversation. We had a good laugh.
“So, what are you doing in Istanbul?” I asked him.
“Brother, I dey hustle ni yi o…” He replied.
“Is that so? But how is life here in Turkey?”
“Things are not easy here. I used to live in the UAE but I did a quick cross-over to Turkey to do some work, earn some money and return.”
We wished him well and parted. But that brief encounter with this Yoruba man in an almost obscure part of the world proved to me the often made remark that Nigerians are everywhere on the face of this planet. One of the biggest endeavors that Nigerians embark on is to flee the shores of this country because of the harsh economic realities that many people have to deal with here. With a little education, some money and any opportunity at all, Nigerians are out of this country. For this reason, Nigerians are frequent visitors to embassies of various countries in Lagos and Abuja. In fact, many countries have turned Nigerians seeking visas as an extra means of revenue. And they are making lots of money in the process because Nigerians go to these embassies en-masse with the flimsiest excuse people can conceive of and they are promptly denied visas. But their visa application fees are never returned; the embassies are only a little richer in the process. I have two tales of visits to embassies and I wish to share them here for anyone who may wish to learn from them.
My first visit to an embassy was in 1999 when I went to the United States Embassy on Walter Carrington Street in Victoria Island, Lagos. My mother was living in the USA at the time and she felt that I could come to the US to do my six months industrial training there. So, I sent in my application and was promptly invited to the Embassy for an interview. I was overjoyed; thinking that I was only one step to getting to the US. With a benefit of hindsight now, I realize that the American Embassy grants every application anyone makes for a visa interview with them. It is simply an opportunity for them to make money. I do not know how much they charge for visa application now, but then it was a cool $100 and I remember that the dollar was changing at N100 for a dollar at that time. In their reply to me, the Embassy had requested that I come with certain documents. On D-Day, there was I brimming from ear to ear, with my pristine passport in one hand, I moved into the visa application area. I was called upon to meet with a white lady and one of the first shockers that I received was that I was not even offered a seat for the interview. I was required to stand and shout through holes on a transparent glass. The lady at the other side seemed to be in a hurry and you could read contempt written over her face.
I passed them to her. After a brief look through the papers, she asked:
“Why are you going to the US?”
I explained that I was going there for my six months industrial training.
“You could do your industrial training in Nigeria, or Ghana, or South Africa. Why do you have to travel to the US for IT?”
At this point, I could not answer.
The next thing I saw was that she circled something on my application form and stamped my passport. We were done in a little less than ten minutes. I looked at my passport: “application denied”. I left the embassy deflated. But my visa denial in 1999 was the greatest thing that happened to me that year. I understood with time that you do not go to embassies of countries seeking visa to their countries on flimsy reasons. If I cannot convince myself of why I am travelling and cannot make an equal argument to another person, I am likely to be denied visa at an embassy. In 2006 when my mother died in the USA, aunties offered me opportunities to visit the USA and attend her burial. I told one of them that they should not bother. The American Embassy will not give me visa to attend my mother’s burial – I did not even bother applying to them. From that point on, I waved every opportunity to visit embassies aside. In fact I developed such a nationalist thinking that I would live and die in this country and leave behind a nation that my children would be respected enough at embassies to at the least be given chairs to sit on when they visit them for their visas.
Towards the end of 2019, the opportunity came for me to visit Germany for an official training. This was a clear 20 years since my last visit to Walter Carrington, Lagos. A lot had changed about me. I now worked with a respectable organization in Nigeria and I was being sent for training with a well-known company in Berlin, Germany. One other clear difference between 1999 and 2019 was that I was not desperate to leave Nigeria. Whether I was given the visa or not, it was not a do-or-die affair.
I was driven to the embassy by Peter Uka and was dropped right in front of the German embassy. I walked towards the security man in charge and I could see contempt written all over his face also.
“Where is your visa application money?”
I brought out an envelope and showed it to him. He stood looking at me for a moment and told me to remove the money and count it in front of him. Well, I am the one looking for visa; so I obeyed. He ushered me inside the visa application hall. I met up with some other security guards (By the way all the security people there are Nigerians). They frisked me from head to toe. I had all items on me placed in a tray and was only given my visa application document. My phones and other items on me were collected and locked up in a safe. For the first time in a long time, I was away from my phone for about three hours and it felt like a little bereavement.
As I waited my turn to see the visa application personal, I could hear a young Nigerian boy explaining to the person interviewing him that he was going to Germany for industrial training. “Ha! That is an old trick… don’t Nigerians learn new ways of fleeing this country?!” I said to myself. This boy was with this lady for quite a while and I was sure he was finding it hard to convince her on his trip abroad. I do not know whether he was given the visa but my guess is as good as yours.
When it was my turn, I walked to the visa application point for my interview. I was expected to stand also. I did not like the idea but I endured it. There was the transparent material shielding the interviewer from me. When I began to talk, she told me she could not hear me; that I needed to speak up because their intercom was faulty. So, while standing, I was bending down to respond to her so that my voice could pass through the little opening beneath the glass. When the interview started, again I could see contempt on her face and voice. But for some reason, since my life was not dependent on a trip to Germany, I decided to return contempt for contempt. Wise Nigerian lady, she got the message and her demeanor changed. Probably also noting the organization sending me abroad, she began to accord me some respect in the manner she spoke to me. She asked about my trip and I explained to her; even going as far as to explain the workings of the machine I was going to be trained on. She appeared impressed. We were done in about 30 minutes. My confidence had grown so much that I explained to her that my colleague had some challenge with his own application a day before and I requested that she help look it up on her system. She did and explained to me that it was a little problem; it would be sorted out. I thanked her and left.
Back to the security post: The same security men that had treated me with contempt a while earlier became gleefully respectful now.
“Oga, anything for the boys; It is Friday. Weekend has come…”
I explained to them that I had no change with me. I was sorry I could not give them anything. I said to myself: “you can go and meet your bosses inside to deny me visa because I did not give you anything for the weekend.” I collected my items with them and left the place a little upset. Needless to say that my visa arrived my office in Ibadan a little less than a week after that visit to the German Embassy at Lagos.
As I said before, a lot had changed between 1999 and 2019. I was a lot more matured but more importantly I was a lot less desperate. This is what I think: the people, who conduct visa interviews in all countries embassies in Nigeria, know Nigerians through and through. They know our tricks; they know our lies; they know our mien; and they know it when someone is going to their country to add to it and not to become a burden to them. It is true that Nigeria is becoming increasingly difficult to live in but we owe ourselves the self-respect of not being easily denigrated at these embassies. A lot of people say that after their trips to countries, where they had gone in desperation; life in Nigerian is a lot easier.
Here is what I think: in spite of the situation, all of us can make the best of whatever circumstance we are in here in this country. It is possible that we can do whatever we do so well, that people abroad will come to us seeking our knowledge and be ready to pay anything to have us in their country. At such a time, the embassies might actually bring your visa to you right in your home without you applying for it. I do not think that self-respect is a thing of pride; I think it is something we owe ourselves to develop, so that foreign countries do not continue to treat our nationals like thrash.
I am hoping, seriously, that the next time I have to visit an embassy that I would be given a chair to sit on – at the least – for my interview. That is my tale of two visas and I hope you got something from it.
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