Document legalization is the stamping of documents by a foreign embassy or Consulate in Nigeria for use in the country in question. For example a person is applying to study in a university in France and one of the requirements for the application is the legalization of the person’s West African Senior School Certificate by the French Embassy. The person would be required to simply take the original certificate and a photocopy for stamping at the French Embassy upon the payment of the prescribed fee.

Verification of documents by embassies and consulates is a very different thing. This is done by a few embassies and consulates in Nigeria with respect to their long term visa or family reunion visa applications.

For these verifications, they normally request for the applicant’s birth certificate or declaration of age, baptismal certificate, marriage certificate or attestation of marital status, school records, certificate of identification/origin, certificates of death for deceased parents amongst others. They also request for a list of family members, reference persons, employers and witnesses to marriage.

Unfortunately, many people do not understand the reason for the verification and as such have jeopardized their applications by providing false information or providing the wrong documentation.

The main purpose of the verification process is to establish the applicant’s identity, date of birth and marital status using the applicant’s records.  

The applicant’s birth certificate is required to enable the embassy or consulate’s agents check the records of the relevant birth registry to see what the records state in respect of the applicant.

Where an applicant’s birth was not registered, a Declaration of Age (an affidavit) stating the applicant’s birth details and the fact that the applicant’s birth was not registered would be acceptable. The affidavit should be deposed to one of the applicant’s parents, an older sibling or family head. The affidavit could be supported by an Attestation of Birth issued by any of the offices of the National Population Commission.

Unfortunately the norm has been for applicants who do not have birth certificates to go and register their birth at a local government birth registry and bring a fresh or back dated birth certificate that cannot be relied upon.

The fresh birth certificates cannot be relied on in the first instance because, local governments are no longer supposed to register and issue certificates of registration of birth as this is now the function of the National Population Commission.  

The second reason why fresh certificates cannot be relied upon is the fact that they are normally issued without the registry checking the accuracy of the information provided. Where an applicant is registering his or her birth for the sole purpose of a visa application, it only stands to reason that the information the applicant would provide the registry would be the information that he/she wanted the Embassy or Consulate to see, not necessarily the correct information with regards the applicant. The embassies and consulates are aware of this fact and therefore would not rely on the information.

The backdated certificates cannot be relied upon because they are normally fake. In this case, the applicant’s birth details are slotted into a old register to give the impression that the applicant’s birth was registered much earlier.

For birth registrations done when the applicant was born or within the first few years of the applicant’s birth, the information provided by the applicant’s parents is more likely to be the truth and would most likely have been done without the thought of future visa applications. This information is therefore acceptable and can be relied upon.

It must also be stated that birth certificates especially those registered within the first few years of an applicant’s life can also be used to establish the applicant’s true identity. In Nigeria today there is an identity crisis. We have situations where people are given one name at birth, registered in primary school with another name and in secondary school give themselves another name. For example, a boy is named Tijani Omotunde Ibrahim at birth, he is registered in primary school with the name Tunde Ibrahim and in secondary school he decides he will rather be called Teejay and from that day uses the name Teejay on all his official documents and even has his Nigerian passport issued in that name.

For this person, when he is asked to submit his documents, his actual identity would be unknown because of the different names on his documents. The records of the birth register would however help to establish that his actual identity is Tijani Omobola Ibrahim.     

Baptismal certificates are also used to establish the applicant’s identity and date of birth. Again, this can only be done with respect to baptisms done before the verification process. If the applicant had not been baptised at the time of the application, he or she need not go and get baptised, they need to simply indicate that they were not baptised.

The orthodox churches keep very good baptismal records which can be used to establish an applicant’s identity and date of birth.

In Part 2 we will look at school documents and which documents need to be submitted.