In a recent posting about the annual MANSAG dinner, I promised to share with you the promise made by the High Commissioner of our Federal Republic, His Excellency Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, OFR, MBBS, MRCP, FNMCP, FWACP, former Honourable Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In his usual calm, collected and eloquent nature Dr Tafida spoke passionately about how he tracked down the producers of a film that aired on Channel 4 in the UK "Saving Africa's Witch Children". He described his initial skepticism of this film, set in Nigeria, it evolved as he met the producers and understood that their motivation was nothing other than the best interests of our children. (viewing this movie is not for the faint hearted!)
To end his address, he offered his colleagues the opportunity to phone him whenever we needed the services of the consular section of the Nigerian High Commission in order to ease the process for us.
I had an appointment with my family at the Nigerian Consular section a few days later so I thought hard about the High Commisioner's offer. But in the end....I remembered the words in Achebe's book, "The Trouble with Nigeria", which I had coincidentally re-read recently-
"...that precisely is the view which Nigerian elite groups foster in their private and public behaviour. The queue is for the little man, the big man has no use for it"
So...no...I will not take advantage of the privilege of being acquainted to His Excellency, I gathered courage, packed my family and we headed to 9 Northumberland Avenue.
But before that we went to the website - http://www.nigeriahc.org.uk/ - Now... this website is a complete disgrace. There is no politically correct way to put it. There are more flying objects on it than you will find airplanes over the skies of Heathrow. Compare this to the excellent website of the Nigerian Immigration Service. Now if you really want to weep, look up the website of the Ghanain High Commision in London. What does it take to put up a decent website in 2009?
When I did manage to navigate my way through the site, and hit the usual stumbling blocks, I decided to call the High Commission on their advertised number of 0207 839 8746. Try it yourself...and enjoy the soothing voice of a prerecorded message giving directions to the High Commission, and opening times. Nothing else. Nothing. What does it take to answer a phone in 2009?
So..off to # 9 Northumberland Avenue. On the previous day, I had gone physically to the High Commission to find out what documentation I needed before I packed my family for the journey. Then we arrived the next day, bright and early and joined the long queue that forms from 6 am every morning. Not of tourists,businessmen etc, but of Nigerians...Nigerians of all manners, and walks of life looking sad at the prospects of a day of pain.
In the High Commission itself, we were faced with officials, completely out of their depths on how to manage the crowd. Confusion prevailed. "Officials" shouting at the top of their voices. People wondering what queue to join. Toddlers crying, children running around. A TV blaring in the corner, showing a Nigerian production with its volume set at the loudest. We look at each other and seek mutual support. Nobody is smiling. Every single person in the room is looking upset. Upset at a country that treats it citizens like they were irrelevant. Upset that there is apparently nothing we can do about it. We collect our emotions, endure the pain and hang in there. The pictures below tell the story.
Having said all this, it is obvious that those at the embassy are actually working hard to serve to the best of their capacity. BUT the world has moved on, and Nigerians expect that its High Commission moves on too.
Until the new generation banks came on the scene in Nigeria, we thought that getting your money normally required a full day at the bank. Until MTN came to Nigeria, we planned a full day to visit NITEL. We need someone/group with the competence on managing processes to support our High Commission. We also need a few Nigerians that understand what customer service is. It is a pity that the High Commission has a monopoly on the issuance of visas and passports...else we would long have moved on.
Having said this too, I know that Dr Tafida means well. I know he wants the High Commission to work. But he really needs to focus on this issue. Nigerians' deserve better in the one place they can call home in the UK. For now...all I can think about, are the mothers and their children that struggled up and down the stairs, with their prams and children as they moved from one queue to the next. As I finally got out of the embassy at 3 pm on the day with my family, we made the sign of the cross and thanked God things money can't buy....the Green Kpale!
But for the website and phone...there is no excuse!
We can do better! We definitely can. Accepting the status quo is accepting that there is something inherently wrong with us. I thought back to my recent experience at the Embassy of Tanzania and how efficiently I was served...
So this is obviously not a resource issue. So if we cannot get our High Commission in London to work, then how can we get our health sector in Nigeria to work. The general feeling at the High Commission amongst the various visa and passport applicants was that there was nothing anyone could do, well this is mirrored in people's attitudes to the various failures our health sector...........WE CAN DO BETTER....Yes...we can do better Dr Tafida.