These poor services, BusinessDay gathered, include unnecessary delay in getting or renewing necessary documents, including passports, leading to inability of Nigerians in diaspora to get visa extension, loss of man-hour, waste of hard-earned money, inability to get certain jobs and credit facilities, risk of breaking immigration laws and subsequent deportation.
Besides, Nigerian citizens in foreign countries complain that the country’s foreign missions, which should ordinarily be the last bastion of hope for them, leave them to their fate or make things more difficult in cases of emergency.
The cases of Oluwakemi Ola, who told CBC News Canada in an interview that the Nigerian Consulate in Canada treats Nigerians who go to the consulate for one assistance or the other “like animals”, and Eigbe Deba, another applicant, who said there was need for “some external intervention”, are now public knowledge.
“We have experienced so many impromptu rescheduling of appointments, unjustifiable reasons for delay of passports even when you are at the verge of being repatriated, and insults from embassy or consulate staff who think everybody does drug trafficking or one illegitimate job in the UK,” said Marvin Oleku, a Nigerian who resides in the United Kingdom.
Drawing a comparison with Ghana, Oleku said Ghanaians can renew their passports almost the same day at their foreign mission in the UK because of the professionalism of the embassy staff and commitment of the home country to the wellbeing of those in the diaspora who are credible sources of remittances and skilled manpower.
Narrating to BusinessDay her ugly experience at the Nigerian embassy in Berlin, Germany, Chiwetalu Eze, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who went for further studies in the country, said that after a long wait for her passport, she was told it was ready and paid for it to be delivered, but it took over one week to get it delivered after she had paid €20.
“The international passport was to expire in July and so I would have wasted €100 if I had done my visa extension and done it again in July. So, I had to talk to my Alien office and they said I could go to Berlin. We booked appointment and got February 20. After the long wait, they said I should go because there was no booklet, and I should pay €20 for delivery,” she narrated.
Eze said it takes less than 48 hours for citizens of other countries to get their passports out from their consulates in Germany but, sadly, Nigerians wait for months to get their passports, easily pushing them on the wrong side of German immigration laws.
However, those who are tired of the many excuses at the foreign missions are now resorting to near physical assault.
The recent video of vandalised cars at the Nigerian High Commission in London which went viral on social media is a case in point. According to the explanation, Jeffrey Akpovweta Ewohime, a 32-year-old Nigerian resident in the United Kingdom, vandalised the cars to express his frustration over the poor services he received at the High Commission.
But Friday W. Akpan, spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, said the Ewohime incident could have been avoided if Ewohime had exercised restraint.
“The ministry wishes to reassure Nigerians of the commitment of our missions to providing services efficiently to our citizens,” Akpan said, urging all Nigerians abroad to exercise restraint and be of good behaviour on the grounds of the various missions.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman and CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), said some Nigerians in diaspora do not behave well at the foreign missions and as such often interfere with the jobs of the missions’ staff.
She thinks that if people behave properly and show courtesy to the foreign mission staff, they will reciprocate such virtues.
Some experts, however, told BusinessDay that the challenges Nigerians face at the country’s foreign missions can be pinned down to a number of issues that the foreign missions have to contend with, including low budgetary allocation, delay in approvals from Abuja, lack of training for staff, among others.
Edu Fawowara, a former Nigerian diplomat, said funding and training of Nigerian diplomats both face serious constraints and financial setbacks, adding that only 25 percent of foreign ministry personnel speak a second international language apart from English.
Moreover, the Foreign Service Academy in Lagos, which was established in the early 1980s, only served the training needs of newly recruited staff while, sadly, there is no systematic programme for follow-up training for other categories of foreign affairs officers, he said.
For him, budgetary allocation has been low for a long time and has made it difficult for the foreign missions to meet the expected service delivery. Compared with other ministries that receive more, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, according to him, receives about 1 percent of the Federal Government budget for recurrent expenditure.
Speaking further, he noted that until recently, there were some disturbing reports of the country’s missions abroad owing rents, and Nigerian diplomats not being paid their allowances regularly resulting in the calls for the closure of some Nigerian missions abroad that cannot be funded.
It would be recalled that during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, a committee was set up which suggested the closure of some missions deemed to be expensive for the country’s economy to run, such as in Venezuela, Kuwait, Lebanon, Congo, Pakistan, Bangladesh, North Korea and the Philippines.
But the former diplomat said that when a mission is closed, it damages relations that have taken years to build.
On the issue of the scarcity of passport booklets, a serving diplomat who pleaded anonymity said it is a real and sad situation, but suggested that government should engage more suppliers of the booklet or even install machines that can start printing the booklets in Nigeria.
He tasked the Nigerian Immigration Service on the implementation of the proposed 10-year validity passport, especially for the diasporas, to checkmate the frequent visit for renewal at the foreign missions.
But despite these challenges, BusinessDay gathered that it has not all been bad news at Nigeria’s foreign missions as some diaspora Nigerians have good experiences to share.
Jike Emordi, a Nigerian who teaches in Saint Petersburg, Russia, said he had always renewed his passport at the Nigerian embassy in Russia in less than a month and on schedule too.
“I think the leadership of the embassy, the level of professionalism of the staff and adequate working tools are determinants of the kind of service one gets at the various foreign missions,” Emordi said.
Godwin Adama, consul-general, Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa, said the services at the consulate have improved.
Adama said the introduction of biometric visa system has ensured efficient and quick visa processing of within 36 hours at most, as against over two weeks duration in the past. He said he also enforced a 48-hour passport renewal policy for Nigerians living in South Africa, aside from other welfare issues.
The passport policy, according to him, was in line with international standards and was also meant to offer Nigerians respite in foreign lands.
A head of one of the Nigerian missions abroad, who pleaded anonymity, agreed that things have improved in most of the foreign missions, especially funding, in the last few years, which has enabled some foreign missions to pay their rents, offset their bills and get the needed incentives to improve on their services.
Recall that when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance, was appointed foreign affairs minister in August 2006, she discovered that the ministry had no internet connection with the outside world, including its missions abroad, and that the lifts in the building were not functioning. Then embassy buildings in Khartoum, Teheran and others in Latin America were said to be leaking.