All over the world, Nigerians are known avid travellers who could go to anywhere for business, leisure and migration. Hardly is there any part of the world that Nigerians do not travel to. Places like the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America, Canada, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), South Africa, and China are favourite destinations for Nigerians in search of business and leisure.
However, with the advent of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China in 2019 and the consequent spiraling into a global pandemic in 2020, there have been huge restrictions in movement for thousands of Nigerians who indulge and take great pleasure in exploring the world.
Currently, Australia does not welcome visitors. China is considered as a red country for business and leisure trips. Canada does not welcome visitors now. The European Union (SCHENGEN countries) has virtually shut its doors for travellers including Nigerian while it battles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and its different variants. The United States of America (U.S.) has used the subterfuge of not having appointment spaces to block Nigerians from applying for visa to the country.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) with her tourism flexible visa regime used to be top on the list of destinations for Nigerian tourists, but the current spat between Nigeria and UAE over targeting of Nigerians for Rapid COVID-19 tests few hours before departure to Dubai, led to mutual bans between the two countries. This has stopped Nigerians from visiting the country while the Nigerian government has banned the country’s airline, Emirates from operating in Nigeria.
South Africa also used to be a destination of choice for Nigerians but the surging COVID-19 pandemic and the political instability the country is facing has made the destination not to be high on Nigerians’ wish bucket.
However, some of the embassies still issuing visas to Nigerians visitors are now subjecting Nigerians to different kinds of conditions that they do not apply in other countries.
Nigerians’ desire to travel either for leisure or business has made them cash cows for income generation for these embassies. Nigerians are subjected to different kinds of conditions and pay through their noses in their bid to obtain visas to some of these countries.
The United Kingdom (UK), through its visa handling agents, the TLS Contact has created different visa application scenario to get as much money from Nigerian visa applicants as possible. Apart from the standard visa fees, other services and conditions have been created that would make Nigerians pay additional money. Although there are voluntary value added services by TLS Contact, at times scenarios are created whereby the visa applicant is forced to pay for these additional services for lack of alternatives.
One country that is currently milking Nigerian visa applicants dry and smiling to the bank is Turkey. Turkey was not is a destination of choice for Nigerians. It ranked very low behind more popular destinations like the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), China, South Africa and even Ghana and the Gambia. However, with the restrictions as a result of COVID-19 and limited countries to travel to, Turkey has almost become the leading destination currently for Nigerian travellers.
The Turkish embassy is capitalizing on this to subject Nigerians to different difficult conditions to obtain the country’s visa. One of the big issues with the Turkish embassy is their disdain for the Nigerian currency and insistence on payment with the United States Dollars only. The embassy does not collect the Nigerian Naira. While some other embassies do also collect visa fees in dollars, they also collect the local currencies. Countries Turkey, India and few others are said to insist on dollars only. In addition, Turkey insists that there are some specific years that the dollars’ printing must not go below.
The President, Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and managing director Bboog Travel and Tours, Abuja Hajia Bilkisu Abdul and Erelu Funmi Rotiba, the managing director, Special Tours Travel and Tours based in Ibadan with branches in Lagos and few other cities, are among those that have had dealings with some of these embassies. They believe the federal government needs to look into the activities of some of these embassies and protect the Nigerian travelling public.
The NATOP President said: “There is no day that I don’t do Turkey visa. So many times I had paid and also collected me change. Why doesn’t the agent write and insist that she wants to collect her change before leaving the embassy?
“Looking at some of the embassies collecting visa fees in Dollars, I think it is not a tour operator or travel agent’s work to tackle the issue. It is supposed to be our own government. These people are in our country, why do we have to follow their rules and regulations. What is our government doing by not telling them ’you are in our country, we will pay with our naira’? Then can then do whatever they want to, whether to change it to dollars, they will do it.
“The painful part of it is that sometimes you will give them that dollars and they will reject it. So, you have to rush back to where you get the dollars from at the black market to change that money.
“It is not the embassies have counting machines, they will just use hand to touch the four corners. If there is a cut or slight mutilation, I think that is what the pick on.
“Secondly, if the dollars are old edition of the dollars, they will not collect it from you. If there is a cut anywhere on the money, they will not collect it from you. Sometimes, people who went to submit their application would end up not submitting that day. If the stop over at Zone Four (Abuja) or wherever they got the dollars, by the time they will get back, they will start having issues with the sellers who would complain that it was not the dollars they sold.
“So many people have complained to me. I advised them that always you collect dollars from and immediately you collect it, take a shot of it with your phone. Show the dollar man that this is your dollars and you are going to the embassy and if they are rejected, especially Turkish embassy, I will return them. Sometimes you will start having issues with the dollar people because they refused to collect back the dollars. They will say these were not the dollars they gave you. You have no evidence to prove that these were the dollars you bought from them. Some people at the end of the day had to look for money to buy other dollars. This is very annoying.
“For me if were just about people looking for visas paying in dollars, no problem, but they should stop rejecting genuine dollars under one excuse or the other.
On the Turkish embassy insistence on dollars, Rotiba said: “This issue of collecting money in dollars started about three four years ago. Now the Federal Government came up with a policy that you can’t use your dollar card more than $1000 a month.
Imagine a travel agency that wants to apply for visa for about 20 persons. It might be difficult processing your with your card for more than eight to nine persons in a month. How many customers do you have that has dollar account? This limits business and so many other things.
“Among the embassies are Turkey, the United kingdom and few others. Turkey embassy will give you. Turkey embassy will tell you that earliest dollar edition that they can collect, I think, is year 2016. The dollars must not be bent at the edges and other funny instructions.
“You know when Dubai stopped Nigerians from visiting, the alternative place people can travel to and import stuffs to Nigeria is Turkey and China. Now, there is still the issue of COVID-19, so there is a sudden upsurge in the demand for Turkish visas. Hundreds of people visit Turkish embassy daily for visas. This is because Nigerians are banned from visiting Dubai. There are no more flights from Nigeria to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Because the issue of the COVID-19 said to have originated from China made visiting China not to be a good idea. So, right now, all focus is on Turkey for traders.
“Now, there are no appointments to the United States of America (USA); there is no regular entry to Canada; there is no regular entry to Australia and there is no regular entry to the SHENGEN countries for Nigerians. Please where else do you think they would want to travel to? SHENGEN countries just started giving appointments are they are taking only essential services and health emergencies.
“In Turkey, you pay the dollars in cash. The dollars must not be bent. The visa fee is $137, if you drop $150 dollars; they tell you they don’t give change. If you are, for example, paying $137 for example, and you don’t look for your correct and exact money, there is no change. So, a lot of people have been forfeiting their three dollars for as long as I know.
“For the United Kingdom, you pay dollar equivalent online. Do you know that we buy appointment day for N42, 000 for the United Kingdom? You buy priority or you buy ‘Coming Early’, 7am for N37, 000. You can work into the gate and pay N37, 000 without booking an appointment.”
Erelu Rotiba believes the government is to blame for this ill treatment of Nigerians by these embassies. She said: “Because they feel our government does not care and they feel an average Nigerian wants to travel out. That we have been tacitly ‘ban’ by the U.S. government; I don’t think the government is not aware of this. Turkey before, were given visas to Nigerians within 24 hours, but when so of these young girls in the university, young petty traders and so on started trooping into Turkey to buy wares to sell, they go for plastic surgery and so on…
“The government officials apply for visas in these embassies and they are aware of all that. This has continued and they are not doing anything.”
Hajia Bilkisu also agreed, calling the Nigerian government to look into the activities of these embassies and call them to other: “I think the government should come in, let us be using our naira to pay any embassy fees. Government should also look into the issue. Let us be using our own naira to pay. What is wrong with our money? If for example, we are buying dollars say N445 to a dollar for example, they can add a little extra one or two naira. It is still okay. But you see the trouble some people pass through travelling to Abuja from Lagos and other parts of the country and they had exhausted all their money before the rejection. I have helped so many people giving them money to buy other dollars.
Secondly, they have a place to change to dollars inside the submission centre if you don’t want to go outside the area, but you will pay heavily to get the dollars. This is not right.”
A phone was put across to the Turkish embassy for comment on these but several calls put across to them through the embassy line displayed on the website went unanswered.
Many Nigerians spoken to believe the embassies are getting away with so many unethical practices due to the weak supervision of these embassies in Nigeria and poor efforts by the Federal government to protect the interest of Nigerian travellers.