pplying for a Canadian visa is like the cattle trying to pass through the eye of the needle, at least in Nigeria. The instructions and guidelines for Canadian visa application read like a procedures manual. The Canadian High Commission wants this, they want that, they want the applicant to go to heaven and return before his or her visa application can be processed. They respond to your e-mail enquiries with an out-of-office e-mail. They promise nothing and they commit to nothing, but they take forever to treat your application and yet hold on to your passport for weeks and months. If you have any reason to need your passport while it is still in the firm grip of the Canadian High Commission, such as applying for the visa of another nation as part of your long vacation plan, then you are on your own. It happened to a friend of mine recently. Ola Azeez is an executive of a leading multinational in Nigeria. He earns enough and holds a position of high responsibility; he is not about to run away from Nigeria, because he is on solid ground there. He applied for Canadian visa for the first time some months ago. I provided him with the legion of demands made by the Canadian High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria despite the fact that Ola Azeez has been here before at my invitation in November 2006!
The Canadian High Commission wanted letter from my employer, my bank statements in the last there months, copy of the information page of my Canadian passport and a letter of invitation. I provided all the documents to Ola. He applied and was denied. The reasons given for refusing him included the claim that he has no contact here! You wonder what my letter of invitation and documents were meant to be, don't you? I was very angry about the denial and as such wrote to my Member of Parliament, Honourable Roy Cullen. Mr. Cullen's personal assistant quickly went to work and he told me he had sent a fax to the big boys at the Canadian High Commission in Lagos, and asked that I tell my friend to reapply. I have no reason not to believe him, so I asked Ola Azeez to reapply for a visiting visa. I also sent copy of the invitation letter I e-mailed to Ola to the Canadian High Commission. I got reassurance from the office of Honourable Cullen that my friend will not have any problem this time around. I thought this is not new since the same Canadian High Commission denied my mother a visiting visa the very first time she applied to come and visit me. My mother had to reapply before she was finally given a visa. We are not talking about a visa to heaven here at all; it is just a visa to enable you gain admission into a political space which is far removed from the heavens and heavenly places.
But to my chagrin and frustration, Ola Azeez was denied again this week. He missed an invitation to attending an interview for another visa for another Western nation because his passport was in the firm grip of the all-powerful, all-mighty Canadian High Commission in Lagos, which is able to do and undo; well beyond the control and persuasion of anyone and everyone. I sent an e-mail to the Canadian High Commission in Lagos during the week and an out-of-office reply came back informing me that the High Commission is attending to applications received as at June 24, 2008. Should it take the Canadian High Commission weeks and months to process a visa application? Is the High Commission short-staffed? Are there competent hands at the various Canadian High Commissions and Embassies of Canada across the world? Its been said that who-you-know, networking, systemic discrimination, disregard for merit and poor human resources management and recruitment process contribute to the appointment and promotion of the less qualified in the Canadian public service, but can anyone doubt that any more? There will always be problems when you put round peg in a square hole.
I was still dealing with the plight of Ola Azeez and my insistence that he should reapply a third time when I came across a newly minted rule for temporary visa applicants from nations requiring temporary visa to visit Canada. The details can be found at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/letter.asp. Anyone applying for visiting visa now has to obtain a letter of invitation from his or her host, which is alright, only this time the host/hostess must include so much in the letter:
- Complete name
- Date of birth
- Address and telephone number in Canada
- Whether you are a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident
The host must also provide the following details about the person being invited:
- Complete name
- Date of birth
- The person's address and telephone number
- Your relationship to the person being invited
- The purpose of the trip
- How long the person you are inviting intend to stay in Canada
- Details on accommodation and living expenses
- The date the person you are inviting intends to leave Canada
The most grotesque of the requirement is that the host/hostess may have to notarized his/her letter of invitation from a Notary Public. It is like saying that you should get a letter of good behaviour from your pastor before you can enter heaven. What is the purpose of notarizing a letter of invitation? What difference will the act of notarizing a letter of invitation make? Why will the Canadian government put so many obstacles in the way of tourists and other well meaning travelers? Why should it take the Canadian High Commission more than three weeks to process a visa, and why the hugely discriminatory process for people from the third world? We know a lot of lip service is paid to fairness and transparency in Canada but no one expect that Canada will abuse the rights of people around the world and even the rights of its own citizens, who have to provide very personal, highly confidential documents such as letter of employment and salary, bank statements and pages of international passport to others. I was surprised the list did not include height, weight, size, race, sex and sexual orientation, and the number of fingers on each hand.
The process of applying for Canadian visa is so inhuman in Nigeria that some people I know have sworn never to apply for a Canadian visa. For them, Canada is not a matter of life and death. Several millions of Nigerians are happy at home - with their rich, easy, prosperous and perk-filed life in Nigeria. Not many in Nigeria are willing to leave a ten million naira jobs in Nigeria only to come here and be offered an order filler job by recruitment agencies manned by secondary school leavers who can write a simple letter. Yet it is in this category of flyers and travelers that you find people who can afford tickets and have the money to spend on clothes and stuff during their visit to the West. The Canadian visa fee is $75 for a single entry and $150 for a multiple entry. It is too high and a rip off. Each time the visa application fee is paid and the applicant is denied a visa his/her money is never returned. Does it cost the Canadian High Commission $150 to process a multiple visa? I very much doubt it. Is it fair to hold on to the processing fee of an applicant who was not given a visa? My answer is no. Several Supreme Court of Nigeria Justices were recently denied visiting visa to Canada. The reasons given were very insulting to their lordships and to the Nigerian nation. I will not be surprised if my friend and relations don't become target for special treatment by the Canadian High Commission but I consider it my duty as a public commentator to expose such humiliating abuses and acts of discrimination being perpetuated by the Canadian High Commission in Lagos. We condemn and abhor the way Nigerians are being treated and we consider the length of time it is taking to process visiting visa (between ten and twenty weeks) and permanent visas for landed applicants (between 5 and 7 years) too long, particularly when we know that it is taking far less to process similar applications for Western applicants. I love Canada and my heart testifies to that, but I do not want Canada to maltreat either its own citizens or citizens of other countries.
NIYI OSUNDARE: THE POET, CRITIC, TEACHER AND HUMANIST
It is very unusual in our own part of the world for your lecturer and professor to become your friend. It is even almost impossible for the lecturer to continue to show interest in you and continue to monitor your progress long after your teacher-student contract came to an end. It takes only a special lecturer to dip into his own pocket each time to support students from indigent homes. Also, he always wants his students to have access to new and current books, but that is not possible in the Nigeria of today. It either the university has books or the Ghana-must-go legislooters have the money for their fleet of cars, their foreign trips that cost the nation hundreds of millions of naira, their palaces across the nation, and their loot sharing sessions at the National Assembly. To make current literary books available to his students, Professor Osundare maintain a personal library with three, four, five copies of novels, collections of poems, plays and literary criticism volumes. His students take turn to read the books. Everyone has access to the books as long as you treat them with respect; no scratches, no marks, no underline, no squeezing, no folding backwards, and no humiliating treatment for those precious volumes you are not likely to find in the best bookshops in Nigeria. If you ever come across any, then be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for it. Do you then wonder why only boxes of books are what accompany Osundare from his trips overseas?
The poet in Niyi Osundare is alive and joyous when it is poetry night at the University of Ibadan. When the sound of drums engage the poet in a dialogue and a song is raised to a new level as the arts theatre vibrate with shuffling feet and spellbound participants is for Osundare a moment to relish. It was the moment the market place came to the ivory tower and gbedu assumed its rightful place among the drums holding court with the talking drums. This is one of such moments. The winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1986 has won Africa's most prestigious poetry prize, the Tchcaya U Tamsi Award. The highest poetry prize in the continent will be awarded to Professor Niyi Osundare on August 7, 2008 as part of the 30th anniversary of Assilah International Cultural Festival in Tangiers, Morocco.
Professor Osundare's post-Katrina collection, Tender Moments is the healing balm from the devastation that the Katrina disaster brought to him and many in New Orleans. From the disaster of Katrina came the new songs of life and the richness of love. 'Have you seen her' is just one of several poems and it opens another vista in Osundare's world view, celebrating the beauty, completeness, wonder and sweetness of womanhood and love:
Have you seen her
who opened my chest
and took my heart
of the wondrous eyes
and bouncing gaits
whose voice is sweater
than the sound
of laughing waters
whose mind is
as a fresh-honed proverb
Osundare's collections of poems include Songs of the Market Place, Village Voices, The Eye of the Earth, A Nib in the Pond, Moonsongs, Songs of the Season, Waiting Laughters, Midlife, The Word is an Egg, Early Birds, and two plays, The State Visit and Two Plays. Most of his works have been translated into Italian, French, Dutch, Czech, Slovenian and Korean.