Migration is an integral part of life and people of different nationals naturally travel from one country to the other for various reasons – education, business, tourism, and pleasure etc.
The establishment of foreign embassies and missions in various countries aside other things encourages free movement within the ambit of the laws of the host countries.
Over the years, these foreign embassies have given helping hands to their nationals in need of assistance including temporary abodes, renewal of passport, issuance of new visas and what have you.
However, in recent years, as fortunes of the Nigerian economy have been dwindling, the services being rendered at foreign embassies have become dismal, and so complaints have been enormous.
The complaints are not peculiar to a particular country, as Nigerians in countries such as America, Australia, China, Japan, India, Switzerland and others have been lamenting the horrible experience that they go through each time they have to visit the Nigerian embassy of the country that they are based in.
Services including renewal of passport for resident Nigerians and others with dual nationality which should naturally take a maximum period of three to four hours in any sane clime has turned a big deal in Nigerian foreign embassies such that people have to wait as much as three months and sometimes even more before they can do what they need to do.
In the past, individuals have taken to social media to vent their disgust with some even ranting with no one to attend to them.
One poser that comes to mind naturally is how did it get so bad? Why do Nigerians have to be subjected to such laborious treatment just to visit their mother land? Why do Nigerians have to reduce their own brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers to this level of wickedness and disrespect?
The situation has seen a lot of people emphasising one allegation at these embassies: bribery and corruption. The general impression is that only tips can make things work normally in any Nigerian foreign embassy.
Several years back, Nigerian foreign missions were dominated by the highest calibre of men. They were recruited basically for their intelligence and qualifications. Besides this, after recruitment into the service, proper training was provided to enhance good performance. Presently, all those have however changed as the quality control which was an essential feature then has now been overtaken by interests.
Today, a major pointer to the inability of these embassies to deliver has been identified as the inadequacy of qualified personnel to staff the mission. The number of staff posted to Nigeria’s foreign missions are not only inadequate, but are dominated by individuals who are often times ill-equipped in terms of training.
Recently, the government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari ordered that posting of staff of home ministries to foreign missions should be discontinued, while foreign service officers should be trained to carry out multiple tasks including administration, immigration, trade, culture and education. However, it seems that all these and more have also worsened the situation.
This fact is buttressed by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bulus Lolo, who listed the challenges facing the Ministry as the absence of a Foreign Service Commission, poor funding of foreign missions, policy inconsistencies and training deficiencies, among others. All these, directly or indirectly, affect the foreign embassies.
Speaking with Independent, Oladimeji Akinpelu, who had a very sad experience at the Nigerian embassy in the United Kingdom (UK), when his passport expired shares his experience thus: “I had gone to the Nigerian embassy in the UK to renew my passport when it expired and something which was supposed to last only three hours, as it does in other embassies turned something else. I was asked to come back in three months and when I did, I couldn’t find the person who had attended to me when I first came. Interestingly, the new person I saw could not answer any of my questions. He neither knew where my passport was, nor had an answer to my questions. It was when I was almost getting frustrated that he called a colleague of his to answer me. I had to return again for my passport. The unfortunate thing is that it gets worse every year, as the last time I had to renew a passport was also an experience on its own,” he said.
Akinpelu is not the only person who has been a victim of the shoddiness of the Nigerian embassy abroad.
Attorney Stefano Fabeni, a foreigner and the Executive Director, Global Initiatives for Human Rights at Heartland Alliance in Washington, DC, had a first-hand experience and tweeted it thus: “Applying for Nigerian visa with Innovate 1 services is a nightmare. They should not be allowed to operate in the US.” Fabeni says the process of obtaining ordinary Nigerian Visa or Passport defies common sense.
An article titled “Obtaining Nigerian Passport/Visa In The USA Is A Nightmare” written by SKC Ogbonnia details how Nigerians have to incur an average cost of $1,000 to obtain a common passport.
According to Ogbonnia, efforts to mitigate the costs by the Nigerian embassy which saw them designing an intelligible intervention programme whereby passport services are entertained in major cities outside the consulates failed woefully having been faced with daunting challenges including an extremely time-consuming method of application.
He recounted how a passport intervention conducted from February 19 to February 22, 2016 in Houston by the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta, America, saw over 1,000 Nigerians applying with consulate staff only able to treat less than 400 of the applications captured by the lone machine despite working over 15 hours per day.
This is despite the fact that these individuals had to take time off work to queue in line for days only to come out empty-handed, dispirited and irritated.
Ben Osadolor (not real name) recounted how he waited for the Nigerian embassy in Switzerland to give him a Nigerian passport for three months to no avail stating that at the time he got the passport, the event he was to attend in Nigeria was already done and dusted.
James Adelaja, a travel agent in Nigeria revealed thus when asked about his experience working with Nigerian embassies in other African countries. According to him, “Because some of our clients want visas of some African countries which do not have embassies in Nigeria we have to travel to the nearest country where they have their embassy to obtain the visa for our client to travel. However, I can tell you that it is now big business to get Nigerian visa from these foreign embassies because the officers there have turned it into a major business. You will be amazed that they will tell you that they can only attend to people within certain hours after which they are done for the day. The idea is to create some sort of apprehension and frustration so that people can start to lobby by tipping them.” This is one of the challenges travel agencies face.
In the wake of these developments at Nigerian foreign embassies, one question begging for answer is, when will things get better?
Special Report: Government Policies And Its Intricacies At Foreign Embassies