Editor’s note: Have you ever felt a change in how people treat you after you reveal your status as a citizen of Nigeria? Have you ever thought that it is high time we stopped accepting humiliation, abuse of authority, maltreatment as a norm? The recent unpleasant visa-related bureaucratic setback inspired Japheth Omojuwa, the Naij.com columnist, to start a discussion on the way foreign embassies and consulates deal with Nigerians.
I recently applied for a visa to a European country. To my surprise, my visa application was rejected. I didn’t particularly feel bad about it because it simply meant I’d be in Nigeria for some events I’d have missed had I traveled for what was to be moderating sessions at a Nigeria Investment Conference.
That my application was rejected was not the issue. That the rejection was indicated in my passport got to me. I understand that may be the protocol for the embassy involved, but, like I wrote in a subsequent letter to the ambassador of the country, that practice is directly off the pages of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I explained the point in my letter to the ambassador.
The content of my letter to the ambassador may or may not eventually be published, depending on what happens. I have requested they take of the note of refusal out of my passport page because my passport is not for the collection of visa refusals. I indicated that I’d be sending a letter to the president of Nigeria if the embassy in question does not do the needful. The needful here would not be that they grant me a visa, I have since committed to new plans; the needful would be that they return my passport as I handed it over to them.
Stop humiliating Nigerians!
The arguments are simple and they were made in the letter to the ambassador. Even if I were a poor Nigerian who is suspected of wanting to go to that country in order to stay and make a new living, rejecting my visa application is one thing. Placing new limits on my already limited Nigerian passport by minuting on my passport is another. The logic is simple enough: the note of rejection on a passport further limits one’s chances with other embassies and consulates. Essentially speaking, one would have been better off not spending time and money further reducing the worth of one’s primary travel document. If an applicant is refused a visa for being, say jobless, the chances of the said applicant applying for visa as a job creator in another 18 months is not impossible. But such an applicant gets to be limited by the notes on the passport from the previous 18 months when the circumstances were obviously different.
I think Nigerians have so gotten used to being abused and maltreated, we have come to take certain unacceptable things as normal. First of all, take the way we are treated at embassies and consulates like we all have no choice. You only need to visit an average embassy tomorrow to see exactly what I am talking about.
But even if some Nigerians take traveling out of Nigeria as a do-or-die affair, do all Nigerians take it that way? So why should Nigerians, who are conscious of their human dignity and are likely traveling for short trips to add value to wherever they are visiting, be then treated like second-class human beings? Why has this become the normal? It has so been normalized most Nigerians would consider anyone asking for a better treatment for Nigerian visa applicants as an “I too know!”
In my case, I am hoping I never get to publish my letter to the ambassador of this otherwise respectable country. I intend to follow up the issue with Nigerian authorities. If nothing happens, it would be time to put all the letters in the public sphere, to start a very important conversation on immigration issues.
A movement of change
Even if the letter does not get published, the practice must be abolished for good! It should be noted that Nigeria itself has got serious issues with the treatment of immigrants. We have one of the world’s most backward immigration policies in the world, and our visa is one of the hardest to get in the entire world.
But that is not really the issue. No one is subjected to the sort of treatment Nigerians are right here in Nigeria by many embassies and consulates, including ones where their citizens have lower living conditions than most Nigerians.
This is supposedly the era of change. One believes that that change would only be all-encompassing if citizens and the governors alike make the change happen. There are efforts that must be led by the government, but the government alone cannot make the change happen. Citizens must kick-start a movement. One of those is the visa regime. If you don’t deem me fit to visit your country, it is okay to give me a letter of refusal, do not indicate the refusal in my passport. That is not what my passport is for!