It’s over eight weeks now that my international passport was submitted for the renewal of my Canadian travel visa. My wife and daughter also submitted their passports with mine on Friday March 1, 2019 to renew their visas — my daughter applied for a student visa. This will not be the first time we are applying to renew our visas but this is the first time we have waited this long! In the past, our passports were returned after two or three weeks. Having travelled to Canada on different occasions, I assumed the process would be faster but I was wrong. There are other visas on our passports with a travel history and records that have never been compromised. It is now evident that the visa protocols have changed. On the Canadian High Commission website, available information indicates that non-immigrant visa applications take about six to eight weeks for the process to be completed. I’d like to be corrected if I’m wrong.
I concede that granting visas is highly discretionary but the process of holding down applicants’ passports for over two months should be urgently reviewed by the Canadian High Commission. I’m still wondering why the visa process cannot be smarter and more efficient by using a mapping model that would create different clusters by seeding all the visa applications received. These clusters — supported with an efficient time management system that is scalable and adequate manpower — may include frequent travelers, business owners, public and private sector professionals, journalists, students, medical tourists, holiday makers, first time applicants, and so on. I’m aware that hundreds of applications that may be overwhelming are received daily at the Visa Centre in Lekki in Lagos for onward transmission to the Canadian High Commission but this does not in any way suggest that every Nigerian applicant is in a hurry to seek ‘greener pastures’ in any of the 10 Provinces in Canada and never to return. I don’t think so. Even applicants who intend to emigrate know there are no short cuts.
So what do you do when your passport is not available when you need it for other trips? You just wait and expect that, very soon, you will receive a message from the agency processing the applications. On April 2, 2019, 15 members of the Rotary Club of Lagos – our Club was chartered on May 30, 1961 making me the 58th President — and friends of Rotary traveled to Kigali, Rwanda for a Friendship Exchange programme for four days. As the current President of the Club, it was my responsibility to lead the delegation. How could I travel without my passport? “Oh, don’t worry, your passport will be out before we travel,” Ayo Banjo, a Past President of our Club and facilitator of the trip, assured me. Gbenga Ismail, Chair of Welfare Committee, said to me: “Mr President, this trip will be incomplete without you oo; I beg, make dem release your passport jo!” Sensing that I will not be able to travel with them, it was the same story of disappointment from members of our Club who had booked their seats on the Rwand Air flight. I had also paid for my return ticket because I was hopeful my case would be heard.
About one week before the trip, I emailed the Canadian High Commission to state my case and requested for a fast track to enable me make the trip. I provided relevant supporting documents but it was an auto-generated computer response that I received. Then I said to myself, “Na wah; this trip don enter one chance!” My wife was unhappy that I missed the opportunity to lead the delegation to Rwanda and see things for myself because it would have been my first trip to President Paul Kagame’s country – a globally acknowledged miracle worker and transformational leader who has taken Rwanda out of the ruins of the 1994 genocide. He did this by creating a brand new culture of engagement, transparency, mutual respect, and development of infrastructure. President Kagame has given the Rwandese a new economic order and hope for a better future.
If our trip was to a West African country, an ECOWAS passport would have been helpful. I continued to track our visa application to know the status. After eight weeks, the feedback was still negative. The option of applying online is available but it appears there’s not much difference and I was very confident our passports would be released after six weeks! For some inexplicable reasons, visa applications to Canada, as I found out, are treated in Accra, Nairobi and London. Why is this so? Is it that our people cannot be trusted or is it another way of asking us to build a better Brand Nigeria? Yes, I agree we have a lot of work to do in this regard because successful brands all over the world are brands that can be trusted. But can we really blame the Canadians for the present arrangement where consular services have been outsourced?
So like troops with their General, my fellow Rotarians traveled to Rwanda without me and our host Club, the Rotary Club of Kigali Virunga, turned out to be the perfect host. After flying for about four and a half hours, members of the Rotary Club of Lagos were received in Kigali – which, by the way, is becoming a tourist and business destination — with first class hospitality by members of the Rotary Club of Kigali Virunga and Ambassador Adam Shuaib, the Nigerian Ambassador to Rwanda who is also an active member of the only English speaking Rotary Club in Kigali chartered 19 years ago. The hospitality of the Rwandese was palpable – they were friendly, cordial and jovial all the way, according to our members.
The Rotary Friendship Exchange programme is an international exchange programme for Rotarians and friends that allow participants to take turns in hosting one another in their homes and clubs. Rotary International says Friendship exchanges should be organised around at least one of three themes: culture, service and vocation. Participants may travel as individuals, couples, families or groups and may be Rotarians or not. Some of the benefits of the Friendship Exchange include the opportunity to broaden international understanding, explore profession or job in a different context, build enduring friendships, establish a foundation for peace and service; gain opportunities for active project involvement and support; learn about a region’s people, food, languages, customs and history, and finding partners for grants.
Rotarians are global citizens and anywhere you find another Rotarian with the Rotary pin, you feel very much at home in the same way Rotarians can visit any club and participate at their meetings usually followed by the exchange of name cards and club memorabilia. I had the chance to interact with the Rotary family in Aswan, Egypt during District 2451 Conference from March 3 – 6, 2016 and the Rotary Club of Bradford in the United Kingdom, also in 2016. You can then imagine my experience when I attended a meeting of the Rotary Club of Nairobi, in Nairobi, Kenya two years ago; the Club was chartered in 1930 – 89 years ago!
The annual Rotary International convention – this year, we are heading to Hamburg, Germany from June 1 – 5 – also presents another opportunity for Rotarians around the world to make new friends and forge remarkable partnerships between clubs. I attended the last two international conventions in Atlanta, USA in 2017 and Toronto, Canada last year. These global events enhance the value chain of the host country in different areas. In order to apply for a Schengen visa to enable me travel to Hamburg, Germany, I would need my passport because time is running out. Several meetings and side events have been arranged in advance with the Rotary Club of Vechta in Germany in view of the collaboration between the Club and the Rotary Club of Lagos.
As we continue to await the release of our passports, my return ticket to Rwanda is valid until the end of May, 2019. I plan to attend the African Public Relations Association (APRA) conference holding in Kigali, Rwanda from May 13 – 16, 2019. Hopefully, our passports would have been released by then.
Braimah is a public relations and marketing strategist based in Lagos.