GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT?
(Posted with permission of the author 19th December 2017)
This is a sad tale of how a renowned journalist from Nigeria was treated by the German Consulate in Lagos, given the now almost normal runaround Visa applicants face when trying to obtain either a Schengen Visa or one to the UK, the US and some other notorious places treating applicants as guilty until proven innocent. Besides being shameful it matches many such narratives from others, especially here in Uganda or even Kenya, received from my readers and read with deep regret.
There were times when East African nationals, and Commonwealth citizens for that matter, were able to travel freely to Europe and beyond, but alas, no more. The proverbial ‘Fremdenhass‘ has broken out across much of that part of the world which calls itself civilised, but how very uncivil such behaviour is when bureaucrats, eating our taxes, make applicants feel like beggars, often strip them of their dignity and in some cases, lo and behold, actually grant them a Visa after making them all pay a hefty fee of course, success or not.
In closing, if anyone still wonders why I moved four plus decades ago to East Africa and now consider it my home, there you are. Uganda is a totally friendly country and has embraced me as one of their own, given me the opportunity to serve and always treated me with utmost respect. Truth told, I kept my German nationality – that government in Berlin has an unhealthy phobia with dual nationality – to avoid being treated like Dolapo or worse, should I come with a Ugandan travel document to the embassy of my fatherland and have to apply for a Visa to visit family … I can see the glee in the eyes of the bureaucrats looking for ways and means to deny me and humiliate me too, had I ditched their travel document but common sense prevailed and a Live Resident of Uganda I therefore remain.
You have my sympathy Dolapo and all those fellow sufferers at the hand of prejudiced Consular and Visa officials – which by the way equally applies for those from African countries still making travel across the continent for fellow Africans a major hurdle race.
I decided to write about an observation which I noticed on Tuesday October 17, 2017; at my visa interview at the German Consulate in Lagos. The little observation by this writer was going to be written whether a Schenghen visa was granted or not. It would have been a brief piece but events which occurred between Tuesday October 17 till Friday December 1 2017, have culminated in this piece being a long read.
On Tuesday 17 2017, the Lekki traffic was monstrous as at 7am and the only option was a bike for a visa interview for 8:30 am. As a frequent traveller to East Africa (which has a visa on arrival policy in most nations in that region); this visa interview was a new experience since I know that an embassy granting you a visa is not a favour to you but ultimately to the embassy’s homeland. I always wondered why Nigerians prayed and fasted before they went for visa interviews. For unexplained reasons, mine was a chat (obviously it was still an examination) which included speaking in Spanish to some (Nigerians and probably a South American) German visa consular staff who switched from German to Spanish with ease. The German efficiency (which I had also experienced at the German Unity day some weeks earlier at the same premises) at this stage was topnotch. But this is where it ended.
The following ten to fifteen days with an additional three days revealed to me the silent ordeals of Nigerians at some consular offices during visa processing. And the mental conditioning Nigerians have boxed themselves into; keeping mute for decades whilst enduring the shenanigans of some activities of consular sections of embassies.
On Tuesday, 17th of November 2017, after my schengen visa interview; I asked about the duration to get one’s passport and a visa. The feedback I got was between ten to fifteen days. I visited the German courier firm’s stand just around the corner and made the necessary arrangements to have the parcel delivered to my abode. At the courier shop, I met another man who sat beside me in the visa interview waiting room. We chatted and spoke about an observation we noticed and experienced pre and post visa interview, which I would elucidate on in the concluding part of this piece.
From the tenth day (October 27th), I began to visit the website of the courier company to track my parcel. From 27th to 31st October, nothing was found on the site. And so I decided to mail the German Consulate in Lagos. The mail was sent on Tuesday, October 31.
On Wednesday November 1 2017, I received an email from a new email address from the embassy which read “Dear Sir, thank you for your email. The processing of your visa application was finalised today. The decision shall be communicated to you within the next days.” The email was signed by an initial B. O. And underneath it, the name, Kim-Maren Eisele, head of visa section of the German Consulate in Lagos. I replied with a “thank you for the prompt response”. (Reading the most comprehensive book on diplomacy operations by any African during this period, I learnt that initials are usually used by staff of embassies in correspondences.)
On Friday, November 3rd, two days after the official reply, I had not received any further communication either via mail or parcel (no tracking on the German courier website). I mailed the consulate again and requested for a reply before 12pm. None came. At 4:02pm; I sent a mail and copied the Foreign Affairs ministry of Germany, the Consulate General, email addresses of the consulate and other concerned email addresses of the summit I was to attend in Germany, which was a United Nations event. The mail basically stated that those copied should read the thread of mails and that the Foreign Affairs Minister of Germany (Ambassador Sigmar Gabriel) had been mailed several hours earlier. And that working hours were almost done and a response would be expected. Since this is a global village, I composed some tweets and tagged the twitter handles of the German Foreign Affairs Minister, the German Foreign Ministry (English and German), Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ambassador Geoffrey Onyeama, Foreign Affairs Ministry of Nigeria, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Arewa (President Buhari’s special advisers on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora), COP23(UN Climate Change Summit in Bonn). This was done from 4:03m to 4:24pm.
On Saturday morning, November 4 2017, as I checked the courier firm’s website (which I had been doing for some days) to see if the tracking was online; it surfaced. The parcel was picked up at the German Consulate by the courier firm at 4:52pm on Friday. Whilst updating some countries’ diplomats stationed in Nigeria and on the African Continent on the new development, independently, some opined that this was not a coincidence considering the tweets that I posted the previous evening.
On Monday, 6th of November, the parcel was delivered. When I arrived home, I looked into the contents of the parcel. My documents and passport were returned. Also, I discovered a letter. The letter had some numbers and alphabets at the top GZ:RK 516 VIDEU/508300/20171017/000251856 (bitte bei Antwort angeben). It ended with Lagos, den 18.10.2017 (and a signature underneath). The incomprehensible letter sent to me was typed in German.
Since the head of visa section at the German Consulate Lagos by the name Kim-Maren Eisele sent a November 1 reply to my October 31 mail, stating thus “The processing of your visa application was finalised today. The decision shall be communicated to you within the next days”. How come the letter written in German (with no English translation) was signed on Wednesday, 18th of October 2017? A day after the visa interview.
Why is there no correlation between the two official responses?
Honesty is the key currency needed during visa interviews. How come the office of the visa section of the German consulate Lagos headed by Kim-Maren Eisele (a section where honesty by applicants is paramount) was not honest in its responses?
As the signed letter was signed on the 18th of October, how come the visa section didn’t get back to me so that I could provide relevant documents?
How come the decision took twenty days to get to me? Knowing fully well that some applicants who applied on the same day as I did; were called within that same week to provide other documents.
How efficient is the visa section of the German consulate in Lagos; if an official letter sent to a Nigerian living in Nigeria is typed and sent in German? Is the Nigerian website of the German embassy in German? Is the German Consulate Lagos’ website in German? Is the official language used when interviewing applicants; German? What psychological point was the visa section office headed by Kim-Maren Eisele trying to score? (I deduced that the letter in German emanated from her office if not her desk).
How come the German Consulate visa rejection letter which was dispatched from the embassy on Friday, 3rd of November (with the aforementioned reference number) emanating from the visa section department which was in German was signed on Wednesday, October 18th 2017 (a day after my visa interview); but in Kim-Maren Eisele’s November 1st response to my mail of October 31st, she stated “The processing of your visa application was finalised today. The decision shall be communicated to you within the next days”. “Today” being first of November. If the decision was finalised on 1st of November, how come the letter typed in German was signed 18th of October 2017?
How inefficient is the visa consular section of the German Consulate in Lagos? The following experience of another applicant whom I met at the embassy on 17th October 2017; solidifies what I experienced which is that this section’s ludicrous inefficiency stinks from Lagos to Leipzig, from Lokoja to Leverkusen.
I met a man (let me call him Mr Musbau Miliki Mekunu) in Marrakech in Morocco in November 2016 at several side events during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP22. He attended with his colleagues. We all met at the Casablanca Airport during our flight back to Lagos. The next time I saw him and some of his colleagues was on Tuesday, October 17th 2017 at the visa interview waiting room of the German Consulate in Lagos.
According to Mr Musbau Miliki Mekunu “my first refusal was based on ‘the intended purpose is not credible enough’. Even with the official accreditation letter from UNFCCC with the barcode they could use for verification. In my appeal letter, I copied UNFCCC and the appropriate officials; then the Consulate responded that I should bring a new set of bank account statement and payslips (again). Lo and behold, the same bank account I used in the first application; they now told me was falsified. Hence I should come and pick my passport and payslips. On getting there last week Friday (November 3rd), they informed me to come back on Monday (November 6th). The shocking thing was that I got there on Monday, after three good hours of waiting, they informed me that my documents were sent to my address on Friday, November 3rd(an option I didn’t request for.) Today is Tuesday November 7th; I have not received my passport. ”
Musbau Miliki Mekunu had not received his passport as at Friday November 10th 2017. According to him “he mailed them on Tuesday (November 14th) morning and they replied on Wednesday (15th) that he should send a prepaid courier, because their own courier couldn’t locate his address.” He replied that “he would come and pick up his passport himself because the address is the same one he had used previously.” They sent another mail for him to pick it up. The same address they said that their embassy courier couldn’t locate was what they asked him to send another courier with. How intelligent.
He picked it up on Thursday, November 16th after his appeal of October 26th (which was after the October 20th embassy notification that his October 17th visa application was denied.) Kindly do the maths. Mr Miliki Mekunu opined that “apparently, they didn’t send it. They just kept it to make sure the time for the events elapsed.”
Why was it that they did not do proper verification but discretion based on their feelings?
If they know that their judgment is based on how one collates the documents and not the importance of the visit, why does the embassy ask applicants intending to attend conferences to come for interview and not implement VFS services?
France, Italy, Romania etc are doing non-interview and everything is based on the documents you submit, like the UK does. It is glaring they don’t do in-depth verification. For telling me that my account is falsified? So much so, that my team head was pissed off and didn’t bother to appeal.
On the final point by Mr Miliki Mekunu, while he and I waited for our passports during the first few days after the interview, Mr Mekunu had to get some work done at one of the business centres cum shops close to the Walter Carrington Crescent where these embassies are. And he overheard some people talking about how some people got visa from this embassy with “arranged” documents from Germany. My conclusion was, “if those people can get; since our documents are not arranged and we cannot descend to that low; we would get the visa.” Alas.
During the weekend of November 7; I spoke with some diplomats stationed in Nigeria and on the Continent and Nigerians (both young and elderly) and some salient points were crystal clear. A lot of consular departments of embassies seem not to understand this terrain. They seem to prefer more of discretion instead of investigation. Hence, a lot of people come with well packaged documents (since documents are what they are fixated about.) People have come to understand that some consular sections do no investigation but rather rely on convincing documents to their discretion.
Nigerians and Africans should know that granting visas to applicants is not a favour to applicants. In all candour, a visa section is like an ultra modern business centre section of an embassy. The more visa fees received from applicants, the more revenues for the embassy. A genuine applicant does a visiting nation a favour by deciding to leave his/her abode to travel to another nation for business or leisure purposes. He or she spends some funds for the visa application, flight tickets, hotel accommodation etc. The aforementioned might look minute but multiplied in hundreds and thousands and one would grasp the import of the financial inflow to countries’ embassies via visa fees.
To buttress this financial angle, a two time Presidential adviser to two different Nigerian Presidents told me of an incident whereby he had to be in Germany with some Nigerians to conclude a major deal. The German embassy decided not to grant his colleagues visas. The man called their bluff and decided not to fly to Germany. The following day, the German Ambassador (as at then) with the then Israeli Ambassador, came to his office to apologise. I reiterate to Nigerians, to realise that visas are not favours from embassies.
The first paragraph of this piece states that I decided to write about an observation I noticed at the German Consulate on Tuesday October 17, 2017. But that events from then till Friday, December 1, 2017; have made this piece a long read.
THE TIPPING TALE
At the visa interview waiting room, the security guard organising sitting arrangements noticed my documents and informed me of the error I made (I printed out the visa application form from the German Foreign Affairs’ site rather than the German Embassy in Nigeria’s website.) After he informed me, I decided the best option was to stay and see how my visa interviewer handled it rather than I leaving the premises to get it done (which would mean, I would not be able to gain entrance into the premises.) After my decision (to see it through), the security guard asked for a tip which would enable him to make sure I was “ushered” to the most lenient visa interviewer. When I heard this, I pondered why such a request when I; the applicant had to make a major decision?
After the interview (the interviewer sorted out the error), as I left and walked to the possession section to retrieve my belongings, the security guards manning this section coyly requested for tips. It was mindboggling to experience this illicit solicitation from applicants, right in the premises of an embassy. Except the CCTVs don’t have audio and the guards positioned their backs to the CCTVs, a lip read would be possible (except of course, it is discovered that there is no CCTV footage for 17 October from 8:30-11am). Outside the embassy, at the Courier service outlet, I asked the man who sat beside me at the visa interview waiting room, if he was asked for a tip, he said yes. He could not fathom why. Communicating with Mr Musbau Miliki Mekunu; he too experienced such absurdity.
On Thursday, November 9th, I sent two letters each via the famous German Courier firm to the German Consulate in Lagos and the German Embassy in Abuja. The letters were addressed to Mr Ingo Hebert and Ambassador Bernhard Schlangheck of the German Consulate General in Lagos and the German Ambassador in Abuja respectively. One letter was about the German letter which had no English translation. The other letter was about other important tasks I intended to carry out if I had been granted the visa (an interview with the Chinese dissident artiste Ai Weiwei who lives in Germany and a report on theCornelius Gurlitt Collection at the BundesKunsthalle Museum in Bonn. An exhibition which was focussing on the fate of art paintings of Jewish collectors. Collections which were found in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt’s son. Cornelius Gurlitt was one of the 4-5 official art collectors of the Nazi administration and he retained over a thousand art works after the Second World War, which were discovered in his son’s home some years ago. And were on display in Bern (Switzerland) and in Bonn (Germany) in the month of November 2017.
Reading the book (perhaps the comprehensive book on African diplomacy by any African diplomat on the Continent) titled Nigeria Diplomatic Practice by Ambassador L. O. Oladejo Oyelakin; and knowing that getting a visa is not a favour from any embassy; I know Germany lost an opportunity to have this writer focus on these aforementioned subjects aside the United Nations COP23 conference. Eighty percent of the hotel reservation fee was lost from this writer’s part since a final confirmation of the booking was not received as at Thursday November second.
A Google translation of the letter written in German revealed, two reasons (ticked out of 9 reasons) for a visa rejection. In summary (economic: not sufficient funds to return to Nigeria etc. Family: no relations to return to in Nigeria). A Google search most times is the least expensive form of investigation.
Why would any intelligent Nigerian writer, columnist or those in the media space; travel out of Nigeria and not return when you can do your painstaking research and apply for a German government, institution, foundation or corporation’s fellowship, and when or if granted the fellowship in your desired field, get paid for studying or executing the applied for fellowship cum research in Germany? And when done, return to your beloved Nigeria.
The German consulate needs to get her house in order. The kindergarten trickery seems to be a recurring decimal.
Also, Nigerians have to begin to talk out loud about their ordeals meted out by embassies. Their decades’ long silence seems to have worsened rather than ameliorate their plights, which seem to have resulted in giving testimonies of granted visas in religious places. Also, a lot of work has to be done by Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and most especially the Nigerian Government.
I sent the letters to the German Consulate in Lagos and German Embassy in Abuja on Thursday, November 9th 2017, which were delivered and signed for by Paulinus in Lagos on Friday, the 10th and by Catherine in Abuja on Monday, the 13th of November. As at Friday December 1, no one from the Consulate or Embassy deemed it fit to reply to the letters. No efficiency in the Germany Embassy.
Meanwhile on Friday November 17th Rwanda announced a visa on arrival policy for all global citizens from January 1st 2018. And on Tuesday, 28th November, during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration, he announced that Kenya would begin the visa on arrival policy for all Africans. Africa let us develop Africa. Africans travel Africa. See you somewhere on the Continent of Africa.