I am very upset with the Ethiopian Embassy in Abuja. However, before some people start insinuating different things, let me quickly say what precipitated my annoyance. On Wednesday, August 29, 2012, I received an invitation from the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to attend a seminar entitled “Pan-African Conference on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity” taking place between September 14 and 15, 2012, at the African Union Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
This conference, which is supported by UNESCO and the African Union Commission, is expected to bring together journalists, leaders, trade union representatives, press freedom and human rights activists, African Union representatives, United Nations officials and representatives of the African Union member states in a bid to work out a widespread approach on the safety of journalists and the fight against impunity. From the concept of the workshop, one would easily learn that it is expected to address the role of governments in ensuring the safety of journalists, the role of the African Union in promoting and protecting the safety of journalists through use of contributions from civil society and the best practices in legislation, law-enforcement and judicial instruments.
I was informed in the invitation letter that the body of African journalists, FAJ, was organising the conference to implement the resolution adopted by the last FAJ congress in Harare in 2010, which instructed the FAJ steering committee to organise a continent-wide event on the safety of African journalists and the culture of impunity. This conference is also a follow-up to the safety and protection of African journalists’ workshop that took place in September 2010, the invitation added.
I was directed to get in touch with the Ethiopian embassy in my country in order to secure a visa in the invitation letter signed by Omar Faruk Osman Nur and Gabriel Ayite Baglo, the FAJ President and IFJ Africa Director respectively.
It was on the basis of this that I went to the Ethiopia Embassy located along Mission Road in Central Area, Abuja, on Monday with necessary visa requirements: a valid international passport, an application form, two passport photographs, a letter of invitation from the organisers of the conference, a letter of introduction from the Nigeria Union of Journalists and a visa fee of about N4, 700. I was there about 9am and the embassy’s official business hour, as pasted on its reception, is between 10am and noon, Monday to Friday.
The first noticeable sign about the way officials of the embassy maltreat visa applicants, especially Nigerians, is the way they receive prospective applicants. There are about six seats at the reception hall on Monday when I got there. We were 15 applicants waiting to be attended to by the official. Poor Nigerians! Those who could not secure seats were forced to stand from about 8am to noon, two hours behind their official commencement time. A staff member of the embassy later intervened and provided more seats.
However, about 12: 30pm I was called into the Visa/Protocol Office – very close to the reception. After presenting all the necessary requirements to an official of the embassy – a lady, fair in complexion, I guess in her late 20s – she wanted to know my mission to Addis Ababa. I presented the invitation letter from FAJ and IFJ to her. I was, however, shocked when the lady told me she did not know what the two organisations do. I reluctantly educated her.
Again, the lady demanded to know whether the NUJ is a government agency or not. By this time, she had started stretching my patience. In spite of that, I told her what the NUJ is all about and what it does.
However, the slow-thinking Ethiopian staff member crossed her boundary when she asked me whether I would return to Nigeria if I am given a visa to travel to Ethiopia. Imagine that?
Straightaway, I told her I was not willing to answer “her idiotic and brainless question” and consequently demanded my international passport. While I was about leaving her office, she told me to bring the NUJ registration certificate and a letter of invitation from her country inviting me to the conference – since the headed letter paper of the one I earlier received was bearing Senegal; the Africa regional office of IFJ is in Dakar, Senegal.
The questions that have been troubling my mind since Monday are: When did Nigeria get to this stage that the Ethiopian Embassy would ask whether a managing editor of a national newspaper would return to Nigeria if given an Ethiopian visa? Why are Nigerians being maltreated by embassies for mere visa? What is our foreign affairs ministry doing about this?
No matter how bad these slow-thinking people think Nigeria is, why on earth would anybody think I would escape from Nigeria to Ethiopia, a country bordered by war-torn countries: Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan? Why should I escape from a beautiful city like Abuja to a country where migration to urban areas is usually motivated by the hope of better lives – where daily life is a struggle to survive? Why? Why would I stay permanently in a country where over 65% of the population is said to be living in slums and only 12% of homes have cement tiles or floors? Why?
From the various websites I accessed, I discovered that there are only 119 hospitals, 12 in the whole of the capital of Addis Ababa, in a country of over 87 million people. I am also told that due to poor health facilities, lack of education, empowerment, awareness and social well-being, HIV/AIDS has hugely affected poor communities especially women there. Imagine me living permanently in a country where many believe that “sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea result from touching a stone after a female dog urinates on it and with a general belief that these diseases are caused by bad spirits and supernatural causes”. God forbid!
Mrs. Jonathan As A Super Human Being
It appears there is something at the Aso Villa that makes people think that, once you are occupying the office of the president or the first lady, falling sick is forbidden. Otherwise what was the rationale behind the consistent efforts by media aides to the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, to continually deny the illness of their principal in the last few days? In a world of information communication technology that has made the whole world a global village does the presidency think it could hide from the public the foreign medical trip of the first lady of the most populous nation in Africa?
The news broke weekend in the social media that Mrs. Jonathan was flown abroad for medical treatment after unsuccessful attempts to treat her for food poisoning. But, in a swift reaction, the presidency denied the story, saying she only travelled abroad to rest. However, it has now been confirmed by many sources, including this newspaper, that she was diagnosed for ruptured appendix, necessitating surgery. Reports showed that, shortly after returning from a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mrs. Jonathan took ill, prompting the invitation of the First Family’s medical personnel to attend to her. She was treated for food poisoning for four days, but her condition was said to have deteriorated and the foreign medical trip was hurriedly arranged.
Truth is that the presidency would have lost nothing if it had informed the public that the first lady had travelled abroad for a thorough medical attention after being diagnosed for food poisoning. She would have surely gained huge sympathy from the public rather than criticisms. After all, she is human like every other person. And the earlier government officials do away with this culture of secrecy and embrace openness and transparency in public offices, the better for our nation.