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Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - Nigerian, Kaduna, Nigerians, Zurich, English, passport, Nigeria, cousin.

 It is not supposed to but let’s face it; Naija passport gets you all sorts of attention on the road. Whereas some Nigerians have recorded great accomplishments, others have done the exact opposite and in so doing, they have created a label for us, even before we thought of leaving the country; for some of us, before we were born. This is a classic case of selective justice. Most people do not meet you outside Nigeria and go, “Oh! You are from Chinua Achebe’s country.” Or, “Are you by any chance related to Wole Soyinka, or Hakeem Olajuwon, or Gani Fewhinmi or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?” No…No…No! You are more likely to be looked askance at. The scam (419) emails circling the internet have become a global symbol for Nigeria. In fact someone once asked me how it works. “So do people actually fall for that?” he asked me as though I had sent one myself before.

While he did not liken me to or ask me about Hakeem Olajunwon or Wole Soyinka (not that I come any close to sharing the same status as these juggernauts), at least for the fact that I share their nationality, he was quick to quiz me about scam emails sent by my fellow Nigerians. The same thing happens when you brandish the Nigerian GREEN PASSPORT at international airports. Immediately, some people…No let’s call a spade a spade, a lot of people think of drug pushers, scammers and the likes, and more recently terrorist once they see our beloved Nigerian passport. They proffer you all sorts of first class treatment for being Nigerian. Have you had such and experience traveling abroad? Please do share your experiences with us by commenting at the end of this article. Below are some of my experiences traveling abroad…on the Naija passport.

Szczecin, Poland:  Along with the other passengers on the small airliner belonging to Ryan air, my cousin and I dragged our carry-ons behind us as we headed towards the arrival section of the small airport in the small city of Szczecin in Northeastern Poland.  For some reason, there were dogs all around the arrival area…massive Dobermans that barked in a somewhat subdued tone on the end of a leash, as they brandished their enormous strength. Then, there were gun-slinging security operatives. I could not tell whether they were soldiers or immigration officials, but whichever they were, each of them carried an AK-47 that hung menacingly on their shoulders. Smiling was certainly not part of their repertoire of skills or training. The scowls on their faces warned you that if you had any ill intention while in their country, you should run back to the plane and return to London before they laid their hands on you.

Slowly, every arriving passenger went through security and headed for the baggage claim area. When it was our turn, the immigration agent peered suspiciously at my cousin’s passport. “You two together?” She asked in heavily accented, disjointed English. “Yes.” My cousin answered. “Okay. You two go there,” she ordered pointing towards a room with more of the gun-slinging men holding onto leashes on the end of which were frightening Dobermans. “Old boy, dey no like your muscles,” I teased my cousin. My cousin is a big fellow with bulky muscles that almost ripped through his shirt. His upper arm alone was almost twice the size of my ‘humble’ head.

My cousin laughed at my joke as we moseyed in the direction we had been directed. While we walked, I could see the immigration agent talking to someone over the phone. When we reached the room one of the men with an AK-47 dangling off his shoulder took our passports. “Sit here,” he ordered. He shut the door behind him leaving us holed up in the small room. There was only one window and one door. The fluorescent bulbs flickered every few minutes causing the room to alternate between brightly lit and shady. One minute rolled into two and then five and then ten, and later on twenty minutes. “I no sure sey I like this thing Oh!” I complained to my cousin. By the way, as we waited there, no other person joined us. The only black people on the flight who happened to be Nigerians got a special treatment.

No worry. Dey go soon come back,” my cousin assured me in an effort to calm me down. He was trying to keep me happy because I had made the trip for him. It was his child’s baptism on the coming Sunday and he had asked me to be the son’s godfather, which I gladly accepted. His wife is Polish, so they had decided to have the ceremony in Poland so her wife’s relatives could all be present. My cousin’s ‘soon’ turned into about thirty minutes. The man finally returned with our passports. “What you doing in Poland?” he asked in broken English. My cousin was supposed to be fluent in Polish…if only he had heeded his wife’s advice to learn the language. He tried desperately to convey the reason for our trip to the man in Polish, but I think he ended up confusing him or complicating the situation. The frown on the man’s face got uglier. He pushed open the door and left, still clutching our passports. As he left the room, I peeked through and noticed that most of the other passengers had left the arrival area…And the two Nigerians were still being specially scrutinized. After about ten minutes, the man returned, this time with another gun-slinging colleague who looked even meaner. I was growing more frustrated at the treatment that was being meted out to us that I wanted to tell them that what they were doing was unfair. My cousin urged me to hold my peace. I guess I should say that the sight of the menacing guns and dogs made sure that I heeded my cousin’s suggestion…fully.

So what you doing in Poland?” The second man queried. I had told my cousin to quit trying to speak in a language he had no good grasp of. “Speak in English,” I warned him. So, this time he did not bother talking to them in Polish. “My wife…Polish. We are here for my son’s baptism,” he said. He made sure to repeat the word baptism in Polish.  At least he remembered that one. They scrutinized him a bit further and then turned to me. “You no talk?” The second man asked me. I stared at him with disdain but the sight of a gun on his shoulder did its job; keeping me from speaking my mind. “I talk,” I replied calmly. “You go everywhere?” He asked. His question made no sense to me. I stared at him quizzically and so did my cousin. Then he pointed at my passport.

He opened the pages and pointed at numerous entry stamps indicating that I had traveled to those countries. “You go every country,” he remarked. He was wondering why I had been to different countries. “He is a doctor,” my cousin answered quickly. None of your business, I thought…It was a thought I made sure I kept to myself anyway. “His work takes him different countries,” my cousin continued, making sure he kept his English at their level. I remained quiet, only managing a plastic smile on my face, underneath which a cauldron of rage simmered violently. At this point another officer came in and said something to them in Polish. My cousin’s wife had managed to reach one of them to whom she had vouched that my cousin was indeed her husband, and that I was his cousin; their son’s godfather to be. “Okay…Welcome to Poland!” They finally echoed. “Dziękuję (Thank you!)” My cousin said in Polish. For once his Polish conveyed the right message. The frowns on their faces melted away instantly. Even I joined in the friendly hugging as they welcomed us to Poland...finally!!!

Zurich, Switzerland: I stood on the platform waiting for my train. It had been pouring all morning. Thankfully, there was an enclosed waiting area with a roof. Of course there had to be…This was Switzerland – perhaps the most organized country in the world. I was told to look out for the train going to Banhoff Strasse (Station Street). I looked at the sign on the front coach of each train in search of Station Street. Finally, the train with the right inscription galloped into the station. The doors opened and I hopped on. I found a quiet spot with no one around and gladly sank into the leather seat. I took my favorite spot – by the window. I savored the scenery as the train hurtled through town. I made sure to pay attention to the announcements so as to not miss my stop. This was some years back, when you could visit Switzerland without an extra visa if you were a resident in the United Kingdom. Passing through the airport had proved simpler than I had imagined. Nonetheless, I still carried my passport on me as I rode to the venue of my conference. By the way, I had no ticket on me.

The previous day, I had boarded the same train, or so I thought, and I paid on the train. Everyone told me not to worry, “Just pay on the train,” so when I saw ticket checkers coming, I took out a wad of notes and kept the right denomination handy. They said something to me in German to which I said “Sorry I don’t speak German. Do you speak English?” “Yes one of them replied. “Your ticket please,” He requested. I offered him my money with a smile. “No you can’t pay on this train. You ought to have bought your ticket before boarding.” “But I did the same thing yesterday,” I complained. “I am sorry, that is a different train.” “How was I to know? No one told me that.” I tried to explain that I was just visiting Zurich for a conference and that I did not know there were two different lines. Besides, why can’t they have the same rule for both lines? “You are just visiting you said?” He asked. “Yes,” I said emphatically hoping that would get me out of the hook. “Can I see your passport please?”

I dug into my coat and produced my passport happily. Immediately he saw FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, he said something in German to his colleague and they told me to get off the train and follow a third man who arrived shortly at the next station. I wish I had kept my Nigerian passport hidden, I thought as I followed the man. The train pulled away and I went yet into another room with this man. I peered at my watch, and I had less than twenty minutes to get to the conference…if I did not get thrown in jail. He scrutinized my passport with the attention of a doctor performing a surgery. “What are you doing in Switzerland?” he began to ask me questions that he already knew the answers after poking through a giant computer in front of him. “I am attending a conference.” “Where?” I told him. “When did you arrive in the country?” I told him. “How long are you here for?” I answered. “Do you have a return ticket to London?” Of course they had to make certain that this was not another Nigerian who had come to stay.

Thankfully, I had my flight itinerary on me. Finally, after a grueling question and answer session, he left with my passport. When he returned, he warned me not to get on that train again without buying my ticket first. “Because you are a visitor, we will fine you only one hundred and twenty Pounds,” he said (I have converted Swiss Francs to Pounds). “Just for boarding the train without a ticket or for being Nigerian?” I asked. “For boarding the train without a ticket,” he replied. “You could go to jail for this, you know?” He added. I was furious. “This is not fair. There is no sign at the station indicating that I had to purchase the ticket first. I had the money to pay just like I did yesterday,” I argued. He had no gun on him, in case you have not noticed. Eventually, I paid the fine grudgingly and left. One hundred and twenty Pounds no be small money for Naija, I thought as I went to buy my ticket for the ride to my conference venue. Needless to say that I was terribly late to the conference.

London, England: On returning to London from the trip to Zurich, I felt like I was finally home…sort of, after living in London for a good number of years. I almost had an arrogant swagger to my step as I walked towards the immigration agent. Now, I don’t have to go through all that, I thought…Well, think again. She took a good look at my passport and searched for my resident visa. She looked at it and then the passport information page and then at me. She did the same ritual severally and as seconds grew into minutes I began to wonder if I had been too quick to think that I was home. She picked up the phone in her cubicle and rang someone up. When she was done talking, she told me to step aside. Then, a man arrived and took my passport. He paged through it for a moment and asked me to come with him. He took me to another cubicle where he made me stand while he studied my passport as though he was preparing for the New York Bar exam. He looked intently at my face intermittently. A lot of Nigerians have traveled abroad with a relative’s passport, so they wanted to find out if I was on a similar run. When he was done with matching the picture in my passport to my face, he started grilling me like a witness in the witness box in court. I wondered why he did not ask me for my parents’ blood group, how they met, the color of my stomach and how many times I yawn in a day. Satisfied that I was me, he let me back into the country. I guess I realized where home truly is after all – Naija!!!

Los Angeles, California (USA): I was originally flying to San Diego from London. We touched down in Los Angeles from where I was to catch a flight to San Diego. This happened not long after a Nigerian attempted to blow up an American Airliner over Detroit. Understandably, Nigerians traveling around the world, particularly in the US received high doses of special treatment. I was in a queue waiting my turn to go through immigrations since it was my entry point into the country. A pot-bellied immigration officer was walking up and down the queue looking at people’s passports. At first I did not realize that was his reason for pacing up and down. I thought he was just there to make sure the queue was moving along well. They were well trained I must say, because he recognized my passport as being Nigerian even though he had sighted only a fraction of it. “You are Nigerian?” He asked. “Yes I am,” I answered proudly. “I have been to Nigeria,” he said. “Really? Where?” I asked him. “I was in Kaduna. It was such a good trip. Some guys took us to the bush and we drank palm wine,” He said smiling. Right away I knew he was lying. Shuu!!! Palm wine for bush? Who dey go inside bush to drink pamy? And in Kaduna for that matter? “It is not true,” I said to him. “How do you mean?” He asked. He was rocked by my direct accusation.

“Why don’t you tell me you have never been to Nigeria how much more Kaduna. You actually went to the bush…to the bush to drink palm wine? In Kaduna of all places?” “Yes…yes,” he answered. This time he was fidgety. “You are a liar,” I said to him without mincing words. Other people on the queue turned and stared at him, and me too. He walked away without responding to my accusation. I could see him talking to another immigration officer who then spoke to another one. Soon they were pointing in my direction. It was only a matter of minutes before they paid me a personal visit. “Please come with me,” the man said. ‘I took my carry-on and followed him. He took my passport and handed it to another man who went away with it. “I have to search you,” he explained. “That is okay,” I answered. “So do you want us to do it here or inside,” he asked. “With a smirk on my face I answered, “Well, it depends on what you are talking about.” He got the message. “Let’s do it here please,” he replied. At least both of us laughed. Eventually I got my passport after about half an hour and continued my journey to San Diego.

So, have you been pulled out of the line at an airport abroad because you are Nigerian? Share your experience with us by commenting on this article!!!


Written By
Victor Chinoo

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