Desperation for Visas

Viola Onwuliri, minister of foreign affairs

Nigerian are desperate to get visas to travel out of the country for various reasons and are prepared to do anything to get them

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Sep. 30, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ERIC Otoboh wore a wistful look and sighed repeatedly as he sat in the cab waiting for other passengers. His teary eyes riveted on the file on which his name was boldly written. Every now and then, he would open the file as if to verify if the documents in it were still intact. After a while, he would close it, shake his head and then sigh again.

As this melancholy routine continued, Realnews reporter, who was also sitting in the cab all along, inquired to know what the problem was. The question unlocked the tears that hung like a thick cloud on Otoboh’s eyelashes and he became very emotive. When he got hold of himself again, Otoboh told the reporter that he had just returned from the American embassy where he had been denied a visa for the third time consecutively. Like a lawyer trying to prove a case before a judge, he opened the file again and brought out all his documents which included his letter of admission into an American university in Denver, Colorado.

In hush tone, he said: “These Americans are very proud and they think their country is heaven. Even with the admission letter and all the other documents I presented, they still denied me a visa for the third time. Otoboh said unlike the previous occasions where the consul officers, who attended to him offered explanations for the denial, the one who attended to him this time did not bother to explain. “She was very blunt. She just looked at me and said no visa. I wanted to cry there, but I walked out before the tears came down.”

Waiting for the next flight
Waiting for the next flight

Otoboh’s experience might sound like a fiction to many. But to those who know, it is a vivid testimony of the fate of many young Nigerians who are desperate to travel abroad in search of greener pastures. At the embassies of various countries in Lagos and Abuja, there is usually a horde of young and old Nigerians in long queues waiting to process visa applications.  Many of the applicants have to leave their houses very early in the morning in order to get a space on the queues even in the embassies of countries that are not as big as Nigeria.

For instance, to keep the appointment that eventually led to his third visa denial, Otobor said he had to leave his house in Nyanya as early as in order to get to the United States embassy in Central Area, Abuja. “I got there very early because I already had an appointment. It is harder for people who are applying for the first time. The queues are usually very long and you will see people pushing and insulting themselves just because they want to go to America”.

Like Otobor, Onyekachi Smith is a serial visa applicant. His desperation has led him to the US and British embassy offices in Lagos, so many times without much result. Smith recently got a study visa to Ukraine and would be leaving in March 2014. “I have tried severally to get American and UK visas but they keep denying me. Even this one that I got came at the second attempt and I hope to go to America or Canada from there”.

Despite efforts by the US, UK and other countries to discourage Africans, especially Nigerians, who are renowned for travelling even to the farthest parts of the world, from coming to their countries, there is no decline in the number of people waiting for visas at the embassies. The UK government recently introduced a three thousand pound visa bond for Nigerians and citizens of some other countries on the grounds that citizens of the affected countries have a propensity of not returning to their countries when they get into the UK. The American government also announced recently that Nigerians and citizens from 18 other countries are ineligible to participate in the 2015 American diversity visa lottery programme. The US department of state said Nigeria was excluded because over 50, 000 Nigerians had migrated to the US in the last five years.

Nigerians at the Canadian embassy
Nigerians at the Canadian embassy

But these measures appear too insignificant to discourage the legion of desperate Nigerians who will gladly trade an arm to secure visas to the US and other countries. Chidi Okafor, an Abuja-based travel agent, said Nigerians are just ‘too desperate’ to go abroad that they don’t mind paying any amount to achieve it. “I don’t understand this desperation even though it is good for my business. People come here seeking to process visa to Cyprus, Iceland, Serbia, Moldova and some other countries that are not even as developed as Nigeria. Sometimes, I try to discourage them but it is always very hard because they are so determined to run away from here.”

While Smith and Onyekachi hinge their desperation to travel abroad on the quest for better education, findings reveal that there are so many other reasons why Nigerians are eager to go abroad. One of the prominent reasons is the dwindling economic fortune of the country which has worsened the unemployment situation. The inability of many educated Nigerians to get jobs has forced them to seek escape routes out of the country.

For instance, Osahon Enabulele, president of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, recently revealed that there are 3,936 Nigerian medical doctors practising in the UK and other countries. Enabulele added that Nigeria has become a manufacturing plant for the production of medical doctors and dentists for the health care systems of developed countries such as the United Kingdom, USA, Australia and Canada where there is a high demand for medical practitioners from developing countries. Also speaking at a recent meeting with officials of the federal ministry of health, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, estimated that there are more than 15,000 Nigerian-trained medical doctors practising abroad in the UK, as well as in South Africa, Botswana and Ghana, among others.

As it is with the doctors and other professionals, less educated Nigerians are also eager to travel abroad in search of a better life. Many of them eke out a living by working several hours as sales attendants in shopping malls and security officers among other menial jobs.

The unemployed crisis in the country has forced many youths to seek greener pastures else where
The unemployed crisis in the country has forced many youths to seek greener pastures else where

Christian Bayan, is a graduate of London School of Economics. He said the desperation to move abroad is a psychological problem because many Nigerians have a mindset that life is better abroad. “It is a psychological problem that will not be cured anytime soon. People just have this mindset that life is better over there and that is not true. I lived abroad for a while and I know lots of people who wasted their lives because they could not get a job or do anything productive.”

Hafiz Adeyemo, blamed the desperation to go abroad on the failure of the government to meet the expectations of Nigerians. According to him, if the government had provided the basic things like electricity, jobs and other things that make people ‘run-way’ from the country, nobody would be desperate to travel abroad. “I blame the governments because they are not providing the basic things to make life better for the citizens of this country. You can imagine the kind of humiliation people are subjected to when they apply for visa. If we had all those things that keep making our people dream of America and other countries as a perfect place, nobody will be very desperate to go abroad.”

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