Thirty years ago, in July 1992, Joseph Ugochukwu from Imo State, who does not want to be identified by his real name, was denied visa by the United States Embassy. Back then No. 2, Eleke Crescent, Victoria Island, was the important diplomatic address in Nigeria and it received a daily stream of Nigerians seeking non-immigrant visas, whether for business, holiday or studies in America.
Then as the years go by, and the deluge of visa applicants began to overwhelm the embassy’s American and Nigerian members of staff, the applicants started to camp overnight on the lagoon side lawn opposite the US embassy. The large number of applicants often spilled over to areas close to other embassies on the same crescent. However, the end of the crescent where the Russian embassy was located, was always quiet with hardly anybody going there for visas. The German embassy was a pole away from the Russian mission.
Two years earlier, Ugochukwu had established a company, which seemed to have bright prospects. He came up with a plan to become the Nigerian representative of a small American manufacturer of stationery, spiral binding materials and transparencies for office use. At a point in the course of the interview, the American consular officer stepped away from the cubicle to a glass-partitioned office of his superior and made direct calls to the US company to confirm the authenticity of the documents Ugochukwu submitted. After assuring Ugochukwu that the American company confirmed his claims, he still denied him visa and told him to re-apply after six months – as if that was any consolation. In his mind as he walked away, disappointed, Ugochukwu gave the consular officer the middle finger and privately swore that when he succeeds in Nigeria, the embassy would practically beg him to take the visa.
About five years later, in the heyday of the finance companies, Ugochukwu’s company hit it big from supplying computers, printers, fax machines and office furniture to several of new companies that sprang up in dozens. And success was written all over him. At a business event, he had the opportunity to discuss with a senior official from the Commercial Section of the US embassy and he recalled the visa incident.
The official diplomatically apologised to Ugochukwu and invited him for a discussion at the embassy. Sixth sense prompted Ugochukwu to take along his passport, which was filled with visas of other countries to the meeting. One week later, he got two years multiple entry visa. A case of finding praise where one had previously received shame.
Nigerians’ quest for visas has not diminished, rather it has quadrupled and still growing as insecurity caused by banditry, terrorism and kidnapping for ransom, which have been attributed to the hordes of heavily armed criminal elements from the Sahelian nations on the northern borders of Nigeria, and have spread to almost all parts of the country. No day passes without incidents on the highways and state roads across the country. The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train and abduction of over 100 passengers by terrorists is still fresh in the mind.
Attacks, killings and abductions in Zamfara, Kaduna, Benue and other parts of the North have become common place. In the same manner, the so-called herdsmen also carry out attacks and abduct commuters from buses in parts of the Southeast and South-south.
Added to this horrendous situation, the economy daily worsens as the national currency has continued in its free fall. As at the time of filing this report, it had depreciated to N750 at the parallel market. For the privileged class and other people fortunate enough to have stocks of Naira, the United States dollar has become the preferred store of value, and as such they convert their quantum of Naira into dollars which they hoard. Some of the these people have secured two-to-three-year visas to key Western nations – US, UK, Canada, among others, where they can easily jet out to, in the event of a major existential crisis in the country.
Back in the late 80s, Veno Marioghae, a female musical artiste, whose song, Nigeria Go Survive, was very popular in then would today find it very difficult to convince ‘Andrew’ not to check out.
Andrew was the character played by the late actor Enebeli Elebeuwa in the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, advert which sought to promote patriotism in Nigerian professionals, encouraging them not lose faith in the country, stay back and help uplift the nation.
Placed side by side, the situation of the country at the time, which prompted Andrew to want to japa (the trending parlance that describes the mad rush of Nigerians to escape overseas), is more than 10 times worse as it has become multi-radial with the horrendous activities of the heavily armed and ruthless terrorists masquerading as bandits, who kill, maim and abduct people for hefty ransoms. These heartless invaders and their in-country same ethnic group collaborators now sit atop Nigeria’s ladder of criminality.
The country is caught in the quickening pace towards implosion, but the powers that be are still playing the ostrich, prattling at every opportunity about achievements that bear no semblance to the reality on ground.
To protect themselves, Nigerians are voting with their feet, in mad pursuit for visas to leave the country. Come October 30, Portugal, a Eurpoean country will launch Schengen ‘digital nomad’ visa under the new visa scheme, which will enable further migration of Nigerians to greener pastures. Under the new Portuguese visa regime, remote workers who make at least $2,750 a month can apply to live and work in Portugal for one year of residency and possibly stay longer. The programme will also allow recipients to travel visa-free through the Schengen area, a region comprising 26 European Union member countries where travellers can move freely without dealing with border control. Other European countries like Spain and Italy have similar digital ‘nomad’ visa schemes in the works.
As if the economic pains inflicted on Nigerians over the last eight years was not enough, the government seemingly allowed the just suspended ASUU strike to last for eight months. As a result, university students lost a cumulative two years (10 months in 2020 due to strike and COVID-19; four months in 2021 and eight months in 2022). For some families, the latest strike broke the camel’s back.
Take the case of the Amalagha family in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which left the country for Ireland on the same day. Mr and Mrs Amalagha who are both lawyers found themselves in a precarious situation, where their children had excellently passed the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), but were yet to know their fate because of the ASUU strike.
Quickly, they made arrangements and secured admissions for their children and left the country. Speaking from their UK base, Mrs Amalagha told Sunday Sun: “How can a country be comfortable and watch her youths waste at home in the last eight months? So, the best decision for us was to relocate the whole family to UK since some of my children were born in Ireland. Their status made the processes and procedure very easy for us to relocate to the UK. This move was actually a big risk because if it had failed, it would have been a major disaster. We sold almost all that we had in Nigeria, rented out our apartment, moved our property to our village and trusted God for this miracle. We ran away like people who had no hope.”
In the same vein, Imokhodion, an engineer who also relocated with his family to England, said: “After careful survey of what the country has been throwing at its citizens in the last four years, the best option for us was to relocate to England to start life all over again. I am a qualified engineer and my wife is an accountant who searched for white-collar job for two years without succeeding, I decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree programme. Just as I was almost done with the registration, the ASUU strike crept in. After four months, I relocated my wife and the children to the United Kingdom.”
The disruptions and distortions of the academic calendar of Nigerian universities has been the factor driving her citizenry to seek opportunities for postgraduate studies abroad. And they are leaving in droves. Many sold their property and even borrowed money from relatives to be able to buy flight tickets and process the visa fees.
Statistics released by the British government revealed that of all foreign students admitted into UK universities for postgraduate studies over a 12 months period before June 2022, 40 per cent of the dependants that came with postgraduate students were Nigerians, even though actual number of Nigerian postgraduate students was just about seven per cent of the total number of foreign students.
It was gathered that 34,000 Nigerians were given visas to study in Britain, but they took along 31,898 dependants. In the same manner and over the same period, 8,972 Nigerians got work visas and they travelled with 8,576 dependants.
On the contrary, 93,049 Indian students were admitted into UK universities last year, but only 24,916 dependants accompanied them. Now, just 401 dependants accompanied 114,837 Chinese students that came to Britain to study. These figures reflect the state of the Nigerian, Indian and Chinese economies with that of China being in super health status and their citizenry have no reason to flee the country.