I have the good fortune – as many would see it - of being a citizen of both Nigeria and the UK. For the last twenty years or so I have chosen to live in Nigeria, although I travel to the UK from time to time for professional as well as personal reasons. Almost ten years ago I married my wife, Juliet Ezenwa, the artist and a Nigerian citizen. Shortly after our marriage she applied for, and received, a six-month visa to travel to the UK but was unable to use it for reasons which she explained in her three subsequent visa applications, the most recent being just last month. On each of these occasions she was denied a visa, apparently because it was thought that she might abscond and thereby become a burden on the state, and this despite the fact that we have our home here and have no desire to go and live in the UK, at least for the foreseeable future.
On those three previous occasions she had been invited by family, including my mother, a British citizen who lives in the UK and had undertaken to host her for the duration of her stay. However, on this last occasion she was also invited by the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth, which invited her to hold an exhibition of her paintings from 29 July to 11 August 2011, the details of which are with you, including a letter from the director. I am now at a loss as to what to do.
Neither the Germans nor the Italians shared your view about her likely intentions when they granted her visas to travel to their countries, both times in connection with her art, and yet she cannot travel to her husband’s country for a similar activity. I know perfectly well that foreigners married to British citizens do not automatically qualify for British citizenship, and I know how difficult it can be for British citizens to have their wives join them in their own country, but it seems an abrogation of a fundamental human right that the wife of a British citizen is barred from travelling to her husband’s country for a specific period of time in pursuit of her legitimate business. I feel insulted on my own account and also on hers.
Many others have written over the years about the cavalier treatment meted out to Nigerians by the British High Commission and I know exactly what they mean. The pity, of course, is that successive Nigerian governments have never stood up for their own citizens, which is why other countries treat them with the contempt they do. Indeed, I witnessed it myself some time ago when I ran into a problem in neighbouring, Togo, with only my Nigerian passport to hand but that is a matter for Nigerians to solve.
As regards my wife, by all means continue denying her what seems to me her legitimate right but I can at least voice my sense of outrage that she – and, by extension, myself also - should be treated in this despicable manner.
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Paintings by Juliet Ezenwa