Aug 04

Things fall apart.. visa style in Nigeria (Part 1)

The original title of this blog was “How (not) to get a visa for Nigeria” but in the mean time I have read a great and accessible novel by Chinua Achebe from Nigeria called Things Fall Apart influenced by a poem by our very on WB Yeats. I guess it was not only the greatness of Guinness that found its way to Nigeria. After reading this, then I realised that there may be some interconnect. Maybe just because there are two parts to this story or that there are so many interlinks and interconnections to the dynamic of this story.

So, Zimbabwe seems to be the fulcrum of a good few of my post over the last while. Instead of this being a fulcrum though this is an interesting place to give the story a nice context. I was not expecting this story go the way it did so there are little photos.

Also this story deserves to be a two parter just to give it some dramatic effect and also to fully demonstrate the adventure that I undertook to get a business visa for the wonderfully crazy country of Nigeria. It has always been somewhat of a dream for me to go there. Its just something about the chaotic places that draw me and Nigeria and Lagos in particular was one of those. Also the poor Nigerians (rightfully in many ways) get a bad reputation outside their country. The Nigerians I had met in the past, though, that worked and lived within the country were wonderfully friendly people. This contradiction intrigued me. Answers were required. Before that, of course, a visa to get into the country was required

Here it goes. There is a few of us sitting around the table on a Saturday afternoon. I just arrived the day before into a hostel in Avondale, Zimbabwe. Its cosy and people, as per the norm in hostels in Africa, are rather friendly. There is a few random folks around, a dutchie or two, some english and scots, a smiley mexican, some rustic canadians and the few people that shared a story with me. Two Greeks , Nicos and Georgia and an even more rustic Basque gentleman by the name of Adolfo. Their story, like this one, revolved around getting visas for Nigeria.

Let me give you another contextual aspect. I was flying to Nigeria to support a project that is being implemented by one of our biggest donors/partners. The project involved putting a solar powered container with 10 zero client computers and screens into a school in Lagos. The partner, a big big big computer manufacturer, provided the technology and Camara put the educational slant on it buy developing and implementing a suitable training path for the teachers selected by the school to ensure that they can integrate the technology into their daily teaching practices. This is where I came into it. To add more pressure, The donor wanted to record a video for marketing purposes and showcase the project at the biggest eLearning Conference in Namibia at the end of May and was spending a lot of money to get a video crew over to Nigeria to record the training going on and teachers and students using the newly introduced technology into this disadvantaged school. It was their big CSR (corporate social responsibility) story of the year.

I arrived in Harare at the end of April secure in the knowledge that getting a business visa from the local embassy would be a breeze. After a few emails and calls to the Nigerian Embassy in Ireland, I was told its simple, just apply online through a third party organization that processes Nigerian Visas, pay the fee, and go to the embassy to pick up your visa. You have no idea how much of a relief it was to hear this because I recalled friends from the Ericsson days telling me of their days of sitting in the embassy in Dublin hoping that they would get their visa on time. Well, realistically I knew it would not bet that simple but I was giving myself 4 weeks to get it organised.

To document the number of obstacles in this process I feel its best I flag each one in sequential order using the following Homer-esque indicator : DOH 1, where the number matches the sequential order of obstacles.

This all starts in Lusaka, Zambia. 2.5 weeks before my holidays in Zimbabwe and 4 weeks before I am due to fly to Lagos after the finish of my holidays.

Step One: Application submitted online. Success.

Step Two: Pay… (cough)

So apparently .. there is a little thing called corruption that has plagued the visa application process in previous years, therefore the Nigerian Immigration Service had contracted an independent organisation to process the fees and paperwork. So to pay, its not a matter of just settling up with your credit card. Na….. way to easy.. I had to prove it was my credit card…. (DOH 1) The only way I could do that is by submitting a copy of my passport along with a visa statement that must have your address on it to prove where you live (DOH 2). Now in the wonderful world of internet banking and eStatments, your home address is not necessary and I did not have a physical copy of a credit card statement in years though my mum did tear the house apart looking for something.

Ring the bank, It takes 5 working days to process a manual statement with your address on it (DOH 3). Ring the organisation who wants the card verification, it takes a further 4 days to verify the visa card when all the appropriate documentation is submitted(DOH 4). Two weeks out the window because I have to verify my visa card. That would of left it way too close for me to visit Harare and pick up my visa. Ring the visa processing organization again to try and find a solution.

Apparently because there are plenty of British-Nigerians in London that don’t have a visa card, they have a service where you can pay cash. Time was ticking, it was town to 2.5 weeks and a week before I was due to travel to Harare to process the visa. Lucky for us, Camara has somebody in London and we were able to get a payment for my application through the London branch.

Success… Visa paid for… All I had to do was to head to Harare, have an interview and pick up my visa (DOH 5, put in for my naive optimism)

So.. its 9 days before I am due to fly to Lagos, I head to Harare on the Friday with the intention of heading to the Harare embassy on the Monday, getting the visa and then chilling in Harare for the HIFA festival for the rest of the week before flying out on the following Saturday

Flash back to the table in the hostel in a warm Saturday evening in Harare. Adolfo is telling me of his wonderful crazy adventures across West Africa where his dream for the whole trip was to travel as much of the River Congo as possible. He had been through Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Conakry and onto Coté d’Ivorie where he was due to apply for his holiday visa for… Nigeria! He applied in Cote d’Ivoire! Rejected! No reason given. He asked locals who said that the embassy there had a reputation for this so best to head to Togo. Same again. Rejected. No reason. Final chance and again the best chance as locals tell you….. Benin.. again… door firmly shut. After trying for visas for Congo too, and getting rejected in the same brutal fashion, and feeling dejected, he jumped on a plane to head Johannesburg and then onto Harare.

Georgia... a little bit more optimistic than I....

Nicos and Georgia are laughing the whole way through it as Adolfo finishes his story. Like good Greeks they enjoy the misfortune of others while eagerly awaiting to share their equally compelling disaster story. They had taken their jeep from Greece, through Spain through Mauritania ( a few robberies on the way) and along the West Coast of Africa where they too hit an impasse in Ghana. There was no way they would get a visa for Nigeria, and there was even less of a chance to get their jeep through border control without a miracle for their “carnet” (car passport) was not acceptable for the Nigerian customs. In good logical fashion they decided to just bypass Nigeria and ship the jeep to Cape Town and re-unite with it there. Their own blog, listed at the bottom will entertain you more on the finer details.

I sat attentively and told them that I believed that getting a business visa was much more logical because who really goes to Nigeria on holidays.. seriously.

Monday arrives.

I stroll to the Nigerian Embassy with every single form in hand. I was over prepared but you have to be when it comes to this type of situation.

I enter in. Say hi. Had over my documents and the lady processing them looks at me in bewilderment. She had never seen something like this before (DOH 6). and most importantly, this embassy does not process any visas from non-Zimbabwean citizens or residents. (DOH 7). My reaction was that there is always a solution. If you are persistent enough in Africa, there is always a solution. I ask to speak to the high commissioner in charge to explain my situation and that the Embassy in Dublin and the Visa processing agency informed me that it was possible to process my visa here.

The High Commissioner arrives with a very angry look on his face. I disturbed him from something and he was not happy. (DOH 8). I explain my situation in less than a minute. He simply says “No, not possible”. I said “ Can I get somebody to contact the embassy?” He says “No, not possible” I ask, “Is there any other solution we can work with here?”. At that stage he says something in one of the local Nigerian vernaculars and storms off. Looking at my words, I can only assume he thought I was looking to bribe him. I can say honestly, It was far from my intention but I did have a good laugh thinking about how the online process was meant to stop stuff like this. Anyway, 6 days before flying, I was on holidays and I had no visa (DOH 9) . I sensed a problem.

I walked back to the hostel trying to think of solutions. Well, she did say that they process residents and I am in the process of applying for residency in Zambia. Lets give that a go. Let me call the Nigerian Embassy in Lusaka and if all else fails, just head there and get the visa processed. Its 10.30am on Monday morning. 4 calls later and bless them, they were so much nicer, they inform me that because I am not full resident, that I can not do it and there are no exceptions. (DOH 10). I must process my visa in my country of residence (DOH 11 … though… mmm.. opportunity sensed). Its 12.45pm. I call my boss and tell him the situation. A few calls later to Embassy of Nigeria in Ireland we are told if I submit my visa on Tuesday morning in Dublin, there is a chance I can have it on Thursday evening (its closed on Friday) to then fly from Dublin on Saturday and get there in time to start the training on the Monday. Its 13.10pm. The only flight I can get from Harare to Dublin to get me to the embassy at 9.30am the following morning is in one hour and thirty five minutes. I have flights provisionally booked, taxi waiting outside and I feel like puking from the stress. My boss has gone into a meeting and is not around to approve the decision to fly. All this because of a promotional video. It annoyed me. So much that I mailed the project coordinator for the container project from the big big big computer company and told him whats going on. 3 mins later he calls me on my mobile to tell me they have cancelled the film crew as it was proving to be too expensive and that he will fly instead to video it. And that he would prefer to cancel it for a few weeks as it suits his holiday plans too once its before the conference in Namibia and they have a story to tell about this project

1 min later I had a beer in my hand.

2 mins later I agree with the project coordinator Ricardo that we will push the course 2 weeks to give plenty of time to process the visa in Dublin. He did say that he could get somebody to make some calls and try and get it sorted in Harare but could not guarantee it. After my experience in the Embassy earlier I doubted that any intervention would of helped and also, I have just been handed a free opportunity to head back to Dublin courtesy of my organisation on a plate. “Never take a good steak dinner away from an Irish man” I said to Ricardo. So the suggestion was dropped.

6 mins later I am talking to a colleague in Dublin who is helping me with flights to cancel the flight out that day and discuss what happens next.

10 mins later I chat with my boss and agree that I have to fly to Dublin at the end of the week to process the visa.

16 mins later I finally realised that I could stay on holiday in Harare and enjoy the city. Lucky eh as not many of the previous stories may have been written or hey… even my love affair with Africa might not of been ignited properly.

6 days later, I am on a flight to Dublin. Processing visas in Ireland would surely be easier.. surely!

Well if that was the case, there would not be a part 2…

To be continued……………..


Nicos and Georgias Blog: http://thepinprojecten.blogspot.com/

1 comment

  1. Larry

    Geez, good reminder not to complain about european bureaucracy. Hope all will work out well in some way in the end.
    Anywayz, should you find yourself travelling across Europe in the meanwhile, do feel free to drop me a line if y’r somewhere near this part of the woods.

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