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Benign signs that point to a bigger malaise

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The World Congress of Accountants holds once every four years. It is always held in different places. For example, this year’s congress just held in Australia.

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The next one is slated for India. Although the primary purpose is to appraise and update members with global trends in the financial world; many use the congress to network while experiencing the culture and hospitality of foreign lands.

Nigerian accountants are known to attend the congress in large numbers often with a disposition towards the latter end. After all, it is good for those who can, to escape Nigeria once in a while.

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My wife has attended every congress for the last 20 years at least. She loves to travel. And attending the congress of your professional body is as good a reason as any. As soon as one congress finishes, she and a small group of colleagues start saving up for the next.

You’d be surprised at the many ingenious ways they had come up with over the years to make their financial exposure less burdensome. I had never gone with her and she had never pressured. As I age, I have found that many of the things that excited me as a young man have become a chore. Travelling is one of them.

Rather than dispel them, my recent experience on this trip has reinforced my many prejudices unfortunately. I shall touch on a couple in a while.

An old classmate and a good friend persuaded me to attend this congress. His wife had urged him to come.

Australia, the venue, was an attraction for him. But rather than be footloose while his wife was expected to be caught up with activities at the congress, he wanted someone to hang out with. I was an obvious choice since our wives are not only professional colleagues but good friends. I declined the invitation at first, but eventually gave in.

The venue was too tempting a bait. A chance to visit Australia was a chance in a life time. He found another classmate, an accountant who attends the congress regularly with his wife. A few more couples joined in to widen the circle. As the circle widened, so did the trip.

Rather than spend so much money on a round trip they reasoned, it was agreed to touch a few more places. Singapore, Hong Kong and China were added to the trip. We wanted to experience the fastest train in the world.

We decided to start early for what promised to be a trip of a life time. Six months early at least. One or two travel agents were contacted. Tickets were bought, apartments were booked and deposits were made to some tourist centres.

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Then we came to one of the reasons I am reluctant to travel; procurement of visas. I will not want to be specific today for ‘diplomatic reasons,’ but the requirements of one or two of these countries for visa were simply ridiculous. We collated and downloaded all manners of materials staying often till the wee hours of the morning. One requested evidence of being a landed property owner while another wanted at least a million naira sitting in a current account. It made you wonder if one needed to be a millionaire in order to visit a place as a tourist for one week at the most! One wanted evidence of employment from inception till date.

I should mention at this point that with the exception of one or two who ran their own businesses, all the others in our group had retired; some from very senior positions. All were widely travelled. None therefore fitted the profile of a refugee or an emigrant.

Unfortunately, we chose a travel agent who wasn’t familiar with the ‘requirements’ of these far Eastern countries. So what we thought was ample time soon became desperate times as the goal posts kept shifting. Evidence of Polio vaccination turned out to be a must for one of the countries and you wonder why a sixty something year old has to take a polio injection.

But we all did. For another country, we were requested to come to Abuja within 24 hours because a letter of invitation was wrongly addressed. You can imagine the logistics in terms of accommodation and movement for a dozen people so suddenly. And it still all came to nought.

It is easy to ascribe our problems to naiveté and complacency. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if we had chosen a more ‘knowledgeable’ travel agent. Or a more diligent one. But that would be missing the point. Especially since three of the members in our group had American passports and procurement of the visas was a breeze for them. Even China which is at ‘war’ with America did not pose a problem.

While we were poring over mountains of requirements, they were merely required to fill out simple forms online and given visas within an hour. It is obvious therefore that our problem is in the green passport and the country it represents.

It wasn’t always like this. My first trips to UK didn’t require a visa. I first went to the far East in the 70s, and I honest   can’t remember any visa hassle. In fact, one or two might have been obtained at the airport. And visa forms, whenever required, were simple. Some were filled at the embassy. We could argue that the world has moved on since then.

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Terrorism has invaded the world. Immigration has become a real problem. Xenophobia is no longer an abstract word in the dictionary.

It is real. Liberal democracies have been overturned to be replaced by right wing protectionism. But the people who have borne the brunt of these exclusiveness are from poor countries. The poorer the country, the more the desperation of its people to emigrate.

The more desperate, the tighter the visa control against them. It is therefore a sign of how the world views a country if the visa requirements against it is getting tighter. If your people want to get out even for legitimate reasons, and the world is shutting them in, then it is time for soul searching because it is a sign of a much deeper problem.

The green passport used to be a thing of pride. Not anymore. I know friends who have UK and US passports simply because they give that little extra in terms of freedom and self-respect round the world. The economic decline and attendant security problems in our country need to be addressed urgently. Otherwise, we should not be surprised if Ghana, our next door neighbour lists out stringent entry requirements against us in the near future. The perception that we are one huge refugee camp waiting to happen must be halted.


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