A mission impossible
â€¦memoirs of an attempted mission to Yankee land!
By Niyi Egbe
"Mama Kedu oh!" the slim Yankee immigration staff did salute, greeting the old woman whom she had identified as belonging to the Nigerian Igbo race. The greeting was a tale of the unexpected. The mama was literarily swept off her feet, excited at the interesting twist of fate. After all the dreary threats that Yankees are mean, there was this miraculous divine location of an immigration official that was not only friendly, but could speak the "omo na" language!
Mama who was aged between 65 and 70 literarily danced and swayed, led the young official in predictably in her late twenties, into a chestnut incursion into the Igbo language that not only drew laughters from her, but then had also left her stuck, not being able to flow beyond the mere pleasantries. Also excited was the young man that had accompanied Mama. The immigration official had ignited the hope that the American dream would manifest. All the demons from the Niger Bridge at Onitsha through the Udi hills, Oji River and the yam mounds of Abakaliki had gone to sleep. America, here comes Mama and the young man to accompany her.
I was happy for them, rejoicing prematurely that they had made it! Surprisingly, a young man next to me asked me not to be carried away. He predicted that complications could arise, and that beyond the initial pleasantries, the seemingly friendly woman could make requests and if Mama and her company didn't adequately respond or offer convincing information, it was possible to have Mama's dream of landing in Clinton's land derailed. What a prophet he turned out to be!
My take of the reasons why Mama needed to visit the United States was that her son yonder had had a baby and being too old and barely fairly literate, she needed the young man to accompany her there. The official soon started requesting further explanations about the trip from Mama and the young man. Initially, there were acceptable responses. Unfortunately, there were to be more questions, for which in the view of lady official, mama and the young man didn't offer sufficient explanations. In not long what we heard was "sorry", the lady apologized as politely as she could and when mama and lad tried appealing for reason, the lady simply turned her back at them, looking away till they made room for the next on the line! By Jove! What on earth had gone wrong?
The journey to the Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos American Embassy was as stressful as the queuing process that gets you face to face with the frontline staff. The appointment was for six am. This day in March 2006 seemed determined to frustrate efforts at getting to the embassy at the nick of time. The smooth flow of traffic ended in a seemingly unending logjam between Nitel and Bonny camp. In those days, there was literarily madness on the Lagos Marina. Sadly, the culprits were mostly military men who rather than assuring sanity, drove against traffic from around Muson centre direct to Bonny camp military barracks. Usually, they would have accomplices and together, they overwhelmed those on the legal route. What a country!
And who dare challenge our men in uniform? Have you ever seen Fashola's usually overzealous Latsma (traffic control) officers accosting any man in uniform? They dare not; otherwise Armageddon would be child's play. Thankfully, Lagos officials eventually found a way round the menace of these men in uniform. There is an extended barricade that makes driving against traffic impracticable. There is a little ease in the traffic congestion around the area now. However, if one still needs to meet an important appointment, the advised way out is to find a place to park your car and simply hop a ride on any of the now virtually ubiquitous Lagos okadas. Pray for divine intervention for delivering you intact at your destination, but trust their dexterity in landing you at your destination as scheduled. Do not lose your heart as they meander through the legendary Lagos traffic. Here is their beat and they sure are skillful in the art!
You will be surprised at the crowd that you meet at Walter Carrington Crescent that early in the morning. Recall that Abacha once named it Louis Farrakhan to spite the former American Ambassador Walter Carrington, for his pro NADECO activities. You would almost imagine that there is break out of war or epidemic in the country, to the intent that the advised path was for the thousands besieging the doorsteps of different embassies on that crescent to check out and hide their heads in safety.
There was a beehive of activities. Traders hawked different wares. Trust Lagos touts for making the most of any opportunity. They extorted drivers seeking parking spaces. You could hardly miss a nearby church congregation. A clever preacher man had planted his church directly opposite the American embassy. He commenced his service by educating his congregation about common mistakes to avoid at the forthcoming interview session. He also built up scriptural background that assured the listener that the embassy's wall couldn't be impenetrable. If the famed walls of Jericho fell flat, Uncle Sam's walls must surely collapse to which his church on the way thundered "Amen, Ise, Amin, Ashe"!
Of course the preacher man didn't forget a vital essence of fellowship â€“ they all needed to connect with the heavens through a bountiful and acceptable offering. And sure they responded, which made the preacher man's day. Lest I forget, I have to be fair to the preacher man. He had asked them to repent of every known or unknown sin, to which many also responded in the affirmative. That way, if the rapture happened, a sizeable number of those that attended his fellowship would exit straight to be with the Lord. Relevantly, as born again men and women, no demon would stand on their way of getting favour from the American officials.
As the drama was going on, I felt some breeze from the lagoon and looked on at the wonderful gift that God had presented us in Lagos. I felt sad that despite the natural endowment of Nigeria, sustained carnage by our leaders has made the place uncomfortable. I was sure that I just wanted to visit Uncle Sam and return. After all, I have a modest media and marketing communication practice and a family that I cannot abandon for a pot of porridge. All the same, I was certain that most of my fellow citizens exposed to the cold that morning were simply looking for opportunities to escape for their lives. If only they would beat the Yankees!
Would you blame them in a country where rights are denied, where political and economic leaders so loot the resources that what is left can hardly go round, where security of lives and properties is hardly predictable. What is their hope in a country where progress is hardly denominated by merit but by who you know? Where even those who not only failed in leadership can still buy further mandate. What a pity!
As I churned the issues I noticed a speed boat navigating its way near the embassy. Obviously, they were US Embassy officials enjoying a good boat ride to the office. They looked relaxed, taking a good breath of nature and thoroughly calming their nerves. It was also puzzling that they were quite full of life, strong and vibrant. They were such a contrast to the tensed Nigerians in the queue. I was sad, how could these people be enjoying such fun while we pinned away in frustrating and debilitating stress in our own country. Why should our country represent such stress to the citizenry?
I got so engrossed in the drama before me that I almost missed the calling out of the names of those taking their turn. Pronto, we sped, taking our positions as directed by the American embassy security officials. They were corky, sometimes rash but firm. Who would blame them? Even King David the Psalmist, prayed he had better been a door keeper in the Lord's temple than to dwell in the congregation of the unrighteous. America and its embassy even if located in Nigeria for these overzealous security officials was a heaven's gate of some sort. It definitely is a place of solace even where temporary, compared to the madness and bedlam that exists in Comrade Tinubu's Lagos.
We filed inconveniently like sardines in a quite long queue and moved on at snail speed into the premises of the embassy. The narrow alley graduated to checks before we reached a large waiting room. Here was a welcome relief from the long wait on the feet. In this chamber, people betrayed a calm mien. However, it was palpable that all were in prayer mood to find favour before the Yankees. All seemed somewhat cowed. Here, even the Army Generals that donned their uniforms seemed subdued. I could understand. A friend had forewarned me that Americans are no respecter of persons. Here they were like their fellow mortals. It was a really interesting and sober environment.
Next we were called to file along seats that would get us face to face with our interviewers. The Igbo mama and her guide were before me. They were turned down. Next was a colleague Pastor in the Lord's vineyard. The interview was humiliating. Whatever you said was heard by those who cared to listen. He was lucky. His wife is an American citizen by birth. The interviewer seemed relieved and relaxed, had some banters, then wondered why the man of God had not checked out with his family to which he simply responded that he had not be so divinely led. This came as surprise to the official who relaxed further enquiries and simply asked him to come back for his visa.
Then it was my turn to face the dread. Would I tame the dread and should there really be a dread? Whatever the case, I was face to face with this young and slim American dame who carefully looked up my documents. She insisted on dictating the direction of the interview and getting explanations and responses sufficiently brief. To the best of my ability, I offered answers to all enquiries. Then came enquiries about past travel history, which I explained. Unfortunately for me in the haste, I had forgotten my old passport. That was it. My dear lady wouldn't take a risk. Appeals for further opportunity to present the passport fell on deaf ears. She simply turned and when I got tired, I vacated her presence and the embassy.
I wouldn't blame her for my mistake. Others who were more careful may not even stand a chance, how much more a Niger man that may just be cooking up stories. Like our political brats, I had lost my deposit. Of course, we don't get refunds for processing visa applications. As I vacated the premises, I kept wondering how much the American, British, German and other embassies make from desperate Nigerians each day. I had like my compatriots kept some Americans employed even right here in Nigeria. I had been curtailed somewhat from also committing further fund had I traveled. It will be interesting knowing how much of our hard earned and stolen monies get to keep the engines of such economies moving around. The memories of that mission impossible remain fresh till today and I have hardly had the courage to dare the premises since that humiliation. How would I dare especially now that Comrade Farouk Abdul Mutallab has complicated things? I heard someone encouraging me not to give up though. According to him, Ogbuefi Goodluck Jonathan got words from Obama during his triumphant entry to Washington that the humiliation would be relaxed for us henceforth. We pray so!
A Media Practitioner lives in Lagos Nigeria