I recently had the opportunity to attend a management development programme when I received an offer to attend the Senior International Public Relations Business School training in London. The dilemma, even for regular flyers, of getting a visa, has taken a new dimension due to outflows of those desirous of being offshore. I was shocked to notice that, unlike before when one just filled the travelling formalities with required fees and within hours, visas were provided, now someone, no matter how highly placed in the society, must be present and interrogated on probable missions to Her Majesty’s Land. Apart from the insistence that frequent travellers have to show up, to my dismay, I saw some of our highly respected personalities, businessmen, technocrats and public functionaries being drilled with frivolous questions on why they were travelling abroad and whether they have enough money to feed themselves over there. Na wa oh! Such embarrassment is difficult to behold. But the British Embassy must be commended by the prompt way it processes ever increasing and bulky applications on a daily basis.
During the screening of applicants, by the embassy staff, you can, while watching the drama, see some young Nigerians, on the queue, quivering and shivering to their marrow before it came to their turn. One even approached me if I worked with any government body so that I could forge a letter on his behalf to enable him procure the visa. His pessimistic disposition, according to his narration, was that he had made several requests and visits to the Visa Office, but the entreaties were turned down after cross-examination of his documents. It is not a verbal refusal but official rejection which is reflected on the passport. He showed me other intending co-travellers whose applications were denied on several occasions. In fact, for every visit, they have to procure another international passport because of the damage made to the former by the stamped disapproval. I think this act makes the Nigerian Immigration Service to generate a lot of revenues from sales receipts of international passports alone. I was later informed that the unfortunate applicants have no means of livelihoods and may constitute nuisance to the host country by eking a living by indecent means.
On the other hand, from the little I could eavesdrop, the lucky ones were politicians, political office holders and moneybags, who claimed they were jetting out with their families for summer. This is the sunny and warmest season of the year in Britain when the heat from the sunshine reaches its peak compared with the coldest season of the year which extends from the end of autumn to the beginning of the spring. I still wonder which summer they are talking about when from Lagos down to Maiduguri, there are environments where some could enjoy light, even scorching sun. For those desirous of foreign weather, they may be told of the serene atmosphere and climate of such blessed cities like Jos, Plateau State, Mambilla in Adamawa State and Ikosi Hill in Cross River State. In fact, these places are enough tourist attractions to behold.
True to their claims, I saw them in their large numbers, some with original and authentic Nigerian families, others on away matches were seen with concubines. Some, especially our big shots, have completely transformed from the cultural attires they adore while in the country to T-shirts, knickers, jeans and peak caps. Don’t say I told you that I saw some distinguished lawmakers, some members of the executive, party leaders and famed professional contractors, in their large numbers. If you are somebody who believes in gossips, take a visit to the Liverpool Street in the heart of London where the Sunday Market is invaded and colonized by our own people. Hard currency is spent with reckless abandon – and on what you may guess – key holders, bags, shirts, not the designer-types, but those that are abundant in Nigeria.
Some may wonder why markets are held on sundays. The average foreigners are not fanatical about religion. They enjoy their times to the fullest in pastimes through sporting events where they may be fanatical in the name of hooliganism. One of the participants at the training programme, an African, asked a host on the location to the nearest church for Sunday worship. But to our shock, the host wondered how we could leave a continent, thousands of miles away, and come down there to attend religious fellowships as if on pilgrimage. While we were still bewildered, he said further that as an adult he does attend church only during Christmas, New Year and memorial services. Nevertheless, he added, Sunday Service for him is for the old, sick and children. I realize that if someone strongly believes in religion, it is advisable to restrict conversations to social and political issues, or such a person may easily be converted to the new thinking on sciencetology or religious practices on the computer.
As an African, I have this pride in my native attires, designed to sustain and protect my skin from any whether condition. With a feeling of inner satisfaction, caftan and caps, hardly desert me. It is a habit I cherish at home and abroad most times. Except for games, when I put on T-shirts, I am hardly comfortable in any foreign cloth, not to talk of strangulating myself to suffocation with neckties. The only Nigerian whom I saw in his cultural regalia during my studying period, was our own flamboyant former minister, Chief Alex Akinyele, on a visit to see his daughter schooling there. I had the pride that I was not the only Nigerian who is crazy about his costumes. I was encouraged to carry on with my clothing which enabled me economize my hard-earned currency from buying new materials.
An African, a Nigerian I guess, who was a steward at the hotel I lodged in, even though had a cellular phone tucked round his belt, with audacity, challenged me to stop dressing like a bushman but like a Londoner in London. I told him I try to distinguish my blackness with my clothing from those brought in as slaves and those who had lost contact with the cherished realities of the African culture.
Where I almost felt some embarrassment was at the London Zoo while I was looking at the monkeys. A small boy with his mother, who looked really white from the colour of their skin and hair, must have admired my cap as he insisted on tugging at it, dragging his mother towards my direction. I played along with him before the mother momentarily asked me whether I was a veterinarian working in the zoo. I told her I was on a visit too. She took a close look at me again and again and asked why I was in the zoo to see monkeys while we had enough monkeys in Africa. I thank God she asked the puzzling question, I would have wondered whether her staring at me was to study the similarities between me and the monkeys in the London Zoo.
One thing I admired was that an average Briton is amiable, humble, and above all, respects the black. I was, therefore, not surprised when I saw my countrymen and women married and with kids to British citizens. Don’t ask me what would be my next plan.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Weekly Trust April 26, 2002