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Nigeria's mission in New York: Is this any way to run a country's interests?

By JONATHAN ELENDU

 Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com


I have not heard or read anywhere that Nigerians have found compassion, support, and empathy in times of trial and hardships from any of our missions anywhere in the world. We built a beautiful and imposing building in New York and left the insides dirty and shabby. Furthermore, our embassy officials wear Armani suits and behave like Oshodi market men and women. Government offices and even small businesses in the United States have customer service departments. Yet, our missions in the United States are staffed by people who have no concept of the term "service." Like their counterparts in Nigeria, they treat people, whom they are hired to serve, as pests and scum.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to New York City. That was my first visit to the Big Apple. It was a journey, thanks to the Nigerian government and her officials, that almost became a nightmare. What I experienced gave me a glimpse of why outsiders are not in a hurry to come to Nigeria, except when it is absolutely necessary.

On or about the 1st of February, I called the immigration department of the Nigerian Consulate in New York. I informed them that I intended to come into New York to get a new passport on the 22nd of February. The gentleman I spoke with assured me the offices will be open for business on that day. A few days later I bought airline ticket and made hotel reservations for the 21st to 24th of February on Priceline.com.

On the 20th, just a day before my trip, I called the Consulate again to ask what documents they required to process my new passport. The lady I spoke with kindly gave me all the information I needed and asked me when I intended to make the trip. I told her I was coming to New York the next day so as to visit the Consulate on Friday, the 22nd. She told me the Consulate was not open for business that Friday as the government of Nigeria had declared it a public holiday to commemorate the Sallah. I told the lady I had already bought my airline ticket and paid for a hotel room and wondered if there was anything the Consulate could do for me.

She told me the Consulate could not help in any way and advised me to get there the following Monday. I asked to speak with the Consular-General, and as usual, was told he was unavailable. Anybody who has ever bought airline tickets or made hotel reservations through Priceline.com knows that you can neither cancel, nor make changes to the schedule. Even at that I decided to call Priceline.com to see if there could be exceptions to this rule since it' s not my fault that the government of my country decided to declare a public holiday two days before my trip.

The customer service agent I spoke with told me she did not believe I did not know about the holiday at least six months in advance. She suggested I sue the Nigerian government since there was nothing Priceline.com could do for me. Yeah ... right, I thought. On the day of my trip, I got to the airport two hours before my flight's departure. I saw members of the National Guard loitering around. Not surprisingly, during check-in, I was told that I had been randomly selected for a special search. My suitcase was turned inside out and after I walked through the metal detectors, I was asked to take my shoes off. They checked my shoes all over. The officials who screened me were extremely polite and I was not upset but rather amused by all the special attention I was getting. I kept thinking that in some ways, the terrorists have succeeded in making the most powerful nation in the free world live in fear. Somehow, I thought, these cowards have won.

I arrived in New York on Friday afternoon and tried to book a hotel from the airport. I was like a fish out of water as nothing looked familiar. Luckily, I have been in similar situations in the past. I relied on experience to see me through this. After several phone calls, I managed to get an accommodation at a hotel in the Queens area and regretted it the moment I checked in, however, there was very little choice for me. Needless to say the entire weekend was uneventful. The only place I went to was Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn. How I ended up there is a story for another time. About ten on the morning of Monday, 25th I arrived at the Nigerian Consulate in Manhattan. At the waiting room on the 8th floor, I quickly noticed that the room and seats were arranged like the same room in which I had written my West African School Certificate Exams twenty years ago in Aba. I scanned the people sitting in the room and saw anger, frustration and disappointment written on their faces. A few people at some point verbalized their anger and questioned why they were not told about some requirements when they called earlier? The rudeness of the officials reminded one of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Customs agents. I have been to many embassies to apply for visas.

The lack of professionalism on the part of our embassy officials matched the decor of the room we were in. The Nigerian factor was very much on display. One embassy official walked in looking very officious and important.

He noticed an acquaintance of his sitting among us. The official asked the man what he was doing there. The man told him he wanted to travel to Nigeria and needed a visa. The official angrily asked, "Why didn't you tell me Yesterday?" He took the man by the hand and pulled him into one of the rooms.

Twenty minutes later the guy emerged with a big grin on his face and waved good-bye to us as he entered the elevator. One-and-a-half hours after I entered the room on the 8th floor, my number was announced. I went up to the peephole. Although I could hear the official very well, he insisted on using a microphone, thereby, broadcasting, what should have been a private conversation, to the whole room and beyond. Even when he had to whisper to the lady sitting beside him, he did so on live microphone.

The whole thing looked like a scene out of a bad comedy. After my interview, I waited for another thirty minutes before I was given my old passport and asked to come back one week from that day to get my new passport. I was aghast. I reminded her that I came to New York from Michigan. She asked me to give her a stamped self-addressed envelope. That, I quickly did. And the lady went off on me: That is the problem with you Nigerians. You don't want to spend money.

You want your passport to be mailed in this envelope?" I did not tell her that I had called and was told to bring a self-addressed stamped envelope. I asked her what she wanted me to do. I was directed to a post office two blocks away to get an express mail envelope.

A minute after I arrived at the post office, another angry Nigerian joined me. Four days after I returned from New York, I called the Consulate to find out if my passport would be mailed as promised. A gentleman at the Consulate told me my passport was going to be mailed that day. I was pleasantly surprised. To reconfirm my good fortune I called the Consulate the next day. The gentleman who answered the phone this day was something other than a gentleman. I have dealt with rude people in my time but this man took the cake.

He queried me, insulted me, and finally hung up on me. I called back and was unlucky to get him again on the phone. This time I decided to ask for the Consular-General and he told me the man was not around and hung up. I tried several more times and didn't get anywhere.

I have not heard or read anywhere that Nigerians have found compassion, support, and empathy in times of trial and hardships from any of our missions anywhere in the world. We built a beautiful and imposing building in New York and left the insides dirty and shabby. Furthermore, our embassy officials wear Armani suits and behave like Oshodi market men and women. Government offices and even small businesses in the United States have customer service departments. Yet, our missions in the United States are staffed by people who have no concept of the term "service." Like their counterparts in Nigeria, they treat people, whom they are hired to serve, as pests and scum. The Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Prof. Jibril Aminu, and Nigeria's consul-generals should all know that Nigeria's mission/embassy/consulalar services seem out of touch with the people they represent. The Consular-Generals are rarely, if ever, available to speak with anybody. Consequently, therefore half-baked officials are let loose to deal with customers as they deem fit. If this is the face of Nigeria that potential investors see, is it any wonder they are not falling over themselves to invest in Nigeria despite the daily trips our President makes in efforts to woo them?
Elendu is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com. This commentary will appear in the print edition of USAfrica The Newspaper. He writes every Friday, exclusively for USAfricaonline.com

ANOTHER VIEW:
Elendu's reference to Oshodi market men and women is arrogant

By CORNELIUS AKUBUEZE

Regarding the commentary/travelogue on USAfricaonline.com of March 6, 2002, titled 'Nigeria's mission in New York: Is this any way to run a country's interests?' written by Jonathan Elendu, I wish to make the following points: 

I deeply empathize with the treatment you recieved at the hands of your Nigerian consulate in New York. I am not sure if you expected anything better. You were even lucky they gave you some responses. Your write up here presented you as the typical Nigerian we must change from the bottom up. Your introductory and concluding piece started off comparing Nigerian officials to Oshodi market men and women. I will assume you meant that not only are you better mannered and well behaved than Oshodi market men and women, your conceptual Nigerian public servants are supposed to be better behaved than your disparaged Oshodi market men and woman.

Your reference to these hard working business people smacks of arrogance and I think you owe them an apology. Can you give me a criteria upon which you measure Oshodi market men and women in comparison to yourself and the officials at the Nigerian mission? I like to state here that I will never defend the behavior of Nigerian government establishments. As you rightly pointed out, no business or government entity in Nigeria knows anything about service or courtesy, this ignorance applies to even your local Nigeria establishments here in the USA. Walk into any Nigerian-owned outfit and figure out how you are received.

In reference to your ordeal with a scheduled Friday holiday, you seemed to suggest that the Nigerian Government should have been open for you on a day that have been slated for holiday. Here again, you presented a picture of the perfect Nigerian that needs reformation. When you failed to secure a special opening or some sort of arrangement, you then proceeded to ask priceline.com to give you a special concession, again a typical Nigerian expectations, change the rules when it doesn't suit my immediate purpose, don't worry about applying rules across the board until my own special situation is solved. I have even heard typical Nigerians of your type recommend that organizational constitutions are put aside to resolve their problems which has constitutional implications. Is there any wonder we have problems as a society?

How about your problems finding an hotel in New York? In paragraph 2 of your article, you stated "A few days later I bought airline ticket and made hotel reservations for 21st to 24th of February on Priceline.com".

Then in paragraph 6 you stated "I arrived New York on Friday afternoon and tried to book a hotel from the airport. I was like fish out of water as nothing looked familiar" continuing you stated, "After several phone calls, I managed to get an accommodation at a hotel in the Queens area and regretted it the moment I checked in" 

My dear Elendu, I am tempted to ask you, what happened to the hotel you booked via priceline for 21st through 24th of February prior to your trip? Did you try Wadorf Astoria, that is where rich Nigerian government officials stay so they don't have to see Queens and Brooklyn etc? Did you you try New Jersey and other surrounding areas? Did you make any effort to see if there are Nigerians in the New York vicinity who could assist you while you are in the neighborhood?
Akubueze contributes editorial opinion from the New Jersey-New York area to USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper



Jonathan Elendu's response:
I did not mean to suggest that people who trade at Oshodi and Bariga are inferior to anybody. They are professionals in their own right. However, we do not send them to our foreign missions as diplomats. We send people who are supposed to be schooled in diplomacy and human relations to our missions. There is a difference.

You may have noticed that I did not travel when I was supposed to and therefore could not take advantage of the reservations I made. I did not expect special treatment from the Nigerian government. My whole point is that when our government declare holidays two days to the time, it makes nonsense of schedules. My point being that governance and government programs should not be ad-hoc.

Believe it or not, I do not know any Nigerians in New York. I have not been to New Jersey. Even if I knew any Nigerians there, I don't think it would be proper to impose on them.

The whole point of my piece is the attitude of Nigerian officials, whether they are diplomats, custom agents or Ministers. Their treatment of Nigerians is appalling and democracy has done nothing to change this.
 

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