I had the double whammy in misfortune of having to travel to Lagos from London for a funeral and deal with the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). I have dual nationality – Nigerian/British, but my Nigerian passport expired in February this year.
The funeral was fixed for last weekend and I tried to renew my Nigerian passport in August at the Nigerian High Commission in London. I filled out all the forms, submitted my application and was told that they had run out of passport booklets and there was no chance of me receiving my new passport before I could travel for the funeral. I heard on the grapevine that passports were available if you paid some financial inducements. But I didn’t investigate this option any further since I had the travel certificate option.
I was advised to apply for an emergency travel certificate and to use my British passport to return to the UK. I followed their advice, and headed to Lagos last Wednesday. I guessed that as immigration officials were likely to take the travel certificate from me on arrival, it was wise to take a copy as proof of how I entered the country.
The first sign of trouble for me was when the immigration officer at the airport asked me why I didn’t have a Nigerian passport and only presented the travel document, and I replied they didn’t have any passport booklets in London. The official asked how they would know that there were no booklets in London and if I had the “collection receipt” that you receive when you pay the passport fee. I had left this in London, not wanting to take the chance of taking it to Nigeria and it getting lost, as I needed it to pick up my Nigerian passport whenever the booklets became available.
So when I was about to depart Lagos for London on Sunday evening, I presented my British passport. The woman at the immigration desk asked for my Nigerian passport when she didn’t see a Nigerian visa on my British passport. I told her the same story – expired, travel document, no booklets in London. She called their “supervisor” over and said I should speak to him. The man asked the same question. I repeated myself to him and it was like he wasn’t even listening to me. He asked where was the “collection slip”. I replied that it was in London. He then told me that I would have to “go downstairs and apply for a visa for $200”. Why I needed a visa to leave Nigeria wasn’t quite explained at that point.
Another official walked over and the drill was repeated. “Where is your collection slip?” I tried to explain: First you guys issued a travel document because you had run out of booklets. Me, I needed to travel because it was a funeral, if it was for leisure, I would have waited until passports were available. At no point, did anyone advise that the “collection slip” was a travel document and was needed in Lagos. All I was told was that I should be able to return with my British passport.
The “supervisor” said I should go to their office tomorrow morning and apply for a visa and get another flight the next evening. I was like: “You can’t be serious”. Then a female official walked over to where this discussion (me talking, none of the officials listening) was going on. Again, we follow the drill: What is the problem? I explain. She said I should have known that I should bring the “collection slip” with me to Nigeria. I asked how I would have known, I have never travelled with a travel certificate in my life. I said customer service meant you inform people of what they need. She just kept saying I should know and everybody else knows and brings their “collection slip” with them.
Meanwhile, the “supervisor” had walked off and seemed to be stalking the area in search of another “victim”. I was left with two officials. The man said it was either I went downstairs to their office and paid $200 for a visa or I gave them $100 and they let me through. I asked the guy why I needed a visa to go to the UK since I had a British passport. He said they couldn’t stamp my UK passport because I didn’t have a visa to come to Nigeria and they couldn’t stamp my old Nigerian passport (which I had with me) because it was expired. And $100 was the only way out of this dilemma.
This back and forth went on for about an hour and it was about 8:30pm. One guy at one of the desks asked me what flight I was on and I said British Airways. He responded “no wonder you still dey there dey talk”. He presumably meant that if I was in danger of missing my flight, I would have coughed up whatever dough was being demanded instead of arguing. My flight was scheduled for 10:55pm, so I had time to kill with this bunch of extortionists.
At this point, another female official joined our huddle. I tried explaining, but she wasn’t having it. She repeated what the others said. She then suggested we go into a room by the corner. It turned out to be their changing room. I was left there with two female immigration officers as the other guy walked away to stalk the back of the immigration desks like his “supervisor”.
Incidentally, the first male officer was Igbo as was the first female officer. The “supervisor” was from the north and the last female to join in was Yoruba. They were all united in their demand for money. I even tried to speak to the Igbo officers in Igbo but the sense of Igbo brotherhood didn’t get me anywhere.
One of the women said my problem was that I don’t listen. A bit odd when none of them took account of my explanations. She said I should pay them $100. I kept saying I didn’t have the cash as I came to Nigeria for a funeral. But they were in no mood for my sob story. They then made me the offer of giving them whatever I had. I looked in my breast pocket, and there was some cash in naira there. I knew I would get to the airport long before departure so kept some cash for a few drinks. I pulled out the cash and it was 10,000 (roughly about £20). One of them grabbed the cash from me before I could change my mind and told me to go. They neither stamped my British passport nor the expired Nigerian one. Suddenly, stamping passports was no longer required.
As I headed towards the departure gates, I saw the other official that I had spent a lot time with. He asked if everything had been resolved. I just looked at him and then walked on. These crooks had no business wasting my time. Nigerian immigration is about entry into the country and not exiting. When a passenger is leaving, the issue is for the country of destination and the airline to ensure they are carrying someone who is entitled to enter the country of destination. I had a valid travel document to enter Nigeria and a British passport to enter the UK, and the NIS chose to stick their nose in something that wasn’t their concern in order to extort money. It appears they also deliberately do not advise people that apply for a travel document to travel with their “collection slip”, so that it can be used as an excuse to shake people down.
Incidentally, an old friend is a very senior official at the Immigration Service. I know the names of two of the officials involved in this shakedown. I am minded to give him a call and report them. My only concern is that he may be part of the racket and all the staff on airport duty may be “settling” their bosses after each shift – as the Nigerian police do.