My nightmarish Journey through hell to home town in NIGERIA
Nigeria stands top on the lists of the most corrupt countries in the world following a survey from transparency international or the anti-corruption watchdog but unfortunately this disgraceful posture is somewhat being replicated even in some Embassies of Nigerian outside the country.
Nigerian Embassies across the world have a reputation and a litany of complaints… They are riddled with corruption and extorsion of Nigerian citizens by the public servants who are meant to serve them. Yet despite the ongoing campaign against corruption, I came face to face with the most reckless, irresponsible, selfish wolves raven of corruption in Nigerian Embassy of Cotonou in the republic of Benin.
When my younger brother Andy rang me saying “mum was dying and the doctors are not making any headway” ... And I remember my Mum few months behind begging me to come home and see her before “she bids her final far well”. I lost my self-control, bought myself a ticket with my wife and our French passports took our flight to Cotonou as it takes more than two weeks to obtain a visa to Nigeria from the embassy in Paris. Cotonou is just two hours’ drive to Lagos, Nigeria. I hoped to get an express visa to Nigeria and drive straight home to see my dying Mum But as it turned out it was a tremendous mistake; an exasperating, nerve breaking and mind shattering experience that will indeed remain memorable all through my life. I truly wish no western traveler or tourist ever encounters such a suffocating experience. I can however see clearly why Nigeria is rated as the worst touristic destination just barely before Syria Somalia and Sudan on the scale. These countries are war zones or well-known failed states.
Weeks before this journey started I had a nightmare: “I had driven my car through an arch portal of a building that was a reminiscence of Some old venetian compound all of sudden I discovered that I had engaged my car into a dead-end and the vehicle was caved up by great walls on the four sides it was like driving your car into a large container-like box I could neither reverse to go back out or move any further before the wall facing me , I was left with no other choice but to abandon the car - as far as am concerned the nightmare “car” must be lying there now I can’t figure out how to get it removed ”
It was a bitter day that early morning of about 8 am on a Thursday of the 22rd December 2016 when I came banging on the Embassy gate as everywhere was still and quiet , The iron gate was an imposing and ornate gate with overthrows that were simply decorative , a bit far off the vicinity of the gate, were some armed military forces sitting on a bench under a tree , I had banged on the gate with a clamoring bolt of the aperture for at least five minutes before a fat, very sluggish and tired gate keeper walked lazily from the inside, held the gate slightly open and said, “the embassy is open to the public as from 10 am” Under normal circumstances, in every embassy with decency, visitors are rightfully admitted or welcomed into a waiting room given a form to fill while waiting for who ever is in charge
I felt a pinch of pain and deception immediately; considering that my plan was to have everything done before noon and then take off to Nigeria by the afternoon. Even though the opening hours was 9hrs - 17hrs as the Nigerian public service will have it, nothing goes according to plan. They left us outside with nothing to sit around; they left us abandoned outside the embassy marinating in our anger. We were standing there for almost 3 ½ hrs. miserable in our expectations and waiting for the nothingness; but in the face of impunity we are totally helpless and they are fully aware of that situation this goes to support their reckless attitude of contempt, arrogance and carelessness towards the public they are supposed to serve. Thus we were kept waiting outside under a blazing hot sunshine.
When I returned to bang on the gate again and again as no one was coming to receive us it was already 11,30hrs, at certain point I began to wander if the embassy was closed for the up-coming holiday. My anxiety had gone so high. My feeling of helplessness was complete. My tension was getting to a boiling point, as I stood there with my wife waiting and expecting to be received or at least be given some sort of application forms to be filled It was almost 12 am, we were yet not admitted into the Embassy, then we found block pavement to sit on, the military officers offered my wife a space on their bench . my exasperation has attained a point of disgust and rage; I began hitting the gate again when the same sluggish man finally came and announced “The ambassador was probably not coming that morning you should try again that afternoon after 2 pm” I thought it was a joke… a disgusting joke is supposed to be an embassy or some sneaking traffickers? I was burning with indignation, so we planned to stay around, until the time lapse, before they declare to us the Embassy is closed But we have to get some lunch around the Embassy.
The Embassy of Nigeria, like many of its kind in that same area, located at the Boulevard de la Cansade in Cotonou, was quite in a cozy area; full of emptiness and totally devoid of human activities and far away from the town. We found no taxies or transports moving around, no shops no restaurants no resorts centers around. We walked for miles in search of some street vendors to buy some soft drinks or ice creams, the trekking was a long difficult walk through a sandy road under the scorching heat of the blazing sun; that heat burnt even through the sole of our leather shoes. Like walking in the middle of a desert; nowhere to get some water or some shade or cool air. The town center was just 10 min drive away but we walked for what seemed like forever until my wife not accustomed to so much heat was obviously getting nervous suddenly a taxi stopped by and took us to the city center; which was barely 10 miles from our hotel room so we decided to go get some food in our hotel and returned immediately for the afternoon session. Yet the embassy was not open.
In the afternoon again, the waiting continued outside the embassy all along under the sun, until a young Chinese lady arrived at the embassy gate where we kept waiting to be received suddenly the gate was flung open and forms were distributed to us including the lady who had just arrived. By this time there were people going in and coming out of the embassy, I recall seeing a man dressed in a military uniform who regularly comes and goes out of the embassy with packets in large brown envelops I could not fully figure out what was his mission …. we had filled our forms and submitted to the head mission of the embassy, yet we were not admitted into the Embassy , the Chinese lady received her visa almost 30 min later and left We stood outside their very anxious and exasperated by the total contempt and neglect Am a Nigerian with a French passport and my wife is French I have come for visa to return to my country and I was not given the least attention nor explanations for the neglect and here is A Chinese lady who just arrived being attended to almost immediately and she had her service delivered. At this time, then I recognized the moral distortion of the narratives strategy. It was a personal, moral and psychological injury that was inflicted on my stability. that is when I realized that I was being marinated by the administrative staff of the embassy for a massive scam… they cooked me up all day in order to prepare me for a massive extortion and that was exactly what transpired
We have been caught in their web and we have no choice but to dance to their tune they fully realized the urgency in our mission and we have made the mistake of expecting to be granted an express visa from Cotonou Now we are stuck in the mud and they will make us pay mercilessly for our mistake and they made us dance to their music. At this defining moment there was no possible options left to us we could not go on any further to Nigeria and there was no going back home to France. We have come all the way from France with an objective to visit a dying mother. I truly expected I will have no squabbles getting an emergency visa as I was a natural citizen
Finally, an officer returned with our forms. The time was already 4.Pm. He claimed “Your official permission to stay in Cotonou is no longer valid so we cannot issue visa to people with a valid resident permit” … “You have to go get yourselves a valid permission to stay in Cotonou before we can issue you a visa to Nigeria”… He emphasized. By the time we arrived at the “minister de la intérieur et de la sécurité publique “the gates were closed. We hurriedly returned back to the Embassy, the embassy too had closed it was already past 5pm.
In actual fact, I was not fully prepared for the moral, psychological and emotional blow that was about to strike me I have been too long away from Africa. I have the feeling that I may have missed the strings and some of the episodes. The narratives were no longer clear to me and I find it truly hard to figure out what the whole issue was all about. To put it simply am truly confused! That was when I recalled the nightmare just before our departure.
I remember too that I have been persistently obsessed by the premonition of this same nightmare anytime during the process of our preparation for departure from the flight we almost missed to the moment of our arrival in Cotonou at the baggage claim area as the carrousel that delivers checked luggage broke down I was anxious that my nightmare was about to be realistic and this was a very serious issue we were going to be stuck in here or forced to leave without our luggage; our baggage’s arrived we claimed them off we left to the hotel room. But here we are again stuck with the visa affaire and I don’t have the right answer to this issue
We had no choice but to return back to the our hotel room that day without our visa, but deep down the simmering anger I was feeling was rooted in this arrogant display of contempt and injustice so glaring, that a public servant can do whatever they please with impunity. I tried to get some sleep, my thoughts won’t leave me alone they keep spinning and spinning in my brain. I wonder why most people in the position to make possible the ease of life have the propensity to reverse the clock of their mission and they would rather make life a Nightmare for us. I should have been in my home town by now to see my dying mother but for the inconsiderate staff of the embassy.
I called home to check on my mother’s condition’s I learned that things were getting seriously worse I broke down and cried. My wife, had been very considerate and very supportive tried hard to console me, even as I can’t help that sinking feeling that I have failed everybody including her. Truly I had no reason to put her through such a distressing ordeal.
I realize now that I should have travelled to Paris to obtain my visa trough a more decent process instead of choosing to make it my own way by taking us through such depressive and distressing encounter
The next day morning program was to go right straight to the Ministry of interior affaires to get the famous permit to stay that will allow access to visa. There, we arrived as early as possible the gates were open at ten. We were one of the first to be served with forms. However, there were left overs candidates from the day before whose resident permit were not processed due to a machine disfunction. Here again the waiting seemed forever. The whole morning passed away with our passports in their hands yet the permit was not issued the stamping machine had finally broken down our passports were returned to us without the permit. In the end we were issued a hand-written permit with a government stamp on the head of a white paper. Unfortunately, it was too late, when we arrived at the Embassy again on the Friday afternoon it had finally closed for Christmas. Thus we returned hopelessly to our hotel and waiting and hoping everything will be over by Monday after the Christmas. The holiday weekend was passed away in the Cotonou hotel I was bummed out and dejected, I have never been confronted with such an experience of reckless cruelty, they saw us as vulnerable and they mercilessly attacked us. Matters got beyond control when I received a call from my anguished brother demanding why we haven’t arrived and announcing, that Sunday night, that my mum had several heart attacks and that she had passed away. I could hardly bear the shock of the news and the sorrows that this news had inflicted on me and I felt so hopeless and so helpless. I was made conscious of my emptiness, very painfully I was made to feel my lowliness and all the frustrations of life, and I was exhausted to completeness. The Burning indignation had deserted me everything was emptiness and crestfallen. My mum was gone she waited to see me but I could not make it. To describe it as the most painful period of my life was an understatement.
The following Monday morning we gathered our belongings, drove straight to the Embassy. With our permit in hand, the embassy was not open we sat down there in the car in front of the Embassy until one officer later in the afternoon came out to meet me privately. He said “we are not issuing visas now but we will make an exception for you and your wife but before then you will have to settle one of our custom boys he will be coming to meet you people, so you can discuss with him... After almost 4 days I was still not allowed into the embassy for an official counseling on what really needs be done to obtain a visa. I was desperate to go home now that my mum was dead I was burning with indignation, with pain, my sorrow and bitterness so intense, I was almost breathless. It was well over 3pm when another man wearing army uniform who claimed to be a custom officer approached me in a rather friendly way and said “the situation is very critic at the moment the Ambassador was absent but they will need a lot of money to smuggle out our visas” first of all he asked me to present the permit that was issued to us, it was document(recipissé) called a temporary permit issued on a white paper written by hand that I presented to him he looked astonished but somehow accepted it saying he is going to do his best he took our passports with the récépissé and entered the embassy for the first time since 4 days that we have been standing outside the embassy my passport was allowed in the but not my selves or my wife We have filled and submitted ours forms and yet were never admitted for further interview
The visa and the mediator
I was like… very nervous as I kept looking at my watch and I saw the time flying, my head was aching my mind was running like an escaped prisoner with dogs going after him. My distress was so complete I was at the brink of a nervous breakdown and most of all I was confused with the helplessness of the situation. It could have been un eclipse of hope or a higher level of frustration However I cannot rationally explain why people behave this way, and why things have gone so wrong. I was may be lost or under the shock of my mother’s death. Obviously my reasoning faculty seemed clouded, I have been wondering during my four sleepless nights why I got stuck up in another country barely two hours of drive to my home town for no possible reason. I have travelled far and wide, gotten visas from embassies of different countries with my French passports to various countries within few hours I have never in my life been confronted with such an abominable act of callousness I had hoped to accompany my mother in her last hours, to be at her bed side before she actually passed away, that hope was shattered. To think that I have been held up for 4 days at the border of my country for no tangible reason was utterly mortifying. As much as tried to understand, or to dispel my confusion I never could come up with any rational explanation to their hideous agenda. Obviously the only possible explanation was Greed! It shows how evil Nigerians actually are. How utterly depraved Nigerian officials can be I am petrified with this idea that humankind can think and act so wickedly, so recklessly in the pursuit of their cupid Agenda
Two hours later the “custom officer” or should I call him the “Tout” who was as depraved as any Tout can be came back with our passports and joined us in the car and declared that our visas has been negotiated for 1000 euros with the Embassy officials. I was dumfounded! and speechless I was like… “is that suppose to be a joke”? “I think you are not being realistic Mr officer” I said “how the hell do you expect me to bring on here with me a thousand euros” . further on I told him “you are only increasing our worries and pains to almost an unbearable level”… “am here to visit a dying mother”. He made no replies. As mysterious as, my being delayed in Cotonou is shocking, it all goes to show that corruption in Nigeria has been taken to an entirely new level, I was about to lose my mind. But the restrain came from my wife. The Tout tried to justify his evil agenda by displaying before us several passports owned by some Asian families who paid $1000 dollars each. When I realized that two of the passports he represented to me belonged to breast feeding infants I was struck by the extent to which this public servants can be somewhat disingenuous as well as cynical. These guys can go through a brick wall to achieve their greedy aims. To charge a breast - feeding child $1000 for visa-trafficking was the most monstrous form of greed I have encountered through my 50 years of touring the world.
The bottom line is, we finally came to an agreement. We agreed to pay $800.I had no time left. I had to pay to quit this god forsaking land. I was hindered access into the Embassy to avoid making my rightful claim and to make me dance to their hideous amusements and so I did. Few minutes after I paid the $800 to the same “facilitator or TOUT”, he went right back into the embassy and the visa was delivered to us. This to me was an outrageous display of immorality and corruption, it is not merely obscene, It provided me the confirmation of a nation deep in a nefarious decay, a depraved society, so deficient in decency. To an extreme degree Nigeria is an abomination!
The border crossing was an unbearable chaos. The road from Cotonou to the city of Lagos was like driving through the wilderness to hell, it was like straying off a civilized society into the ferocity of a jungle. All around as we were driving through was a picture of social, technological environmental, breakdown. The motorway to Nigeria is located across a city called SEME town. Clearly it is not truly a city or a town either it is more or less a zone, a geographical zone of lawlessness and disorder brought to its full and frightful explosion. As we crossed the toll gate announcing the “Welcome to Lagos” sign all of a sudden we were struck by a paralytic traffic jam. The vehicles moving at a small pace due to extreme bad roads, gigantic potholes and reckless driving. Inadequate drainage system if there was any led to the potholes being filled with flood-water as cars, buses, lorries and all transport system were diving in and out of the massive holes. At the middle of the road and on both sides one can spot broken down vehicles and some buses whose stranded passenger standing by waiting as the vehicles are being repaired. The slow bumpers to bumper- drive has attracted a massive crowd living off the road all sorts of people approaching the vehicle, peddlers, smugglers, gamblers, beggars and even prayer pastors everyone is selling one thing or the other. The orgy of greed and ruthlessness have chocked the smiles on their faces. We stopped somewhere just before the mile 2 area for some refreshment and make some illegal currency exchange since we had only euros. I can’t take the noise. I can’t take smell of putrid garbage and unhealthy swamps on the sides of the roads. Everywhere was full of broken bottles and garbage cans, the city without light and no street lamps was full of swamps and bad drainage system as well as thousands of wretched warehouses made of poor woods and houses made of mud. With lamps peddlers, on the streets sold petrol and gasoline in bottle and gallons to drivers. it was just unbelievable! We had been through several check points as police and custom officers will roughly point their flash lights on the faces of every passenger .
The entire atmosphere of our journey was becoming so tense and more unbearable as we got closer to Lagos. Countless illegal check points were set up by the armed forces who acted like an occupying force and woefully asking for tips. All of a sudden when the traffic seemed to be easing off we were grounded to a halt by a police officer who demanded to see our passports. We gave him our passports. Opened up the bout of the car and he started to searched all the luggage’s slipping his hand in every bag and in the end asked us to park by the roadside, it was already a dark night. Bearing in mind the excruciating experience that has been unfolding, for me, I could not endure any further insanity. My driver refused to park, the I got off the car to tell the wrongheaded officer that we have had enough of their duplicity. We are never going to get that car off the road now “For four hours we have been on this terrible road and if you found nothing to incriminate on us we are never going off this road” I said to the police officer in an angry tone. As the driver and I started to heat up coupled with the horn blowing who got fired up by the resumption of the jam the a higher ranking officer asked us to move on
In the end it took another five hours of unbearable torture to take us down to my home town; the roads seemed in such a state of devastation and desolation which made me wonder if the country was in a state of war, I wonder how roads leading into an old capital city could be abandoned in such a catastrophic condition, road maintenance are virtually nonexistent, we drove through the night, passed through miles upon miles of roads in such a dangerous condition. Clearly underfunding and appalling weather conditions have left potholes and in so many cases the roads riddled with dunghills of refuse and sordid piles of garbage between the lanes to me it was unbelievable to see that humankind could be consigned to such an extreme degree of adversity and neglect”
Home at last
And through it all, I got home to visit my mother in the mortuary there she laid peacefully, with no more trouble no more pains or sorrows, Truly the nightmare scenario I have been going through had upended my anxieties and priorities, and now I felt bummed -out and dejected, tears came pouring out of my eyes, I had not cried since I got the news . Now it felt like being knocked down. I had hoped to be by her side before this moment, I know we live in a wrongheaded world but my mum never deserved to endure such a dismal death as she was a truly loving mother. I hope that her faith will see her through and her grace will provide sufficiency. And yet I can’t help that sinking feeling that I have failed everybody. At the same time, I am praying against this unrepentant orgy of greed and reckless corruption that has ravaged the entire society I hope that, one day we the people of Nigeria will come to realize that greed and corruption is nefarious to the health and prosperity of our nation; to realize that those we hurt in this process of dishonesty is “you” and “me”. When, collectively, we consider that the service we render as public servants is always an opportunity to make money for personal aggrandizement is absolutely disingenuous. Painfully that mind set has led to a system that is deep in decay and that is serious strategic mistake!!
My mother was laid to rest in her house two weeks later thus we hurried back to France. we left through the Murtala Mohamed international Airport in Lagos – a disgrace to international airports The woeful state of the airport was unimaginable, the airport authority simply doesn’t exist the infrastructure such in a sorry state The airport was simply a perfect characterization of that monstrosity you call Nigeria it was supposed to be window to the world it clearly was a perfect window to the sordid conditions Nigerians are living in, it was chaotic and overcrowded in every corner no orderly refreshment rooms no places to sit down even if your flight is due in the next five or ten hours Nobody cares the departure was full of all kinds of people travelers and non-travelers’ touts bargaining for one thing or another rampant profiteering was going on in every corner; Asian passengers checking out can be seen offering money openly to some custom officers who shamelessly will seize the hands and straight goes the proceeds to their pocket. The spectacle was so cynical and mortifying that made me so irritable and frustrated. I know now that our nation is facing a grim reality. Nigeria as a republic has been ravaged by corruption to an apocalyptic scale, this explains why the justice system - if there be any- is gone putrid, the entire Academic structure is decomposing, quack doctors and wretched health service system has left the nation with a morbid Health services Talk less of the basic infrastructure (Water, electricity, roads etc…) that is available even the poorer states of Africa Asia and Europe. Life everywhere is miserable solitary and desperate. Nothing works in Nigeria nothing is obtainable because our moral consciousness is dead !