I remember about 22 years ago when I sought my first visa to the United Kingdom. It was the usual hell. Trouble to get appointment, then apprehensions when one eventually gets the appointment plus anything could happen on that day or with the visa officers. Their default then, as well as today, was to deny you the visa because it was like you, as a Nigerian, would likely run away in their country or go there to work illegally. Twenty-two years ago we had already slipped from being a ‘protected’ member of the Commonwealth who could walk in and out of the UK at will (perhaps because they had come to disturb us with their colonialism or in atonement for their exploitation of our resources). We had become pariah to our colonisers and our people were traumatised at will at their embassy.
In my case at the Abuja UK High Commission, there was this stern, tall woman with very blond hair who just seemed not to like my face. She kept bouncing my application and asking for all sorts. I was already a bank manager then but she will have none of it. After a number of trials during which I constantly lost money to the UK High Commission (an exploitative practice of charging poor people from poverty-ravished countries for jobs not performed, which the criminal code says this is 419), I eventually got the visa to travel to the UK. I have not attempted in 22 years to stay there illegally or to do unapproved work.
My experience with the American visa was a little less stressful even though bizarre. In 2003 I had to get to the US Embassy at the then Eleke Crescent (now Walter Carrington) at 7am, even though we didn’t get in until around 10am. For myself, my wife and two-year-old daughter that day, it was eight straight hours of standing. Children were hungry and crying everywhere but you dare not leave your place on the queue and the general intimidating of the environment and process meant you would rather not even let the security man know that you would risk not having that interview that day. So, we endured. Whereas the British High Commission then would interview virtually everyone, they had cubicles or small office for that purpose. This afforded applicants some privacy even though all the conversation in each room could still be heard by people sitting in the lounge, their hearts pounding in their mouths so loud the beats could be coming from a drum band.
Getting a foreign visa was like sitting for God’s final judgment – maybe worse. The Americans were as usual, less subtle. You stood by the window in front of everyone’s glare as you are grilled, your shame becomes everyone’s sport and knowledge. The American interviewers use psychology. And every so often they deconstruct applicants, leaving them deflated and bewildered – often wrongly. Meanwhile, in front of the US Embassy in where must have been meant as a waiting area, a smart pastor had mounted a service for those going inside the embassy. The song that day before offering time, was ‘Today today, Jesus shall answer me, today, today’. Veteran applicants made a point to donate generously inside the offering basket, and then cast and bind all the enemies that had denied them visas over time.
That was then. The foreign embassies have made trillions of naira or perhaps even trillions of dollars, from Nigerians who apply to go to their countries. A thinking nation would have tried to research just how much our people have lost over time but not us. We are still contributing to the coffers of nations that are infinitely richer and smarter than ours and it’s like the most normal thing in the world. Imagine people from a $2,000 per capita income country giving money away freely to people from $50,000 per capita countries! This could be the greatest transfer of wealth (from the poor to the rich), in history.
Then came Dubai.
A great many Nigerians had embraced the easy Dubai route before I ventured in 2011. My impression – given what I had heard from many who went, was that Dubai was a market. Someone even compared the place to Onitsha market. Invariably those folks were too timid to explore beyond Al Sabkha Street, Naif Square and Baniyas up to the Clock Tower. That was why I was shocked the first time I visited and found that the country was even ahead of many western nations in terms of infrastructure and international business outlook.
Dubai had set herself apart from the other six Emirates that made up the UAE and was/is a leader in innovation, tourism and business. The leaders of Dubai embraced westernization and leveraged on innovation from everywhere.
Dubai visa was easy to get. There were agents all over the Emirates – travel agencies and hotels – who will facilitate your visa without seeing or knowing you. It was the easiest thing to get. But Nigerians – some would say true-to-type – started to muddy the water and disgrace themselves to the extent that Dubai gradually denied us the rights availed every other person in the world. For a country established on tourism (as a diversification from crude oil), that Emirates needs every and anybody to come. But Nigeria, of all the 200-odd countries in the world, has been singled out for this shame.
One cannot blame the UAE for protecting itself, given that that country cannot allow all sorts of ne’er-do-wells to start running riot in their streets, messing up their carefully cultivated ambience, security and reputation. The way it works is that there are daily meetings of officials of all the Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeirah, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al Quwain), and one of the other Emirates would have told Dubai to slow down on how it attracts all these miscreants from all over the world. And why not?
Several times Nigerians have organized armed robberies in the UAE. Often times, our ladies are involved in prostitution. One wonders if in reality we are under-evolved in the human species as we tend to soil everywhere we are welcome. We take things for granted, are loud, behave anyhow, annoy our hosts, brag about our achievements or lack of it, always try to prove a non-existent point, and so on. It was in that same Dubai that Hushpuppi, a criminal fraudster lived, buying expensive new cars everyday until he was pulled into jail by the Americans.
Dubai/UAE was the last place we would be offered such blank cheque