Several Nigerians have complained of unfair treatment by the Chinese Consulate in Lagos while seeking visas to the country. Most of the complainants claim that they are not provided with any reasons for denying them visas. Some also complained of being treated discourteously by the embassy staff.
When NEXT visited the embassy on Monday, armed Mobile Police officers and officials of a private security agency, manned the door to the visa office, while some of the visa seekers stood outside as agents and other middle-men handled the application process.
A businessman, Akeem Balogun, who was denied visa a week ago, said he has lost â‚¦400,000 due to the denial. “I don’t understand why they will deny me visa to China. I’m a business man; I go to China to import CDs and plywood,” he said.
“I’ve been to China five times and my one year visa finished last month but they denied me. Several people here are having the same problem. I’ve sent several mails to the Consulate General but he has not replied me. I got his number from someone and called him, he picked. When I started talking about visa denial he switched off his phone and since then he is not picking my call.”
Many traders are often required to send advance funds to their Chinese business partners before an invitation letter is sent and this too can delay applications.
“If you don’t send 30 per cent advance payment, the companies in China won’t deal with you,” Mr. Balogun said. “You will pay the money before you get an invitation letter that will enable you get a visa. So our money is hanging over there and China man will not refund your money; the highest he can do is to send the goods and if you are not there to inspect it they might send you sub-standard goods.”
Tina Frank, who is an agent at the embassy, said the language barrier also contributes to the problem. “You know this people are not English-speaking; sometimes they don’t understand when you are complaining,” she said. “They will just say â€˜I’m sorry, no visa’. But it wasn’t like this before. Then, once you’ve travelled to China before, and fill your form well, you are sure of getting your visa. As for the harassment, the people harassing us are black men like us, the mobile policemen.”
Akin Olabode, who imports suits and wrist watches, was denied a visa for no reason. “It’s not only in Chinese embassy that they reject visa application, but when other civilised countries reject you they give you a reason for it,” he said. “If you don’t want me to come to your country, at least let me know why. After many wahala – standing in the sun, being harassed by police – you get appointment for visa interview then they give you pick-up form. When you go to collect your visa they say no visa. It’s unfair.”
In recent times, the Nigerian economy has been open to businesses from China, partly as a result of the trade agreement signed by both countries in 2001. Since then there has also been an increase in the number of Nigerian business people visiting China. Relationships have strained somewhat after several futile attempts by the Nigerian government to spare the lives of Nigerian prisoners on death row in the Asian country.
According to Mr. Olabode, the denial of entrance to Nigerian business people into China, will have a negative impact on the Nigerian economy.
“Over 90 per cent of goods in Nigeria now come from China. If they stop us from going to China, it will affect the common man because the price of goods in the market will increase,” he said.
A senior source at the consulate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that a diplomatic unease between the two countries is one of the reasons for the numerous visa denials.
“China and Nigeria have enjoyed a good relationship but both countries have to find a common ground on their visa policies,” he said.
He added that Chinese citizens also find it difficult gaining entry to Nigeria.
“People call me from China every day to say they are finding it difficult to get visa to Nigeria,” he said.
“A reporter of Xinhua News Agency who applied for visa at the Nigerian Embassy in China since June but they have not given him till now. The same thing is happening to two reporters of China Radio,” he said.
“Many Chinese want to come to Nigeria but they cannot come. I think Nigerian government should do something about this problem.”
The source defended the work time of the embassy, insisting that they process more applications than their Nigerian counterparts in China.
“The Nigerian Embassy in China work for two days in a week and give out about 50 visas in a day but here we work three days a week and give out about 100 visas in a day.”
He added that many of the applications were rejected because of fake documents submitted by the applicants and not having strong enough reasons to visit China.
The source said there is a particularly high rate of denial at the moment because China restricted the inflow of foreigners during their independence celebration in October. He said the embassy has also become stricter because of the number of Nigerians involved in criminal activities in that country.