Nigeria has foreign missions in a number of countries providing consular and visa services amongst others to its citizens. The D-day was around the corner for John to attend an appointment at the embassy for passport renewals for his family and he wasn’t looking forward to it at all. His previous experience at the embassy 5 years prior was nothing to write home about, it was a depressing experience he would rather forget. Being in the waiting room then was like a typical scene at Oshodi, jam packed, noisy, rowdy with people cursing and behaving like touts. It was strange to imagine that just outside the door were the streets of first world civilisation – a world apart from his experience inside.
Well, this time it was a mission that needed to be done, so he began to encourage and prep himself for a repeat experience. There were a few encouraging signs that things may have improved, for instance payments for the passports was now done online, “wow naija at least is catching up with the digital age”, he said to himself. Although the application process, restrictions and experience with the payment was confusing and cumbersome compared to the standard expected, it was a comparatively welcomed improvement – one less need for postal orders in the 21st century.
The day came, he took a day off work, braced himself and off they went to the embassy with the their kids. They packed a significantly large bag, as they could not predict how long it would take and with kids they needed to be prepared for the worse case scenario. They arrived at the embassy and John made a conscious decision to note the events of the day juxtaposed with 5 years prior. These are their stories:
Improvements – Things that have improved compared to 5 years prior.
- Automated queue system. It was a welcomed development that there was an automated queuing system calling out ticket numbers in turn – a sharp contrast to someone howling numbers in the noisy over crowded waiting room.
- Relative Order. The automated system ensured that people were attended to in turn without anyone trying to beat the queue or come in via the back door.
- Functional Lavatories – that speaks for itself.
- Question and answer sessions with the High Commission – It was very thoughtful and impressive of the high commissioner to intermittently leave his office to address applicants in the waiting room explaining in detail the challenges the commission faces trying to serve Nigerians. He also spent a significant anount of time answering questions from the audience. The issues he addressed included:
- The challenges coping with the number of applications with limited resources being the only consular office serving Nigerians in the country. He talked about the proposal to open a commission up north to ease the burden of people having to travel south.
- He explained why the cost for a visa to Nigeria was high and that the commission doesn’t receive income from the visa fees which is handled by a third party.
- He talked about the criminal behaviours exhibited by Nigerians when making application. The lies they tell and the increasing number of forged documents the commission has to deal with on a daily basis. No sooner had he said this, a forged document was detected which he showed to everyone present in the waiting room. This drove the point he was trying to make home.
- He talked about the option available to residents living outside the city to have their passports sent via recorded delivery so they do not have to travel again for collection. He explained why this service couldn’t be extended to everyone mainly because of the logistics involved coupled with the limited resources and manpower..
- He addressed why the availability of the 32 and 64-page passport variants and the challenge getting them delivered from Nigeria ontime to meet the demand. He also explained why the option to receive the 32-page passport was given even though payment was made for the 64-page variant.
- Overall, the commissioners behaved professionally comparatively well, and in John’s opinion, they were helpful and made his kids feel at ease and happy.
Same difference – Things that remained the same compared to 5 years prior.
- Attitudes of a few Nigerians resident in the country remained the same: aggressive, impatient, pompous, abusive and disrespectful to commissioners carrying out their duties to serve.
- Forged documents and deception when making applications particularly from illegal/undocumented immigrants trying to regularise their documents.
- Aggressive and battle ready attitude. The same Nigerians will behave absolutely well at their places of work but choose to behave like hooligans at the embassy.
- Condescending attitude to commissioners. Despite the efforts made by the high commissioner to address applicants, a few Nigerians present were rude addressing and responding to him. They made it known that they had travelled far and wide and were the know-it-all and could probably do a better job.
- Health and Safety Concerns
- The waiting room is overcrowded, too many people in the waiting room sitting on chairs, on the floor and standing with children running to and fro unsupervised.
- Waiting room located in a basement without windows.
- No access for the disabled or parents with push chairs.
- Lack of accurate information. It was apparent that the information available on the embassy’s website were outdated and in some case not present. It would be helpful if information like: documents required, opening times and holidays are made readily available on the website or better still sent via email, twitter or facebook to those that have completed the online application. It takes away the anxiety people feel not having the right information and probably prevent a wasted journey to the commission.
- Guidiance and statistics. Information about the application process and waiting times could be made available to allow people plan especially when travelling with children. Simple signs and steps in leaflets or on the notice board would go a long way. John recalled a number of times having to ask another applicant what the next step was, where to place the collection slip etc. These are simple but crucial issues that when addessed will make a great difference by taking away anxiety and reduce the tension while waiting. Armed with info about waiting and processing times, people can plan for lunch, take a walk and cater for their kids without having to sit all day in the waiting rooms not knowing when their turn will be.
There are obviously room for inprovement for instance the following, if implemented would be a welcomed improvement:
- Making up-to-date information available either on their website, email or via social media.
- Limiting the need to attend at the embassy by:
- Greater use of online services
- Making postal applications and collections available to all even if the applicants have to pay the delivery charges.
- Regularly updating applicants with status of their applications.
Where 2 or more Nigerians are gathered, there is most likely going to be noise, keep them idle and waiting indefintely and you’ll be asking for chaos. The less need for Nigerians to congregate at the embassy the better for everyone for the following reasons:
- Reduced travel cost without the need to take time off work
- Less stress and anxiety experienced by both applicants and commissioners
- Cleaner, friendlier and less crowdy atmosphere at the embassy
- Better experience for everyone and improved image of our nation
- Limits security risks by admiting less people into the embassy.
John’s overall experince was great and it made a lasting impression with renewed hope that things can get better. While it may not be the same for others, it its worth commedning the efforts the commissioners put it at the Nigerian embassies worldwide to make the lives of Nigerians in diaspora better, imagine having to travel home each time.