Nigeria: The visa application crisis

Editorial: It is heartening that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has seen the need to engage some of the foreign embassies in Nigeria in discussions over the difficulties our citizens continue to face procuring visa to respective countries notably the United States, China, and the EU countries. The ‘Mutual Collaborative Partnership on Consular Problems’ is conceived as a series of meetings to ease the process of granting visa to

 intending travellers as well as address the humiliation that Nigerians are generally subjected to at these embassies.

It is about time that this step was taken for, there appears to be a case of ‘country profiling’ going on. The suffering – and this is no exaggeration – that many foreign missions put Nigerian visa applicants through is a long running story that is almost stale now. Whereas it used to be the lot of the ‘people to queue up, rain or shine, in front of the embassies at 4 a.m. to keep an 8 a.m. interview appointment, whereas only the very ordinary Nigerians were required to physically present themselves to process their visa applications – including the mere collection of own passport. Now, top government officials, well-known businessmen, senior citizens of our country, indeed every Nigerian is now expected, in addition to the exorbitant charges payable, to, so to speak, ‘come swallow some pill of humiliation’ in exchange for wanting to visit some of the countries engaged in this ignoble treatment of citizens of their host countries.

Important national assignments abroad have suffered delay or cancellation because one embassy or the other refused to grant entry visa to the applicants.  

Two examples: Just last week, the chief coach of the National Under-20 team, Samson Siasia cried out that his team was being held up from a training trip to Spain by the delay to procure visa for the team that should play a match this September in Egypt. In July 2008, the National Troupe aborted a 16-day performance tour of Trinidad and Tobago because the United Kingdom embassy denied the group mere transit visa. No one knows how many Nigerian businesses have failed to secure crucial deals because of visa denial, often for vague reasons. Visa applicants are asked to apply online, but usually appointment dates are unavailable or there is a long queue of requests that is a year long. This has since inspired in a growing visa racketeering business.

This is not at all acceptable. Indeed, we should think some international rule on mission behaviour in a host country as well as the treatment of visa applicants is being breached and we hereby challenge our foreign affairs officials and relevant experts to look into this. The latest trend is to outsource some aspects of the consular services to a contractor. The American embassy has since last October done this in what it termed partnering with ‘VFS Global … to provide more convenient, secure and user-friendly services to visa applicants‘ at an additional cost to be borne by the applicant. We grant, of course, that there is much that is wrong with the way and manner many – but certainly neither most nor all – Nigerians go about seeking to procure foreign visas.

We even concede that some in high places act irresponsibly in this respect, such as using diplomatic passport when they should not, and abusing the privilege to boot, such as travelling for the flimsiest of reasons in order to collect ‘estacode’, such as protocol officers loading the list of genuine official visa requests with their own applicants.  

Far more heinous is the knack of many of our country men and women to submit forged documents in desperation to meet the required conditions of some embassies and to get out of their own country at any cost. And this is a fundamental question to address by government. Why are many Nigerians so desperate to leave home? The answer is obvious: there is, in a manner of speaking, ‘no sweetness here’ in the broadest sense of the phrase.

As government discusses with the offending embassies, there should be no mincing words: they need to be reminded that the principle of reciprocity can and may be applied fully if they do not mend their ways.