| Society

Abdul’ll Fix It – An Academic in Africa

For the last six weeks I have lived in Nigeria as an illegal immigrant. 

My visa (which I don’t think ever technically allowed me to work here anyway) expired on the 6th of June, and no one seemed to know exactly what getting a new one entailed.  Stories progressed in a very Nigerian way from the initial  “don’t worry, we’ll sort it out”, to “what do you mean your visa’s expired?!”, to “just do what Thomas did and go to the embassy with a letter”, to “actually that isn’t what Thomas did, you just need to walk out as if nothing’s wrong” – “won’t they stop me at immigration?” – “No, you’ll be fine”, to “give me your passport, I’ll find out what needs to happen”.

you just need to walk out as if nothing’s wrong

I’m normally pretty sanguine about these things.  I remember once losing my passport on the first day of a trip to America and only finding it again about 12 hours before we left – mainly because I hadn’t looked for it.  It turned out it was just in a random bag pocket that I hadn’t checked.  All of this immensely wound up someone I was with, but I genuinely didn’t tax myself about it, until about an hour before I found it, when unease began to surface.

I don’t know if the fact that I was actually getting quite worried about the current situation says much about my increased maturity over the years – after all I did wait for over a month after the visa expired before I started pressing the issue. And whilst a month before departure is definitely an improvement on half a day, being stuck in Colorado and having a longer holiday is a much more appealing consequence than facing a group of angry Nigerians, possibly with guns.

But all is well in the jungle now, because Abdul took my passport and returned a day later with an extended visa stamped by the Comptroller General of Immigration in Nigeria.  I have no idea how Abdul made it happen, but I’m certain this would have been nightmarish for me to achieve.  I’ve heard lots of horror stories about visas here, including for actual diplomats and frequently for the staff of embassies and their spouses, and I genuinely didn’t fancy either tangling with the bureaucracy myself, or, even worse, just bowling up to Nnamdi Azikiwe airport and trying to charm my way through.

I’ve heard lots of horror stories about visas here

As it is, I don’t have to worry, and I also get to leave for the UK four days earlier, because that’s the day the visa expires.  Which, all round, is a result.  Even if it does mean that the students have to hand in all their coursework a couple of days earlier.

On that note – can you imagine that?  If your essay deadlines got moved forward by two days at the last minute and you found out it was because your lecturer was going on holiday early? Happy? I wouldn’t be.

Still, I feel not one iota of sorrow for this situation.  Certainly not guilt. Firstly, it’s not at the last minute, it’s over three weeks away.  Secondly, they’ve hardly got any work to produce at all, so I’m not depriving them of much needed study time.
And thirdly, I won’t tell them.

This weekend I am going to Afi Drill Ranch with a few people.  I am extremely excited about this.  It looks beautiful – last proper rainforest in Nigeria, lots of monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, canopy walks, mountains, places to swim, etc.  Plus there’s the chance to get out of the city for the first time since I got here.  I remember thinking as I drove into the dust/smog cloud that surrounds Abuja on the way from the airport on March 7th – when will I leave this cloud again?  Other than various hashes, I haven’t yet.

It’s also an 8 hour drive to get there, which means a chance to see what the roads are like outside Abuja.  I’ve heard a lot of things about this – from it not being that bad, to how much more obvious and serious the poverty is, to the crazy amount of rubbish, to the beauty of some of the landscape, to the fact that it’s much more “Nigeria” than Abuja, to the number (and potential nastiness) of checkpoints, to the craziness of the driving, the state of other vehicles, to just how big the damn place is.
I’ll let you know.


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