How the Belgian embassy in Nigeria held me hostage, By Ben Ezeamalu

Ben Ezeamalu

I had always fantasized the mood of the moment when she will be deflowered – a bespectacled fellow in starched shirts finally taking her virginity inside a cubicle with such savagery as to leave, in his wake, stains all over the sheet.

Or just one crisp masterstroke of the visa stamp across a page of my virgin international passport.

But as I’m writing this behind my desk, I’m threatening to burst at the seams with bitterness and rage – bitter that I was denied an opportunity to attend an event that, clearly, would have enhanced my career as a journalist. And enraged that almost two months after I submitted my passport for a visa application to Brussels, it’s yet to be returned to me.

And repeated efforts to ascertain the status of my application have yielded zilch.

From all intents and purposes, it is now clear to me that the Belgians have abducted my international passport and holding it hostage.

I say ‘abducted’ because since May 20th, when I applied for a visa to travel to Brussels for a seminar, I have not set my eyes on the booklet again.

It all began on May 13th when I received an e-mail from Marjan Tillmans, Project Manager at the European Journalism Centre (EJC), informing me that I had been confirmed to participate in the seminar ‘The Common Visa Policy,’ scheduled for June 16-17 in Brussels, Belgium.

The seminar was organized by the EJC in conjunction with the Directorate General for Home Affairs of the European Commission.

The mail further advised me to start my visa application process “as soon as possible.”

And without waiting to be reminded a second time, I went to work.

A couple of days later, I had assembled all the documents required for the trip – personal insurance cover, letter of introduction from my organization, company bank statement, and other basic requirements.

I removed my international passport from its vantage point in my room where it had served as a veritable artefact over the past three years.

With all the documents ready, I set out for the Belgian Embassy Visa Application Centre at Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, on the morning of May 20th to put machineries in motion for the final deflowering of the virgin.

I arrived the application centre to an army of touts loitering outside the premises of the centre, made it through the heavy security screening at the gate, and climbed onto the third floor – the section for visa application to the Schengen area.

“How may I help you sir,” a uniformed gentleman, whose smile was so wide he looked like he was going to burst into tears, greeted me.

“I wanna go to Belgium,” I replied.

“Ok sir. What’s your number?” He took the piece of paper which had been given to me downstairs, indicating my serial number, turned to a wooden board propped against a wall and wrote ’57’ in the section for Belgium.

There are just over half a dozen counters from where smartly dressed staff attend to prospective visa applicants. Two bank tellers sit inside their cubicle at a corner in the hall. Beside the cubicles is a photocopying desk where a lady performs the task at N20 per copy.

About three uniformed men, including Mr. Smiley, are stationed at strategic points to assist customers when the need arises. And to also, as it appeared, covertly solicit for tips; despite the almost graffiti-size inscription all over the walls in the hall that no staff should solicit for money from any customer.

I counted about a dozen people going to France; twice that number were processing for Spain.

I was the only one going to Belgium.

A young man seated beside me, a teacher in one of the schools in Lekki, was on his way to Spain for the Summer holiday.

I asked him: “Why aren’t people going to Belgium? Why is everyone going to Spain?”

“It’s probably because there’s nothing in Belgium,” he replied.

The lady behind one of the counters called out my number.

After tendering all the requested documents before the lady, we ran into murky waters.

It was my passport photograph.

Actually, I had taken extra precautions to come along with six different passport photographs of various shapes and sizes.

But as it turned out, the six were not enough.

“Sir, these passports do not meet the specification,” the lady behind the counter told me.

“You mean none of these passports?…” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes sir.”

Disappointed that I’d have to fork out extra money to the photographer on the ground floor, I strutted downstairs to encounter the second shock of the day:

N1,500 for just four copies of passport photos!

But in the end, I tried to console myself that this was not the ordinary passport photo that I normally pay N500 for 16 copies.

I returned upstairs to complete my documentation, paid for the visa, did my biometric, and exited the building.

Before I left, I enquired from a staff who told me that the application process usually takes a minimum of 15 days.

The day being May 20th, and my travel arrangement having been scheduled for June 15th, I told myself I still have a one month period for the visa to be ready.

On the afternoon of May 27th, my phone rang.

It was a lady from the Belgian embassy.

“Are you Mr. Benjamin Ezeamalu….”

I cut in: “Yes yes, it’s me,” clearing and re-clearing my throat.

Lady: “You applied for a Belgian visa…”

Me: “Yes yes, you are right.”

Lady: “Errr, sir, we need you to give us your letter of employment, bank statement, and salary slips.”

Me: “What?”

In the end, we agreed that I would use the next day to gather the stated documents, and, May 29th being a public holiday, I’d bring the papers on Friday, May 30th.

So that Friday, I returned to Lekki armed with a 12-paged bank statement (original and photocopies), a 12-paged salary slip (original and photocopies), and my employment letter (original and photocopies).

I received the next shock.

“Sir, we did not request for these,” a lady behind the counter told me.

“What? Then who called me on the phone to tell me to bring them?”

The lady beckoned to someone, apparently her senior colleague, and I repeated my story.

“In fact, let me call the lady.” I said and whipped out my phone, searched for the number of the Belgian embassy that had called me two days before, and dialled.

It rang the first time, no answer.

The two ladies were watching me.

The phone rang twice. Thrice. Four times. Five times. Six time. No answer.

I just stood there, in the middle of the hall, pressing and cocking my ear towards my phone like a village wag.

A third lady, who must have sensed my predicament and who appeared to be their Supervisor, arrived.

I retold my story once again.

“We have since forwarded your application to Abuja. If there’s any other thing, it must be over there in Abuja that it is needed,” the lady explained.

Quickly, I thanked her and left.

Outside the building, I tried to call the Belgian embassy line again – five more tries – yet no one picked the call. I sent a text message to the line and waited.

One hour, no response.

At that point, I decided to use a courier service.

On June 9th, I got an e-mail from Cristina Romero, another Project Manager at the EJC. She wanted to find out the status of my visa application. I told her my story. She requested for the Belgian embassy in Nigeria’s phone number.

The next day, she called my line to say that she had spoken to the people at the embassy in Abuja (in fact, she had spoken to them twice!) and she was told that I had not sent my personal bank statement and salary slip.

She advised that I should keep re-dialling the number until someone picks.

Without waiting to hear the embassy’s side of the story, I rushed to the courier company that delivered the package to Abuja to request for the details of the documents I sent through them and was informed that it had been delivered, signed for, and collected at the Belgian Embassy in Abuja on June 2nd. Satisfied, I went home.

On the morning of June 11th, I woke up early, had my bath and breakfast, dressed, and settled down for the day’s task: to call the Belgian embassy.

After the 15th (or was it 16th?) ring, a man finally picked the call.

I gave him a recap of events up till the day before.

He gave me an e-mail to forward the same documents I had sent via courier, and then informed me that they had forwarded my application to Brussels and had not yet received a feedback. The gentleman went further to give me the phone number of the person to call in Brussels.

The man who spoke to me from Brussels told me the officer who was in charge of visa application had stepped out and suggested that I call them back in a fortnight.

Two weeks? The seminar I’m attending is four days away, I informed him.

In that case, fax us a message stating how urgent the situation is, the man replied.

Quickly, I got in touch with Cristina and relayed what transpired to her.

She asked for the phone and fax numbers so she could deal directly with them.

On June 12th, Cristina called to inform me that she had spoken with them and had sent the fax explaining the urgency of the situation but there had not been any response yet.

It doesn’t look good, she added, because if I didn’t get the visa by the close of work that Thursday, she’d have to begin cancelling my flight reservations the next day.

By midnight on Thursday, there was no response from Belgium.

On June 13th, Cristina sent me a message to inform me that “our efforts were in vain” and that I would not be able to participate in the seminar. She then proceeded with the cancellation of my flight reservations.

In my first e-mail to the Belgian embassy in Abuja, on 23rd June, five weeks after my application, I made it clear to them that “they cannot deny a man a mat and sleep at the same time.”

Since they had not given me the visa to attend the seminar in their country, then they should, by all means, return my passport to my custody.

That mail did not get a response.

5 days later, I resent the same e-mail.


On June 30, I clicked the resend button once again.

Two hours later, I received a reply that got me struggling to restrain myself from chewing my Blackberry phone into bits.

“Please do you wish to close your application or just withdrawal of your passport?”

Close my application? On June 30th? A visa application we had called, cajoled, texted, e-mailed, pleaded that action be expedited on it because the seminar was holding on June 16th and 17th?

I managed to reply: “Did you read my previous e-mail? I just want my passport back now now. Thank you.”

The fellow at the other end responded by telling me to come to the embassy in Abuja by 10 a.m. on July 2 to collect my passport.

I responded that there was no way I was coming to Abuja, because I didn’t apply for the visa in Abuja. And who travels across the Niger just to go and pick up a virgin passport?

All my life, I have never applied for visa to any country, but I want to believe that an embassy does not clutch onto an applicant’s international passport for almost two months. And with no kind of correspondence, whatsoever, with the applicant.

I just want to make one solemn request: I want the Belgians to tell me their ransom because I want my dear international passport back, touched or untouched.

My room is missing its most prized artefact.

(Ben Ezeamalu heads the Metro desk for PREMIUM TIMES. He finally got a message to pick up his passport on July 11 from the Belgian Embassy in Lagos. But this article was written before that date).


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