My Nigerian ‘offence’

My colleague and I were the last in line. Two women last at the Nigerian immigration desk. He must have thought, that’s going to be an easy bait.

Immigration officer: ‘What are you here for?’

Me: ‘I work for Oxfam and going to work at our office here.’

Immigration officer: ‘You have committed an offence. You said you are going to work here, but your visa says you are only here for a business trip, you don’t have a work permit. Please put your heads together and think what you can do. Otherwise we will take you back to the office and send you back.’

Me: ‘My apologies Sir, I mixed up my English, with ‘work’ I meant ‘business’. I’m only here for a week for a meeting in which I have to work.’

Immigration officer: ‘Do you have a visa letter?’

Me: ‘Sorry I forgot to print it.’

Immigration officer: ‘You need to produce the letter, otherwise we are going to send you back. Please sit over there.’

A further discussion follows, but the immigration officer and now also his female colleague who tries to convince us in much gentler approach, do not want to talk.

My colleague and me take our seat and we think what to do. Neither of us brought our letter (and yes, we do think, how can we be so stupid to forget). We call our Nigerian colleague and ask him to print the letters and that we will wait for him to bring them. We have no idea how long that is going to take.

Officially our visa should have been enough, but ‘unofficially’ this immigration officer wants us to pay, and he is definitely trying to intimidate us by threatening to send us back. My colleague, who has worked in an earlier career as an Argentinian tax inspector tells me to calm down and we decide to propose to follow ‘procedure.’ If he wants to send us back, let him send us back, but we are not going to pay, besides company policy never to pay, there’s no doubt in our minds that we want to support practices of corruption.

It feels a bit like a cat and mouse game, but the reality is, they have our passports and we do not want to make things worse by saying something that will lead charges for another ‘offence’.

After about 40 minutes of waiting we get called back by the immigration officer and my colleague proposes to ‘follow procedure’ if we need to, but that we would like to attend our meeting in which the Dutch Embassy will also take part. The latter is not true, but what else to say? He starts a speech, that so many Nigerians get send back on the European airports if people don’t have their ‘papers’ with them (which whatever way you look at, it is shamefully true), that my colleague is impolite for asking to follow procedure and that at least I apologized, pointing at me, that it would be inhumane to send us back and for this one time he is going to let us go.

3 minutes later we stand outside, relieved and still impressed by the situation. This time we got of the hook, next time we will be sure to bring every necessary piece of paper, to make sure we have no reason for an immigration officer to try and wiggle some money out of us.


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