Foreign Embassies And Unjust Treatment Of Nigerian Visa Applicants

Opinion

I write to join several well-meaning Nigerians to protest the unfair and unjust treatment of Nigerian visa applicants by many foreign embassies and high commissions in Nigeria. While one of the major reasons why virtually every country in the world has representative embassies and consulates in other countries is among other things to strengthen diplomatic ties with such countries, facilitate mutual trade and cooperation and ease the application, processing and possible issuance of visas to citizens of those countries.

However, the situation in Nigeria is the direct opposite. While many foreign embassies and consulates in Nigeria seek to strengthen diplomatic relations and encourage mutual trade and cooperation, it seems that there is also a conscious and deliberate effort to make it impossible for Nigerian citizens to obtain travel visas to their countries, even when they have legitimate reasons to do so and when all visa application requirements have been met, by putting all kinds of impediments to the issuance of such visas.

A case in point, which I have experienced personally, was that of the Serbian Embassy in Nigeria, located in Maitama District, Abuja. As a football agent and manager of professional and aspiring professional footballers in Nigeria, I facilitated and received a letter of invitation(LOI) from a 2nd division club in Montenegro, Fudbalski Klub (FK) Zabjelo, Podgorica, for four Nigerian grassroots footballers.

Because all Montenegrin visa applications in Nigeria are handled by the Serbian embassy in Abuja on behalf of the nation of Montenegro (Serbia-Montenegro was an independent nation until Montenegro got its full independence in 2006), we were asked to apply for the visas at the Serbian Embassy, Abuja.

A copy of the LOI from the FK Zabjelo team (which is directly affiliated to the Football Association Of Montenegro and consequently to FIFA) was sent by e-mail directly to the embassy by e-mail stating clearly that the players were being invited strictly for trials with the professional team and that feeding, accommodation and local transportation were going to be provided by the team.

With this in mind, we asked the embassy for specific requirements for visa applications of footballers going on trials and these requirements were clearly stated thus: official letter of invitation from the club, supporting letter from the players’ football federation, passport photos, visa forms fully-filled and N13,000 visa fee per person. Since the stated trial period was between 24/06/2011 and 24/07/2011 and the LOI having been issued on 21/06/2011, I rushed to Abuja to apply for the visas on Thursday 23rd June 2011, trying as much as possible to beat time. Since the specific type of visa was a non-appearance visa, I was mandated by the four players to apply for the visas, submit and then pick up all relevant documents, on their behalf.

All submitted documents were accepted by the embassy after thorough vetting and verification having also paid a fee of N52,000 visa fees for four persons. It is important to note that on the visa forms and receipts issued by the Serbian Embassy as well as on its official website http://www.nigeria.mfa.rs, nowhere was it stated that the visa application fees were non-refundable, like some embassies usually do. After submission of documents and visa application, a Nigerian staff of the embassy, who simply identified herself as Mrs Mohammed, said to me that the visas could not be issued immediately but that they were going to be issued after 10 working days.

In the process of visa application and submission of documents, I noticed a rush by the staff of the embassy to receive the payment of the visa fees and to quickly issue a receipt. I noted the fact that perhaps a lot of foreign embassies look forward to receiving visa applications fees from Nigerian citizens while others like the Chinese Embassy in Abuja and Lagos will only issue you a receipt for payment of visa fee, after your visa has been approved and is set to be issued.

A few days after the submission of the visa applications when I called the embassy on phone to enquire about the progress of processing, a Nigerian staff of the embassy advised that we should call the inviting club FK Zabjelo in Montenegro to appear before the immigration police in Podgorica to clarify its position and thus obtain visa approval, suggesting that this will hasten the process of visa approval, which usually takes 10 working days.

In obedience, I asked the Team Manager to make a date with the immigration police in Podgorica to clarify the position of the club and justify the basis of invitation, which he promptly obliged. Relevant approvals were sought from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro by the club while a call was also put through by the Club Team Manager to the Consular of the Serbian embassy in Abuja, to clarify all issues, a move which the embassy itself acknowledged.

I was thus taken aback when at the expiration of the stated 10 working days of visa processing, i called the embassy to confirm the issuance of the visas, only to be told that the applications had been refused. Probing further to find specific reasons for the visa refusal, the staff of the embassy claimed no official reason was given for visa refusal, stating only that the application had just been rejected outright. In addition, there was no written or official explanation stating reasons for the visa refusal and possible grounds of appeal. I found this very unprofessional.

For a country that says that it is on its road to “strengthening its relationship with the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, it amazes me that the same country’s diplomatic mission in Nigeria will deny Nigerian citizens who have established legitimate grounds for visa issuance visas to travel to its country, without any logical or justifiable reasons.

In the same vein, it has been noted that many foreign embassies and diplomatic missions in Nigeria seek flimsy and trivial reasons to refuse Nigerian citizens travel visas, even after all visa application conditions have been met and without any attempt to refund visa application fees of such denied Nigerians. I dare say, therefore, that many foreign embassies and diplomatic missions in Nigeria are nothing but business centres where brisk business is done through the purchase of visa application forms and payment of visa application fees, which are in most cases, non-refundable.

It is expedient therefore for the Federal Government of Nigeria, as well as its Ministry of Internal Affairs, to look into the activities of foreign embassies, high commissions and consulates in Nigeria, as regards the treatment of Nigerian citizens in an unfair and sometimes undignifying manner. It has been severally reported how Nigerian citizens are made to queue for long hours to apply for visas or stay in the sun continuously for days to submit visa application documents. I challenge the National Assembly to pass a law preventing foreign embassies from charging visa fees when such visa applications have not been reviewed, as this has become a veritable way of generating income by the embassies, thereby ripping off many Nigerians in the process.

 

•Ayomide-Praise Emmanuel writes in from Lagos.

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