I just got a visa to Nigeria. It took four visits to the Nigerian consulate in New York -and four hundred and forty-four curses at Nigeria, the Nigerian officials at the consulate and the picture of Umaru Yar’Adua hanging on the wall of the receiving room.
I don’t want you to go through the same ordeal. It wasn’t fun cursing a dead president, a security guard at the gate, ambassadors in cheap suits and all past leaders of Nigeria.
To begin with, I know many of you are wondering why I need a visa to Nigeria. Well, I don’t. If I were the one who needed a visa and went through this whole ordeal, I would have lost my mind, just like many who have gone for consulate service at the office. I went for my cousin who was afraid of mailing in his passport after filling the required forms and making the payment online.
To begin with, whatever is on the Nigerian consulate website is just a sample of what is needed to obtain a visa. On my first day at the consulate, I presented all the documents posted online as required. A consulate staff told me that my cousin would need a letter of invitation to get a visa. He also gave me another form to fill, which required a passport photograph to be attached, and an additional $20.00 money order. None of these were stated on their website.
I explained to the staff that my cousin was a Nigerian, and that his passport expired but he had no time to travel from Minnesota to New York for renewal because he was busy preparing to go home to bury his father. As an alternative to the letter of invitation, the staff then asked for a copy of his expired Nigerian passport.
My cousin could not find his expired Nigerian passport.
On my second visit, I came with a letter of invitation. The letter was written by the chairman of our kindred telling my cousin that his father was dead and he needed to come home for the burial. Failure to do so, the letter sad, my cousin would lose his share of his father’s estate.
Brilliant! Isn’t it?
This time I met a woman at the consulate. She told me that the person who wrote the letter of invitation must attach the profile page of his Nigerian passport. I explained to her my whole dilemma. I showed her my cousin’s birth certificate. He was born in Lagos. She said it would not help. I told her that the chairman of our kindred had no Nigerian passport. (I almost told her that the last passport the man owned was the Biafran passport. But one thing you don’t want to do with those ‘diplomats’ was to upset them).
Time was running out for my cousin, I explained. What should I do? The woman told me that I could write the letter myself.
On my third visit, the documents were finally accepted. I had written a letter in New York, inviting my cousin in Minnesota to Nigeria to attend the burial of his father - the same burial that he is financing. How ridiculous!
I was told to come back in two days to pick up the visa.
Because I wasn’t the one who would miss his flight if things didn’t go well, I was calm all through the ordeal. But not the other applicants I met there, many of whom travelled from far away to renew their passports or obtain a new passport. And by the way, the old passport is being phased out by December, and every Nigerian with the old passport will need to visit a consulate.
One man came to the woman and explained to her that he could not present a photo ID required of him. He told the woman that the General upstairs - that is, the Defense Attaché - said it was all right for him to get whatever he wanted without the ID. The woman declined, noting that the Defense Attaché deals with military matters and has nothing to do with the work they do at her section. When he continued to drop the general’s name, the woman went further that, even if it was the president, she would decline, because it was the president who asked them to follow the guideline. The man left and went upstairs. From where I was, I gave the woman two enthusiastic thumbs up.
But my gesture was too soon. Later, the man came back, cut the line and went to present a note to the woman. Reading the note, she directed him to the 12th floor to meet someone who would take care of him.
Another man needed to be in Europe the next day. He was shocked when he was told to come back for his passport in two days times. When he complained, the woman counseled him that flights to Europe had been cancelled due to volcanic ashes from Iceland.
Of course, while ordinary mortals like us were at the receiving room waiting to hear the woman’s verdict, those with the right connections lounged in a restaurant next to the receiving room while their passports or visas were processed upstairs. Now and then, we would see women in pant suits or men in Aba made suits come down, give us a pitiful look and walk to the restaurant to give the immortals their processed passports.
On my fourth visit, I arrived promptly for the pick, sat with other applicants and waited in anxious anticipation. After what we’ve been through, no one could be sure when it would come to an end. The consulate’s capacity for drama is endless.
The other days I had been there, the TV in the receiving room had been off. I thought it was either broken or that nobody paid the cable bill. I had hoped to watch NTA. On this fourth day, it was on, showing NTA international. Watching clips of Nigerian slums from the heart of Manhattan turned out to be more disheartening than one might imagine. It was brutal contrasting the beautiful people on Lexington Avenue with the Nigerians jumping into Molue at Ojuelegba bus stop. I couldn’t help but to curse Ibrahim Babangida. I cursed James Ibori. I cursed all those who wasted Nigeria’s $290 billion dollars in the last 25 years.
Finally, I received my cousin’s passport.
“Check if the visa is in there,” the woman said.
It wasn’t unlikely that someone forgot to put the visa in the passport; so, I made sure before I stepped outside to find out it was raining.
Along with some others who had just got their passports, I waited for the rain to subside before going to the post office to mail the passport to my cousin. While still waiting, an applicant rushed out from the consulate, panting. He asked everyone who just picked up a new passport to return to the consulate and write down their passport number. Otherwise, according to him, they would not be allowed into Nigeria with the passports.
It happened that those who got the new Nigerian passports were supposed to write down their names and passport numbers in a notebook so that the Nigerian immigration service would know who had which passport.
Opari! Some had already left.
As I walked to Lexington Avenue, I wondered if it was so hard to put online all the steps and requirements for each consulate service. I tried to recall how many times I heard Nigerians I met at the consulate use the word “incompetent”. I stopped counting when my jaws disjointed.
Now here are the top ten things to remember when you are going to Nigerian Consulate for any consulate service.
- Do not bother calling the consulate number. Paid staff is there, quite alright, but nobody ever answers.
- What you see on the website is just a partial list of requirements. Brace yourself for the full list when you get there.
- While you fill forms online, print out each page as you go.
- Print receipts and confirmation pages. Don’t expect that the computer in the Consulate works. It is for decoration. But you can go and pay an Indian store owner down the street for your print outs.
- Whether you want express service or not, just buy $20.00 money order. And do not ask what that is for.
- Whatever you do, do not mail in your passport. They misplace the ones handed over to them much less the one that came by mail. And do not ask them to mail your passport back to you. They have a way of dropping it inside NIPOST mailbox instead of U.S Post Office mailbox.
- Don’t expect a courteous service. The workers paid with your oil money are too pissed off by the job to be cheerful. If you want cheerful customer service personnel, go to Ghanaian consulate.
- Do not expect a comfortable room in the consulate of the giant of Africa. Be ready for clumsy space and kindergarten chairs.
- If you need to pee, please do all you need to do at home. If you must do number two, make sure you wear a mask and that you have your own toilet paper.
- If you know someone upstairs, just go straight up. It will save you time and a lot of agonies.
How was your experience at a Nigerian consulate where you live?