I remember my first visit to the Nigerian High C ommission in London. I was applying for my first Nigerian passport to visit Nigeria. I was apprehensive because I had heard horror stories about this place, nothing I heard prepared me for the chaos.
My first shock was the attitude of the security guard there, this young man was power tipsy. He was abrupt, rude and did that thing Nigerian officials do when they answer a question with a question.
Upon entry I was greeted with the odour of hundreds of sweating bodies, it was hot and packed. It had nothing to do with the people’s hygiene by the way. The staff working at the High Commission at that time were just plain mean, they somehow took pleasure making Nigerians feel bad. If the security man was power tipsy then these guys were power drunk and addicted to that power. For lack of a better word they were “powerholics”. And there section was air conditioned.
The visitors/applicants didn’t help matters either, without properly laid out instructions it became every man/woman for himself/herself. People pushed and shoved each other, others shouted and abused one another. It was a massive shock to me.
I approached the counter and passed my paperwork through the gap. The lady at the counter was probably in her sixties and had a permanent scowl. She went through them and said “your first Nigerian passport?” I said yes. “So how did you come into the country?” I showed her my Dominican passport.”How did you get that?” Through my mother, she is Dominican I said. “ Consent letter from your dad?” My dad is late I replied. “Come back with your mother tomorrow”. That was it and she handed me my paperwork.
The next day I arrived with my mum and went to the counter when called and explained why I was there, the lady looked at me and barked “Grown up man like you and you are bringing your elderly mother here?” “Are you not ashamed?”. I was shocked, I said “But you told me to bring her when I saw you yesterday”. And if I told you that nko? Mscheeew, she hissed as though she had been saving that hiss for me.
Anyway having my mum there with me worked, she accepted my application and I was told to collect my passport at the end of the following week. I picked up my passport the next week and vowed never to visit again.
Well that was wishful thinking, I returned in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to apply for visas and passports for my children. With each visit came noticeable differences. My trip in 2013 to renew my son and I’s passports left me speechless.
The first thing I noticed was that the same security guard wore a uniform, a grey suit if I remember correctly. He was not as abrupt and answered questions politely, well as politely as a Nigerian official can get I guess. I guess he had sobered up.
I walked down the stairs and what struck me was that people were seated like you would expect and the air conditioning worked. I went to the first window and after a brief inspection of my paperwork I was given a ticket. A few hours later I was done and given collection letter. I left there stunned. Nigerian High Commission?
My last trip there was in September of this year and if I was impressed with the service the last time, this one caught me off guard. It started with filling out the application form online, something that still needs some fixing by the way. I was applying for a passport for my one month old son and was given a date past our travel date. An email to them requesting a date change shocked me.
The first shock was that I received an email within 30 minutes asking me to give 3 possible new dates. I replied and received a response confirming my new date within 20 minutes. Everything went smoothly until it was time to have my son’s photograph taken. My son had fallen asleep and the person attending to me attempted to wake him up by tossing him into the air. Before I could react he had handed him over to a supposed expert who not only tossed him up but slapped his bum while doing so.
I immediately informed her that I was happy to have him asleep in his passport photograph and more importantly that he was one month old and had no control of his neck, she obliged and took the photograph like that.
So why have I written this? Well we complain when our embassies and high commissions mess up, it’s only right to commend them when they get it right (at least to some extent). So to the staff at the Nigerian High Commission in London, I say good on you. While there are still improvements, I commend you on the improvements you have made so far. More crude oil to your elbows (Since no one is buying it we might as well use it for something eh?)