Till present, I have really had no cause to travel beyond the African continent but the prospect of a seven months leadership training course in Systemic Change that involved online lectures and three physical meets including one in Brussels, Belgium was a game changer.
After the application and selection period I started gathering the documents I would require for my visa application at the Belgium embassy and also started researching about applying for a visa to Belgium. I soon stumbled on an article by Ben Ezeamalu of Premium Times titled “How the Belgian embassy in Nigeria held me hostage”. I read the article with interest and coincidentally our passports were virgin passports and the circumstances look similar.
He had hoped to attend a seminar in Brussels on the theme ‘The Common Visa Policy,’ scheduled for 16-17 June 2014. While I was hoping to attend the first physical meet of a seven month leadership training course on systemic change with the theme “Explorers Journey for Systemic Change” in Brussels 20-22 September 2014. Also, as part of the Brussels programme I would be attending the second European Citizens Summit on 23 and 24 September 2014, which is organised by the European Union Civil Society Contact Group (CSCG) with the theme “a new Europe for citizens driven by citizens” the citizens meet would discuss the “degrowth” paradigm as a potential solution for a fairer and more democratic Europe.
I ensured that no requirement for the visa application was lacking and my chances of getting a visa looked bright as it is an all paid travel; airfares, lodging, in-town transportation and feeding.
On the 18 August 2014, I was at VFS Global office in Lekki to submit my application for visa. At the submission hall, I soon noticed, as mentioned by Ben, the fact that travellers to Belgium were fewer than to the other European countries whose application for visa were also been submitted at the several boots on the long counter. While application for visa to other European countries like France had long lines of visa applicants, the total number of applicants for a Belgium visa from my position of having to submit at about 1pm that afternoon which is the closing time for submission of application for visa each day was about 8 applicants to Belgium. Really, I was not perturbed; I had submitted on time and the application had all the required items too.
Early the next morning, that’s 19 August 2014, I received a text message stating that my application for a visa had been forwarded to the Belgian embassy at Abuja. I was confident that things were going to turn out well. The organizers of the training programme had sent reading and course material online and I started reading and preparing my mind for the course.
Soon enough, it was already one week plus to the start of the training programme and I have not heard from the VFS or the embassy. In Ben’s case they had reached him to request for additional document/information but in my case all was silent. I became agitated and called the VFS office for answers. They told me they were still awaiting a reply from the embassy at Abuja that we just had to keep our fingers crossed.
On Monday 15 September 2014, just five days to the programme, I called the VFS office again it was still the same answer; they then later gave me the embassy’s phone number and their email address. I called the number that day several times, it was never answered. I continued to call the same line for the next two days the line was never picked; it just rang and rang until the line disengaged. In the middle of this I had emailed my complaint to the embassy on Monday. I also mailed the organizers of the programme who then rallied round trying to see what could be done. They reported that after many phone calls and emails that they got an answer that just said “very expensive” and that matters relating to my getting a visa or not would be concluded on Thursday 18 September 2014. The organizers asked me if I knew what they meant by “very expensive” and I replied in the negative and they then advised that I should continue to try to reach the embassy and if it has to do with financial matters they were willing to intercede.
That’s how till as am writing this piece, I have not gotten any reply about my visa application and neither has my passport being returned.
The training programme has started and other participants from over the world are there, while I have to make do with trying to catch up with them through reading here. The embassy has the right to grant or deny a visa but my concern is that they are holding unto my passport even when it is obvious they don’t intend to grant me a visa.
Furthermore, as I earlier stated the leadership training course includes three physical meets; the first being the Brussels one, the next is in Johannesburg in November during the civil society week. This year’s civil society’s week coincides with the commemoration of twenty years of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
As it is, I urgently need my passport to start the application process towards taking part in the next phase of the training programme in South Africa. As such I’m using this medium to appeal to the Belgian embassy in Abuja to urgently return my passport back to me.
Adebayo Waidi is an author and President, Campaign Against Ignorance & Illiteracy, (CAII)