Mr Richard Bello has been running a travel agency for many years in Akure, Ondo State capital.
In this interview with KAYODE CROWN, he explores the different dangers people encounter in desperation to leave the country and some of the factors responsible for that desperation, while giving advice on the best ways to go about it.
Tell us about your background?
I went to Ijapo High School, Akure. After that, I obtained a Diploma in Computer Studies from the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA).
Thereafter, I went to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife to study International Relations.
Right from my youthful days I had been interested in travelling abroad. I have a sister who married a Pilot. So I started dreaming of being a pilot.
When I discovered that becoming a pilot is very expensive, I changed my dream to International Relations, in order to have something that will give me an experience outside the country.
After that, I registered at a Travel and Ticketing School in Lagos. I got a Diploma in that school and an Advanced Diploma. I was there for a couple of months because it was difficult to set up my company.
Setting up a business is not easy in this part of the world. I have to get an office space to get the business running. So I went into the sales of handsetS and computers.
I will go to Lagos, to the Computer Village and get new and old laptops, and phones and bring them down here.
While doing that,I had the vision of travelling abroad for study. So when these people from abroad who offer admission on the spot in Nigeria come (they normally come to Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan) I will go and meet them. I will fill forms and go through an admission process. But no money to pay for the school fees.
Along the line, I developed an interest. I discovered that there are so many Nigerians who want to study abroad. So I asked myself: Can I help them? I also discovered that some people have been duped.
Many people want to get out at all cost. So because of that drive, they fall into wrong hands and they are duped.
And I have been there before. At a time, before getting admission I wanted to travel. So many agents took my passport away, a whole passport. They will take my money and passport and I won’t see them again.
So I wanted to help people. I wrote to schools abroad if they can give us an access to scholarships, that people can come to study. They responded well, and I went for the training.
I started with ticketing. From ticketing, I got a school in Malaysia and they gave me a license as an international representative to recruit for them; that was in 2008.
That opened doors for me. Quickly, I got a little shop, people started coming. I collect N20,000 from some and some free. I was just happy that at least people are travelling. I say to myself”so this thing can be real?”
It gave me joy and satisfaction. Sometimes when they get abroad, they call me on the phone and say: “Bros, thank you very much.”
Many people, in a bid to go for greener pasture have risked their lives and many have died making the precarious journey out of this country to Europe.
How do you respond to this?
It is really a very sad thing, particularly when you look at Africa. A lot of people have jumped through hurdles, through major challenges; many people travel by air, by road and many people travel “by legs.”
People go through Mali, through Morocco, to enter Spain. It is a very deadly route. Sometimes, when thousands of people pass through that place, only 10 survive the journey. When they are trekking on that road, there won’t be water to drink, food to eat.
And you know, what led to the situation is that Nigeria keeps without making provision for them.
When you are in school you come home and you are given pocket money.
But when you are out of school, will you continue to collect pocket money? You want to fend for yourself. You want to work, but there is no work to do.
You apply, they will say five years experience is required. Somebody who just graduated, where is the five years experience?
So it has been a very tough time, but in the western world, our people would find something to do.
Nigerians are hard working people, I say it everywhere to whoever cares to listen. Nigerians are hardworking.
They are ready to work if there is work. When schooling abroad, they still work. People here that even said they are working are not working.
They go to office in the morning, but they just go there to sleep and come back home to play.
What really bothers me most is the issue of people being duped, paying through their noses and not get the services demanded for.
What do you think are the causes of this?
Number one reason is that the applicants/clients are frustrated. They think going abroad, relocating, getting job abroad, schooling abroad, they think it is automatic.
It is not like that. Getting an admission in Nigeria, either to Colleges, School of Nursing, Polytechnic, University, isn’t it a tug of war?
It is a really big tug of war. So getting it abroad, do you think it is going to be easier, crossing the ocean? There are limited spaces and the competition is high.
So the problem of falling into wrong hands is because of desperation. They want it now. So in their desperation, they fall into wronghands.
Secondly, many people that they engage as agents are not qualified.
A good number of travel agencies in Ondo State are not registered, either with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in the state or Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).
That ministry manages every travel engagements in the state and the local level. So if you are operating, you must register with them.
NTDC manages things at the federal level. Before you can take people abroad, you have to register with it.
It manages us, monitors our activities and all that. Many people are not registered with those bodies.
Thirdly, many people that say they want to recruit people to school abroad are not registered with those institutions. Or they are not trained to do that.
How can people guard against falling into the hands of the wrong person?
Before you engage a travel agency, you need to know if it is a registered body, registered with Corporate Affairs Commission. It would give you rest of mind.
You also need to find out about their track record Most of the time, travel agencies have an online presence, a website. That is a platform that shows that they are really active and have the testimony of people they have helped in time past.
Another thing is that most of our people are very lazy. If you want to travel, you should be able to engage your agent intelligently, ask him questions.
There is nothing we agents are doing that you cannot do on your phones. Go online, go to google, search.
You can ask people. So if you have done your research and you get to the agent, you know the question to put to him and if he is saying the wrong things, you will know.