[Muyiwa Adetiba cut his journalistic teeth when Eleke Crescent where he came "face to face" - to borrow his column's title in which he grilled personalities starting from the 70s - with humiliation recently, was not yet named for Walter Carrington, an Abacha-era US Ambassador who was at the vanguard of the fight for democracy in Nigeria.
His story in yesterday's Guardian calls for a concerted effort on the part of journalists in the country against this abuse since there's no government, no legislators to fight for those whose visas are not assured no matter how respectful lives they lead, no matter what they have contributed minus going the government route to wealth.
The American system believes in equity and fair hearing. It baffles me, therefore, that a guy would be dismissed without being allowed to answer questions that would show he is entitled to a visa. How long must these go on? Wole Soyinka was once reportedly given a treatment reserved for suspected criminals at New York's Kennedy airport.
"Until all is free" as the saying goes, "none is free". Even a governor whose looting affords him to enter a jeweler's and purchase several Rolexes at a go - yeah, shows his class apart from being obscene - may have what appears to be solicitous sales attention but he turns his back and a Nigerian who walks in and purchases a $400.00 watch gets RESPECT. So, when you have the power and would not use it to better the condition of your people, it leads to Adetiba's kind of treatment. It has happened to many and it will continue to happen as long as each is left to fight his battles.
If journalists do not rise in support of what happens to be humiliation reserved for one of their kind by using prominent spaces to editorialize on this and say, enough is enough, it will - not may - come to them one day. Speaking out against this humiliation which is not just against Adetiba but against all Nigerians may finally begin to show Nigerians are demanding to be treated the same as other nationals.
The Riot Act read to British Airways and Virgin recently over compensation payment by government is a step in the right direction.
To Muyiwa, I say, it was probably NOT meant to be - if that offers any consolation. A brother missed the plane that killed, among others, late Orimolusi of Ijebu-Igbo at Tripoli about 40 years ago: he was still lamenting the loss of the couple of hundred pounds he had paid for the ticket when the news broke. No, the cruise is not going to have mishaps but what of a simple crossing of an intersection? Get your lady elsewhere & have a happy anniversary. Three's a crowd even decades after The Event! TOLA ADENLE.]
Adetiba: A day at the American Embassy
By Muyiwa Adetiba
IT seemed a perfect way to celebrate our wedding anniversary, on a cruise, with friends who had been there all along. In fact, three of them were at our first date including the one who had earlier linked us up. And then there was the wedding of the son of one of us for the day before the cruise.
To be honest, the idea of the cruise was not ours. We had earlier toyed with idea of going to South Africa since neither of us had been there before. Then this friend-one of the three who had been at our first date but now based in the U.K-decided to celebrate his 50th birthday with a week long cruise and invited the ‘old gang.’ So we, my wife and I, decided it would be more fun to join the cruise. A wedding, a birthday and an anniversary all rolled into ten days of togetherness. Perfect.
Or was it? Of all the people making the trip, I was about the only person who was not a frequent traveller to the U.S. In fact, I had not been to the states in 26 years. The longer it was the more I felt it wasn’t worth the bother.
So when my friend told me of the wedding about six months ago, he specifically told me he was giving me a long notice so I could put my papers together. His son virtually grew up in my arms. I had attended his ‘idawo.’ I had watched him go through school. But more importantly he is my ‘godson.’ Still I hesitated. Then the two other ‘items’ came up and I felt I needed to at least make a try.
My wife was relieved. She decided to take up the challenge knowing I could change my mind. Fortunately, her visa was up for a renewal, so she decided to do both together. We were warned to start early and to get professionals ‘help’ so we could get an earlier appointment. We go a date which was over three months away and we were not booked as a couple which probably might have made things easier, so much for the so-called professional help. My wife’s appointment was on a Friday at 6.30 a.m. Mine was the following Tuesday at 10 a.m. On a good day, we live just about five minutes drive away from the embassy so the timing was not at all inconvenient. In two hours she was out and her application was approved. Maybe it was not so bad after all I reasoned. So buoyed up by her success, I looked forward to my appointment.
After all what could go wrong? I tried to focus on the positives. I had been to the U.S. before and did not overstay. I live in my own apartment and relocating was never on the cards, even when I was younger. And I certainly did not contemplate driving a cab at my age. I had a confirmed boarding pass for the cruise and an invitation for the wedding. I also had a warm letter from the groom’s dad saying he had a four-bedroom apartment and that my wife and I were welcome to stay with his family. I also had my bank detail.
So come Tuesday, I was ready and dare say optimistic? I was at the embassy at 9.30 a.m. for my 10 a.m. appointment. You were expected to form a queue when your appointment time was called. There was this air of ‘efficiency’ of ‘confidence’ and of ‘importance’ on the part of the security personnel and embassy staff. You were on their turf and they made you realise it. On the other hand, there was this willingness to please, to conform on the part of those who came for interview. It was as if these ‘gate men’ could keep them away from the all-important appointment if they did not behave.
The first exercise was to ensure that you had your passport, passport photograph, confirmed appointment date and of course evidence that you had contributed your quota to the coffers of the United States of America by paying your visa fee.
Then the waiting started. You were called in batches of five before moving into an ‘inner chamber’ there could be an activity for five, ten minutes, then nothing for another hour. It wasn’t uncomfortable at first. But as the sun rose so was the level of discomfort and the waiting. Not knowing if it would be over in an hour or five could psychologically break you. I tried to read but there were too many distractions and it was hard to concentrate. By the time my batch was called around 2 p.m., I was hot, sticky and uncomfortable. I quickly went through security checks and crossed the road to the ‘inner chamber.’
The inner chamber’ was chilled – a welcome relief. Again, there was this same air of ‘efficiency’ on the part of the officials and this willingness to please bothering on being obsequious on the part of those on appointments like madus. We the ‘interviewees’ watched on numbers light up in front of the cubicles where the officials, were like hawks and jumped even before we were called. It really was not amusing. You need to go to visa sections out side this country to appreciate the contrast.
Finally, it was getting to my turn and I must say the waiting and the expectation were getting to me. The butterflies were floating in my belly, which was strange. As a journalist I had been one on one with heads of governments and VIPs around the world in he past without losing my composure. I knew I would calm down once the interview proper started and given the opportunity to present my documents.
But I never had the chance to present any document. It was all over before it even started. Whatever my interviewer say, or read, or heard – I wish I know which – wasn’t favourable. He asked me why I was going to the U.S. I told him I had three reasons. I was on the first one when he asked a tangential question. Three questions later, my passport was pushed back at me. It was curt, it was dismissive and it was very humiliating. Not only was I denied a visa, I was denied a fair hearing. And it hurt.
In my profession, you use your skill and patience as an interviewer to ferret the truth. Neither was employed in my situation because the truth which was that I was going to spend ten days with old friends while celebrating an important landmark in my life was not revealed. It is that simple.
Outside, I was so disoriented that I walked to Ozumba Mbadiwe before I realised I had not sent for the driver who had gone to pack at home after dropping me. There was this voice telling me that I should not have bothered, that I don’t need this. Another voice reasoned that at least my friends would know that I made an effort. I thought of walking home to clear my head but then I am not the young men I used to be. So I hailed a taxi and went home.
My phone – you can’t take your phone to the embassy – had 26 missed calls. It helped to remind me that my life had been on hold for more than six hours. Some of the calls came from friends who had arrived in the U.S. and wanted to know my travel plans. It was then the finality of it hit me. I would not be on the cruise that I had already paid for. You cannot imagine how I felt.
Ps; A friend, a retired ambassador, called from the U.S. when he learnt I would no longer be coming. He said he had not been able to close his mouth since he heard of my refusal. Why should our elites be humiliated this way? He asked. He asked. He joked that he would carry a placard should a protest be organised. He then said something which I think is worth mentioning. ‘All of these will not happen if Nigeria had gotten her economics right. These countries will be running after us instead of the other way round.’ Food for thought eh”
The Guardian, Nigeria, November 20, 2011.
Adetiba, a former editor of Sunday Punch, lives in Lagos.
PS. Adetiba had a weekly column in which he interviewed people, FACE TO FACE WITH MUYIWA ADETIBA before becoming editor. TOLA ADENLE