Moshood Adisi Olabisi Ajala was a renowned globe-trotter credited with the feat of traveling to the most countries (reportedly numbering 87) on his scooter in the 1950s. This earned him an enviable spot in many Nigerian songs, thereby ensuring that generations unborn at the time would be familiar with the phrase “Ajala the traveler”.
Nowadays any Nigerian intending to tow in Daddy Ajala’s footsteps will find the experience a lot easier; faster and more comfortable means of travel, an enhanced means of sharing sights and sounds aka showing off on social media, also travel tips can be doled out or received via online forums etc. Hence we should have a lot of Nigerians smashing Guinness records related to traveling, right? However, there is one small but… one’s green passport will not let them be great.
Making a living in Nigeria’s commercial center is not for the faint hearted; maddening traffic, people in a haste to be everywhere at once, after all dem no come count bridge for Lagos, pepper must rest! If and when one can, it is advised you travel to saner climes where you can experience new cultures, encounter systems that work, let off steam etc… shebi they said that the life expectancy of a Nigerian currently hovers a little above 50 years, anything to increase that statistic o.
That was why after setting my 2015 financial, spiritual, career goals earlier this year, the next goal was my vacation. I mulled over which city to visit (picturesque setting ideal for my photo-ops, bargain shopping, activities and sightseeing, efficient transport system etc.) I had been to Dubai before and was saving the return trip for my honeymoon *side eye right back at you*. Then maybe it was the weather at the time I visited or that my trip was made immediately after a very painful heartbreak, but what was clear was that I wasn’t too fond of visiting the UK again, the weather was also the reason why I didn’t consider the States (I love my cousin, but Alaska didn’t seem enticing at that time), Africa wasn’t on the plate either (I wan travel overseas…over seven seas sef)…so Europe it was.
I had heard horror stories from friends and colleagues about Schengen visa applications but I waved them aside… two colleagues had their visa application denied on the basis that their Nigerian passports were counterfeit; passports that had valid UK and US visas! Another friend had to go retrieve her passport when she didn’t get correspondence from the embassy months after submitting her visa application, the passport was just there, lying fallow, waiting for the owner to receive sense and come pick it up. Despite all these sad tales, I trudged on to go submit my visa application, after all some people I knew had applied and gotten their visas, “so why should my own get k leg?!”. So when I opened the brown envelope at the VFS center containing my processed visa application, I was dismayed at the contents, like a friend would say, “they cleared my doubt”.
What pained me at the time wasn’t the money I expended on the application process (e pain me small sha), it wasn’t even the inconvenience attached to canceling my vacation plans and going back to the drawing table, what saddened me wasn’t the ordeal of the lengthy paperwork and the gathering of documents ranging from employment details to my bank statement (which required me to make that dreaded visit to the banking hall). My fellow green passport holders, what occurred to me at the time I was perusing the visa refusal letter was that sooner or later I would have to re-apply for a Schengen visa, hoping that the next time would be my ‘lucky time’, and that realization stung like a bee.
Applying for a visa isn’t fun; the filing out of the form, ensuring you attach all the documents that could boost your application (e.g. employment letter, documents relating to landed property or investments, your grandfathers’ chieftaincy certificate, in short anything that will ensure the outcome of your application is favorable etc.) It’s common to hear Nigerians joke that one of the few people who can assess someone’s true financial net worth is the consular officer; investments/assets that one wouldn’t divulge to one’s parents, siblings or spouse at gunpoint are laid bare while applying for a visa, and like a mother-in-law on a fault finding mission, the embassy refuses your application and sends your passport back with a ‘visa denied’ stamp.
I recall when I was applying for my UK visa, I asked a colleague to help review, everything seemed fine till he got to the part where I declared how much I intended to spend during my trip, “Ehn!!! You want to spend this amount for a 10 day trip?! Don’t state that o!! The English man is conservative, he would wonder why you want to spend the equivalent of your 3 months’ salary on a 10 day vacation”. I honestly didn’t know there was an issue with wanting to spend my money as I want , money sitting in my account…surely the English man has heard of ‘retail therapy’.
Now to a reasonable extent, you can’t blame them. The consular officer has no way of looking into your soul via your submitted application or during the interview to deduce if you are really traveling for the reasons you stated, or if you intend to engage in some illegal activities (my drug trafficking/scarlet brothers and sisters, I hail o!), or even worse, travel and disappear, never to return to your country of origin. Add the high numbers of Nigerians milling the embassies ready to check out of the country to the equation and you have an administrative nightmare on the hands of these embassies, thereby resulting in some of these unfortunate visa refusal horror stories.
The stigma associated with the Nigerian passport could be unbearable at times, most passport holders have sad tales relating to their experiences at the hands of foreign immigration officers. Nigeria is usually in the news with cases relating to advance fee fraud, human and drug trafficking, that we welcome with glee any positive news highlighting the achievement of any of our brothers and sisters in diaspora.
Why do we have to go out of our country before we can experience real customer service? How come it’s in other countries that a 15min journey is a 15 min journey, it doesn’t extend to over 2 hours in transit because a truck broke down, the road is bad, a government convoy was passing the same route etc.? Why is it that we have to travel to do ‘correct shopping’? We import everything from rice to toothpicks…sigh
We have interesting sights in Nigeria: Ikogosi Springs, Erin Ijesha waterfalls, Yankari Game reserve, Obudu Ranch, Olumo Rock etc. some of these places haven’t been properly maintained in the last few years. I remember when I visited Ikogosi springs, I just kept thinking about how this goldmine wasn’t being fully maximized. Our hotel rates rank among the highest in the world, yes I’m aware PHCN is a factor in the pricing but I still wonder.
Now I’m not saying its picture perfect in all these tourist destinations, they do have their fair share of shortcomings, even on issues that affect us. What is saddening to me is that when my visa application is being reviewed, the Chinua Achebes, the Obafemi Awolowos, the Gani Fawehinmis, the Chimamanda Adichies, the Kutis, the Wole Soyinkas, the Sade Adus that Nigeria has produced are not remembered, instead they are overshadowed by what is not working in my country.
2015 Vacation Plan- 2 weeks’ vacation in Spain and France, visiting historic sites, shopping, lounging at the beach. Spend 2 weeks’ vacation in Ilorin, as recommended by my colleague, learning the culture and appreciating my country’s diversity…or not.