By Helen Ovbiagele
The other week, we woke up to the screaming headline, ‘Nigerians to deposit 723,000 naira for U.K. Visa!’ It was a must read for many citizens here, whether or not the airfares to Britain are affordable to them, because it is an insane amount of money for Britain to demand from citizens of countries she once colonized. I had to read the piece twice in order to ascertain that there hadn’t been an error in the figures published.
“Britain is planning to force visitors from India, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries, whose nationals are deemed to pose a ‘high risk’ of immigration abuse, to provide a cash bond of more than 723,000 naira, (3,000 British Pounds, $4,600, or 3,500 Euros), before they can enter the country, a report said yesterday. The Sunday Times newspaper, (I suppose this is British Sunday Times), said that from November, a pilot scheme would target visitors from those three countries as well as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ghana. Visitors aged 18 and above would be forced to hand over this some of money from November for a 6 month visa. They will forfeit the money if they overstay in Britain after their visa has expired.’
Angry voices echoed around our country as most people roundly condemned this new obstacle in our way to our favourite playground in the world. For many Nigerians, Britain is like a second country. Their language is our common language in this country, and as much as we’re able, we embrace their system of education, solutions to health matters, etc. What’s more, we’re a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, even though as a Republic, the Queen is not the head of our government. Like a child who’s being deprived of his favourite toy, we were right to protest this marginalization from an ex-parent.
However, our attitude of stamping our feet on the ground and declaring ‘fire for fire/ we’ll retaliate’ seems childish to me.
I think we should ask ourselves why Nigeria is always one of any group of countries which are noted down for bad things. If there’s a red alert on unsafe countries (violence, terrorism, health issues) to travel to, we’re on the list. If a list of the most corrupt nations on earth is being drawn up, we will come top of the list. Fraud/scam are associated with Nigeria. Added to it now is overstay after one’s visa has expired.
In short, our name is mud on the international scene, and even on our home terrain, Africa. The only comforting thing this time around is that we’ve been joined by our sister, Ghana, which for several years now has been considered by the international community to be the golden child of the West Africa sub-region, on account of its economic recovery, cleanliness and relative peace.
In the sixties and seventies, Ghanaian citizens didn’t need visas to travel to/ live in Germany on account of earlier moves by their late head of state, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. That must have changed now, but Nigeria has never known such concession. When are we ever going to be counted among the trusted and the respected of the world?
This is not the first time we’re having problems with travelling to Britain. Some months ago, we protested that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic (both British carriers) charge us more for Business and First Class, than they charge their passengers in Ghana. We breathe fire and brimstone and threatened to ban those two carriers from our country if they didn’t charge us the same fares that they charge Ghana. We even fleetingly spoke of having our own national carrier again! The airlines explained then that the disparity in fares was due to the huge number of Nigerians wanting to travel in those two classes where special cost-intensive services are offered; compared to the Ghanaians who mostly travel economy class.
I still see long queues at the desks for Business and First Class, travelling out and in, and I doubt if the protested airfares have been reduced. Also, we still don’t have a national carrier, and these foreign airlines continue to have good patronage.
For many years, obtaining British visa in this country has been problematic, both in terms of the fees and the way we were treated at their High Commission. But for some years now, things have become decidedly better, especially now that interviews no longer take place solely on the premises of the High Commission. Also, I hear that you have the right to appeal if you’re turned down.
Fair enough, but personally, I think the U.K. visa fees at any given time are too high in a country where some States are not able to pay the minimum monthly wage of 18,000 naira (about 80 pounds), and many university graduates are unemployed, and heads of families are losing their jobs due to retrenchments.
Travelling abroad may seem a luxury to some people who may feel that increased airfares and visa fees should not be seen as national problems, but young people need to travel out to developped countries if they can, in order to broaden their horizon through further studies/job experience, so that they can return home to contribute to nation building. A good colonial master should be concerned about the progress and development of its former ward, and assist it in every way it can.
I think it’s unfair of the British government to assume that any Nigerian above the age of 18 is likely to overstay in Britain, and thus slam an outrageous visa fee on them. The truth is, this will not really deter those who are determined to go there and overstay/possibly stay there for the rest of their lives. They will find a way to get the required sum of money and be given the visa. Most Nigerians are decent and law-abiding people, and the majority of those who travel out, do so for vacation, shopping, or just to get away for a while from the tension of living in this country. They actually go to aid the economy of the countries they visit, through shopping.
When we proclaim ‘fire for fire’, who will feel the heat? British citizens are not queuing up for visa to come here on vacation, spend their money and improve our economy. They would rather go to South Africa, East Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Gambia, Senegal, etc., than come to Nigeria. Those who want our visa are usually those who have been invited here for ‘work, visit to friends, or, to give talks.
We all, both old and young, should join hands with the government to work hard at shedding the bad and the ugly in our image, so that we can be taken off the ‘risk’ list everywhere. Let’s start from the home and the educational institutions.