While holders of western passports are usually welcomed with a smile and barely asked any questions, we, as Africans, are subject to an FBI-style interrogation from airlines ground staff. If you have ever gone through this experience you should have heard questions such as “What are you going to do in [insert destination]?“, “Can I see your hotel booking and your return flight?“, “How long are you staying there?“, “How much money do you have with you and can you take it out so we can count it?“, “Do you have any other proof of your nationality apart from your passport?“, and so on.
To be fair, it’s standard for the airline to ask these questions as they can get fined for letting aboard someone without a visa and I have been asked a couple or so questions while travelling from both Senegal and Guinea. However, the degree to which this is done in Nigerian can be unnerving and sometimes, simply embarrassing.
And here is the irony. Every single time that I arrived in the country of destination, I was barely asked any question
Let me share with you some of my experiences with you.
USA from Abuja International airport:
In November 2017, I had to go to the US for the funeral of someone close to me. By then I had already been to the US 3 times already on the same visa (3 years validity) and I had always flown from Guinea. In all 3 instances, the ground staff would check my visa in my passport and my return flight and then that’s it. No further question. However, this time, at Abuja International airport it was different. I was asked to take my hotel booking and was asked other questions I can no longer recall clearly. The Turkish Airline staff gave my passport and other documents to a colleague for him to check it, which lasted about 10min. Growing impatient I asked them why they were keeping my passport. They went through my documents again without answering. I then told them to go through my passport and all the trips that I have done to the US, plus all the visas to other countries. Only after seeing those, they gave me back my documents and let me through to check-in.
Singapore from Lagos International Airport:
In April 2019, I decided to visit Singapore and Malaysia. As a Guinean national, I do not require a visa for both countries for 30 days and this is valid for most African passports, except Nigerian. This time I was flying with Ethiopian Airlines. As soon as I got to the airport, I went to the check-in counter. I gave my passport to one of the ground staff. She asked me for my visa for Singapore and I responded that I did not need one as a Guinean. She was sceptical and then asked me for other documents proving that I am actually Guinean. Luckily for me, I had my national ID card with me that day (I always travel with it now). I also had to provide my hotel booking, return flight, etc. She took my documents to her colleagues and they discussed for a couple of minutes. The colleague approached me and told me that I had to sign a document stating that if I was denied entry to Singapore I would be responsible for my return flight to Nigeria. With a confused look, I asked them why I would be sent back. She responded that she did not know. I decided to not sign a document unless they can give me a good reason. She then walked away with documents and came back later with another colleague I assumed to be her supervisor. The latter did not even bother talking or looking at me. He just starting yelling that they should not let me aboard unless I sign the document. First, I let him that he should be talking to me, and not shouting and two, I explained that I cannot sign a strange document without any valid reason. He then told me that the reason might be because my passport could be a fake one. They seemed to think I was a Nigerian with a “fake” Guinean passport. I reassured them I am Guinean. They discussed among themselves for 5 more minutes or so and then decided to let me check-in without signing the so-called document.
Seychelles from Lagos International Airport:
This happened today. To my knowledge, nationals from all countries can travel to Seychelles without a visa. You get a tourist card on arrival, valid for 90 days. Based on the information I obtained from Wikipedia, you will need to have a valid passport, a return ticket, confirmed accommodation, sufficient funds. In this case, the Kenya Airways staff asked for all the above. I was asked to take out the cash I had with me and count it in front of everyone, on two occasions. It was a bit embarrassing then however as I am writing now, I have had the chance to see the information on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I understand that the sufficient fund requirement is quite important and is actually fixed at a minimum of $150 per day. So it’s understandable in this case, though still frustrating.
One important thing to note in all of these 3 cases, is that once I arrived at the country of destination, I was barely asked any question by the immigration officer(s). Which means it was actually harder to check-in than to be authorized to enter the country.
As I stated earlier, I understand that it’s the job of the airline to ensure that only people authorized (with or without a visa) to enter a country are allowed onboard the plane, otherwise, they will get fined as well being responsible for bringing the passenger back to the country of departure. However, it is still annoying and embarrassing whenever it happens. And for the simple reason that you have a 3rd world passport, regardless of whether you financially better off than most people with western passports or not.
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