Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Nigerian consulate in New York failed diplomacy: true life situation

When the information minister started her pet “re branding” project, I told people then that the best form of re branding is through individuals and their actions and not the slogans and jingles that have been employed by this current administration. Or please tell me, if a product is not good, how much re branding and brand communications do the producers need to embark on?    
The probability that their efforts would be in vain is high, if not certain. Ask Coca-cola and their attempt to change the taste of the original coke.  They spent a lot on attempting to brand the new coke and re brand the old product but it did not work. They eventually had to stop the production of the “new coke”.  But I digress as this is not a treatise on brand management but about the treatment meted out to the Nigerians that went to collect their E passports at the New York Consulate on November 17 2010.
I am an irrepressible optimist about the future of our great country but sometimes I question the sanity of my beliefs and if the continuance is worth it. We fail to implement the simplest of all things to improve our lives. We fail to do the basest of all human functions. Why do we find it impossible as human beings and as Nigerians to respect each other?
 I ask if it was worth it for Bola Ige or Funsho Williams or the military pensioner who was willing to sacrifice his life for the country he believes in but has to line up in the rain and sun to collect his pittance while lawmakers who do “a lot” take millions home? Is it really worth it to believe?  Is it worth it for a senior citizen that after serving her country and retiring without blemish a 66 year old former civil servant would have to travel to New York to get her passport only to be told that the consulate was closed and subjected to the most dehumanizing environment by the country she served selflessly for over 40 years? What amount of re branding will Mrs Akinyuli and her team have to do to change her mind about her experience? Who better to market a product than the product itself? If this senior citizen had a good experience at the consulate, would that not have had more impact on her and in turn would she not have gone around telling people how responsive and respectable Nigerians are?
Prior to her traveling to New York, she had registered online and was given an appointment for the 17th of November, 2010 for the interview and the subsequent issuance of the passport.  She bought her plane ticket and planned for the return trip to New York from Michigan.
The first shocker she got was postponement of the deadline to April 30, 2011. Her reason for going to New York had been defeated already. Since she was planning to go to Nigeria in January 2011, she would have had time to get the passport. Oh well, it was already done so she thought. On November 10, 2010 she started calling the consulate in New York hoping to confirm if there would be a rescheduling of interviews scheduled for the next week (being the 17th that she was meant to be there for her interview) but alas she could not get anyone and nobody returned her numerous calls. Respect!!! She also went on the website and there was no announcement canceling or rescheduling the interviews. Respect!!!
On November 17, 2010, a host of Nigerians including this senior citizen got to New York hoping that they will have their interviews done. Second shocker!!!  When they got there they saw a sign stating that the consulate was closed. It was typed and pasted on the door.
Now allow me digress a little more. Before planning this trip I had been conversing with someone about the E passport and all he said was that he would be going to Nigeria one last time and when he returns he will not be returning for a while, if ever.  Unfortunately for me, he was one of those that went to the consulate on the 17th. When I spoke to him later he said he was alright about the incident and that he was not mad at all since he was expecting the worst initially. He said it was I who had the problem because as far as he was concerned he had written the country off. He said “no expectation, no disappointment, any or high expectation leads to disappointments”. He explained that instead of the guard at the consulate to be empathic about the situation of those that came from Alberta (oh yes, all the way from cold Canada), Baltimore, Michigan, Connecticut, Toronto, New Jersey, and other parts of North America, he was shouting on them and telling them that they could not come in and he was not going to answer anyones question and there was nothing anybody could do. To make matters worse, I was told that the guard was from a neighboring West African country. Respect!!! He knew that he could treat them as bad as his employers (the Nigerian consulate) were treating them. Nobody was going to reprimand him. His thinking would be “It is just these loud Nigerians, when oga come I go tell am say dem just dey shout, dey push, dey fight”. He is right; I don’t think they will reprimand him. Respect!!!
Now back to the senior citizen: she had to go back to Michigan without the interview and after wasting her hard earned money. It is bad enough that a 66 year old who served her country so well and in various positions prefers to be in the US than in her home in Nigeria? Is this how we should treat our people and our seniors in particular? Why did people have to travel to learn that the consulate is closed? What country’s holidays do we even observe? Nigeria or the US or both? I was told that one of the people that came from Connecticut stood on a spot for almost 20 minutes, starring, repeating to everybody that cared to listen “I took today and tomorrow off” repeating it over and over again. Only God knows what he told them at either his employers at the investment firm he works for, his employees at his janitorial service or wherever he works. He knew he might not get the opportunity to travel anytime soon and he just might be heading to Nigeria next month.
To Mrs Akinyuli and her re branding efforts; Madam, you are wasting your time. Nigeria’s image would have been shored up better or will be shored up when you and I treat each other with a little respect. Please tell me why the following can or could not have been done?
·         How much would it cost us to implement/hire an answering service that would return calls and or pick up calls? There are a million and one systems that could be deployed to do these but we would rather buy aso ebi.
·         How much would it have cost the consulate to hire people or pay overtime to their staff to call each individual that had an appointment to inform them that the consulate would be closed? Or even activate an automated answering system?
·         How much would it have cost the consulate or those that administer the website to put up a banner stating that the consulate would be closed? Or putting the manually pasted notice on the website???
·         What would it have cost if when these people arrived there was a welcome party to host them or direct them to where they could spend the night or give them directions on what to do? Lack of respect, they are just Nigerians they would find their way, right?
·         What would have happened if the welcoming party just offered common coffee/tea and apologized, stating what the consulate would do going forward.
I know what the answers might have been. They do not have the money for these things. Or who has the time? But we can afford 17bln to throw parties?  I pose these questions to everyone out there (apart from those that benefited from the 17bln largesse) how or what happened when Nigeria turned 50? Did it have any impact on you? What can you say about your 17bln that was spent? (Oh by the way, the 17bln…all of it was YOUR money). Our dishonorable (there is nothing honorable about you guys if you are collecting that much money in a country that exhibits so much penury: go and Google the meaning of “honorable”, if you don’t get it) lawmakers are always quick to copy the money sharing aspect s of the US but slow to implement or copy the life changing, life saving, commonsensical aspects of the American system. The only difference between the Nigerian politician and their American counterpart is that the latter respects his constituents….to a fault. He/she knows who pays the piper. The American government does not disrespect its constituents. It is simple. It is very simple. If there was some level of decency and respect in our country, there would be electricity, the roads would be pliable, water will run from taps in houses, there will be security on our streets, civil servants will be civil, law and order officials will maintain law and order, teachers will teacher………I digress again.
I am using this opportunity and this medium to call on the person of Professor Adebowale Adefuye, in his capacity as the Ambassador to the US, to please respect these people. Correct these ills by reimbursing these individuals and apologizing to them. I have had the privilege of meeting the Professor who I believe is a humble embodiment of diplomacy and tact as he has been a diplomat and in the service to the country for several years. He said that his main thrust during his tenure is shoring up the image of Nigerians at home and abroad. His Excellency, I call on you to please fix this malaise that has enveloped the majority of Nigerians in the diaspora. You have mentioned times without number that if there is something that a Nigerian sees that is wrong with the way the embassy or the consulate operates, we should let you know. The ordeal that your constituents experienced on the 17th of November was wrong and unacceptable.  We wait on you to fix this. Hopefully it would not go the way of other issues and problems in Nigeria.
I am one not to assume that people know the solutions to problems. I ask myself so many times why things are the way they are in Nigeria. And these people travel abroad? Can’t they just fix this or that………you assume that everyone is smart or that common sense is common. I am asking the Nigerian populace that reside in the US to demand that simple things that would make things better for you and I be implemented at the consulate.
Respect me by:
·         Either picking up the phone when I call the embassy or returning my call
·         Roll out an answering service
·         Provide information to me when the embassy would be closed for Nigerian or American holidays
·         Use the internet: it is there for a purpose
·         I am not deaf, talk to me: don’t shout……..
·         Oh and by the way, Mrs Akunyuli, please stop wasting our money, please. Quality sells itself; let us stop parading naked in the market place. We had a decent opportunity to re brand through the stock market but what did Ndidi re brand? Her wrist? Her cars…etc. Please tell your friends to re brand first.
We all say we want a better Nigeria, START BY RESPECTING ME AND I PROMISE YOU, IT WOULD BE MUTUAL… As the Yoruba’s will say “oro rere ni o mu obi jade lapo” (I will respect you if you speak to me nicely).
by Damilola Odetola; Executive Editor Trendy Africa Washington DC.  (this piece represents a true life experience by an e passport applicant).

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