28 Takeaways From Days of Dialogue in Los Angeles Re: Police Brutality and Other Divisive Issues in U.S.

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In the past two weeks, I volunteered at two events (Days of Dialogue) organized by Institute of Non-Violence. The events are mainly aimed at improving police relationship with communities. The audience for the first event was a union for low-skilled school workers, the second, a muslim community. It was a pleasant experience for me: from having a cop slide a hand-written note that read Jay Jay Okocha my way when I mentioned that I grew up in Nigeria, getting an opportunity to say Salam Alekum (a greeting I learned in 2008 during my National Youth Service in Katsina, a predominantly muslim State), to learning that each stripe in the sleeve of an LAPD cop uniform represents five years of service.  More important, the  events provide a  rare opportunity to get unfiltered views from both sides of the aisle on issues  relating to police shootings of often unarmed  civilians.

Below,  in no particular order and sometimes contradictory, I highlight views  expressed by both members of law enforcement and the community at the two events

1. If law enforcement officers try to establish rapport with, and get to know members of the community before they are called for encounters that may necessitate deadly force, then officers are more likely to know, for example, which member of the public has mental illness and what step to take when they  subsequently respond to an incident involving the person. Also if officers have a rapport with a member of the community, a traffic stop is more likely to be a “Hey, buddy, looks like your brake light is off” than a series of commands to a belligerent driver who has preconceptions that officers are just out there to get people like him.

While writing this post, I did some research and found that the Los Angeles Police Department has about 9000 sworn officers serving Los Angeles’ 4 million population. So even if all these officers worked patrol, which isn’t the case, each officer will have to personally know about 444 members of the community. So while more engagement with the community will be possible in smaller cities, a city as big as LA may not afford having officers engage personally with members of the community in a way that yields the benefit proposed by this view. Events like the Days of Dialogue, targeted at groups, is more feasible and I applaud it.

2.  In order for gun control laws to be effective, they should be uniform throughout the country, otherwise,  a state that has strict gun laws, like stricter backgrounds checks, for example, will still have people bringing into the state guns purchased from out-of-state.

3.  There is no need for tougher  gun control laws. People who do not obey the law do not obey existing gun laws anyway, so they will not obey any new laws. Stricter gun laws only hurt law-abiding citizens and limit their rights to acquire arms, a situation that renders them vulnerable and defenseless in the event they are attacked.

4. Australia’s 1996 tighter gun control laws has reduced homicide rate in the country significantly. While writing this post, I did a little research and found that there are conflicting views on the effect of the 1996 laws. That said, I found this excerpt from Wikipdia:

“Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and stayed on that lower level since then.

The rate of gun related suicide was greatly reduced as well.[26] In 2010, a study reported a 59% decrease in firearm homicides in Australia between 1995 and 2006 (0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006).[29] They also reported that the non-firearm homicides fell by the same rate. The decreasing rate for homicide with a firearm was a continuation of a pre-existing decline prior to the 1996 reforms, and several analyses of these trends have been conducted and claimed that the reforms have had a statistically insignificant effect on homicide rates with a firearm .[30]

Suicides by firearm were already declining; however they fell significantly after controls, dropping around 50% in two years.[31] Overall suicide rates remained steady until a slight drop in 2003, followed by stable rates since then.[27]”

5. There is currently no law mandating any training for new gun owners.

6. There is  a real  need for gun owners to be responsible for where they keep their guns. Keeping guns locked away is the safest way to store them; not in plain view, however high. Even a hidden but accessible place is unsafe as the gun may get into the  wrong hands in the event of a burglary.  Officers at the event gave an example of their colleague who is now paralyzed because he stored his gun under his chair while riding his young child in a car. I think the young child somehow got her hand on the gun and accidentally shot his dad. As I am writing this, in the news is the story of an 11-year old South Carolina girl who killed herself with a gun. So the need for safe gun storage  cannot be over emphasized.

7. LAPD has the best model in the country for dealing with people with mental illness. The unit has about seventy sworn officers who respond to cases involving people with mental health issues. This 2015 article provides more insight into the program for anyone researching on the subject.

8. In 2015, LAPD officers had over 1.5 million contacts with members of the public, including arrests and responses to 9-1-1 calls. Only .13% of those contacts resulted in any type of use of force. This represents a Use of Force rate of 1.3 per 1,000 public contacts.
The 48 Officer-Involved Shootings in 2015 represent only .03 per 1,000 contacts with members of the public or .003%. See the full report here.

9. There is need for mutual respect between the police and the public. If an officer is friendly towards a driver during a traffic stop, the driver is less likely to be hostile towards the officer. Likewise, a police officer is less likely to be violent towards a citizen who obeys instructions given by an officer. Giving an officer attitude places one in a bad position. This is true. I had previously heard an officer say that she is more likely to give a ticket to someone who is uncooperative. A family member also told me of how once he was stopped by an officer for no apparent reason. After questioning him, the officer let him go but then he asked the officer why he stopped him in the first place. The officer then issued him  a ticket that contained the violation. Yep, silence is golden and officers admit they are humans after all, so don’t give them attitude.

10. Despite the training they receive re mentally challenged people, the police may nevertheless use deadly force on such persons if they pose immediate danger to others.

11. The LAPD has contemplated not pursuing fleeing felons, and withdrawing and running away from people who pose immediate harm to officers. But the downside to adopting this de-escalation technique is that it will set a dangerous precedent and lead people to commit  crime with impunity.

12. A black man was walking around in Beverly Hill and a police officer stopped him and asked him, “What are you doing here?” Beverly Hills is 82% white and 2% blacks.

13. Family dynamics in U.S. is changing. Children are not held accountable for their actions at home and so they have no respect for authority. It shows in the way they talk to officers. A participant recounted an incident she witnessed. A juvenile spat on a sheriff while they were all waiting for a hearing in a courtroom, the officer remained professional throughout the incident. Moments later, the juvenile alleged that the officer had manhandled him, which was untrue. The officer’s saving grace  was that there were witnesses, including lawyers, to the incident.

Young adults who have no sense that certain actions lead to certain consequences are always shocked when they end up in the justice system for actions that hitherto went unpunished.

Recently my friend started substitute teaching. Within her first two days, an 11-year old in her class told her to say please or she would not obey her order. So there’s definitely some truth to the assertion that young people have no respect for authority.

14. You can make a report against an officer for the silliest of reasons and the department will launch an investigation, no matter how improbable the allegation may be. I didn’t quite hear this part well but I think  an officer gave an example of a cop that was once investigated because a woman alleged the officer stole her ovaries!

15. There is a lot of misinformation and exaggeration by the media regarding police use of deadly force.

16. Minorities  experience some sort of discrimination wherever they are. A participant who is Armenian believes that Glendale police stop them more than they do others. This, despite Armenians making up about 34% of Glendale population.

17. Doing a ride-along with a police officer may help citizens see things from  police perspective. See this page if you want to do a ride-along with LAPD.

18. LAPD is diverse: about 50% of sworn officers are Hispanics.

19. Illegal immigrants in Los Angeles shouldn’t worry about LAPD officers engaging in deportation activities against them. LAPD is not cooperating with the Feds in that regard.

20. A by-stander videoing officers when they are making an arrest makes the officers’ job harder as the officers now have to worry about the safety of the bystander while trying to effect an arrest.

21. Officers love that their departments now use body-cameras because it makes them more accountable, and exonerate them when they are falsely accused. However, officers say body cameras now make them harsher on citizens as they now feel impelled to punish minor crimes they would have used their discretion to pardon in the past, lest their department discipline them for being soft on crime. They also  hate that the department can nit-pick on their actions recorded in the video. I agree with them. However good an employee may be, it will be suffocating to have an employer watch every move one makes.

21. Police draw their guns only when they fear an imminent threat to life.

22. One hundred and thirty-five officers lost their lives in the U.S. in 2016. This is not widely reported in the news so the public are not well informed about the danger officers face. But the officers know this figure and so are apprehensive during encounters with dangerous members of the public. Many of them have had their friends killed on the job.

23. Younger African males are more racially profiled than older African Americans.

24. Older members of the police force engage members  of the community more politely than younger law enforcement officers. Experience does come with age.

25. A participant recounted how his son and his friends, all high school students, were walking to a Taco Bell for lunch. They were stopped by the police. His son greeted the officers politely and respectfully. The police detained his friends and sent him home. This reinforces the  earlier point that the police reciprocate courtesy.

26. There is more tension when officers who grew up in sheltered suburbs are assigned to patrol inner cities.

27. Even blacks are biased against members of their race whose dressing and conduct in public give the impression that they can cause harm. It is recommended that people dress the way that they want to be addressed; even people who aren’t racist have implicit bias and may judge us wrongly based solely on the impression they get from our appearance.

28. Muslims don’t support ISIS. Muslim participants said ISIS actually kill more muslims than people who practice other religion. There may be some truth to that assertion. In Nigeria where Boko Haram, another Islamic extremist group that has claimed thousands of lives, operate, they bomb mostly Northern Nigeria which is the muslim region in the country.

It is hard to capture all the lessons from the events in this one post. If you want to learn more and have an unbiased opinion about police brutality in U.S. or to participate in future events, please visit Days of Dialogue website and follow them on Twitter.

 

Anne Mmeje.

 

 

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Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: Young and Thinking of Migrating? Don’t Be a Victim. Here’s a Safe (And Relatively Inexpensive Way) to go About It.

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The Travel Smart series is written by Chika Okoroafor, a Nigerian Immigration lawyer. Through the series , she gives useful information to people intending to migrate to other countries. The series is part of her effort to promote legal migration and stem the trend of young African immigrants losing their lives at sea in quest for greener pastures abroad. See our interview with her here.
The health and education sectors are two industries in Nigeria that compete in incompetence and deterioration. While the health sector is fortunate to have crusaders, like the Nigerian Medical Association, fighting to give the sector some semblance of decency, the education sector is on a free fall to rot. Compared to minimum standards, our educational sector, especially at the tertiary level, is a mockery, a pitiful excuse of what a tertiary education system should be. As a matter of fact, ours’ represent everything tertiary education should not be. The tertiary education provided by private sector is not exempted.
 
Jobs are scarce in Nigeria, yes. But not as scarce as human resources. You can ask any entrepreneur in Nigeria whether this is true or not.  Like a computer system, what we have is a system of garbage in garbage out. The system, and not the products, is to blame. What we have are mostly, unmotivated, unpruned, half-baked and unemployable graduates roaming the street competing in a saturated labour market with no selling point and nothing to offer a  potential employer.
 
Unemployment is, unarguably, the chief inciter of economic migration. Almost a decade in this field has taught me there is no dissuading an unemployed,  demoralised  youth who is convinced by his peers that his hope lies in shores of the white man’s land. So it’s futile to preach “don’t do it.” When we come across such client, the first thing we do, is to gain their confidence. This is imperative because their desperation makes them easy prey to “agents” and human traffickers who will explore there vulnerabilities for selfish interest, lining their pockets off the very little the desperate youths have left; leaving them poorer, depressed and at times suicidal (we counseled a lot of such cases).
 
Most economic migrants are usually financially challenged, hence prima facie ineligible for visa to the destination they seek. Most diplomatic missions have their share of backdoor deals. Forget the labels, Nigeria does not have monopoly of corruption. But The most an applicant can get from the backdoor deals is a visitor’s entry permit. I’m glad we have treated the substance of a visitor’s permit. If you missed it, please revert to this link for my publication on that.
An applicant who intends to migrate to a first world country on a visitor’s entry permit is not just doing something illegal, but it is also disadvantageous to the applicant. First world countries’ immigration regulations are regularly reviewed and the purpose is mostly to block loopholes that encourage illegal migration. Countless illegal migrants have lost their lives in the most horrible ways imaginable, in their quest to migrant overseas. Where a migrant succeeds in gaining entry, the host country’s internal regulation will be a trammel to an illegal immigrant’s stay.  
 
Here are some of the challenges faced by illegal migrants:
 
  • They cannot legally work
  • They have no interstate right to ingress and egress
  • They will be taken advantage of and maltreated but they cannot enforce their human rights
  • They are constantly blackmailed and threatened because of their immigration status
  • They are exposed to a life of crime willingly or unwillingly
  • They Deny themselves little comforts like driving for fear of being flagged down by the police, and
  • They are constantly at risk of being deported, etc.


I MUST TRAVEL. WHAT DO I DO?
 
You start, by not taking the quick fix bait of migrating long term on a short term entry permit .  If your travel intention is for long term, then seek an entry permit that will grant you long term stay, like a student visa, work visa, visa lottery, family reunion visa etc. Among the various long term visa options, student visa is the most easily accessible.
 
Students visa allows a holder right to stay for the duration of study (some programs can run into years) and most times right to work inside the school, and even in some cases outside the school. Student visa in some countries can transition into work permit post-study. A student has a right to bring his/her dependants (spouse/children) and in some country (e.g UK) the student’s spouse is allowed to work full-time. A student can issue invitation letter to family and friends for short term visits. In summary, a holder of student visa is accorded almost similar rights  as a citizen of host country for the duration of his/her legal stay
 
To a financially constrained, desperate economic migrant this option may seem capital intensive, hence inaccessible. But read again the downside to illegal migration listed above for holistic comparative analysis of real cost. If the goal is to migrate, the advice is do it right. Save, solicit funds from family/friends, give it a little bit of time, most importantly, consult a professional who will advise on plethora of study routes. You may be amazed to discover that there are some international institutions, in developed and developing countries, that are quite affordable (for N1 million or less) much more than our local private tertiary institutions. Furthermore, a standard international education gives you an edge in the labour market worldwide and more so, in our local labour market should you intend to return home post-study.
 
Student visas create a bridge between your home country and country of study. You have unlimited access to ingress and egress as you please. Hence, decision on whether to permanently migrate or not will be based on personal  convictions and on balanced information and not on hearsay or fairy tales.
 
STUDENT VISA APPLICATION
 
METHODOLOGY
There are three parties involved in a student visa procedure- the student/Student sponsor, the school and the diplomatic missio.
The procedure is usually in two consecutive stages:
  • Admission processing stage, and thereafter
  • Visa  processing stage.
 
ADMISSION PROCESSING STAGE
Key notes
The School: Applicant’s preferred school must be one approved/licenced by the country where the school is situate, to grant admission to international students. Before admission is granted, an applicant
  • Must provide documents, like credentials and essays, required by the school;
  • Excel qualifications test e.g GMAT, IELTS, TOEFL etc where required; and
  • Make tuition/part tuition payment
 
Refund policy: Admission into a licensed school does not guarantee Visa. Where an applicant is mandated to pay tuition or make a part-payment before admission is confirmed, it is important to check first, the refund policy of the school with regards to conditions, deductibles and the school’s expediency in making refunds, before making  any financial commitments.
 
Time: student visa application, is time sensitive. An applicant has to take into consideration admission processing time, school resumption date, and visa processing time and variables in between. Lapse in proper time management will jeopardize the whole process.

VISA PROCESSING STAGE
 
Diplomatic missions are not bound by the decision of schools. The missions run independent assessments. Decision to grant or refuse a student entry permit is based on an applicant’s eligibility vis-a-vis the diplomatic missions’ regulation.
 
While evaluating an applicant’s student visa application, every diplomatic mission has their particular area of interest, which may include all or some or more of the list below.
 
  • Admission letter from a licensed institution
  • Applicant’s age
  • Academic background
  • Maintenance funds
  • Medical/criminal  records
 
Future posts on student visa application will be discussed in line with the regulation of particular diplomatic missions. Until next publication in Travelsmart series, please share and spread the word, #notoillegalmigration
Do you have questions or in need of further clarification or advice? We welcome questions at the comment section or you may email us at attorneychika@gmail.com
 
PS: Some institutions provide financial aid and scholarships to international students. I know people who have benefited from them so that’s an option to explore.
PPS: If you have your masters degree in sciences and scored 60 or higher, and are interested in pursuing your doctorate degree, leave your email below. Someone I know who is doing her PhD on scholarship has offered to email interested persons opportunities to study abroad.
PPPS: I have been reading Kacheetee.com a lot. The blog is run by a 28-year old Nigerian lawyer who made first class both in university and at the Nigerian law school. She eventually did her masters at Cambridge on full scholarship. From her blog and elsewhere, I got the links below hoping these stories of young successful Nigerian women inspire you to be all you can be.

Love,

Anne

Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: Why I Love Traveling and Why Your Visitors Visa Application May be Denied Even Though You are Rich

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This post is part of the Travel Smart series written by Chika Okoroafor, an Immigration lawyer based in Nigeria. To get a glimpse into the wonderful work she is doing helping people who want to leave (whether permanently or temporarily) Nigeria’s shore,  read our interview with her here.

Hello everyone, please get in here. This article promises to be an interesting yet educative read. Look around you, someone you know is thinking about traveling outside Nigeria. It could even be you. If you are not thinking about it today, you will probably be tomorrow. By nature, we are inquisitive and adventurous beings in constant pursuit of knowledge. With the exception of Agoraphobics, I believe that we all are Christopher Columbus in some way.

I love to travel. For me, traveling is educative, therapeutic, ethereal, fun, and so much more. For me, traveling is living. The beauty of nature can never be aptly defined in words, nor ideally qualified by adjectives. One needs to experience it.

In my university days, I was a member of Junior Chambers International (JCI for Short). The highlight of my membership with this amazing association was that we traveled a lot, locally and internationally, attending workshops, seminars, trainings, conferences etc. Before I graduated, through JCI, I visited 21 out of 36 states in Nigeria ( I have since covered more local and international states). I had fellow Jaycees who covered more states and traveled around the globe while in school.

In those days, as a student my funds were very limited. My parents’ priority was to provide the basics; any extracurricular expenses had to be scraped out from whatever was left and where nothing could be scraped, a little mathematics came very handy. Ever heard of the the 101, 011 or 001 formula? Foregoing one or several of the three meals a day to scrape by. When it comes to traveling, passion always comes before price. Passion always finds a way, for what wouldn’t one do for passion? So I gave up meals to save for a trip. Some sites are priceless, top on the list from my JCI adventure days was traveling the devil’s elbow of the Obudu mountains enroute the famous Obudu cattle ranch; the drive up the mountain is my must trepidus and exhilarating experience yet. Other scenery included the beautiful landscape, rural and cultural preserve of Ilara Mokin in Ondo State, Yankari game reserve in Bauchi state, Olumo rock Abeokuta etc, not discounting friends made along the way who turned family.

Traveling teaches love and tolerance; perhaps that accounts for my unique perspectives of life, one of which is we are all people irrespective of where we come from. Are you conceited and tribalistic ? A healthy dose of traveling will do your soul some good.

Pardon the derail, this article is about international travel via the visitors’ entry permit platform.

Visitors’ Visa is an entry clearance permit granted by a diplomatic mission to a foreigner/ alien according its holder a right to enter its country albeit  temporary for a particular purpose and for a stipulated time frame.  

Visitors applications are the most applications diplomatic missions receive. It’s also the most abused visa. Holders of visitors visas, by regulation, are expected to strictly adhere to the purpose for which visa was granted ab initio. There are plethora of visitors visas, differentiated by purpose of visit e.g. family visitors visa, tourist visitors visa, medical visitors visa, sport/entertainment visitors visa, business visitors visa, study visitors visa etc.

A diplomatic mission may merge a couple of these visitors visa in one clearance permit eg. US B1/B2 covers family, tourist, and business visits while UK standard Visitors Visa covers family, friends and tourist visits. Where a visa stands on its own, its application has to be strictly for the purpose it was issued. For instance, if an applicant is granted visa as a tourist, they are not expected to work, rely on the host country’s public welfare packages like free medicals, school etc. Such indulgence will be a breach of  visa regulation and if caught, visa will be revoked and there may be further consequences like a ban.

Another important aspect of a visitor’s visa is tenure. Before visitors visa is issued, an applicant has to specify the duration of stay. The fact that a diplomatic mission issues more time than applied for, does not automatically confer on applicant right to stay beyond reasonable time. For example, Mr X, a first-time applicant, applied to UK diplomatic missions for a standard visitors visa to visit a friend or for holiday, specifying duration of stay to be two weeks. If found eligible, UK will issue him 6 months multiple entry permit. This length of visa granted does not translate to a right to stay. It is, at the most, tenure bestowed in trust extended to Mr. X to use bona fide, for subsequent visits.  That is why it is a multiple entry visa. Even where six months visa is granted at single entry, applicant is still expected to adhere to purpose and duration stated in his application.

Qualifying for a visitors visa

Most often, people and/or “agents” gamble with their application, using the correction through error approach where they assume that what works for A will work for B.  For instance: A and B work in the same organization, earn the same salary (or B may earn more). A applied for visitors visa and was granted, B did same but was not so lucky. I would be a millionaire if I have a penny for every time I hear this remark “ I did the same thing A did, I earn more, yet I was refused” or “ how come my junior(s) are always successful with their application and I have been repeatedly refused”. Well all I know is that just like in gambling, you win some, you lose some.

Dear readers, please note that visitors visa regulation is based on individual assessment. That you work in the same organization, earn the same income as a colleague who has been assessed eligible does not confer the same status on you. Financial assessment is not limited to income, your financial encumbrances vis a vis your income is also considered.

Using the scenario above, A may be single or married and his wife may also be gainfully employed, while B who may be earning more than A, is also married, his wife is a homemaker, he has two children in school, aged parents etc. From the evidence of his financial statement presented, it will be obvious that his income goes as soon as it comes in. Thus, between A and B, B, is an economic red flag to an entrance clearance officer.

Another analogy on financial assessment: Mr. Y a trader, trades in his registered business name, applies for a visitors visa with his family, he enclosed certificate of business registration and bank statement etc. and his application went hitch-free. His friend, Mr. X, owns a business, a duly incorporated limited liability company, let’s call it XYZ LTD. Shareholders and directors are Mr. X’s nuclear family members i.e. wife and children. Mr. X wants to treat family to a vacation abroad so he got his company’s incorporation documents, XYZ cooperate bank statements. XYZ company is worth billions. He confidently submits documents to a diplomatic mission of his choice. Mrs X and children are already daydreaming about upcoming glamourous vacation. Weeks later the package is returned with the rejection letter enclosed; refusal was on the grounds of lack of funds. It could be that at the interview, the entrance officer asks for evidence of fund and Mr. X flashes XYZ business account statement and officer goes, “sorry but these funds are not available to you”. It’s a simple company law principle enshrined in the locus classicus  case Salomon vs Salomon: a company is a legal being, different from its shareholders – no one can lay claim to what belongs to another. At best an individual may enjoy some benefits by virtue of his position in a company and such privileges must be expressly stated and agreed by board resolution, during a duly convened board of director’s meeting (irrespective of the fact that directors in this scenario are Mr. X and family/Visa applicants).

In nutshell, to present your company’s account for the purpose of proving financial eligibility, documents like, board resolution, letter from the bank where fund is held, and an official letter in company’s letter head are essential. And yet financial eligibility alone, though a very vital tool, does not by itself suffice.

In reiteration, there are no static formula, every application is holistically analyzed before conclusion about an applicant’s eligibility is reached. In addition to one’s economic status, below, are two key factors considered during an assessment of visitors visa applicant.

Proof of Purpose

In applying for a visitors visa, there must be a clear and definite purpose and documents in support for e.g family visit/business visit. When applying based on your relationship with someone in the host country, there should be an invitation letter from your host and your host must be a national or documented resident of the country. In case of a tourist visa, a well planned-out travel itinerary will suffice for proof of purpose.

Ties to Home Country:

A diplomatic mission needs to be convinced that a visitor’s visa applicant is not an economic migrant. How? Via an applicant’s ties to his/her home country. Ties can be ascertained by applicant’s personal and financial circumstances.

Thus, marital status, responsibilities (family/social), financial status vis-a-vis financial liabilities, career, age, immigration history, are factors considered collectively during an applicant’s assessment. Each of these attributes have its significance with regards to applicant’s eligibility.

For instance, a minor applying alongside his parents/guardian has a better standing over an unemployed major sponsored by his parents or invitee. An unemployed, married parent, in some cases is considered eligible over a single, though employed individual. Also some diplomatic missions are not first-time applicant friendly. So here you see an averagely financial applicant considered over a financially buoyant applicant because the former has visited countries the diplomatic mission considered at par with its country while the other applicant may be refused because he/she holds a virgin passport.

In conclusion, the importance of pre-application assessment by a professional who understands the demeanor of various diplomatic missions cannot be overemphasized. Assessment is not recommended for first-time applicant alone. During subsequent applications or renewal, it’s imperative to seek professional counsel as well, for the following reasons:

I Personal/financial circumstances may have changed.

II Change of purpose may entail different visa type, and

III Immigration rules are not static; they are regularly reviewed.

In time, we will discuss each visitors visa type disclosing tips and tricks on how to professionally package a visitor visa application.

It’s school season! My firm represents and liaises with several international schools. If you have any questions or are considering studying abroad, leave a comment below or email us at attorneychika@gmail.com. We will be happy to answer your questions. There is always something for anyone. Our next post will be on student visas. So look out for it.

Thank you all for your comments and shares in our previous posts.

 

Chika Okoroafor

Be Inspired: This 24-Year Old Nigerian Without a University Degree Makes More Than N3.5 Million a Month as a Freelance Writer

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I don’t remember for sure when and where I first read about Bamidele Onibalusi. It could have been in this 2015 Bellanaija post where he wrote about four ways to make money online. Because he is a success story in a field I am considering for a side hustle–freelance writing–I have been following his works through his blog Writers-in-Charge for the past few years. You can read more about his tale of rags-to-riches in Forbes (featured when he was only 19) and in this Huffington Post interview (2015).

Last year, I joined a closed Facebook group Bamidele created where a challenge required participants to make their first $1,000 as freelance writers in two months. Bamidele took the lead by taking up a pseudonym, not leveraging his reputation as an established writer, and solicited clients as a budding writer. Bamidele finished the challenge well before two months. Several other participants went on to establish their freelance writing careers as a result of that exercise. My other commitments did not permit me to follow through with the challenge. However, the challenge motivated me to contact and do a Skype call with partners from one of Nigeria’s top law firms about a business idea; I moved my blog to my domain name; and with Bamidele’s guidance to all participants, I got my first publication on Huffington post.

Yesterday, I got an email from Bamidele (I am only one of his 55,000 subscribers) and reading the email, I was reminded again of how far one can go if they persist in pursuing their goals. I had recently read portions of Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a seminal work that shows that grit (:firmness of mind or spirit :unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger), not necessarily hard work, is the most essential element for success. In the email yesterday, Bamidele wrote that he made five figures last month (he lives in Nigeria but has clients in U.S. and charges in dollars). The email inspired me to reflect on my own goals. Here’s the relevant part of Bamidele’s email:

“Hey,

It’s Bamidele Onibalusi here.

It’s probably been awhile since you last heard from me: I’ve gotten emails from readers who have been missing my updates and wanted to check in to see if I am okay.

Yes, I am okay.

This year has been a very different year for me – in a good and challenging way:

First, I incorporated my offline business and took things to a whole different level (I had as many as 14 full-time employees at a point), and I have been scaling my business gradually. If you have read a bit about me, you probably know about my offline business (the catfish farming business). I took things to the next level starting late last year and got into crop farming, too. This meant I started planting yams (over 30,000 heaps), cassava, rice, maize and plantains. Managing the farm as well as my employees wasn’t easy – it takes time to get the hang of things, but I had solace in knowing that once I put a system in place I can slowly withdraw myself.These days, I don’t work at the farm as much as I did in the early days so I’m obviously doing something right. However, it is one of the major reasons I have been silent over here.

Second, schooling; I am doing a degree program in Psychology. It’s fun, and I’ve learnt so much that I blame myself for not having started sooner! However, it takes time too – especially when you decide you want to get distinctions all through (as I decided). I’ll probably finish the program early next year, though, so this will soon be out of the way.

Third, my health; this year hasn’t been the best for me health wise. My health hasn’t always been perfect, but you should see my energy! Even without the best of health, I do significantly more than very healthy people on the average day! 20-hour days have not been uncommon this year, and even on days that I do not work I usually put in more hours than people working a 9 to 5. Not because I am compelled to – by God’s grace, where I am today (thanks to income from this freelance writing thing that I’ve carefully invested into other areas), I could easily decide not to lift a finger for several years and I’d be perfectly okay. In fact, I spent the first two weeks of this year relaxing with my family, doing nothing — simply “being”. The sky didn’t fall over, and my businesses kept growing. However, I’m not gunning for “okay”; I want to be the biggest farmer in Africa and in the world, and that takes some sacrifice… which I’m more than happy to give. When there are health challenges, though, I have to put some things on the backburner even if I’d have loved to do them.

 

… I still actively freelance (just last month I pulled in five figures in income from my freelancing business – despite being busy with a host of activities). I also have really cool stuff planned for you in the coming days and weeks… especially if you are a beginner freelance writer, so you can stay tuned for that.”

Now, the exchange rate from Nigeria naira to U.S. dollar is about N350 to a dollar. If he made five figures, (I know it’s in dollars because I have been following his works and that is closer to what he regularly makes; also he writes for an international audience and so uses American currency as references) that’s at least $10,000 he made in September. That’s how I came to the N3.5m in the title of this post.

As you may have gleaned from his email, Bamidele has qualities that set him up for success. Having followed his works for a while, here are five lessons I have learned from Bamidele on how to be a success story.

Never Give Up

Like Linda Ikeji, Africa’s richest blogger who blogged for more than five years before earning money from writing, Bamidele blogged for at least two years before he made it. As we marvel at his success, it may be easy to forget all the hard work he did in the early years of his career. He succeeded because of his persistence. If Bamidele had given up at any point before his big break, he would not have been the success story he is today. In his quest for success, Bamidele wrote 270 guest posts in one year! He also wrote 30 posts in one particular week. Even though it looked at the time like his efforts were worthless, they did eventually pay off beyond his imagination.

Just like the Chinese bamboo tree I wrote about here, which doesn’t show much sign of growth until much later, all the efforts we make do add up in the long run. If this is true, and if it is also true that we have no crystal ball to determine when we will get our big break, quitting at anytime could be likened to digging for treasure underground, going several feet in, and giving up when the treasure is mere inches away, not knowing that removing a little more dirt will reveal the prize. So Bamidele’s story has taught me to never give up, and that grit is more important than hard work.

Quit Making Excuses

Bamidele started freelance writing around 2010 when internet service was still unstable and a luxury in Nigeria. He wrote from a computer center. He could have easily given up on his goal because of poor network and the money he spent pursuing a goal he wasn’t certain at the time would yield results.  When his freelancing career eventually took off, he wasn’t deterred from writing for American clients even though English is not his first language. He didn’t give up when he realized that PayPal is not supported in Nigeria. His resourcefulness led him to figure out how to produce content comparable to that of native speakers and to find other alternatives for receiving payment for services he provided. Despite the challenges he faces working from Nigeria, Bamidele is more successful than most freelance writers in the U.S.

Confidence

You may have noticed that in real world, it is not always those who excel in school who go on to be the most successful. In my experience, people with type-A personalities, (You know, the confident, aggressive, ambitious, proactive, highly organized, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, preoccupied with his status, time-conscious, workaholic who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence (thanks Wikipedia) and most-likely-to -get-an-MBA type) are more likely to succeed.

An otherwise intelligent hardworking person may not be as successful as Bamidele if they were not as confident as he is. The tone of his email above gives a glimpse into his personality. Bamidele is among the most sought-after freelance writers because he is confident in his skills and has somehow managed to convince us that he is an authority in freelance writing. And he knows his onions. Even when he was still coming up, Bamidele started a blog aimed at telling writers how to become successful bloggers. It took confidence for him to know his worth and establish himself as an authority. He  charges premium rates and command more rates than some writers who are more experienced than he is. I am not the most confident person but seeing how Bamidele exudes confidence and even toots his own horn where necessary,  I now remind myself that no U.S. president (arguably the most difficult job in the world) had experience on the job before they assumed that role. So I have learned to be more confident in my abilities.

Giving Back

Most successful people have passion for helping others which is usually how they achieved success in the first place. Amazon is dominating retail because of Jeff Bezos’ commitment to making the company earth’s most customer-eccentric business. Bill Gates of Microsoft spends most of his money on philanthropy. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has committed to give away 99% of his wealth.  Selflessness underlines the success of these innovators.

In his own way, Bamidele is giving back to the writing community by showing writers, among other things, how to charge what they are truly worth and not settle for peanuts. He committed his time and other resources to run the Facebook challenge for free last year and I can tell you that till now, testimonies keep coming on the page from people who have successfully established freelance writing careers because of his guidance during the challenge. So Bamidele has shown by example that we succeed more when we bring others along with us.

I Already Have What It Takes

Sometimes, fear keeps us from getting what we want. We tell ourselves that we need to get that certification, that degree, that connection etc, before we can succeed. Bamidele pursued a freelance writing career without having a university education. (He is getting a higher education now). I imagine there are many of us who have postgraduate degrees who still feel they are not sufficiently equipped to succeed. Bamidele’s example shows us that we are more competent that we realize; that success is more a function of our attitude than our aptitude.

Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’tyou‘re right.’
I agree with him.

I hope Bamidele’s story inspires you like it inspired me.

Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: How a Media Feature Inspired Me to Help More Intending Immigrants

Attorney chika
Chika Okoroafor
Anne’s Note: Neither Chika nor I anticipated that our interview last year would generate as much interest as it did. In this feature, Chika takes us through what she has been up to helping people who contacted her with their immigration issues as a result of that interview, and our plans for the future. And we hereby officially launch a series “Travel Smart With Attorney Chika” where she will give us periodic tips on how to successfully travel abroad safe and smart. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I did.
It was sometime in mid-October 2016. I had just got home from a short vacation where I was away from civilization (deliberately) for four days; no phone calls, sms or internet. As soon as I  got into town and switched on my phone, what happened next can be best defined in one word: ‘chaos’.  Notifications were coming in nanoseconds. My screen was lit in red numerical dots–notifications from my email, apps, sms, missed call icon etc. I couldn’t access the internet on my laptop and my poor phone couldn’t handle the traffic. I was startled. I knew I would be coming back to backlogs but the deluge of messages was strange. I hurried home, got my laptop out to access my mail and delete the “spam mails” that were choking life out of my phone memory so I could access my sms et al. So I got into my email and behold they were not spam after all. They were mails from people–feedback from an interview I granted which appeared in Huffington Post.
 
Since that interview, I have been, and I still am, working with clients with immigration issues who contacted me. With the good comes the bad: I have also had my fair share of tough lashes from people who disagree with what we are doing. Some are of the opinion that I am  “promoting brain drain.” Others didn’t quite like the counsel they got. One potential client didn’t take well an honest opinion that given his peculiar personal and economic circumstances at that time, he was not qualified to get a visa to his country of choice. I had advised that he waited a little more and improved his condition to increase his chance of success. However, in the end the good outweighed the not-so-good. Since the interview, the firm has expanded its clientele, increased its network, and potential foreign investors from across the globe have sought us out.
 
Because of what we learned from the  experience–that there is a dearth of qualify information out there regarding immigration–my firm has decided to start a campaign to encourage and offer legitimate opportunities to people who may want to leave Nigerian shores for the proverbial greener pastures.  We have taken this challenge to ensure that people who are desperate to leave Nigeria are not duped off their hard earned money and given false promises by “agencies” whose sole interest is in lining their own pockets.

Just as doctors cannot cure every disease, so it is too that  lawyers cannot win every case. First world countries have in place strict immigration policies to help protect them from being overwhelmed by economic migrants. The effect is that for us in third world countries, not everyone  will qualify for certain categories of visas to visit or reside in developed countries. A good lawyer will tell you from the get-go the likelihood of success of your visa application and give you other options, including other countries, that may be a better fit given your standing in life. For example, someone who cannot afford the high cost of education in U.S. and Europe can be offered opportunities in South Africa and Ghana.
 
On whether or not our firm is doing the country ill by promoting brain drain, I have  this to say: I once used to discourage migration. I disagreed with my friends and families who considered migration. Then, I felt migration  was the height of unpatriotism. But in the course of practicing immigration law and being privy to clients’ unique circumstances–cases that migration is the only option, for example, family reunions, economic opportunities, access to better medical care to save lives etc.–my ideologies evolved. While I still do not support permanent migration, I encourage traveling and temporal migration especially for study, family reunion and medical care.  The present state of Nigeria education and medical system is anything but encouraging. Traveling to other countries is not a luxury; it is educative, hence imperative. Because there is an upsurge of socioeconomic challenges in Nigeria with the political class bedeviling the future of masses with farcical policies, when Nigerian citizens travel abroad, a mental evolution from associating with individuals from saner climes is triggered, and when they come back home, they demand that our leaders do better. I will elucidate on this properly in a separate post. In summary, I see migration now as a tool and not an end.

 
The experience I gained from that one interview has been exciting, draining and most of all humbling. Some cases we handled gives credence to biblical phrase “ My people suffer for lack of Knowledge”.  Nigerians need as a matter of urgency a reorientation about migrating/travel ling especially on the “how” to go about it and the reality of what to expect for “when”.

Since it all started through the author of this platform, Anne Mmeje, when she published our interview on Huffington Post, another platform she contributes to, we, not wanting to be like the biblical nine ungrateful lepers, have decided to partner with her in our campaign to enlighten Nigerians on migration. 

Our firm will use Anne’s blog as a medium to reach out to people who are hungry for information on immigration. We will do this by publishing educative contents about various country visa types and how to meet their requirements. We will also give tips on documentation/packaging. We want the topics to be open and interactive  via the comment session, so we will give readers opportunities to write us about their traveling/immigration inquiries or challenges.

In all, our aim is to promote what we term  “Travelsmart Consciousness” and to provide travel aids to eligible individuals and help non-eligibles find other alternatives to prospering,  even if that means staying back home. We would rather people who are struggling economically save the little they have and invest it here in Nigeria than have them waste it on what is at best a pipe dream. We will also create awareness on the dangers of illegal migration, challenges illegal migrants face and why we discourage same.

Please note while information and answers giving during interactions on the blog is free, any individual who demands for personal service i.e individual assessment and visa packaging assistance will be charged a professional fee.

We intend to start with one publication a week. We will increase the sessions as we progress. We will be publishing scenarios inspired by real-life cases we have handled. (Clients’ and and former clients’ identifying information will be protected so as not to violate our obligation of confidentiality.)
To help us know what issues you would like us to address, we request that you give us feedback in the comment session. You can also write to us on countries of your interest and visa categories you wish us to discuss by sending us an email at attorneychika@gmail.com.

A Death Reminds Me Why We Strive to be Rich

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Sometime last week, I asked about someone I hadn’t seen in a while and learned she had been absent from work because her son died. The son ( a father of five) lived in a gang-infested city with high poverty and crime rate. He was shot dead in his house while he was watching a television. The police ruled that he was a victim of mistaken identity; that the gunman had mistaken him to be a gang member.

Earlier this year, one of my friends declined a job offer from a business in that city because of the high crime rate.  At the time, a part of me thought she was being paranoid. But last week, hearing how the man who died was reportedly a good man and just a victim of circumstance, I reflected on how wealth can afford one the luxury of living in a decent neighborhood. A marketing email, subject – “Money is Not That Important”, I received earlier from Rachel Rodgers a young lawyer who helps women grow their business also came to mind. Here’s the email:

“Dear Anne,

As a business coach whose focus is helping badass women make more money, I hear this line a lot: “money is not that important.”

When entrepreneurs say this to me, more often than not, they are using their supposed lack of concern about money as a defense mechanism. They know they are capable of making a whole lot more money. On some deep level, they know they are seriously limiting their income level and choosing not to live up to their full potential. What they don’t know is how to fix it. So they declare “it doesn’t matter” to feel better.

I call bullshit.
Money absolutely is important and anyone who says it’s not is lying.

My money pays for my children to get a great education. My money pays for the grass-fed beef and organic produce in my fridge. My money keeps the lights on and pays the rent in a safe neighborhood. My money enables me to visit my friends who live all over the world. My money pays for the event I’m hosting next month that will bring women entrepreneurs together to support each other.

My money enables me to help out my friends and family when they need it. My money will take care of my mom when she retires in a few years. My money pays for my family’s healthcare. My money has and will continue to enable schools to get built, provide medical care in war-torn parts of the world, protect the civil rights of Americans and provide startup funds to low-income women entrepreneurs.
My money matters. And so does yours.

If you want to make more money, it’s probably so you can get out of a job you hate, provide an incredible life for your children, be able to go on vacation or go out to eat without worrying about the bill. You probably want to do work that you love, enjoy some free time and have an impact on the world by living your life’s purpose, whatever that may be. You might have aging parents that you need to care for or a baby on the way that you need to provide for. These things matter. That’s why money matters.”

I couldn’t have said it better than Rachel. In addition, money gives us power to fund causes we care about. For example, when I was growing up in Aba, Nigeria, we didn’t have a decent public library. I prayed to God to make me so wealthy that I can buy any book I wanted to read. Years later, even though I don’t buy every book I would love to read, I am privileged to live in a city where I can literally find and borrow most books I want to read from my local library. (I am currently reading Billy Graham’s Just as I am and Hillary Clinton’s Hard choices.) These days I pray God to make me so rich that I can replicate this experience back home by building public libraries that would accessible to everyone.

If he lacked the resources to do so, the good Samaritan in the bible could not have taken the injured traveler to an inn and paid for his care. So besides the temporal benefits, being wealthy can help us complement our faith with good works. Now, that’s a noble reason to aspire to be a Bill Gate.

So what about you? let us know in the comments section the not-so-common reason why you want to be rich.

Anne.

Easiest Way to Get Transcripts From Nigerian Universities

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In 2014, I wrote about ways Nigerian universities can make transcript issuance speedier and more effective. I’d read somewhere that some Nigerians abroad have had to travel back to Nigeria just to obtain their university transcripts. Around the same time, I also had transcript issues with my alma mater.

I suggested institutions digitizing students’ academic records, having application requirements on their websites, and making it possible for students and alumni to apply for their transcripts online from the comfort of their homes.

In the comments section for that post, other people expressed their frustrations and  experiences trying to obtain transcripts from Nigeria universities.

I’m doing this update because recently I have had two Nigerian friends tell me how the perceived stress of getting transcripts from Nigeria is discouraging them from furthering their studies or landing their dream job.

From my research as of July 2017, University of Nigeria Nsukka independently maintains its own i-transcript system. The school charges N15,000 to deliver transcripts within Nigeria and N35,000 to deliver outside Nigeria. UNN alumni can make their applications for transcript online  through this link.

For alumni of institutions that do not allow them to apply for transcripts online on the school’s website, EXT-NG Nigeria is a good alternative. EXT-NG has partnered with many schools to make online application for transcripts possible.

Good news is that EXT-NG also offers online application services for people whose institutions are not partners.

I used EXT-NG services in 2016 to obtain my transcript from Madonna Univeristy, Nigeria and I was very happy with their services and the result. No stories. I just paid them and waited for my school to send my transcript.

Given the difficulty and cost of traveling down to one’s former institution, bribing school clerks and registrars’ secretaries (you may have to buy them malt and pay “signing fees” besides the official fees, especially for public institutions) to do their work, and making more multiple trips to follow up, then EXT-NG is well worth it. And the price, in  my opinion, is very reasonable as it includes the institution’s fees, EXT-NG’s own fees for sending someone to the school (for institutions that insist applications must be made manually at the school), and the cost for delivering to the recipient school.

Before using the service, EXT-NG allows you to input information about the sending and receiving institution so you know if that’s what you can afford. The system gives you the price right away before you put in your personal information. For example, sending transcript from Abia State University Uturu to University of Johannesburg South Africa will set you back N53, 510.00 (all fees and charges included).

I commend Nigerian entrepreneurs like EXT-NG who are helping provide Nigerians efficient services where the government and its institutions failed.

Tell us your experience obtaining transcripts from Nigerian universities.

If you landed on this page because you are trying to obtain your transcript from a Nigerian university, I wish you the best of luck and wish you success in your career and academic pursuits. Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

These Nigerian Celebrities Prove that Unrelaxed Black Hair is “New School”

chioma akpotha

Before the dawn of 21st century, afro-textured hair was unpopular. In Nigeria, it was associated, in a derogatory manner, with Deeper Life Christians. But in recent time, the trend which was once seen as unsophisticated is now popular among elites. A hair type which once characterized women deemed not well-versed in the ways of the world is now worn by the most knowledgeable.

According to Wikipedia, “going natural,” is now so popular that hair care suppliers have seen a rapid decrease in the purchase of relaxers, the chemical hair straightener. An industry that was once worth an estimated $774 million in relaxer sales have gone down 26% over the last five years, says a 2013 numbers report. Sales are estimated to decrease to 45% by 2019. Brands are lowering their production of relaxers and instead are producing more natural-friendly products.

Bringing it close to home, I present to you ten (or twelve, depending on how you count it) influential Nigerians who are leading the Natural hair movement.

1. Chimamanda Adichie
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I her 2013 novel, Americanah, Chimamanda made a case for accepting black women’s hair the way it grows from their scalp. Walking her talk, Chimamanda now rocks her hair in stylish natural ways.

Here’s what Adichie has to say about natural hair:

“Many of us say our natural hair is too hard, too difficult. But that’s because we weren’t taught how to care for our hair. I have discovered the wonders of coconut, castor, shea, even honey for softening hair. Trick is add it when your hair is wet! You get wonderful softness!

Relaxers are not about softness. They are really about texture. Otherwise there are ways to soften hair without permanently changing the texture of hair.”

2. Genevieve Nnaji
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Genevieve Nnaji is perhaps Nigeria’s most influential actress. With over two million Instagram followers, her influence is widely felt when she sets or associates with a trend. While I didn’t find any statement regarding natural her attributed to the the rather reticent actress, popular Nigeria blogs, including Bellanaija have carried numerous headlines of Nnajis’ transition to natural hair.

3. Kate Henshaw
kate

If you consider that it’s been twenty-three years since When the Sun Set, Kate’s first movie, you will realize that this Nollywood beauty is aging gracefully, not that she’s too old at 45.

Besides sharing her fitness routine with her Instagram followers, the beauty also discusses her natural hair journey on her page. In a recent post she wrote: “We are all different. Genes and all. We all will not have thick, long hair.. some are soft and curly, some are wiry and coarse. The important thing is to maintain good hair routines that will keep your hair healthy.”

4. Dakore Egbuson
dakore

Long before her colleagues joined the natural hair trend, Dakore Egbuson wore dreadlocks– a hair style that made her unusually visible in the industry. Although the gorgeous mother of two cut her dreadlocks a few years ago, she still wears her natural hair.

She had this to say about cutting her locks: “I made up my mind that I wanted to wear dreadlocks, and when I was tired of it, I decided to cut it. My husband did not want me to cut my hair; he wanted our children to meet me with the hair. I dance to the beat of my own drum and my path is different from every other person’s. I have my own mind; if I let people shape my opinions of myself, I will not be authentic to myself.”

She deserves credit for seeing the beauty in natural hair long before the rest of us started appreciating it.

5. Chioma Chukwuka Akpotha
chioma akpotha

Chioma Chukwuka Akpotha, the Nigerian actress with the girl-next-door disposition, started her natural hair journey in 2014.

Pictured above (middle) with her Wives on Strike colleagues (Uche Jombo, left and Omoni Oboli, right, who also happen to be naturalistas), the actress wrote about her natural hair journey in her Instagram page some days ago thus:

“@YellowSisi got me gushing all over my hair yesterday , all day! Her “special” touch makes you wonder how she really does it! For anything that has to do natural hair @yellowsisi is there for you. Follow her and you’d be glad you did. For my not so secret to my healthy hair, stay tuned for a post on the products I have used from when I transitioned till this point!. #naturalhair #TeamNatural”

In another post a week earlier, the Early Marriage actress wrote about how she almost gave up midway into the journey: “I’ve been feeling good about my hair all day. It’s been quite some journey from Dec’14 . I did a not so big chop in December 2014 and started the perm to natural transition. It was hard and quite tiresome. I almost gave up especially when it was difficult to comb when the new growth started coming in March 2015.

Now when I look back I’m so glad I didn’t give up! I absolutely love my hair. So with 1 year and 4months on, I believe I can fly.Once you set your mind on something and don’t give up, with time you’d get there gradually.” #NaturalHair #Naturalista”

@YellowSisi, The Instagram user she gave a shout out to also has Kate Henshaw as a client. No doubt, she seems to know her onions.

6. Nse Ikpe Etim

nse ikep etim

I fell in love with Nse Ikpe Etim the first time I saw her on screen. The banker-turned-actress in one of the most influential Nigerian natural hair promoters. She had this to say about her natural hair:

“I don’t wear dreadlocks, it is just my natural hair that you are seeing. I twist it and loose it when I choose to. I do not fix a weave-on because it is artificial. I carry my hair most of the time, except when I have to attach something else to it. If I am playing a role in a home video film, I wear another hairstyle.”

As I can’t miss an opportunity to emphasize the need to follow one’s passion, here’s what Nse said about quitting her banking job for acting:

“I don’t think I remember the year I quit banking. But when I decided it was not longer what I wanted to do I had to leave. I was doing the same thing everyday. I was not passionate about it and I think if you want to earn a living, you should be passionate about what you do.”

She is inspiring in so many ways.

7. Sisiyemmie

Sisi-Yemmie-Bn-Fro-Friday-July-2016-BellaNaija0025

By now, you know how much I love Sisiyemmie. I listed her in my favorite people on the web here.

In an interview with Bellanaija the beautiful blogger who wore her natural her even for her wedding said she will never go back to relaxing her hair.

When asked what she loved most about natural hair, she said: “I love how versatile natural hair can be, I can have it straight today if I want and get it kinky tomorrow. I also love how thick it has become, well, thicker than when I was relaxed. There is a certain look you have when you’re rocking well styled natural hair-you look healthy!”

If you haven’t checked her out, please check her website here. I haven’t missed an episode of her more than now 50 weekly vlogs!

8. Yagazie Emezi

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Yagazie was also among the people I listed as one of my favorite people in the web. The young Nigeria who combines photography with art has an unusually long natural hair because of her Malaysian gene which she inherited from her mother.

Speaking on natural hair, Yagazie said in this clip : “Good hair all has to do with hair care, good hair has to do with how you take care of your hair regardless of whatever hairstyle you have on or what length your hair is…It doesn’t always mean that because you have long hair that you have healthy hair.”

Given how gorgeous Yagazie’s hair is, she’s definitely one to take hair advice from.

9. Eki Ogunbor

eku

Eki joined BellaNaija team this year and she has become a favorite of many even landing an endorsement with a luxury homeware company.

About her natural hair journey she said, “I transitioned for 6 months but I did the big chop after. I did this because I wanted to get a feel of my hair texture before committing to the journey and I did the big chop because I really wanted to see what I’d look like with really short hair. My family was really shocked when I cut off all my hair, others were really angry because I had long relaxed hair.”

About her hair routine she wrote, “I always have one protective style or the other which I get done at O’Naturals natural hair salon and they take good care of my hair there because I don’t always have time to do it myself. They also advice on the hair care routine that’s best for the style I have on and how to prolong it’s neatness till my next visit. Between protective styles, I wash and deep condition with different products like the Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla range, the Cantu Shea Butter range especially the co-wash shampoo and Herbal Essences Hello Hydration range. I also use a lot of Coconut Oil (hair and scalp), Castor Oil (mostly scalp) and Shea Butter (hair, to seal in moisture).”

Eki is definitely one to look out for.

10. Adanna Ohakim

Adanna o

I saved the best for last. Adanna doesn’t just rock natural hair, she teaches others how to take care of it. I’m wearing a kinky twist I braided myself. Thanks to Adanna and her many tips.

Seeing these pictures may inspire you to consider transitioning. When you decide. here’s a list that contains natural hair salons and beauty shops in several cities in Nigeria.

If you are in Lagos, I think O’Naturals is a good place to go. People recommend it.

So what are your thoughts?

P.S If you are a hair dresser who works with natural hair, please write your contact in the comments section so people will find you. Black hair rocks!

WANT TO GIVE SPEECHES AS POWERFUL AS MICHELLE OBAMA’S? HERE ARE FIVE TIPS TO GET YOU STARTED

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On Monday night, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a rousing speech that is still making headlines today. Compare this with the reaction last week when Melania Trump gave hers. Even before the crowd at the convention center learned that Melania plagiarized Ms. Obama’s speech, half of them were so uninspired by her speech that they left the arena shortly after her speech, midway into the Republican National Convention.

I too was uninspired. I thought that Melania’s speech was not as captivating as Michelle Obama’s was in 2012. So minutes after listening to her speech, I went on social media to see who else shared my sentiments. It didn’t take long to find one. A Facebook friend, a colleague, pointed out how Melania’s speech paled in comparison to Michelle’s. I argued that Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama make eloquent speakers probably because of their profession as lawyers. My friend responded that lawyers are only trained in the act of advocacy, not oratory. Later, in a private moment, I googled Websters–To advocate:to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly. My friend and I had this discussion last week. Since then, Bill Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama have given speeches this week that finished to resounding applause.

What makes a good speech? Instead of using her Monday or even 2012 convention speech, I looked online for Michelle’s 2008 Convention speech, her first as an aspiring first lady, just like Melania. I compared the first nine paragraph of Ms. Obama’s 2008 speech with Melania’s. What I found confirmed what I’ve always known: that techniques for effective advocacy can be learned. Here are five tips to help you in making your case–tips that have helped me in my job as an advocate.

1. Start with a story, a quote or a proposition
Your audience decides if you are worth listening to within few minutes of your speech. Captivate them with a story, a quote, a question or a proposition before you lose them. If you look back to memorable sermons from your childhood, you will find that you remember the sermon because of a story, a quote or something new you learned. Each of these makes a promise of something more to come thus making an audience eager to hear more.

Quotes are memorable because they capture in few words an idea that can take pages to convey. For example, a cousin lost her husband recently. I have been struggling with that loss for weeks. Last week, someone posted a picture of the widow and her children in mourning clothes and captioned it: “What cannot be avoided has to be endured.” That quote is one I’m not likely to forget.

A proposition states a theory to be analyzed. So if you start a speech by saying, for instance, “Diabetes is now an epidemic.” You are likely to engage an audience eager to find out what statistics, studies, etc. you are relying on to make that assertion.

When you start a speech by asking a question calling for your audience’s responses, you get the audience involved right away as they will naturally get busy figuring the answer to the question. Once you get them in, it will be harder to lose them.

Stories are my favorite for starting a speech. Here are the first three paragraphs from Michelle’s 2008 and Melania’s 2016 speech.

Michelle’s:
“As you might imagine, for Barack, running for president is nothing compared to that first game of basketball with my brother, Craig.

I can’t tell you how much it means to have Craig and my mom here tonight. Like Craig, I can feel my dad looking down on us, just as I’ve felt his presence in every grace-filled moment of my life.

At 6-foot-6, I’ve often felt like Craig was looking down on me too … literally. But the truth is, both when we were kids and today, he wasn’t looking down on me. He was watching over me.”

Melania’s:
“It’s a very nice welcome and we’re excited to be with you at this historic convention.

I am so proud of your choice for President of the United States, my husband, Donald J. Trump.

And I can assure you, he is moved by this great honor.”

You can tell which of the two is more compelling. With Michelle’s, you are eager to hear more, wondering what Craig has to got to do with Obama winning the presidency. With Melanie’s, you will readily notice that she is stating the obvious, nothing exciting to make you eager to hear more.

2. Show Don’t Tell
Creative writers know that showing and telling is the difference between a good read and an uninteresting one. If you are writing a tribute for a parent for example, telling us that he was the best father and husband anybody could have prayed for is telling us nothing. Every grieving child says that. How about if you tell us that when you were a child, the day your mother went into labor to give birth to your (now) youngest sibling, your father took your mum to the hospital, came home, fed and tucked you and your younger sibling in bed all the while fingering his rosary, praying for your mother whom he couldn’t be with because your parents couldn’t afford a babysitter at the time.

While Melania generally talked about Trump’s love for America without telling us why she came to that conclusion, Michelle, in her 2008 speech, gave concrete examples of Obama’s love for America thus:

“It’s what he did all those years ago, on the streets of Chicago, setting up job training to get people back to work and after-school programs to keep kids safe — working block by block to help people lift up their families.

It’s what he did in the Illinois Senate, moving people from welfare to jobs, passing tax cuts for hard-working families, and making sure women get equal pay for equal work.

It’s what he’s done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades but with good jobs and benefits and health care — including mental health care.”

3. Concede Points to Your Opponent
An audience can tell when one is making an objective argument and when arguments are based on sentiments. When you want to make a case, being objective and presenting arguments in favor of the other side shows you have done your research. It shows yes, you get the other position, but having considered it, you feel your position is a better one.

Once, in a case we tried, an opposing counsel filed a motion with the court requesting attorney fees for over$80,000. This, when the case hadn’t ended as to all parties. Among other arguments we made opposing the motion, we admitted that the dismissed party was in fact entitled to attorney fees, but for less than $3,000. We however requested the court to deny the attorney fees entirely on account of the attorney’s greed in requesting so much when he was entitled to so little. The court ruled the motion in our favor based on this argument. Our conceding that the attorney is entitled to something made us sound fair and it was easy for the judge to agree with us.

Let’s also take Nigerian elections, for example. During the campaigns, Buhari’s supporters that argued that Jonathan may be a decent man but that he was too gentle for Nigeria etc. scored more points in my book than people who simply dismissed Jonathan as corrupt. With his personality, anybody can buy the first argument about the former president but not necessarily the latter argument.

4. Don’t Call Names
Similar to the previous argument, making condescending arguments against your opponent reflects poorly on you than it does on them. In Michelle’s Monday speech, he subtly discredited Trump without once mentioning his name. She merely argued the issues. Her proposition that America needs “someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters” was a subtle reference to Trump’s penchant for tweeting. Also her saying “So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again” was in obvious reference to Trump whose campaign slogan is “Make America great again.” Yet when Trump was asked about Michelle’s speech, he said that Ms. Obama did an excellent job. Yes, Trump said so. So argue the issues. Don’t attack people.

I learned how important it is to avoid name-calling in law school when we were thought never to commit Fallacy Ad Hominem, i.e, attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument. Yet, in my practice as a lawyer, I made that mistake once and I lost a motion. In other two cases where opposing counsels said not so nice things about me or my firm, they lost the motions too.

When one takes such cheap shot, the arbiter may conclude that the maker have no better argument to make or punish them for being so contemptuous. Anybody can call names; people are convinced more when you back up your arguments with facts. So instead of, for example, calling Buhari a dictator, go straight to the argument and give an example of how he made an executive order without consulting the National Assembly. That will make you sound intelligent and informed, giving you credibility.

5. Get a Law Degree
To advocate means to speak, plead, or argue in favor of. That is what you do each time you try to sell an idea. Lawyers are trained to be advocates. 25 of the 44 U.S. presidents have been attorneys. Need I say more?

Anne Mmeje is a lawyer licensed in Nigeria and California. She is also a freelance writer. To contact her email annemmeje@yahoo.com

Meet Chika Ugonwa, Lagos Immigration Lawyer and Entrepreneur

Chiks pic
Chika

Editor’s Note:In Nigeria, it is not often that you hear of a young lawyer whose clients don’t mind having her flight tickets included in their bills. Such privileges are accorded only Senior Advocates and highly experienced attorneys. But because of her specialized area of practice and her dedication to her clients, Chika Ugonwa, a young lawyer in her early thirties, is so sought-after that her practice takes her around the country. Chika (whose vision includes to establish a firm that will serve as a one stop shop for everything Travelling/Immigration inquiry and assistance in Nigeria; to establish bilateral relation with immigration firms all over the world, Embassies and High Commissions; and to build a strong brand on the foundation of Trust and Integrity) granted us this interview discussing her work as an Immigration Lawyer, the epidemic of human trafficking in Nigeria, and why she think laws protecting only women are unnecessary. She also expressed her desire to help women who are marginalized, pro bono. In her down time, Chika writes poems with such great rhymes you will want to give her some dimes. I hope Chika’s extraordinary courage and hard work inspires you, like it inspired me.

We are excited to do this interview with you. Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me. My name is Chika Ugonwa. I am a Lawyer, a Graduate Manager, an Immigration Consultant and an Entrepreneur. In the past I worked with Abubakar Mustapha & Co. (Kaduna) and Threshold Barrister & Solicitors (Lagos). Presently, I am running my own firm Tnencucc Consulting in partnership with Reality Education Ltd (Port Harcourt), Rexcue Barrister and Solicitors (Lagos), and New Dimension Konsult (Kaduna).

Okay, now that sounds interesting. You are affiliated with three firms. What’s the arrangement like?
I started my Immigration Law practice in Lagos with Threshold Immigration Consult which is a subsidiary of Threshold Barristers & Solicitors. As you know, Legal practice is built on trust and in the course of the attorney-client relationship, one has access to client’s sensitive private and financial information. So when I moved to Abuja, a lot of my Lagos clients still sought me. My efforts to get them to work with other lawyers failed. That was where the partnership idea came from. After some attempts at trying to work with my clients in Lagos from Abuja, I realized that I could successfully serve clients anywhere.

For my clients who are based in Lagos for instance, they consult me through the phone or email. Then I do their work and send the finished work to my colleague (Rexcue Barrister and Solicitors Lagos), who ensures my clients properly endorse their documents. For some VIP clients who can afford to fly me to their location, I also go to them to finalize and prep them for Interview.

Overtime, through referrals, my clientèle grew; some clients trust whoever referred them enough to release personal information and pay professional fees without seeing me. Others don’t mind the cost to get a one-on-one meeting with me. When they can afford it, they come to me or if the fee is right I go to them using any of my partners’ office as a meeting point.

Congratulations on your achievements so far. Has law practice been what you expected? Many people go into law school with great ideas. Did the reality of law practice match your earlier expectations of what to expect from the practice of Law?
I don’t know about ‘many people.’ For me, I did not really go into the law program with great expectations or any expectations. The decision to study law was suggested by someone I could never say No to. In secondary school I was good in social sciences and art, my parents wanted me to be an accountant; my grandfather wanted Law. I chose Law. In University my goal was not to fail my grandfather, my parents who were paying for my education and myself. (In my family, my siblings and I are a bit competitive). Long story short: I did not have ‘earlier expectations.’ But having practiced for a while I expect so much more from colleagues, the Bar, the bench, and our legislators (our legislators are surrounded by lawyers, bills are drafted by lawyers so lawyers should be blamed for ALL the faults in our laws). The socio-economic fate of this country to a large extent lies with the legal profession and so it suffices to say we are to a large extent part of the problem of the country. We need strict ethics and conduct regulations.

What has been your greatest challenge practicing law in Nigeria?
Law practice is a very broad concept. The challenges a lawyer encounters are unique to his/her area of practice. My areas are Maritime, Civil, Family, Company and Immigration law practice. I can write a book on the challenges for each but for this interview I will only mention one challenge in Maritime practice which is ‘stagnancy’.

My former firm (Threshold barristers & Solicitors) had over 30 cases on different maritime matters. Apart from one of the matters that I got a default Judgement on, others ended up in settlement before I got the chance to taste my skills in trial. In court one day while I was moving yet another motion for discontinuance and adoption of parties’ terms of settlement, the Judge said (jokingly) that in his 20 years in the bench he was yet to deliver a final Judgement on a Maritime case.

In Maritime, litigation is instituted just to get the shippers/and or the insurance company to settle. Hence in rare cases where the matter goes all the way to trial, there are hardly sufficient judicial precedents to rely on.

But one may consider the cases settling a good thing, seeing how we are now advocating for alternative means of resolving disputes which reduces the stress and hostility associated with litigation. However, I can see how lack of precedence in case law is a disadvantage for the Maritime cases that do make it to trial. Of all the areas of law you mentioned you practice, which do you practice more?
I practice Immigration Law more. Thanks to Nigeria legal system, a lawyer in Nigeria can practice in any part of Nigeria. My Job takes me around the Country (and I hope someday beyond) and we attend to clients at any location within Nigeria.

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Are you surprised at how little or much your clients know about Immigration law?

Not at all; Immigration law practice is still a grey area of practice. I was fortunate to stumble into it myself. Its sounds alien when I discuss it with my colleagues. Apart from a few firms in Lagos I am not sure there are firms in other jurisdictions who engage in it. Imagine how many countries there are and the entry demands for those countries. Through this job, I have learned a lot and I am still learning.

Most people are not even aware of the need to consult a lawyer until it’s a bit late. Some clients come to us with terrible immigration record. There are cases of applicants with over ten refusal stamps in their passports. These are eligible applicants seeking entry for genuine purposes (e.g business, study, medical etc). Their applications are refused repeatedly because of poor or improper documentation. It’s sad considering that application fees are non refundable. A particular client who came to us after he had been refused over and over again only found out after he consulted us that he was serving a ten-year ban as a result of some forged documents an ‘agent’ used in his first application. His refusal letter always stated “refused under para.360H.” I had to explain to him that any refusal under S.360 attracts a ten-year ban. While we do our best to fix some, there are some cases, like the applicant serving a ten-year ban, we can’t fix.

Years ago, anyone in Nigeria could have multiple passports with different identities on each although it is illegal. However, that is no longer practicable in this era of E-passport and bio-metrics. It has now become imperative for people to consult an immigration lawyer first before applying for any visa.

Many Nigerians do not know that some lawyers specialize in Immigration Law practice. For their benefit, please what does a Nigerian Immigration Lawyer do?
You are right. And not a lot of people know that traveling across border is actually a right not a privilege. Let me not bore your readers with sections of UN Treaties and African Charters on Human right and other citations that uphold these rights.

In summary; A country cannot close its borders from entry to members of other territories. There are exceptions though.

We attend to Immigration issues bothering on;
Permanent migrants i.e spouses, children, parents etc. who seeks to join families overseas across border or regularize foreigners already in the country. Temporary Migrants which includes International Students, Work permits (eg. Canada Federal Skill migrant scheme, for professional migrants) etc. My firm is also an International Education facilitator. We work with schools in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia etc. Then we have our cluster clientele: the short time Visitors. Tourist, family visitors, Medicals Visitors etc.

It is quite an interesting job. You will be amazed at the volume of immigration cases there are out there.

In addition to the above, we also organize trainings and seminars. News are often reported about mangled dead bodies found in international flights tyre compartments, like the stories here: http://www.nairaland.com/432392/desperate-man-sneaks-into-delta, http://old.nationaldailyng.com/news/crime/5988-arik-dead-body-uk-authorities-may-join-investigation. Some lose their lives at Sahara Desert or at sea, in desperate attempt to illegally migrate in quest for greener pastures. In the later instance, loved ones are saddled with the agony of not knowing for sure what happened to their wards–pain they will be forced to endure to their graves. Those who promote these inhuman practices for profit will never inform their clients of the risks involved. Through these seminars we educate the youths on the dangers of illegal migration, we warn them against patronising fraudsters who will promise them 1st world countries Visas just to reap them and they families off huge sums of money. We also create awareness on human trafficking.

I am truly amazed at your accomplishments. Chika Unaigwe’s novel On Black Sisters’ Street is an eye-opener on human trafficking in Nigeria and prostitution by Nigerians abroad. I am happy you are part of the group making efforts to stop this inhuman act. So in concrete terms, what type of services do you render to your clients?

1. We offer professional advisory services. Information is very important, especially since countries keep reviewing their immigration rules and regulations to protect their borders against economic migrants and terrorists. It is our duty to advise based on the prevailing rules and regulations. We also advise clients on their eligibility status.
2. We give packaging assistance; a lot of immigration process / application is done online and not many people know their way around the internet nor have the patience to be bothered with it, and the question may be a bit technical, so we do the actual application for clients who retain us to do so.
3. We also represent clients on appeals (via paper litigation) for clients who have been wrongfully refused. We prepare ground of appeal, witness statement(s) etc.
4. Further, we offer International Investors legal assistance through our partnership with other law firms abroad. We can help a client secure an investment abroad, or a foreigner secure investments here (Nigeria).

What is the most fulfilling case you have ever handled?
As a rule, I do not take on any case I am not passionate about. It is my passion that propels me to give my best. In my immigration practice however, one particular case comes to mind though. Client was a 17-year old boy at that time. He lost his mother at a young age. His mother was never married to his father. He was raised by his maternal grandmother who also later became deceased. His father was a Nigerian / Belgian permanently resident in Belgium. He wanted the client to join him. There were a lot of documentary challenges. Initially it looked like a hopeless case. The client, young and without assistance (other than professional fee his father paid to the firm), did all his best to assemble necessary documentation. He made several trips from Edo (where he was living at the time) to our firm in Lagos. The package took about 6 months to tidy up and another 6 months in the embassy. I was gearing up for appeals when the documents came out and his application was granted. This case was fulfilling for me because in the course of packaging the client’s application, I got to learn of his life story. He’d had a difficult life and I felt that he deserved a break. I was very happy he got his visa. He is doing very well in Belgium now.

I share your joy. I do find too that the cases we tend to love the most are not the ones we made most money from but the ones we helped our clients get life-changing results. Given your diverse practice, have you noticed any dissimilarity between Immigration Law and other areas of law practice?
Yes there are, for instance, one of the popular principles in law is that a person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. In Immigration law the reverse is the case. In Immigration Law, it is an applicant’s duty to prove that his/her purpose is genuine before his/her request is granted. In other words, you are considered an Economic Migrant (especially if you are applying from an undeveloped country to a developed country) until evidence proves otherwise.

Another difference is that Immigration law is not guided by Precedence. Even where two clients have the same immigration challenges, solutions are rarely the same. Every application is unique to the applicant’s personal and economic circumstances.

Lagos State government recently uploaded the State Laws on the internet but requires people to make a certain payment before accessing them. What is your take on this? Shouldn’t people know, say the Criminal Code, without having to buy them, in order not to break the law.
I have always been of the opinion that basic laws (criminal law and fundamental human rights) should be introduced as subjects is senior secondary schools and that such laws be also made available to the masses especially since ignorance of the law is not a defence in law. Take this yahoo yahoo thing for example, a lot of youths who engage in it do it for the fun of it as much as for the money. They are ignorant of the fact that they are committing a felony nor the penalty it attracts. But the Government as usual is focused on generating revenue at the expense of the masses’ welfare.

The National Assembly did not pass the gender equality bill that was presented before it earlier this year. What effect do you think passing this law would have had on women’s right?
I have not read the bill though but I do not think it will have any substantive effect on women’s right. I am not aware of any law(in my jurisdiction) that is specifically discriminatory against women. The constitution provided for Fundamental HUMAN rights. The Criminal Code did not segregate crimes or penalties on gender. I am indifferent to the bill just like I am indifferent to the bill on domestic violence (when the criminal code has amply provided laws against physical and non-physical violence). I am indifferent to these laws and bills focusing on women simply because I think they amount to proliferation of laws. If we women are serious about our rights, we should stop expecting special treatment. It is our constitutionally giving right to challenge any law or practice that we feel is discriminatory towards us on basis of gender. Any woman who seeks to challenge such laws or practice will have my support pro bono.

So if someone wants to apply for visitors’ visa to U.S. are you able to do that?
Yes. Like I said the bulk of our clients falls in the Visitors (short term travellers) category. We also serve clients who wish to travel to Canada, Australia, Europe etc .

Where can people get information and resources about Maritime Laws and Immigration Laws in Nigeria?
There are plethora of books and legislations on Maritime: NIMASA ACT 2007, Sabotage Act etc. For Immigration law, there is the Immigration Act but general rule , it is the Immigration rules and regulation of the country a client is seeking entry to that is relied on.

You practice Maritime law. What is the relationship between depreciation of the Naira and Importation?
The Naira depreciation is as a result of Nigeria’s heavy reliance on importation. Nigeria imports almost everything. If importation reduces, the Naira will appreciate.

Thank you, Chika. I enjoyed this interview and I learned quite a lot, and I’m sure our readers will too.
You are most welcome, Anne, and thanks again for having me. It is an Amazing job you are doing with the blog.

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