This is sugar cane; the new born baby that we are celebrate his naming today will have a life devoid of sorrow, this is honey; the baby’s life will be full of pleasant experiences, here we have cola nuts; we pray he lives longer than any of us here, Alligator pepper; we ask that his life be full of spices and fulfilling days, and finally this is Banana; because we witness your naming today life will never be difficult for you. Theses were the prayers from my uncle then when Toluhi my youngest brother was named and the well-wishers echoed ‘Amin’. I grew up believing that truly life was going to be all rose-coloured for Toluhi after all neither difficulty nor bitterness was represented that day as my uncle read out his names which had been carefully selected by my parents.
While my other siblings and I were busy sweating it out in the lecture rooms for academic degrees and excellence, Toluhi was busy sweating it out in discotheque halls all over Kabba and its environ and at the same time perfecting his ‘American’ accent and life style. Those who met him for the first time mistook him for either an ‘Americana’ or a ‘Londoner’, so he grew up believing strongly that someday he will travel out of motherland for good in a grand style to live permanently in America where he thought he belonged so that he could ride the best of cars and tie the knot with one of the most beautiful girls. I wouldn’t know if the fear of failure was the reason why he didn’t have a girl friend, although his friends called him ‘Stoneface’ because they think his face is so unattractive that no girl will accept to go out on a date with him yet he had so much confidence in himself and believed that money, Power, and women are inseparable. Even though he never believed he was unattractive, he told me once that his wife must be beautiful and tall, that will at least balance up their offspring’s gene. Tolu, ‘What about a woman having good manners I asked’, ‘egbon ewo efi yenle’ he answered, and continued ‘money answereth all things the holy book says’. He further said ‘Money is the root of all evil but the trunk and leaves depends solely on the root for life or have you seen a three or plant without roots?’
Even though he threw a party once to celebrate a positive response from the American embassy 8 years a go he finally got a British Visa in May 2007 after 11 years of fruitless attempts. The last time I saw him was some 6 years a go and as I picked him up from the airport, like water trickling down my head the memories of those good old days came back. As he swung exuberantly in his usual style in front of me toward the car boot I saw nothing but a young man who was about ten years behind. Despite sounding American, I was not surprised though as he had been rehearsing how to be mad and speak with his nose for a decade. On one occasion and as the twang in his voice grew more nasal my Mum asked if it was his mad crave to Americanise himself that’s making him speak with his nose like someone who caught cold. Yet at the airport I could only see a 1970 Nigerian student returning home after his graduation from London carrying an afro hair style, pencil jeans, tight shirt, and a high heel shoes to match. How do I tell him he was a bit backward in his appearance and steps I asked myself, an instinct said it’s too early, he’ll find out and adjust.
As I drove along the A30 Heathrow airport road he began to narrate his experience at the British embassy in Lagos; he said “Visa process has been turned into a money spinner and a big scam to the detriment of poor Nigerians at the British High Commission. From the 1st of April 1 2007, a new visa fee was introduced with multiple visa applicant paying N52, 000 (£208); Single entry applicant (six month) paying N16, 400 (£65.6) and Transit applicant paying N11, 450 (£45.8).
All visa fees and charges are applicable to adults as well as children and, according to them, “not refundable under any circumstances” also Fees once paid into their G T Bank account would only be valid for 30 days.
He said Egbon, ordinarily, because of the queue completing and processing an application form should take about a month or, so you would imagine but that is just the genesis of the problem. According to their website which I confirmed, the UK Visa Application Centres are officially authorised by the British High Commission in Nigeria to accept applications for all categories of visas. The website he said stipulates that you are also advised to “take an appointment for visiting your nearest UK Visa Application Centre to turn in your application. This will help you significantly reduce waiting time as you will be assigned to a ‘Priority’ queue. “Applicants can also visit an application centre without an appointment; such applicants will be assigned to a regular queue. Please note that the number of applicants allowed into the regular queue may be restricted during peak periods for sake of crowd control. We strongly recommend that you visit an Application Centre by prior appointment, saving you unnecessary waiting time. You will particularly value the appointment facility during the peak season when long queues may be an occurrence.”
He said he was fortunate not to have paid the application fee twice. I fumed ‘why?’!&$£#*, ‘Egbon calm down’ he said ‘Let me tell you this …… my friends wife had filled the forms on-line for herself and the kids and after she coughed out N208, 000 (£832) that was paid into the UK High Commission GT Bank account, she was given a number to register on-line and the process was so burdensome that it took her several visits to the bank and many days. After successfully filling the form, she went to book an appointment and there was nothing on the website to help. Meanwhile, the 30 days were slipping away and at the end, she finally got her form to their centre only to be told the huge sums of money she paid into the UK High Commission bank account at GT Bank has ‘expired’! She thought it was a joke until she began to hear the tales of other many Nigerians who had fallen victims of the same scam, including her neighbour who had to pay twice too for their UK visas because the earlier fees paid ‘expired’…
… to be continued