By Tracy Nnanwubar
…Nigerian politics was like scenes from a Nollywood movie – each scene is predictable and the viewer already knows what will happen next.
When I arrived the Chinese Embassy on Idejo Street this morning, I kept a straight face when the police officer, Mr. Oni, approached me. I already knew I would have to stand on a very long queue, for a very long time, on a very hot day. I walked into the mini-cubicle made from iron for visa applicants.
As I made my way through the metal maze, Officer Oni made that hissing sound Lagosians would make when they required your attention. I find the sound annoying but I became angrier knowing that Officer Oni was asking for my attention.
I kept a straight face when I asked him, “Is there a problem?” He beckoned with his left fingers and carried a greedy look on his face. By the way his eyes twitched as the way the visa agents surrounded him, you could tell he didn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘honour’. But then, how many Lagosians or Nigerians understand the function of ‘honour’ in our society?
This Officer Oni was the same guy I had watched two weeks ago as he delayed our queue. He let his visa-agent friends and anybody willing to pay him more money, go ahead of the queue to book a visa appointment, while the rest of us were ignored.
Some of the women on the queue said to me:
“Eh yah, this girl. Ha! Since last two weeks o! So they did not give her appointment yet?”
Two weeks ago, when I eventually made it to the end of the queue and inside to the desk of the secretary who booked the visa interview appointments, she told me she required an extra photocopy of my documents. I was shocked because, while there was a notice outside which said that the embassy would be closed to the public for two weeks, there was no sign that said applicants should appear with two photocopies of their documents. For some reason, the embassy considered that to be information trivial for the notice board. The secretary yelled at me to make a photocopy. As I made my way through the exit gate – after five hours of standing on six inch heels – I told Officer Oni that I needed to make a photocopy and would be back soon. He obliged. Upon return five minutes later, he told me that the embassy was closed for the day. I was almost in tears, begging and cajoling him to let me in. At one point I spoke Igbo to him and asked him to receive a tip or rather bribe, in cash. He gave me a quote of five thousand naira. When I threw my mouth open and asked him to take five hundred naira, he shoved my documents in my face.
Now, the same man stood in front of me today to say that he wanted to help me … mscheew!
He asked me silly questions like where I worked and what passport I was applying with, as he avoided my eyes. Was it guilty conscience for what he did two weeks ago, or genuine help? I don’t know, but I watched him do the same thing again today. He let the visa agents into the embassy.
After he questioned me and offered to help, Officer Oni went back to his post and pretended like our conversation never happened. Was he waiting for me to give him money, first? Three agents actually approached me to ask for my phone number and offer assistance.
Why did I need to pay someone to get an interview date for a tourist visa to China? Could the embassy be in on this hoax? And how am I really sure that the interview date I get would be authentic?
I heard someone who stood in front of me on the queue say “This is Nigeria, anything can happen O!”
I smiled a dry smile when I heard that. I heard the men behind me arguing about the corrupt state of our government, about GEJ not caring for us, and about how slaughtering Al Mustapha was a public drama that would never see the light of day. A single mother who stood on the queue said Nigerian politics was like scenes from a Nollywood movie – each scene is predictable and the viewer already knows what will happen next.
She knew the next step for Nigeria’s government. She also knew that the immunity clause would protect anyone in power. So, we on that queue will (like most Nigerians) sit back and watch, waiting on a hope and a prayer for change.
The argument heated up between the men; especially three of them who were Igbo men. They had real figures and quick facts on Nigeria’s 2012 budget, and the Nigerian government’s relationship with its people and the rest of the world. Those men wanted to change the way the country was being run.
They even suggested that Permanent Secretaries shouldn’t have four Personal Assistants but should have one Personal Assistant who would work in shifts and be paid per hour of valuable work. They said that government work was not ‘work for money’ because Nigerians should have their own source of income but go into government solely to serve. I watched them. I listened with that dry smile on my face. Then I asked one of the men, who called himself Ude:
“Would you take a post in government if given?”
His eyes lit up.
“Yes oh! Heiiiii.. I have been praying for that opportunity since all my life. Praying to God that it will be my turn one day!”
His teeth were yellow when he smiled. The others on the queue laughed with him when he answered my question.
While they laughed, Officer Oni told us the embassy was closed for the day; then Ude said: “Abeg let me see if I will settle myself, make this guy let me enter”. He was referring to Officer Oni. The other arguing men seconded him and joined him in approaching Officer Oni with a bribe.
I stood solo on the line baffled at Ude, yet battling within whether to join them or come back next week to try again.