“Too poor”, Teenager refused International Passport

Nigeria is on the spotlight again. This time Betty Abah is probing the decision that prevented a young poor Nigerian from fulfilling her dreams. According to Betty, this is possible because the girl in question is not a rich kid from a rich dad. Apparently, the poor kid, Aisha Saleh, was supposed to attend an International Children’s Conference in Switzerland. But It is reported that (by Betty) that the dream is now shattered and the suggestion is that if Aisha was wealthy the authority won’t have stood in her way.

Here is Betty’s post as circulated on Facebook:

The Barred Aisha From Representing Nigeria In Geneva, Because She Is Poor

This is one of those days when I want to scream at the top of my voice but I can’t, I can’t. And it makes it the more painful. So this is a sub, a sobbing sob.

What future is there in Nigeria for the poor and their children? What future?

When I got the call from an international group to send one of the girls we work with in marginalized communities to attend an international Children’s conference in Switzerland, I didn’t think twice. Aisha Saleh.

At 14, even with all the odds she has faced, Aisha stands out amidst a million stars. Even though she lost her mother at a very young age and lives with her grandma in Monkey Village, one of the most impoverished communities in Lagos, her star simply refused to dim.

Definitely one of our best success stories, best discoveries at CEEHOPE. She spent 4 rather than six in primary school because she had to be promoted twice. She has never taken anything other than FIRST POSITION her entire school life (she is in JSS 3 now). She is well known in her community as a young activist, mobilizing other children, serving as community librarian and leader of the girl’s club, and enlightening parents on children’s rights. And did I forget to say she speaks five languages (English, Hausa, Arabic , Yoruba and Egun, a variation of French).

But today, Aisha is crestfallen, headed home from Abuja with her equally crestfallen dad who was to accompany her on the trip to Geneva for the International Children’s conference in which she was to represent Nigeria. The embassy wouldn’t issue them visas because she was presented too late, two days ago, and her trip is this weekend. The embassy is not to blame.

Here is it: at the passport office in Lagos, the officers there constituted themselves into a mighty cabal and REFUSED to issue her an international for about THREE WEEKS (after an Express processing had been paid for) because, why, ‘it’s not possible for this small girl with a poor-looking ‘aboki’ father to be travelling to Geneva on the bill of an International NGO. They just couldn’t process it. They constituted a panel to ‘probe a potential trafficking case.’ Yes, they did, and drilled Bimbo Oshobe who was helping with the process for days. They asked for ALL MANNER of documents, affidavits, letters. We provided. CEEHOPE wrote a letter and provided publications where Aisha had been featured. The international NGO wrote, saying they would foot her bills and those of her dad (flight, accommodation per diems etc in addition to sending people to accompany them from their Nigerian office, on the trip). Her school wrote, the canal rejected the school’s letter for not being ‘properly written’. The school went on midterm break, returned and wrote again.

Utterly frustrated, I had to start reaching out to people. A senior colleague eventually reached out to a government officer who obviously ‘roared’ at the passport office people and UNDER ONE DAY, her passport was miraculously processed, personally handed to her by the PCO at Ikoyi office. Her dad’s own came a day later. But then it was already too late. Swiss embassy said they can’t help when they got to the embassy this week. The UN office in Geneva wrote the Swiss embassy, no way.

So, as we speak, Aisha and dad are heading back, heads down, to Lagos. End of a dream for an otherwise potentially opportunity-filled trip, first time she would ever have that chance. Who knows if the will ever have that golden chance? Such opportunities don’t come knocking at your door every day. My question: would this have happened if Aisha were a big man’s daughter selected to represent her country at a high profile international conference? Ever heard of a panel been set up at the passport office to probe children, or anyone processing a passport, for weeks? International passport?

A commenter, Funmi Adewola, also had a different angle to the matter. She commented thus:

Sadly, I know Aisha. She is one of the young lads I met at our Monkey Village outreach on 5th May 2018.

However, this may not be so. Many issues are involved. Has the passport officers seen many cases of child trafficking in this way? I bet you, million times. The staff needs to protect themselves too. Maybe the school could have delegate someone to rewrite the letter instead of losing two working days to midterm.

Maybe, just maybe.

I do travels, there’s a friend on this street whose family bought tickets from me at least 3 months before scheduled trip. The package i ran that year came with free Dubai visas, however, this family was travelling with a niece whose parents were not part of the team and has a different surname. I was flagged for all sorts. Checked out on child trafficking, visas already given for the rest cancelled until i satisfied all their enquiries. (By that time, tongues have started wagging against me online, some thought i ran away with the family’s money, no one listen that what got me into trouble was a complimentary offer that i could have sold and make more money but chose to give out free to all who patronized me) This happened on their travel weekend and the Emiratis don’t work on Fridays and Sat, so resolution began on their travel date exactly. We lost two or three days, had to pay over 500k more for a job i didn’t make up to 50k on, paid for their hotel stay in Lagos, amidst huge insults to my person, then we sat at a conference call for 8 hours with the govt of that country thereafter, with verbal apology for all the embarrassment they caused me.

I went through this route of explanation to say, things may not be as they seem at the first glance. The officials may just be careful not to lose all they have worked for if the claims of Geneva turn out to be a decoy.

I have been through it and can relate.

There will be other options for Aisha. God watches over all.