Renewing my work visa in Nigeria for the first time was a gruelling ordeal and an extreme test of patience.
The nearest immigration office to my forest camp was in Jalingo, in the east of Nigeria. At best, Jalingo was a full day’s travel but usually, it took two days. This time it would be an arduous seven-day roundtrip.
The trip started with a three-hour trek out of the jungle. Sometimes there were people with motorbikes offering a precarious ride. But not this time. The track from my forest camp to the nearest village was full of trenches and boulders – so few people would risk damaging their precious bikes.
There were two rivers to cross and in one of them, hippos and crocodiles floated nearby. I opted to cross in a canoe rather than risk losing a foot.
After crossing the two rivers I managed to flag someone down with a motorbike and jumped on the back. We ploughed through mud and stones for several long kilometres until reaching Gashaka village.
Two hours later, the Land Rover was ready to leave the village for Serti, the nearest town. I hopped in the back along with bags of rice and jerrycans of fuel. Hanging out the Land Rover I mostly avoided a slap in the face by overhanging branches.
The Land Rover spluttered to a stop as the fuel filters became clogged by dirt in the low-quality diesel. Our mechanic removed the fuel filter, swilled some fresh diesel around his mouth and blew it through the filter to clear it. It worked. We were back on track heading to town.
A little further down the track we started climbing a small hill. With the recent heavy rains the surface was muddy and slippery. The driver slammed the accelerator while gripping the steering wheel to keep the vehicle straight. But it was no good. The Land Rover slid off the track and one wheel dropped into a deep trench. The driver accelerated again but we slid deeper. We waited for another vehicle and more hands to pull us out.
By the time we reached Serti, it was too late to continue the journey to Jalingo. That night I couldn’t sleep. Rats raced huge cockroaches along the headboard of my bed as they each brought scraps of food back from the nearby kitchen.
Very early the next day, I lumbered toward the breakfast shack in the motor park. After some oily eggs and very sweet coffee, I was ready to find a taxi. I checked the condition of the tyres on all the taxis before settling on one with ‘adequate’ tyres. I squeezed into the rear seats of a Peugeot estate wagon with nine other people and enormous bags of cassava (a staple vegetable in the diet of Nigerians).
There were mostly ladies sharing the ride to Jalingo with me. Their dresses were colourful and wildly patterned. One lady wore a small nose piercing which matched the sparkles on her lilac and fish-patterned dress. Another lady smelled of sweet vanilla and burnt caramel.
Avoiding the potholes, we swerved and heaved our way for five slow hours along the road toward Jalingo. By the time I reached Jalingo I was dizzy from the mix of vanilla and exhaust fumes. But I managed to drag myself into another taxi to reach the Nigerian Immigration Service on the outskirts of town.
The gates were shut! Apparantly, the offices closed early on Fridays.
Exhausted after the trip I flagged a motorbike taxi and rode it to the Green Beach Resort on the edge of town. Pizza, ice-cream and beer have never tasted so good.
The next day I arrived at the immigration service early, hoping to get my visa renewed and return to camp by late evening. But none of the officers had arrived yet.
“They’ll be here soon,” a young woman told me as she rinsed some plastic buckets with dirty water.
Five hours later, they arrived.
I pounced on an officer as soon as he entered the empty room I was waiting in.
“I’d like to renew my work visa, can you help me?” I asked.
“I’m not authorised to do that, you’ll need the permission of the zonal coordinator,” he said.
“And is he here?” I asked.
“No, he lives in Makurdi,” he replied.
Damn! I knew Makurdi was six hours away.
“Is he coming here, to Jalingo, today?” I asked.
“No,” he said and walked away, leaving me alone once again.
I waited another two hours before speaking to an assistant to the zonal coordinator in Makurdi. He agreed that his boss would renew my visa, but I would need to send my passport to him.
An officer said he would travel with my passport for 5000 Nigerian Naira (£11). I’d just been waiting over seven hours and achieved little and now the only solution seemed to be handling over my passport to someone to travel with across the state.
I was exhausted and fed up.
Taking the passport myself would add another two days to my expedition. I was tempted to let the officer travel take my passport. I could stay in town, eat more pizza and ice cream and sleep – a lot.
There was no one to encourage me to keep on going. Just an immigration officer eager to take my passport half way across the state with the promise that he’d renew the visa.
But there was no way I’d part with my passport. I knew that I would need to keep going despite feeling exhausted and alone. The next day I travelled to Makurdi to try and convince the zonal coordinator to renew my visa.
There are lots of people who will tell you that running your own business is exciting and rewarding. And it’s true, being a freelancer gives you the freedom to do things your way. You’re the boss, and call all the shots! But being a freelancer is also really hard. I might not have a boss, but that also means that there’s no one but myself to keep me going.
It can be challenging to stay motivated in self-employment. I have been self-employed for many years, and I admit that there are times where the hard work seems overwhelming and disheartening. It can feel like you’re working alone and with nobody to support you. Even other freelancers can be of little benefit on occasions. The days you feel like giving up are the days you need to keep pushing through.
We’re going to face problems and obstacles that are frustrating, discouraging, and confusing. We’re going to have many things going on simultaneously, so it might be tough to devote enough time to stay organized and get enough work done. And there are times when we’ll not know where to start or how to prioritize tasks.
As the owner, you must motivate yourself to overcome obstacles that get in your way. If you don’t have the drive to motivate yourself, your business will surely fail.
So, how do we stay motivated when the road gets rough?