I got to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the morning of December, 30, 2006 having left Murtala Mohammed International Airport the previous night. I was on a leave of absence from my teaching appointment at Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta. I got a pleasant thrill from the cold Nairobi weather, something I had experienced on my previous visit and prepared for.
My wife was at the airport to take me home. Meanwhile, I was issued a three month visiting visa at the Kenyan Embassy in Lagos which made it impossible for me to purchase a returning ticket commensurable to the one year leave of absence I was granted by the polytechnic authorities. What the personnel at the travel agency I was unfortunate to buy my flight ticket from assured me was that I could extend my visa at the immigration office in Nairobi, and my flight ticket at Kenya Airways office in Nairobi. In consonance with their assurance, I went to the immigration department three days to the expiration of my three-month visa to request for an extension.
Thus early in the morning of March 25, 2007, I arrived the department of alien immigration in Nairobi (the building is called Nyayo House) and queued with other immigrants with similar request. I can recollect vividly that I stood behind four other immigrants—two Asians, one Canadian and one American. The clerk behind the counter swiftly dealt with the three aliens—she examined their passports and asked them to fill forms and pay certain amount of money, their fingerprints taken, after which their passports were returned to them, they were instructed to come back in three weeks for their alien cards. The whole process did not take more than thirty minutes.
When it was my turn, the lady collected my passport, took one bewildered look at it and asked me to report to one Mr. Wanda on the seventh floor. I stood on the spot for seconds frowning. After a while, I shrugged and went to the lift. Mr. Wanda was not in the office; I waited at his door. About an hour later, an immigration officer asked for my mission I told him I was waiting for Mr. Wanda. He advised me to come back the following day as he was not sure Mr. Wanda would be coming to the office that day.
I was there the following day. Mr. Wanda was yet to arrive. I was chatting with one of the junior officers at the counter when a woman who later turned out to be a senior immigration officer arrived and asked my mission. I told her I was waiting for Mr Wanda. She informed me pointedly that Mr. Wanda would not be reporting for work that day. She demanded my specific mission. I told her that I wanted my visa extended and the lady behind the counter at the ground floor asked me to see Mr. Wanda. She frowned, thrust his palm forward, ‘Let me see your passport.’ I gave it to her. A mild exclamation. The following conversation ensued:
‘What are you doing in Kenya?’
‘I am on a leave of absence which I am spending with my wife.’
‘You are married to a Kenyan?’
She looked at me pointedly and said there was no way I could be allowed to stay more than the three months I had spent. She advised me to go and buy my flight ticket; she would allow me to spend one more week in Nairobi.
‘But I am here with my wife.’ I shouted.
‘It does not matter. Why not take your wife to Nigeria instead of polluting our country.’
I was flummoxed. ‘Polluting your country?’ I retorted. She ignored me and said, ‘The best you can expect apart from what I suggested is to wait for Mr. Wanda; he will be in the office tomorrow morning.’
‘Okay.’ I said, collected my passport and sauntered out of her cubicle of an office, reflecting.
By nine the following morning, I was at Mr. Wanda’s office. He was available. I met him writing a memo. Curiosity, that proverbial instinct that killed the cat took control of me. I stretched my long neck and peeped at what Mr. Wanda was writing and caught a hazy picture of his designation: he was a principal assistant controller of immigration or something similar to that. My curiosity heightened: why am I referred to such a top-notch for a simple immigration matter, something a common clerk handles for other nationals?
‘Can I be of any assistance?’ The question cut through my thoughts. I managed a smile to camouflage my bafflement. I stammered a response, ‘I was asked to come and see you. I need to extend my visa.’
‘Let me see your passport.’
I handed the document over. He collected it, looked at the cover and sighed, ‘Nigerian.’
After he had read the visa pages he asked me what I have been doing in Kenya in the last three months. I told him that I had been visiting my wife.
‘Just that?’ he frowned.
‘Visiting my wife who I had left in the last two years is not enough reason?’
‘If you were a Kenyan and your wife, a Nigerian, it would have been okay but the way it is, now…Kenyan immigration laws do not recognize your kind of union.’
Thoroughly perplexed, I appraised Mr. Wanda curiously. ‘I am also researching a story I am writing about Nigeria and Kenya.’
He looked at me sharply. His countenance relaxing into a pleasant grin, ‘What do the two countries have in common?’
I brightened up and regaled him with a bit of my findings. He looked at me nonplussed and nodded. ‘I agree with some of your comparisons’ he said as he extracted a piece of paper and scribbled on it. He tucked the paper in the pages of my passport and handed it over to me with instructions to take the passport back to the immigration office on the ground floor where I would be attended to. I did as Mr. Wanda said but instead of my visa extension signed at the ground floor, I was asked to take it back to the seventh floor, to Mr. Wanda for his signature! What is so special about extending a Nigerian visa?
I knocked the door and entered. He collected my passport and countersigned the visa page. He then plucked a giant iron stamp from a rack and stomped my passport with it. ‘Why is Nigeria this special?’ I asked under my breath.
Mr. Wanda smiled, ‘very special,’ he corroborated ignoring my question. I collected my passport and, as I was leaving, he said, ‘Your extended visa expires on June 29, by June 28 you should disappear from Kenya.’
I paused at the door, turned my head and looked at him pensively for a long moment. He met my gaze with an unflinching intent. I nodded and left.