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Geraldine Ogwe: My Experience as a Nigerian Traveling to the U.S

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I love traveling. Discovering and visiting new places gives me joy. I also know that travelling is an integral part of learning. To this end, I have conquered my immediate environment by visiting over 25 states of Nigeria. I delved into West Africa and also visited some countries. Dubai came calling in December 2013. I quickly dusted my mobile shoes and voila I was in the great Burj Khalifa. The New Year Eve’s diamond fireworks’ display was a memory of a lifetime. A memory I remember with relish!

I have always met interesting and friendly people wherever I traveled to. The immigration officers in Dubai are eye candies. They are professional, courteous and one can’t ignore their beauty. I have always tried to abide by the rules and regulations of any country. In UAE, I know best not to feature any military personnel in my photography. I also know that you talk to, and not touch a policeman – be it the one guarding the city or the one guarding a small door in Sharjah.

In January 2014, my pastor was preaching and he declared three times that “NO COUNTRY WILL DENY YOU VISA”. My travel spirit possessed me and I was thinking of where to visit again. My closest girlfriend, Precious, told me that we should visit the United States. She was not aware of the pastor’s declaration so I assumed all elements were working together for a journey.

Visa was gotten sharp sharp. Precious didn’t get US Visa but she got Shenghen visa and went on a European tour. I was forced to reschedule from July to May. On May 16th, 2014, I traveled on board the United to Atlanta. Houston was the first and only stop. On ground, I thanked God for journey mercies. It was not easy being on board for 13 hours in an economy seat for that matter.

My dream was about to be fulfilled when reality crept in. Immigration routine! I didn’t carry any weapons or drugs so I marched on. I couldn’t wait to see what Houston looks like.
First officer swiped my passport. Instead of clearing me, he called another officer who took me to the Secondary Examination Section. The time was 5.20am. 5.30am I was called by an officer whose name tag read ORTIZ.

Ortiz: where are you going?
Me: Atlanta
Ortiz: to do what?
Me: to visit.
Ortiz: who?
Me: George

He asked my relationship with George and his phone number. When I tried to get George’s number from my phone, he said he didn’t hear me well, and wanted to see the number. He took my phone and when I asked for it back, he said he was not through yet and that I should have a seat.
One hour later, a lady wearing ROGERS as a name tag called me. She was in possession of my phone and passport. I was drilled again.

Rogers: Why are you in the United States? You better start telling me the truth because I already know the answers. I have researched you. So raise your hands and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The truth will either set you free or send you back to your country.
Me: I am on vacation and I saw it as an opportunity to visit friends and family in the United States.
Rogers: why did you lie to the US Consular that you were going to Washington when you didn’t have any plans of going there?

I explained to her that my friend Precious couldn’t get a visa and I had to reschedule because our Washington plans were for two not one.

Rogers and Ortiz read all my text messages, WhatsApp messages and BBM chats. They drilled me on every message. They questioned me about my job. All my love and naughty SMS to my sweetheart, they read and talked about. Initially, I was like well, ‘after now, una no go recognize me for road‘ but this was a clear violation of my human rights. When I asked why, they said they wanted to know me better and what they find out will determine my entry into the United States. Rogers said if I were not eligible to enter, that I will be held in custody until I have my day in court. She also told me that she knew I couldn’t wait to get into bed with George and his friend Sam who sent me Whatsapp messages.

I thought it was over but no. Rogers asked me how much I was bringing into the country. I told her I had $100 cash for calls or taxi but that my Mastercard was stuffed with cash enough for me. She wouldn’t have that. She wanted to see my account statement or any document that can prove that I had money. What? Is this another visa interview? Of course, there was no other document. She couldn’t believe my words or the bank statement text message. She said it was April balance. She needed May details. No May details.

Finally, my passport was stamped and phone returned to me by 8am, after being detained for 2hrs 30 minutes. I had a connecting flight to Atlanta by 8.25am. Luckily, I didn’t miss that flight.
I was jet-lagged and psychologically destabilized. Why was I harassed so much?I asked questions and they were the same obvious answers. My Nigeria is a terrorist country. Any shift in plans is suspicious. I saw how citizens of other countries were treated –with respect! My fellow compatriots and I were drilled as if we were the kidnappers of the Chibok girls.

I have a dream that Nigeria will be peaceful and citizens will be responsible for their actions.
I have a dream that one day Nigerians will have value for human lives and Boko Haram insurgency will be a folk memory. I have a dream that Nigerians will be treated with respect when they travel and not as terrorism suspects.

Photo Credit: crisisboom.com

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Geraldine is a human relationship enthusiast. She enjoys establishing good interpersonal relationship between contractors and clients. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to new places. Writing is used as an outlet for her anger.

32 Comments

  1. oloko nla

    May 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Must u blame everything on being a Nigerian? U told the consular one thing and the guy at the airport another thing so U would still have been questioned even if u were a UK citizen. If u dont appreciate being a Nigerian, stay home or only visit ECOWAS countries, stop blaming d country for ur woes abeg.
    #proudlynigerian

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      May 26, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      If you believe what you wrote, you’re living in denial. I was actually enjoying the start of this post and my enjoyment turned to shock when I read how this girl was treated by immigration officers, which treatment could only have been encouraged by the fact she held a Nigerian passport.

      Nigeria is now flagged up as terrorist state and we need to realize it’s connotations for us as citizens. My friend is a Nigerian muslim and he recently applied for an American visa. He was told in all honesty by the consular officer that although it should have ordinarily taken about a week to send his passport back, he’ll have to wait three weeks because they needed to run new “extra checks”. At least the consular officer was honest but the same treatment is now being applied to our unwitting countrymen by visa personnel of so-called 1st world nations. Our new designation is a lot more serious than we seem to realize.

      And it’s always down to the passport, you better trust it is. During the two trips my cheeky younger sister has made to see me in the UK, she has had some rather interesting encounters with border officials and you need to understand that my sister doesn’t really hold her tongue. And she also has a U.S Passport. The first time she visited, she was stopped and questioned about where she’ll be staying. She nonchalantly responded that she couldn’t remember my address, na im the border official asked why and she responded that she didn’t need my address, she had my phone number to call me from the airport. The man vex say she suppose know am, she said she didn’t think so. At the end of the day, even though he was peeved, he had to let her in. On her second trip to visit me, she was passing through the departure gates at Heathrow Terminal 5 for her connecting flight and they opened her hand luggage to search it, when they finished, she calmly told them to please not stuff her things in as the box had been neatly packed before. Na im the officer give am attitude, she too refused to back down, he went away and brought his madam and dem both begin dey vex for her. She still didn’t back down. They eventually left her to carry her wahala and go.

      It’s always down to the passport when it comes to customs officials. They need a damn good reason before they can try some kain nonsense with passport holders of certain countries but with us, they have all the freedom to mess about. I really can’t blame them, will reserve that for the creators of this mess which Nigeria’s become.

    • mee

      June 17, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      You said it’s always down to the passport..which I agree with. But why your sister bo use her US passport travel na? To save her from these harassments? Or are you just pointing out the rudeness of immigratiin officials regardless?

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      June 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

      @mee, she traveled with the Yankee passport and you’re correct, I’m highlighting the potential of airport officials to be a pain when dealing with certain travelers, an attitude which they seem to be able to measure, depending on what passport you’re carrying.

  2. Gbam!

    May 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Where is the like button? Oloko your too much! its simple, your story wasnt consistent so they needed to drill you. it happened to me, I was 7 months pregnant when i told the consular that i wasnt pregnant, and on reaching the immigration, they almost deported me cos i lied, thank God sha they let me go after telling them the truth of course. So now when i go for to the embassy, i tell them straight up what am going for, if its to have a baby, i will tell them straight up, its not a crime to have babies in US

    • oloko nla

      May 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Abi ooooooooooo. My last trip to US was awesome. The guys at the port of entry almost kidnapped my son, they were all so playful with him that I didn’t spend up to 3mins on the queue (pple even tot I flew 1st class cos of the treatment).
      Lie to them and u will get delayed but tell dem d truth and the worst case, they will send u back to ur country………..But then, it’s their loss cos u will take ur money for vacation somewia else

    • slice

      May 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      you are wrong. and this is why we are treated like this because we take nonsense that is ditched for granted. There is no law in the U.S. that says you can’t change your travel plans. She didn’t lie to either of them. She made one plan and then changed it for reasonable purpose, which she didn’t even have to explain to anyone. Call U.S. immigration and report both Roger and Ortiz. uscis.gov/about-us/report-uscis-misconduct/report-uscis-employee-misconduct
      Online: Allegation Form (Recommended)
      Call: 1-800-323-8603
      Fax: 202-254-4297
      Mail: DHS Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305
      Attn: Office of Investigations – Hotline
      245 Murray Lane SW
      Washington, D.C. 20528-0305

      Whether they did it because you’re Nigerian, i don’t know. But the shabby treatment was rude and completely unnecessary.

      Not to say they couldn’t have asked questions. But they should have made it absolutely clear they were just trying to make sure all was well. That something triggered their suspicion but that doesn’t mean they think you’re a criminal

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      May 26, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      God bless thee, Slice. No law whatsoever that says you can’t change your travel plans, I mean where would we all be if that happend? And by “we all” including the Americans themselves? People cancel and reschedule trips all the time for goodness sakes. I think Nigerians are groomed to mentally think everything the whiteman does is okay: since he’s white, he must be acting right! Insert sarcasm as required…

      Thank you for providing contact information to report the maltreatment. Geraldine, you better use it and let them know ish like this won’t go unquestioned.

    • mee

      June 17, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      I totally agree with you and missociallyawkward. You have a right to change your travel plans if you wish to and if questioned and you provide a valid reason, you should be allowed to enter freely. Best they could have done was to confirm the authenticity of her new contact and then look the person up. I strongly suspect and as is the case with many US-travel rookies, is that the writer started fidgeting immediately she was pulled aside. Being pulled aside is normal in some situations. For eg, my previous passport somehow never seemed to scan electronically so no matter where i travel to, i always had to be pulled aside. I follow them calmly and make sure to ask questions/updates on what’s going on. Immigration officials work on psychology. Sometimes when they take you for secondary inspection, all they are doing is watching your reaction. Are you calm? Do you look worried? Then they ask you aggitating questions that may crack you. It’s smart to know what the rules are and question anyone that treats you contrary… But of course at that point, all you were thinking is “mo gbe! Deportation le leyi men” then desperation sets in.
      Another one that pisses me off is when i go to expensive stores as a black girl (most annoying was when i was gonna buy an expensive wedding band) and they ask for my ID. If i noticed they hadn’t treated previous customers that way, i decline and ask to know their policy. If their policy says they are allowed to use their own discretion, i question why i am the only one (as a black) who was asked yo show ID. Then i play the race card…and we all know Americans don’t wanna play that game with you. So i’m often let go.
      Bottom line, know your rights, know what the legal rules say and stop getting used/played by people. On a related note… this green Nigerian passport is a travel stigma!!!

    • enn

      June 18, 2014 at 12:57 am

      WOW! The passport definitely had a role to play in this but nevertheless, this was a blatant display of violation of human rights by these officials. The thing with this Americans is that you have to show them you know your rights, and do not do so quietly especially if you have no bad intentions. Honestly I was starting to enjoy this post, but the more I read, the angrier I became. This treatment was absolutely unnecessary and YES you should definitely report these two officials.

  3. Call me Gorgeous...

    May 26, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    This must have been very embarrassing ooo…..Chai!!

  4. Tolulope

    May 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    What an experience! Thanks for sharing it.
    I also believe that Nigeria will be great one day.

  5. @edDREAMZ

    May 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Sorry yu hear….
    .
    .
    .
    ***CURRENTLY IN JUPITER***

    • adeola

      May 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      in JUPITER??…who drilled you….lol

  6. Missy

    May 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Ok first, ur story is not consistent. From what u told the Consular to what u told them at d airport. I came into US when I was 15 and travelled by myself and they did the same with me. I was kept in a room for a while but I was just asked questions that I gave in my interview before I got my visa. It wasn’t to bad because I answered truthfully and in details but that was almost 20 years ago. Maybe it’s different now , idk. You just have to make sure u r consistent with ur answers!!

    • Nino

      May 27, 2014 at 10:28 am

      Almost twenty years ago…..you joker…have a seat if you dont know what to say

  7. Ani

    May 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    This is sad. I can imagine what you went through. You must have been embarrassed.

  8. Fabulicious

    May 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Sorry sha but my dear,you are lucky.The best thing for you to do is to be truthful right from when you are applying for the visa ooo.Those people don’t play when the story begin get k or bow leg. All I can say is if you were consistent with your story from the start,you would have had it pleasant.

    • enn

      June 18, 2014 at 1:02 am

      Several times, I have flown into a US city different from what I applied with. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even reading her texts and suggesting that she couldn’t wait to sleep with George is wrong. She was probably scared and they very well took advantage of it. #SadMuch

  9. Jade

    May 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    @ oloko n Co, she was harassed and that was wrong, they could have asked her why her plans changed in a straight forward manner without terrorizing her and asking to swear. Last week I was on a flight from Naples to Amsterdam, on getting there everybody was allowed into d country except another guy and I why? We were the only blacks and we were both Nigerians. Our hand luggage were turned upside down inside out, we were asked how much we had, asked to present the monies and they counted it to make sure it tallied this wasn’t done in some private room but in the hallway and people were just passing and looking at us like we were criminals! The last straw was when they asked the guy if we were together he said no and one other guy said that’s a lie she’s your wife, that was when they saw my werey. I started screaming at them and asked to see a superior or they should take me to a police station, one older man sha came and asked me to calm down and told them to pack our things. We then went into a privates room and I had to repaack my box. I wasted two hours after I landed for no reason other than that I’m Nigerian

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      May 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Well done for standing up for yourself. See wetin Umar Farouk and his Boko Haram brothers have brought us to? (although, I’m aware that Nigeria was already precariously balanced on the scales of notoriety before terrorism tipped us all the way over to the other side).

      I once made a weekend visit to Amsterdam and did it on the back end of an unused Shenghen visa which was a week short of its expiry. The border official stopped me and looked through my passport, asking about my visa and why I had taken so long to use it. I just told him that I’m a busy woman and can’t always travel when I plan to. He looked at my other unused Shenghen visas (to be fair to him, there where like two previous ones which I never used) and asked the same question. I gave him the same answer. Shoo, is it an international crime not to use a visa you paid for? Can’t I change my plans? He stamped my passport and was satisfied with my answer.

      Let’s keep boldly objecting to any kind of discriminatory harrassment in the hands of immigration officials. Really gets my goat whenever I hear these stories.

  10. Alero Mii

    May 26, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Interesting write up Geraldine. I am one of the lucky few because I have never been harassed even though I am a frequent traveller. I observed that many Nigerians have inferiority complex problem because they act in all sort of funny manners for example they cover their international passports with other colours other than green to give the impression from afar that they have red or whatever pali. These people are well trained so they see through one’s fear, doubts, inferiority complex, desperation, dishonesty etc and they owe it to their countries to protect their borders… Confidence and absolute honesty are the keywords. Proudly Nigerian, Original Deltan

  11. Jade

    May 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    @ Mz SA, yes o. Enough is enough, they should kuku not give me the visa at all. You people talking about plans and being honest pls pause and consider the fact that anything can happen. One time I was supposed to go to Paris from Germany transiting at Copenhagen, then onward to Spain, I missed my flight to Copenhagen so I kuku decided to go straight to Spain from Germany, should I have called the embassy first to tell them my plans had changed? Pls things happen, the border officials were rude and their behavior was totally inappropriate. The last time my came here to the UK, they harassed her, asking her if she was going to be working and all sorts of nonsense questions about funds, hasn’t the embassy dealt with that already? She asked the official if she was going to be doing the work from her wheel chair and he felt stupid he let her through! It’s really sad o

  12. Jade

    May 26, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Ps @ Ms SA please when are you inviting me for some cat fish pepper soup and red wine? I no go mind o 🙂

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      May 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Ha ha! Abeg, just give me enough notice to procure the “point & kill”. Otherwise, I’m happy to have you over. As my sister jokingly tells me, my kitchen is the community mama-put which remains open for business. 🙂

  13. niki

    May 26, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Well this is the world in which we live in. Everyone is getting very security conscious and wat seems to be honest mistake or even misunderstanding becomes suspicious. I can get both sides. We live in an hostile world if they don’t do the ‘appropriate’ search and there is bomb they blame them if they do, they are too aggressive. I agree that they could be less aggressive though. But where do u see suspects of any kind being treated nicely? Just hope it all gets better. Its good to know ur right but no point trying to make things especially complicated e.g just answer all their questions, then they would let you go. P.s people should have important details of the person they are going to meet and read through their website wella so u know where u stand.
    Hope u enjoyed the rest of ur trip Geraldine and this didnt cloud it.

  14. NNENNE

    May 27, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Don’t take it personal. Blame Boko Haram for putting us on the map.
    Security have to do their job. Lives have to be protected.

  15. Nino

    May 27, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Well while I like how slice supplied details to report it i think you should let this one slide…but reading all my BBM and whatsapp…that is just wrong on every level…
    And yes you can change your travel plans as much as you want to…it is nobody’s business! Na wa oooo….
    I have had a few shitty encounters myself…I just know to sit it out, appear unfazed and i even dozed off sef while waiting once…I was tired…worst part is they wanted to search my luggage which did not make the flight because of my short transit in London….
    They were inspecting me like I was a specie from Mars….me too I was looking at them like you people that do not travel anywhere want to be giving me grief…
    I don see immigration post tire…nothing do me….
    The only time I was ever worried was flying into Atlanta carrying crayfsh and stockfish, egusi, cough syrup…yes cough syrup and all that for my cousin who just had a baby…
    hot piss was catching me as i was waiting…but strangely they never asked to search the bag, just wanted to know why I said I had zero cash on me…and I was like yeah, I have three cards that all work…
    I loved your write up and i hope that experience didnt ruin your trip

  16. nikus

    May 28, 2014 at 12:43 am

    it was really nice reading all your writeups…at least i have gained alot. however i will advice anyone applying for a US Visa to be honest . when i was interviewed in 2012 i was less than 2 wks to my EDD and the consular didnt notice so i said i was going on vacation. i was shocked when late in 2013 i was asked why i lied that i was in the US on holidays the year before when i actaully was there to have a baby!! omoh…… i started sweating the guy who interviewd me @ the secondary holding adviced me to be truthful and never lie when applyig for a US visa that he could have stamped my passport such that i will never get a US visa after the one i had expires.

  17. Teetee

    June 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Geraldine,

    I totally understand how you feel.. I went through the same horrible ordeal at Houston airport in March and i’m a British citizen..My phones were seized as well and the immigration officer asked for my password (which i gave him), he read all my emails, BBM, watsapp and text messages. I was grilled for over 3hrs and told i had too much cash for 3 weeks stay..Then i was passed to this miserable Lucifer’s sister who decided she was going to keep me in there for no concrete reason They are bullies, miserable and very unprofessional..

  18. chichi

    June 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    hi Geraldine,i went through the same ordeal!

  19. spielaffe

    June 18, 2014 at 12:03 am

    I totally understand how you feel.. I went through the same horrible ordeal at Houston airport in March and i’m a British citizen..My phones were seized as well and the immigration officer asked for my password (which i gave him), he read all my emails, BBM, watsapp and text messages. I was grilled for over 3hrs and told i had too much cash for 3 weeks stay..Then i was passed to this miserable Lucifer’s sister who decided she was going to keep me in there for no concrete reason They are bullies, miserable and very unprofessional..

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