A Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy, ​​by Umar Yakubu

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My concern is this: why can’t this behavior exhibited within the American Embassy be reproduced on national soil? Why isn’t it once we step out and get back into our comfort zones? Then we mostly exhibit the opposite behavior. Several times I visited the Nigerian Embassy in London and New York. Although abroad, it is very Nigerian. The only difference is the change in weather.

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire. – Aristotle.

There is something that I always find very interesting whenever I visit the visa section of the US Embassy in Abuja, regarding US visa applicants. Parking in front of the barricaded area is the typical Nigerian setting we are all used to. It’s buzzing with tons of people all trying to provide service. From taking photos and helping to fill out forms to good wishes for obtaining a visa. On the one hand, they are just trying to make a living, and on the other hand, they consider the candidates lucky to even have the opportunity to “japa” out of the country.

Be that as it may, the moment the candidates cross the heavily fortified barricade, our behavior changes. Solemnity as a mode is activated. We tend to politely greet every staff member and co-applicant we meet along the way. But are we generally polite as a people? I think we are. The difference lies in the humble mannerism that we exhibit once in the premises of Western embassies. When checking the documents, surprisingly, no one tries to jump the queue and no one displays their identity. Egos do not hover or are not ready to step in. Now that’s not Nigerian. Craftsmen, politicians, students, men, women and children line up with little or no resentment. The irony is that there are, at most, two unarmed security guards giving instructions. That’s all.

I find it hard to think of a place where I have observed such order in regards to queues and dignified humility. Certainly not in our banks, airports, gas stations, places of worship, offices or any other place that I know of. Not even in the cemetery.

After confirming your documents, you move on to the next stage, where you sit, waiting to be called for the interview – the confessional. But before we get to that, one cannot miss the increased sharpness and elegance in the attire of most contestants. You hardly notice any “jagaga” bandages, even if you want to go to the land of the free to wear anything. Or maybe a diviner says good dress is a prerequisite for getting the visa. The clothes are impeccable and the children wear beautiful costumes. The ladies look like they are going to visit their grandparents. Bearded men are generally clean shaven. Sparkling shoes on different feet are worthy of the presidential parade. No one pollutes the environment.

When seated, there are no signs telling people to speak quietly, but somehow no one really speaks. The decibel level only rivals that of a courtroom – only whispers. Inspiration and expiration are measured. Even those who have children tell them to shut up. Only children are allowed to breathe too much. Nothing is expected but the best behavior from children. When they misbehave while trying to play, the power of sign language is deployed to control them. No contempt or jargon.

You can feel the fluctuating levels of anxiety as you watch those who are questioned before you and when others are called. Personal importance is close to zero. There is absolute civil obedience without rule or warning.

Once the interview begins, the generally friendly interviewers ask simple, basic questions that don’t require much apprehension. One would marvel at the way we respond. Calm, respectful but with marbles in the mouth. You want to be sure that your responses are well communicated. Of course, most would have practiced the lines the night before in their dreams. Choose each word carefully. All tense. Cognitive-behavioral specialists rationalize interview anxiety as not knowing what to expect, but even then, our behavior in these sessions is legendary.

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As with everything in life, some are given, while others are given away. From the faces you can easily tell. My concern is this: why can’t this behavior exhibited within the American Embassy be reproduced on national soil? Why isn’t it once we step out and get back into our comfort zones? Then we mostly exhibit the opposite behavior. Several times I visited the Nigerian Embassy in London and New York. Although abroad, it is very Nigerian. The only difference is the change in weather.

So what’s the problem ? Where is the problem, if there is a problem? We need to question this further. Make way for the National Guidance Agency.

Umar Yakubu works at the Center for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch. Twitter @umaryakubu


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