For Lagos residents desperate to leave the shores of the country, the harrowing experiences they face in their quest for visas at the embassies vary from one person to the other.
Obinna Ikechukwu left his Ogba, Lagos residence at 4.30am on Monday to beat the traffic gridlock and keep up with an 8.30am appointment at the Italian Embassy on Victoria Island.
When he eventually arrived the embassy gate at about 6am, he had to stand nearby until the doors were flung open to visa seekers. There was no seat where he could sit down. He was compelled to make do with iron rods, which criss-crossed each other and were used to hold a roof: an afterthought construction to provide shelter for people on queue. He was determined to endure the pains of either sitting or leaning on the rods. His countenance began to change as he waited.
He said, “I live in Ogba and considering the traffic situation in Lagos, Ogba is far from Victoria Island. I have to break my sleep because if I miss this appointment, it will take me another long process to get it. Though, my appointment is 8.30am, I arrived here at 6am and since then I have been waiting.”
Ikechukwu represents many Nigerians who besiege embassies in Lagos and wait endlessly to procure visas. In American embassy, for instance, early hours’ appointment could either be 6.30am or 7am, whereas in Italian embassy, the appointment is usually 8.30am.
Therefore, visa seekers had to leave their homes on time to keep appointments at the embassies, which are located in Ikoyi and Victoria Island.
What has agitated the minds of some visa seekers is that most of the embassies have no adequate seats for them. Fatigue mounts on their faces as they hang around the premises. Those who could not secure a place on the pavements sometimes sit almost on bare ground.
Apart from Italian Embassy, the story is the same in American, French and German embassies. A man in his early 30s, who identified himself simply as Victor, said he accompanied his in-laws to the American embassy. His in-laws had won visa lotteries and were given an appointment for interviews at the embassy. They left Surulere as early as 5.30am, but had to wait for their turn. Victor said he was angry when he met many people standing while waiting for their turn.
He said, “I was not happy when I saw many people standing because there were no seats. Even one of my in-laws is pregnant but she had to stand until one Good Samaritan sympathised with her and stood up on a pavement for her to sit down. I don’t understand why they cannot provide seats for people. We know we are leaving our country in search of greener pastures, but that does not mean that such unfriendly atmosphere should exist.”
Tale of experiences among visa seekers is rife when they become victims of visa denial eventually after the waiting game. Despair envelopes them as they drag their feet out of the embassy.
Rev. Gabriel Oludele suffered the indignation of being denied visa after applying to the British Home Office three times.
The cleric claimed that he was given refusal letters, sealing his hope of going to pursue the Master of Arts degree in Christian Theology in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
A man, who identified himself simply as Joseph, suffered the same fate when his request for a visa at the American embassy was turned down. Though, he complained bitterly at the treatment he received in the embassy, Joseph said he would not give up his dream of seeking greener pastures abroad.
Visits by our correspondent to the French embassy, Bourdillon Road/Queens’ Drive, Ikoyi equally showed that scores of visa seekers thronged the premises daily for visa requests.
On Tuesday, some intending travellers were sighted hanging out at about 7am in front of the embassy due to inadequate seats.
It was observed that the seats available at the waiting spot were obviously not enough for the number of people at the entrance of the embassy.
Attempts to contact representatives of the embassies were either repelled by security officers or stalled by receptionists who claimed that inquiries could only be channelled to embassies’ headquarters in Abuja. For instance, a female receptionist in the German Embassy said only the Abuja office had the authority to speak on matters concerning the embassy.