A Nigerian national shares her ordeal while trying to rent a conference hall at the Nigeria House in New York.
As a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York, I have endured my academic and other concerns diligently without bothering any one including the Nigerian mission in New York or the U.S at large. And because it isn’t my first scholarly sojourn outside of Nigeria, it isn’t any strange to me that Nigerian missions abroad are often indifferent to those they are primarily supposed to serve. But what can anyone do in the event of the need for passport renewal and stuff like that? Brace up for the cold disposition of the tin gods at the missions. It was my turn a few days ago in New York.
I walked into the Nigerian Mission in New York and the conversation below ensued:
I: hello sir
Security: what do you want?
I: I will like to reserve a room for an upcoming meeting?
Security: Call this number
(he tore a 2-inch paper and scrawled a number on it
I: Thank you sir. But in case nobody picks, what do I do?
Security: Drop a voice message
I dashed out immediately and called the number. It rang and rang to no avail. Afterwards, it slipped into voicemail: “you can’t drop a new message as the message box is filled”
Undaunted, I returned to the security man and the conversation resumed.
I: I called the number you gave me now but the signal I got was that the message box is filled so I couldn’t drop a message. Can you give me another number?
Security: There is nothing I can do, even If I let you in, nobody will attend to you. Just go, go and go away…
As the security man railed at me a woman was about entering the building. As if she was sympathetic to my plight, she volunteered: “he is just a security man, so he can’t do beyond what he has done. Actually he has gone out of his way to assist you, just go away and keep trying the number…” As the woman slammed the door thoughts ran riot in me and began to wonder what claim to patriotism or even sheer courtesy those who run Nigerian missions abroad can pretend to possess? To the extent that it doesn’t bother them that the first person to be encountered in these mission should have some measure of courtesy?
Six years ago I was postgraduate student in Belgium and had almost the same experience at our Brussels’ embassy over there. After all these years I could never believe in my wildest imagination that I would have to go through the same experience in the Nigerian Mission in New York with the large army of staff and bigger than the UBA building in Nigeria.
How do you go to your own supposed turf, your own country and you do not get as much as a hello from the first representative of the country, who is the security guard at the entrance? Why will the voicemail box of a whole embassy be filled with messages as at 1pm on a Friday? It probably had not been accessed all week if not all month. How do you encourage tourism and business into such a country where shabby reception and uncouth people are in charge? Are we saying that there are no good people in Nigeria fit for foreign services? Is there likelihood that there will be an intelligence staff in that office? I looked up and there were tears in my eyes, it finally dawned on me that all the complaints and allegations of my friends and relations hitherto are true.
In December 2011, I had good time with fellow Nigerians, and the subject of jokes was always the country and the embassy staff always extorting money from them to renew their passports, how things never work in my beloved country and so forth. I had always accused them of exaggeration. Now firsthand re-experiencing it, I now know. There is no stopping Nigerian embassy staff’s inclination for the business as usual indulgence. One need to see them saunter in and out of the mission, while also embarrassing fellow Nigerians they are supposed to serve! A so called “glorious mummy” even told me “you don’t talk to me like that.” Maybe she expected me to kneel down or rankadede her o.
My pain is fresh and my heart bleeds once again for Nigeria, I then remembered a non Nigerian colleague who once needed a national dress and told me she was going to go get one from their embassy. I thought coming from a third world country, her embassy will have none to give her until I saw her in the dress, well ironed. She was resplendent in her national glory. I looked at her enviously. Then it dawned on me that na true, things work in most countries except Nigeria.
Imagine me go request for a national dress (am laughing out loud at this moment) what would have happened to me? Maybe I would have gotten some whipping? Even if the Nigerian budget provides for national dress to showcase our culture, I suspect very strongly that some Nneka, Bose or Balarabe would have carted them away.
If our diplomatic missions can’t be courteous or accommodating to us, the citizens, then it is better imagined how much of sheer drain pipes they constitute to hard earned revenues. Above all I thank God I went with a fellow Nigerian and not a foreign national. Imagine the shame.
When are things ever going to move forward for us in this country? When will good people be deployed to our diplomatic missions?
A lawyer and development expert, Idayat Hassan is currently a Pilnet fellow/ Visiting Scholar at the Columbia Law School, New York, USA.