Back in 2013, I had complained about the targeted discriminatory practices of the Singaporean Authorities to Nigerians arriving Changi Airport. I had written a piece, titled – Blaming Singapore Immigration. I also wrote to the Nigerian Embassy in Canbera and Singapore to complain. The then Ambassador Olukoni, a gentleman per excellence was humble enough to give me a call and promised to take it up with the Singaporean authorities. Whether he did, I can’t tell but I received a response to my complaint from the Singaporean authority. It was a very bland response saying Singapore does randomly subject visitors to further inspection and my experience was exactly this, random! I knew it was a lie but how was I to prove it?
The opportunity came this year and as our plan to visit Singapore was being developed, I complained to high heavens, to all who were patient enough to listen to me. It wasn’t my choice and I abhor the idea of being humiliated again but I really can’t deny others the opportunity they had anxiously been waiting for, all year long. I conceded and so started my adventure at being demeaned as a human being. To be candid, I think my humiliation started much earlier, earlier at the Ikeja Passport Office where I had gone to apply for a new passport. You asked why? Well on home soil in Ikeja, the Nigerian government did not consider me worthy enough of a decent treatment. My experience is well documented in the open letter that I had to write to the minister of interior. The Singaporean authorities only built on the foundation that my government has laid.
First to get a Singapore Visa, unlike in 2013, I had to show up at VFS office for an interview, fingerprinting and the works. You can guess how that went. Why? In the few years that had passed, Nigeria is now been categorized by Singapore as an Assessment Level 2 country along with Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and a few others. I just couldn’t fathom it that we still call ourselves Giants of Africa? There are 54 countries in the African continent, 9 of which are subjected to extra rigors in issuance of Singapore Visa and Nigeria is one of the 9! If we are a giant, what should the other 45 countries call themselves? I won’t be surprised to know that the Nigerian External Affairs ministry might not have protested this. Since Singapore excludes holders of diplomatic, official and service passports from the added scrutiny, why would they care? You know what I mean, why should they be perturbed if the citizens that they represent get treated shabbily? More so, they don’t treat us better at home so on what basis will they protest our shabby treatment by others?
I wasn’t much annoyed as per the interview but for the daylight robbery that was associated with it. VFS charged me a ridiculous amount for doing nothing! Nothing that I couldn’t have done otherwise by myself. Even the return envelope, for the passport to be mailed back to me, I had to pay for it. The passport, with the visa label on it, got mailed to me a few days later.
Well, fast-track to my arrival at Changi, I was in a party of four Nigerians – three traveling on non-Nigerian passports and my patriotic self, clinging to the green booklet. In order to demonstrate that the humiliation in 2013 wasn’t random, I decided to carry out a social science experiment. I requested 2 of the 3 Nigerians traveling with non-Nigerian passports to go ahead and get to Immigration first. I came a distant third and then to be followed, with some gap by the last Nigerian, also holding a non-Nigerian passport. My hypothesis, yes I know you would want to know, was that the other 3 people will be allowed entry without any fuss while I would be pulled aside.
It didn’t take long when Nigerian 1 and 2 got through the counter and I, Nigerian 3, followed suit. I knew something was fishy, when the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Officer had to reach for a paper on his left side. He gave it a quick look, made some entries on the computer and then gently told me that my entry would need to be approved at another point. I was taken to a different counter, a door was opened and was asked to take a seat inside. The glass door got closed and there I was, waiting. Minutes later, a man showed up and asked me all sorts of questions, some that I considered mundane. I coolly and calmly answered them all. For him to leave the room where I was, he had to knock twice on the door before it got opened for him from the outside. It was only then that I realized that I was in a locked room, a bird in a cage! Minutes later, another ICA official called me to the outside counter and I had to go through another barrage of questioning, finally my passport was stamped and I was asked to proceed on my journey into Singapore through an open door.
Trust me, I wasn’t going to leave without a fight, even if a very feeble one it would be. I was like Ijapa, the tortoise, that had to scatter his dwelling place on being arrested. When asked why, he responded so that people will at least see evidence that he did not give in to being arrested easily. I asked to see the ICA officer’s supervisor and was shown another gentlemen who had been standing there all along, by the counter. His demeanor doesn’t show he cares and I knew he wasn’t going to own up to this institutionalized targeting of Nigerians. I explained my grievance at being targeted just because of my green passport and he responded that it was a random check, remember it was also random in 2013. I told him of my social science experiment and that the A330-300 SQ224 that brought me to Changi is a 285 seater plane and no other person was randomly selected apart from me. I narrated my prior experience and the fact that the 3 other Nigerians who were subjected to the same embarrassing random evaluation in 2013 were let go this time because they traveled on non-Nigerian passports. He still insisted that all they did was random. I noticed that a Malaysian woman was also at the counter earlier but was given a seat at the VIP section in the open. I brought his attention to the inhuman and discriminatory treatment of getting me locked behind a closed door while the other lady was given a seat in an open space. At this time, I could see his face turning red and he said they have their procedures and he was just following them. I was annoyed, but again, at no time did they beg me to come to their country. I asked him to consider how he would feel if the table were to be turned and he is at the receiving end as I just did, I left thereafter.
As we were driven to the hotel, we noticed the beautiful tree lined roads which were spotlessly clean. The great aesthetic appearance of the city and the apparent order in everything the eyes could see. I gave this a bit of thought and concluded that I have gotten Singapore’s message. Singapore has never hidden its message, it has been there all along, I just failed to comprehend it. It was loud, it was clear – We don’t need Nigerians here. I jokingly mentioned that there were no pure water sachets on the road and that it was a crime for you to chew gums openly in Singapore. I needed no one else to tell me that Singapore has a right to determine whom they allow into their country and defend their culture, traditions and love for an open green environment, things that many of my brothers would willingly destroy.
Singaporeans are 5.61million people in number. Nigerians? we are 190 million and counting. It wasn’t until 1963, 3 years after Nigeria, that Singapore declared its independence from Great Britain and joined Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia. It took it another 2 years to be thrown out of Malaya and a truly independent republic on August 9, 1965 . In these years, these 5.61million people have achieved enviable heights that the 190million of us in Nigeria are still dreaming of. No wonder they can tell us to go to hell. What this means is that if you are a Nigerian, no matter what you have accomplished in life, to the Singaporean, you are nothing. Given the hundreds of Nigerians being sold as slaves in Libya, I know it that the Singaporean looks at all Nigerians as that worthless. What makes any of us different from those being sold to slavery in the 21st century and our government was dragging its foot to act?
This really got me thinking and I renewed my commitment at entrepreneurship to develop Nigeria into such a state that it will be self-sufficient and the cynosure of eyes like that of Singapore. And to Singapore? Not a dime of my money will be spent in this economy ever more, I guarantee it.