American Visa, Nigerians and a typical day of torment at the US consulate
By Adewale Adeoye
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USAfrica: Every upsetting creation has its own odd value, though. This blustery morning, it was a huge rat hurdling in the bathroom that, thankfully, stirred me from the depth of deep sleep. Time was 4am, the hour Lagos would be in slumber, but applicants seeking the US visa that day had to be on their feet: Some came with little children, some with breast-sucking infants; some on wheel chairs, some in the last days of their pregnancy, some moribund, with fatal illnesses but able to trudge.
Some were punks, seeking cheap escape from the awful economy.
Some with frivolous claims, but not to outcast those with genuine judgment. For many Nigerians, undying impressions about US and her civil image would not come through sumptuous dinners with the Ambassador, which they are unlikely to have, but rather through the mandatory come across with the temper or idiosyncrasies of an interviewing officer usually caged behind a steel glass, leaving visual and audio pin-holes as the only means of contact with locals.
The five torment hours of this reporter revealed the raw nightmares of Nigerians, rich or poor, armed or defenseless, royals and peasants. In the past, I had appeared courtesy of the United Nations’ invitation to speak on indigenous issues and also subsequently as a guest speaker on self-determination at international Yoruba conferences, and therefore, ‘robbed’ of the piercing grief.
This Friday, some came from remote towns and villages, from crisis torn Yobe state to far off Calabar to meet the largely irreversible visa appointments, traveling several of kilometers. Even in this odd hour, at the office located in down town Lagos, overlooking a long stretch of splashing and clapping sea, sometimes mixed with the faint, harmonious chorus of crickets and frogs, hundreds of applicants already milled in the shadow of the dwindling darkness.
Many had slept on the bare floor, and had their bath or defecate in the adjoining bait of the roaring sea. I thought: history is never static. The old is pregnant with the new and the new contains elements of the old. Barely 300 years ago, our forebears who were taken into slavery against their wish, would not have imagined their great grand children would battle, out of their own volition to seek passage to the land that degraded them and which they had detested.
Those olden times, they were forcefully hurled them into waiting ships, tied in beastly rolls, their lips padlocked, after red-hot iron had been pierced through their lips. At gun point, they were coerced to quit their culture and leave behind their timeless heritage, never to be recalled. In defiance, some jumped into the ocean and were eaten by wild sea animals, some were shot like chicken. They must have resisted, simply because they lived a better life in their lurch green tropical world, filled with contentment and a blissful chain of gleeful picturesque. The rush to US, three centuries after the slave trade, is shocking; the scene appears to capture the grim picture that Africa was a better place for her people, 300 years ago, compared with Africa today.
Imagine, the forebears resisted, but today, if a huge plane is brought to Nigeria, seeking people to work on slave plantations in the US, from what I see this Friday, certainly, millions would rush to be on board, voluntarily, even with stiffer chains and fetters of iron. However, encounters of many visitors at the US consulate make them believe that though laws of slavery have been expunged, but the mindset, that tiny invisible box, of some consuls, remains as it was four centuries ago. “What has changed is the form, not the content of slavery”, one dying applicant who sought medical attention in the US but whose visa was rejected told me that Friday. For one thing, the 5-hour experience of this reporter left vestigial traces of repugnant memories of Nigerians as underdogs. It appears like a daily routine of trauma.
One applicant who had three kids lined them up on the bait of a drainage near the embassy, all night long, for a 6.30 am appointment. For Ebong, he came in from Calabar, it was his third trip having missed the appointments in spite of an all night agonizing bus travel, spanning 20 hours. Two of his cousins with their three kids perished few years ago on their way to a visa appointment.
As we snaked through the line, one dead beat ebony black pregnant woman was seen moaning through the horrific line of largely hopeless applicants, including some women, some of who had to be frisked by male security guards. Outside the embassy, there were no toilets; women and children are at the mercy of a dungeon-like pit, managed by thugs.
A young man told how a pregnant woman was raped near the on-looking, gibbering and furious beach. After the start whistle for the screening was blown, after 5am, a dutiful chocolate coloured lady announced the rules for applicants. A comic police guard rolls out the “dos” and “don’ts”, which included not bringing your “anointing oil” into the embassy. But nothing could be so perplexing as the sometimes humiliating questions thrown at applicants, especially terrifying questions that infringe on the privacy of the individual and the dignity of the human person. For hundreds of thousands of Nigerians seeking the US visa for scientific research, ill health, human rights conferences, medicare, knowledge-driven events, securing the US visa has become as difficult as an elephant passing through the needle’s eye.
An Ekiti medical doctor at the point of death who needed medical attention abroad was denied last month, because he had “no tie” with his country. Ties are sometimes defined in economic terms, placed far above the family. Leader of the Coalition of Nigerian Right Groups, (CONRIG) said his appearance was like passing through a “torture chamber.” At the end, the consular told him with ignominy to ‘go and apply for Visa lottery.” He vowed never to apply for the US visa in his lifetime.
Rasaq Olokooba of the Coalition of O’odua Self Determination Groups, (COSEG) had a running battle reminding his questionnaire that he was going for a conference that promotes global security and his denial would amount to a classic case of betrayal against the cherished image of the US. The rules say you must have a fat account, suggesting that financial standing overrules the dignity and public reputation of the individual, a horrendous reminder of how the US appears to promote transient ethics at the expense of values that sustain humanity’s utilitarian grandeur. You should not have a relation in the US, meaning that you largely need to deny your own, since most Nigerians have relations in the US. One applicant once said an official almost hit him with her scorn when he asked him how many children he had and he said 12. Visa applications appear to be largely anti-children, as if every Nigerian would take their children abroad for auction or as if children do not have the right to free movement. A source said black officials at the consulate are hardly allowed to go on holidays abroad with their offspring.
Another narrated she was questioned years back why she had another child when she was yet to wean her infant. One first class Oba in Yorubaland told me he heard of new regulations that reject Obas submitting passports with their heads covered. It is a taboo for an Oba or King to leave his head barren. Largely, it appears Nigerians are generally seen as dishonest, bruising the collective ego and hosting the boosting of generalization. All this must be hovering in the mind of this young white lady as she asked my companion, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Human Rights Community, (NHRC) astonishing questions quite out of the rules on paper. Her question was something like are you pregnant or “are you expecting a baby?” Astonished respondent nodded “No.” She shot a wry smile, the kind of high interest smirk a bank staff lends a poor customer with less than two dollars in her account. The next question could have been ‘when last did you have sex”, I thought. She drilled activist if she had any medical ailment that she would wish to treat in the US. She was hot and flustered. She asked couple to re-present their finger prints, “so as to double-check” if correct. The fingerprints had earlier been taken by an affectionate black lady consul. She wanted to “double check” as if the black staff’s was fly-by-night.
As she ordered the retrial, a flux of contemptuous emotion clouded behind her violet eye balls, buried behind the steely glass, she then went into a flippant recession, flopping through the data page of the old passport, filled with several visas, ignoring the new passport. When she was reminded that she was not looking at the new passport, she said, trying to simulate affection: “What were you doing in the US for 2 months?” That was untrue.
Obviously, she had not taken her time to study the in and out stamps. The reporter was in the US for few weeks, and then returned to the US again after two months for another four days. She then feigned her question was deliberate with a tint of haughty authority. She suddenly let loose the documents, as if they were an overblown piece of cow dung.
I thought she could shoot her questions, but spare her country’s flag, and stop painting a graffiti of shame and a blush of dishonor. At home, her child asked her, ‘mum, are you really pregnant?”
For one thing, the Nigerian authority, considering the influx of applicants for the US visa, should know it is her responsibility to protect the dignity of her citizens applying for legitimate visit. Abuja should show interest in the way her citizens are treated by some officials who encounter trauma daily at the “trial box.”
The South East states of Nigeria should prevail on the US to have a consular missions in Enugu; and same for Kano. This will reduce the pain and anguish of applicants and the deaths associated with long travels. The US may wish to adopt the German and British models, where applicants submit visas to be processed in weeks, leaving a fair deal for both parties.
The US authority should make her consuls abide by the relevant laws of her own country which promotes the dignity of mankind. The US should train and retrain her officials on the ethics of the host country. It is unethical to ask a woman unknown to you if she was pregnant; moreso, to the listening ears of several other applicants. Yes. Some Nigerians are liars. Some are drug couriers. Some are cheats, but not all Nigerians are. In fact, only very few Nigerians are. Hasty generalization is a mark of illogic. It simply runs against critical and logical thinking. As the old saying goes, there may be moments when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time we fail to speak out.
•Adewale Adeoye, CNN African Journalist of the Year 2000, is a contributor to USAfricaonline.com, first U.S-based, African-owned newspaper published on the Internet.
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—— 2014 forthcoming book: In this engaging, uniquely insightful and first person reportage book, MANDELA & ACHEBE: Footprints of Greatness, about two global icons and towering persons of African descent whose exemplary lives
He chronicles, movingly, his 1998 reporting from the Robben Island jail room in South Africa where Mandela was held for decades through his 20 years of being close to Achebe. He moderated the 2012 Achebe Colloquium at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.”I’ll forever remember having walked inside and peeped through that historic Mandela jail cell (where he was held for most of his 27 years in unjust imprisonment) at the dreaded Robben Island, on March 27, 1998, alongside then Editor-in-chief of TIME magazine and later news chief executive of the CNN, Walter Isaacson (and others) when President Bill Clinton made his first official trip to South Africa and came to Robben Island. Come to this island of scourge and you will understand, in part, the simple greatness and towering grace of Nelson Mandela”, notes Chido Nwangwu, award-winning writer, multimedia specialist and founder of USAfricaonline.com, the first African-owned U.S-based newspaper published on the internet, in his first book; he writes movingly from his 1998 reporting from South Africa on Mandela. http://www.mandelaachebechido.com/
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USAfrica, December 19, 2013: To fully make sense of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s December 2, 2013 letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, you should follow the key point of my analytical deduction which I refer to as Obasanjo’s unspoken historical burden; namely, for the 3 times where he exercised partisan power and influence in Nigeria’s presidential election history,
he has faced unpleasant twists, unexpected and unsatisfactory outcomes: 1979 (he supported Alhaji Shehu Shagari, NPN, removed in a military coup in 1983); 2007 (he personally picked an ill Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, PDP, who died after 3 years of ineffective presidency as the 13th Head of State on May 5, 2010) and he also picked Yar’Adua’s VP, Goodluck Jonathan who became acting President on May 6. On April 18, 2011, he was declared winner of the presidential election with the very active campaign support of Obasanjo.
But Obasanjo insists that Jonathan is not good enough and deserves the December 2 acidic, public denunciation of his presidency and worse, of this same man who has been, according to my key sources in the presidency in Abuja, very respectful and deferential toward Obasanjo.
Based on Obasanjo’s military antecedents, power attitude and drawing from my reading of his history as a leader, he will Not — for lack of a better word — “forgive” Jonathan despite his references to God and Christ, and to the great Nelson Mandela the same week as a forgiving leader. To be sure, Obasanjo does not have the forgiving spirit of Mandela…. For the FULL text of this commentary, click here https://usafricaonline.com/2013/12/19/why-president-jonathan-should-fight-back-or-obasanjo-will-end-his-presidency-by-chido-nwangwu/
Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and the Nigeria360 e-group. https://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/ : IF any of the Nigerian President’s 100 advisers has the polite courage for the extraordinary task of reminding His Excellency of his foremost, sworn, constitutional obligation to the national interest about security and safety of Nigerians and all who sojourn in Nigeria, please whisper clearly to Mr. President that I said, respectfully: Nigerians, at home and abroad, are still concerned and afraid for living in what I call Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. FULL text of commentary at USAfricaonline.com https://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/
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