In this report, SEGUN OLUGBILE who visited some foreign embassies in Abuja highlights the challenges being faced by young Nigerians in search of student visa to further their university education abroad
Frustration, anger and utmost apprehension were written boldly on the faces of youths, who gathered at the Ukrainian Embassy in Abuja on this hot Wednesday afternoon. Their mission was the same. They were there to obtain visa that would enable them to go and continue their studies in various universities in this eastern European nation.
Some of them from various states across the country had been there for as many as 20 times. The Nigerian security agents attached to the embassy had hectic time controlling the surging crowd of youths and some parents who accompanied their children. The embassy located on Parakon Crescent, off Aminu Kano Street, Abuja, did not provide shelter and seats for them. So they were left to the vagaries of the inclement weather that Abuja experienced in December.
Once in a while, an official of the embassy would come out to call out a number, the lucky applicant would rush in. And most of the few lucky ones that were given date for the oral interview, our correspondent gathered, had paid agents between N300,000 and N400,000. The same scenario played out at the Russian Embassy where frustrated prospective students of universities in Russia were struggling to outdo one another to gain the attention of security operatives in the embassy.
One of the candidates, who simply identified herself as Oyin, said the embassies were capitalising on the increasing number of Nigerians seeking admission to universities in their countries to make more money from desperate Nigerians. This is true as findings revealed that each of the embassies had hiked the application form for visa from $45 in August to $90 in October.
Lucky applicants, it was gathered, paid between $1,000 and $1,200 after the application must have been granted. Due to the stringent conditions, most applicants were denied visa and subsequently lost their admission. Oyin, who had been admitted to the Lugansk State Medical University, Lugansk, Russia to pursue a degree in medicine, said she could not make the admission because she could not even secure a date for a meeting with the Russian Consul in Abuja let alone securing the visa.
“I had wanted to study medicine when I finished secondary school but I could not make the cut off point and therefore settled for a degree in Human Physiology. So, as soon as I completed my programme in 2010, I applied to Lugansk State Medical University in Russia. I was happy the day I got my letter of admission. I thereafter applied for visa and was asked to come and pick a date for the interview. The first day I came, what I met was an eyesore. Over 500 of us were there shoving and pushing ourselves, the security agents were not helping matters.’’
Though she got to the embassy around 6:30am, she left by 5:30pm after she succeeded in picking a number. That was on a Monday. The following Wednesday, she left her uncle’s place around 4am thinking she could get to the embassy early, do the interview early and left for home. But her assumption was wrong.
“When I got to the embassy around 4.45am, it was like a market. I was surprised to meet people there. It was as if people slept there. I waited till about 4.30pm when a Russian official just came and said they had finished for the day. I was furious just like the other guys that I met there. That was how I have been visiting the embassy until one day in October, I did not get home until around midnight. This infuriated my parents and they stopped me from going there again. That was how I forfeited my admission.’’
Though she was expected to resume on November 15, her inability to get the visa had frustrated her ambition. When asked whether her university intervened on her behalf, she said yes. “The university wrote, I submitted all the necessary documents, I paid the visa application fee but unfortunately, I could not just get the visa,” she said.
Oyin had decided to go back home and participate in the mandatory national youth Service Corps scheme after which she might try to go to Canada for a degree in medicine.
At the Ukrainian embassy too, some young Nigerians narrated their travails to our correspondent. A graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Chima Ndukwe, said that though he had spent over N250,000 on transport and hotel accommodation to and from Abuja from Lagos, he had not been able to secure a date for the interview.
He alleged that corruption and influence peddling by “some big men” and the lack of respect for Nigerians by the Ukranian Embassy officials were some of the factors frustrating young Nigerians desiring foreign education.
“Nigerian government should do something about higher education in this country. These people treat us with disdain. When Nigerian university system was good, how many Nigerians would go to Ukraine to go and study? Look, these people have no respect for us and unfortunately, our Nigerian brothers who are posted there as security agents are not helping matter. I’ve spent over N250,000 on transportation and accommodation from Lagos to Abuja.
“I’ve been coming since September and this is December and by rule I’m supposed to resume on November 15 although the university has said that I could come in January but with the way things are going, I don’t think that the visa application would be successful because as I’m talking to you now, what I have been able to do is just to get the number and as at now (3.43pm) only about three applicants had been called in. They would soon come out to tell us to go,” he said.
When our correspondent attempted to take a photograph of the crowd, one of the mobile policemen attached to the embassy prevented this, saying that doing so was illegal. He threatened to give our correspondent the Boko Haram treatment if his order was disobeyed. The security man only directed our correspondent to the notice board placed at the fence of the embassy for information about the visa application process. “Mr. Journalist, you cannot enter the embassy and you must not take any photograph, if you need any information go to that notice board,” he said.
On the noticeboard, the embassy just listed the procedure for student visa and this include submission of letter of admission, letter of the sponsor and statement of account, identification letter as a Nigerian from the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the approval of education certificates presented by applicants by the Federal Ministry of Education.
However, it was alleged that sharp practices involving some top Nigerian officials in the Federal Ministry of Education and the finance ministry were some of the factors that enhanced the stringent conditions for the visa application.
One of the applicants, who pleaded not to be named for fear of possible persecution, said that top officials of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs were colluding with some officials of these foreign embassies to compromise the process.
“I know people who bribed their way with about N250,000 to secure the visa after which they still have to pay the official visa fee,” he said.
But when our correspondent visited the ministry, officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied the allegation.
“We don’t issue visa, the only thing we do is to confirm the identity of applicants as Nigerians while the Federal Ministry of Education authenticates the certificates presented by applicants. On the issue of bribery, I cannot say anything about that,” the source said.
However, a parent, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Ogunnoiki, said though she did not give anybody bribe, it was not impossible that some highly placed Nigerians could be compromising the process.
“What I don’t like about the whole process is the way and manner these oyinbo people are treating Nigerians in Nigeria. They are using policemen and soldiers to harass us and our children, thereby subjecting us to psychological trauma. All through the period I went there, apart from the money we wasted, we were made to sit in the sun for hours all the time we were there.
Her daughter had secured admission to Crimea Medical University, Crimea in Ukraine to study medicine and since she got the admission letter, they had been shuttling between Port Harcourt where Ogunnoiki works as a lawyer and Abuja, where the Ukrainian embassy is located.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t secure the visa. We had to give up. We will try another university in another foreign nation in Europe in 2012,” she said.
Ogunnoiki, therefore, called on the Federal Government to develop the nation’s universities. Our lecturers are good but we lack equipment and teaching facilities. The Federal Government should provide them with tools to work with and motivate them with good welfare package, then all these foreign nations will stop treating us with disdain,” she said.
But why are Nigerians seeking foreign education? Some Nigerians, including the Executive Secretary, Association of African Universities, Prof. Olagbemiro Jegede; and the President, Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oye Ibidapo- Obe, said that inadequate access, irregular academic calendar and preference for foreign certificates by employers of labour had combined to make foreign university education attractive to Nigerians.
Jegede, however, warned Nigerians seeking foreign university education to be wary of where they go to in search of such education. “We don’t cherish what we have but I will not blame people who go in search of foreign education, I will only warn that they should be careful in making their choices because not all foreign universities are good,” he said.