Having spent the last 31 years in the United Kingdom (UK) and having been visiting Nigeria, at least, twice a year for the last 21 years, I decided to host a leadership programme recently in Lagos.
I was to do it last year, but it was postponed due to Covid-19. It was looking like a postponement again this year, but I decided to go ahead with a reduced capacity.
I bought my travel ticket and I made all the necessary travel arrangements. I did my Covid-19 (PCR TEST). Take note of that test. If you do any other test, you may not be allowed to fly.
I then tried to book another Covid-19 test in Nigeria through the government website. I paid with my Nigerian bank card and the payment left my account. I got to the airport three hours before the flight.
I showed them my passports, my UK Covid-19 certificate and the evidence that I had paid the money for the Nigerian Covid-19 test. They said they needed a QR Code or FLW number. We were on it and I thought it was a joke.
I tried everything, including calling the number on the email received from Lagos Biobab or Lagos Consortium Payment. They switched off their phone. I sent an e-mail and then, they said they would get back to me within two hours. They got back to me and confirmed the payment.
They said I would get another e-mail within 24 hours allocating a laboratory to test me in Nigeria. That should allow me to fly.
Then, I got another e-mail with a permit to travel, but then, at the bottom, it says ‘UNPAID’. By this time, they had closed the gate and about 20 of us, including two old men, could not travel. I wept for Nigeria.
I had to pay another N55,000 to register again and it took the money but did not give me the code. To upload my PCR test was another issue, as their system limited the size of the document. Should they not increase the size?
Still at the airport, I called BA.com, they said I had to pay to change my ticket to the next day. How much? £999.00, about N650,000.00 for being loyal to my country of birth. My heart bled for the remaining passengers in my position.
How would they pay the difference, as fingers are not equal? Theirs could be less, but it is still money they worked hard for and were not supposed to spend. These are hardworking immigrants and many of them had lost their jobs.
Their businesses had collapsed. Some of them were visitors who travelled to the UK and had been stranded here for many months. Now, they cannot go back home.
I went back to my law office and I complained to the Lagos State Biobank office via e-mail. Thankfully, they responded. They said they would give me a refund within 14 days after sending them all the evidence.
The next day, I got to the airport five hours earlier. We started again and I showed them the evidence of payment to the Lagos State government. They refused to let me travel on the second day and there were about 20 other people in the same position.
So, British Airways or the airline would charge them extra, profiting from our misfortune of being Nigerians. BA is broke and it is an opportunity.
I was about to miss the flight again until I called my childhood friend who had to call his travel agent. I had to pay another N51,000 for them to get me the QR Code.
So, I paid three times plus £999.00. I was very tired at the end of it all. Eventually, I made it to Nigeria. Glory! ‘E ke Alleluia.’
Why is our system so complicated? Who did we offend? Are we under a curse? Why is life so difficult for Nigerians? I pity the common man. I have travelled to many countries without any issues.
Ghanaians travel and they do not have the same problem. I saw people traveling to other countries and there were no issues. It was just Nigeria; big for nothing?
If you are a Nigerian living abroad, don’t just pack your bag. Prepare your mind and do due diligence, if you want to visit Nigeria. If you have an event to attend, do not travel the day before, as you might not be allowed to travel.
Do the right Covid-19 PCR test. Pay the Nigerian end and use a UK bank card, if possible so that you can show the airline staff they had taken the money from your account.
I did not write this for myself, but for people that cannot help themselves. We have to simplify the process. Make it simpler to apply, make the payment and get the travel permit. I was holding a valid Nigerian passport and I could not go to my country. Which way Nigeria?
The saving grace for me was that I did not travel with my wife and children this time. I would have paid £5,000 or more to change our date of travel because of an incompetent system. I would have canceled the event anyway.
I appeal to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State to look into this Biobank scandal and end it once and for all. I also need my refund so I can use it as palliative for others.
Posterity will remember Governor Sanwo-Olu for good, if he does this. I concluded after this that President Muhammadu Buhari is not the only problem; we all are, as nothing seems to be working.
Lest I forget, they eventually sent the code when the plane had departed for Nigeria and I was halfway to Nigeria. I would have missed the flight again and paid another penalty.
‘Opelope’ anointing. With all that happened, I still love Nigeria. She will survive and I will never forget Governor Sanwo-Olu, if he solves this problem, because if they can treat me, a UK-based lawyer and a pastor like this, no one is safe.