A day to remember at Nigeria High Commission in London

It was on Tuesday, the 14th of June 2011. For some strange but homely reasons yet unknown to me, I dreaded the dawn of this day like a bug.

Nigerians, especially those who have had anything to do with entities such as the High Commission or Embassy would immediately sympathize with me, even before knowing what my ordeal might be, if they come to realise that I had an appointment to acquire the new e-passport.

Not surprisingly, I have had to re-schedule this appointment twice. Needless to say, my passport was lying dormant with the Home Office on both occasions.

Since I neither had the urge nor strength to sound incredible as only a credible Nigerian would be, I saved the yet uncreated situation by not willingly submitting myself for embarrassment –  by attempting to answer those inquisitions of the individuals lucky enough to be immigration officials whose only aim is to frustrate  their potential victims from accomplishing the day’s mission.

The above notwithstanding, I decided not to allow regret to prevail. “You might be surprised” I told myself unconvincingly, but there is no one single breed in the entire universe as predictable as the Nigerian, and the one in public office, to be more specific.

I put a call through from my mobile phone and tried to explain my plight, but I was gravely mistaken as I tried, effortlessly to reason with the only Homo Sapiens specie for which reasoning is both prohibited and tabooed – the Nigerian in public office. I knew it was a lost battle from the onset, nevertheless I consoled myself, thinking, there was no harm in trying after all.

Come 14th of June, I set my alarm for 4am like one about to board a low cost flight from Stansted to an unknown destination. I got to the High Commission at 5.45am, only to find two co-nationals already in a queue that was later to gather momentum.

Ever wondered why people have to start queuing at this ungodly and highly unrecommendable hour, when only those on site and in sight are the night security staff of the adjacent Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries?

While online application processes have been known to be effective, efficient and infallible ways of managing processes and procedures, the Nigerian factor cannot, but come to play even in this instance. In simple words, the system is programmed to issue an appointment date without an accompanying set time.

One of the two people there before me had arrived at 4.30am, simply to pick up his already acquired passport. The other, with an unmistakable Benin accent had an appointment the day before. He needed a guarantor, which he could not find among hundreds of co-nationals at the premises. He had to come back the next day, to add to the already over-crowded scheduled appointments for the day, besides gate crashers and those privileged enough to go through the back door without prior appointment. Worse still, this rather unfortunate Nigerian resided outside London.

Come 9am the doors opened as if by magic. I must commend such impeccable punctuality in the High Commission of a country for which punctuality is everything but nothing to go by. Once accommodated comfortably, I became aware of how soon and fast the newly refurbished waiting area filled up. The next challenge was having to wait patiently and anxiously for those behind the counters to turn up and take their places for business as usual to commence.

When the adorable lot finally showed up, to the relief of the impatiently waiting applicants, only three, out of the eight counters opened. Not surprisingly, two were for visa applicants and only one for the larger proportion of passport applicants. If you have started wandering about this unusual arrangement, you do not need to go any further than this. The majority of applicants in this category were non-Nigerians, a protected specie for whom the Nigerian image should not be unravelled for what it really is. Others in this group were Nigerians who are un-proudly so, preferring to flag their red passports in an environment where the only one desirable and recognisable colour is green. These are the Nigerians who are ready to pay for an entry visa into a country that is supposedly theirs. They are blameless and to some considerable degree enviable as well. They even enjoy the special privilege of having their passports posted to an address of their indication. This is unluckily not the case for declared and identified Nigerians who have to queue up again to pick up their legitimate property at a time when even the janitors of the High Commission are far away in deep slumber.

However, one important consideration must be highlighted. These Nigerians suddenly turned British but only by passport identification were mainly young and unmarried men. I wonder if the story will remain the same when they eventually have a family and need more than one visa, running into hundreds of pounds. Simply adding up the sums may bring them to the realization that, in the final analysis, it pays to have the Nigerian green document.

Overall, my visit had a positive outcome as I finally left that environment that reminded me of everything Nigerian at 11.30am. A record I must say, but not for those who woke up later than 4am.

It would be an unforgiveable and reproachable oversight if I failed to mention that a considerable number of school and college age children and young adults flooded the corridors of the Nigeria House, at a time when they were supposed to be nowhere else other than the most obvious and legitimate place. If you have ever bothered to wonder about the under-achievement of black children in British schools, you have this one additional reason to contend with.

Strangely enough, it was the day dedicated to the celebration of the African child. What a remarkable way to remind them to forget about their roots!

By Pauline Aweto Eze,
Author of “Wartime Rape”

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