Gertrude Ngozi Chinegwundoh is secretary of the Ebe Union UK, an Ibo community organization.  She is a member of Windrush Lives and works to raise awareness about the impact of the scandal on people from the Caribbean diaspora, Nigeria and the wider (new) Commonwealth.  She has contributed oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee (December 2020) and media reports including to ‘Lessons Still Not Learnt from the Windrush Scandal’ (Byline Times, 30 November 2021 ).  The article written by Sasha Baker and Sian Norris notes:

“Chinegwundoh works with Nigerian people who have been denied returning resident visas. The visa is open to people who had previously settled in the UK. But for people like Ann, it fails to take into account how some Nigerians were illegally denied re-entry to the UK before 1988.

This may be why Nigerians have fared so poorly when applying for returning resident visas. Just 17% of the 337 people in Nigeria who applied to return have been accepted under the scheme, half the rate of acceptance for applicants in Jamaica.”

Chinegwundoh believes it would be more correct to term the Windrush Scandal, the Commonwealth scandal.  This would help undermine the prevailing misconception that the Windrush Scheme and Windrush Compensation Scheme apply only to people with Anglophone Caribbean heritage.

The following interview was conducted in Room 245, Senate House, University of London, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU on 14th October 2022.

Copyright & Permissions – Gertrude N Chinegwundoh granted the University of London exclusive license to use this material for (i) academic and teaching activities, (ii) research facilitation and promotion and (iii) reporting or knowledge transfer. This material, including photograph, cannot be reproduced without permission.


Interview by Juanita Cox

G. N. Chinegwundoh Interview [Short Excerpt]

KEYWORDS: Nigeria, Commonwealth, Ebe Union, Windrush Victims, Siblings, Nigerians, British passport, Home, Indefinite Leave to Remain, Returning Residents Visa, Two-Year Rule, Parents, Family, Uncle, Aunt, Windrush Generation, CANUK, Ibo, Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), High Commission, Biafran War, CUKC, British Embassy.

Transcript [Excerpt 00:49 to 18:30]

JC  00:49
Let’s start with where you were born.

GNC   00:55
I was born in Wimbledon, South London. I think St. Teresa’s hospital. Yeah.

JC  01:03
And what’s your parents background?

GNC   01:06
My dad came here in 1957. My mom joined him in 1960. They got married in Battersea actually at – I can’t remember the name – in Altenburg Gardens in Battersea, St Vincent De Paul Church.  They lived in one room in Battersea.  After my older brother was born and after I was born, my dad bought his first house because he wanted us all to be together. He bought it with his younger brother. And then they went on to buy another, I think six or seven houses together. And they were landlords. So a lot of Nigerians would come in, and they will stay in one of our houses or upstairs in our main house.

 JC  01:48
So I’m just wondering, we’re basically having this interview because I know that you’ve been working with members of the Windrush generation and the wider Commonwealth. And I saw an article in one of the newspapers saying that you were the secretary of the Ebe union. Yes. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

 GNC   02:13
Ebe union was formed by my dad and some other people from a town. There’s a town in Enugu State called Ebe in Udi local government area. So they formed this association when they started coming in the 50s and 60s.  We used to have get-togethers like 3-day Christmas parties, and usually in our house, in my parents’ house. That all kind of faded out when a lot of people started going back to Nigeria, but it was started up again, I think, about 20 years ago, and I was a secretary until I think last year, then we had elections. And I also want the other, want the younger people to take over, because I’ve been doing it for years and years. So yeah.

JC  02:56
So that’s interesting. What was the main purpose of the organization?

GNC   03:00
To support solidarity. Plus we do projects in Ebe. Like we put electricity in a primary school. We provide a school uniform, shoes and socks to the primary school children. So that was my last trip to Nigeria, where I had to go to the, had to go to the market, buy all the fabrics for the primary schools, buy the socks, by the sandals.  It was just, it was just crazy. Then find tailors to sew them. And it was just hectic. Yeah, so we try to, it’s about development in Nigeria. And also we go to the seaside here, go on trips. We have meetings every two months where people host in their houses. So it’s just to support each other and support people in Nigeria as well in Ebe.

JC  03:48
Does, does the organization provide any financial support? I was just wondering if it’s a bit like, you know, how they have the pardna type of system.

 GNC   03:56
No, not really no, but we all pay dues and levies towards development projects in Nigeria.

JC  04:03
And what if, you know, in instances where somebody might have a problem here in the UK, is that something that they could go via the organization to get support and help?

GNC   04:18 
Only to notify people that we can find help, if they need a lawyer or find…yeah. Or sometimes people come here, they haven’t got anywhere to stay, they might find their way to London. So in that case, somebody would help them or help them get a job, you know, that kind of thing.

 JC  04:36
Does the organization have any sort of connection and association with other organizations from Nigeria?

 GNC   04:43
Um, yes, the neighbouring towns. They had a big Ibo festival a few months ago. So all the Ibo organizations, they all met up and had a day out and all dressed up and the traditional dances. But we’re thinking about joining CANUK.  CANUK is a Central Association for Nigerians in the UK. It’s a massive umbrella organization. So we’re thinking of joining them.

 JC  05:08
Can you just spell the acronym again,

GNC   05:11
C. A. N. U. K., CANUK it’s a central association for Nigerians in the UK.

 JC  05:20
And I just, I was interested in what you said about many of the members returned back to Nigeria in the 70s. [GNC: They did yeah.]  Do you know the reasons why people were, decided to return?

GNC   05:31
Um I think because there was a civil war between 67 or 70. And we were the side that were called the Biafrans and people returned either to repair the damage done in our, you know, our ancestral homelands or to visit relatives, and a lot of them, they had ageing parents. Like when my uncle, my dad’s junior brother, went back because my grandfather had had a stroke. And he eventually died in 74. But then that’s how he got stuck out in Nigeria. And, you know, couldn’t,  he came back a few times on short trips, but couldn’t come back to resettle. So it happened to quite a few of them; about six or seven of them.

JC  06:12
So can you explain that in more detail.  When you say your uncle, so your uncle came over here [in 61] in 61. And then he didn’t return until when?

GNC   06:23
He went back to Nigeria in the 70s. And then he was coming and going, but I think at one point, he did not come back for quite a while. And then when he tried to come back, he couldn’t. So there was, there were quite a few people like him, and they were Nigerian Windrush victims. And then when, when we’re trying to help him get back, we couldn’t. And in the end, he never got any of his pensions, because he worked for British Rail and the Post Office and he couldn’t actually physically get back. And this went on for years and years, until he died in 2003. Yeah.

JC  06:54
So when he went for an extended period, was it because he had gone for longer than the two-year [GNC: it must be!]  I think they had like a two year-rule.

 GNC   07:05
Yeah. But nobody was told about two-year rule, or there was such a thing as a Returning Resident visa. Every time he went to the High Commission, they just said, Well, no, you don’t have Right of Abode. And your ILR has expired or lapsed. And that was it. They never, and then the women were usually given visas because they thought they would return to Nigeria, but the men, the men weren’t so.

 JC  07:14
When you say the women, do you mean that in terms of the experiences you have within your direct community?

 GNC   07:35
Yeah, like my uncle’s wife. And my auntie, she got a visa.  Most of the women were given visas, even if it’s Visitor’s visas, like my friend. Because they felt they’re more likely to go back to Nigeria. But the men, they thought were not, even though they had a right to actually stay. Yeah.

 JC  07:52
So in terms of your uncle, so he would have accrued, I mean, he would have contributed to national insurance and uhm, did he ever speak to other members of the family, including yourself about the challenges he was facing?

 GNC   08:08
All the time. I mean, when I used to visit Nigeria, and yeah, I was staying in his house. He did. He definitely tried to apply to come back when his daughter was getting married in Birmingham. He applied to come back and it was no, so my dad had to walk her down the aisle. It was just so heartbreaking. It’s just awful.

JC  08:25
So he couldn’t even get in. He couldn’t get in on a returning [i.e., returning resident’s visa].

GNC   08:32
We didn’t even know that existed. But every time we made inquiries, or he made inquiries, they didn’t even say that was an option. So he kept on applying for a visitor’s visas and kept on being refused.

 JC  08:43
So he was going to the British Embassy in Nigeria, presumably, and then they were just saying they couldn’t help him.

 GNC   08:51
So yeah, he missed the huge milestone’s in his children’s lives, really, and, you know.  And then eventually, when he became ill, and we tried to bring him over here, and when I was trying to sort out his pension, in the end, we had to flying him to Italy for medical treatment. And then my poor dad had to fly out to Italy. He was quite elderly by then. And then he flew back to Nigeria, and then eventually he died out there. 2003 without ever coming back here.

JC  09:18
So your father did? [GNC: no,  my uncle.]  Your uncle? [GNC: His brother, his brother] Right.

GNC   09:23
My dad registered in the 80s, I think. As a British citizen, yeah. Within the registration period anyway.

JC  09:32
So presumably, because you were born here, you don’t have any issues, [GNC: no] and your siblings didn’t? You’re all born here. Do you remember, I think you said you were born in 62?  Do you remember your parents ever talking about the need to register for…? You know, you said your father registered.

 GNC   09:56
One time when my mom’s coming back from Nigeria and I think the immigration officer he said to her, you need to register otherwise next time we might not let you in. Like okay, she came on a British passport.  Same as my Dad, a CUKC passport. So um, so she went and registered, yeah. Because somehow she missed all the publicity or I don’t know. But yeah. So after that, I think many people registered, but the people that were already in Nigeria, they didn’t get that opportunity to register.

JC  10:27
And just going back to your uncle for a moment, did he, I mean he, so he had this pension that he should have been able to get access to. And yet, the embassy and nobody gave him advice. Nobody told him how to get that money?

GNC   10:46
Well, I made inquiries, and they said that he has to be physically in the United Kingdom to claim it, to do the paperwork. And I said, Well, he can’t get a visa and that’s how it ended. Not just him. I mean, there was about three people I can think of. One of them worked down the mines. Newcastle-Under-Lyme and he never got his pension. So. None of them did actually, no. 

JC  11:07
They were all Nigerian. They were all Nigerian?

 GNC   11:10
They were all from the same town but the story is replicated in other towns. I talked to somebody in church last week. His uncle is in his 80s, hasn’t got his pension, and is trying to get back. There’s quite a few people like that. So it’s ridiculous, really. So that’s, that’s another mini scandal in itself the pension, it’s the stolen pension scandal. They, I think they should have their pensions up to the time that they died. So my uncle from 1997, he should have got his pension until 2003. Six years of pension that he never got. So I don’t know whether his wife can get it but I’m looking into that but not making any headway actually. With the DWP, not going anywhere at all. I think my auntie is trying to chase it up as well, with a subject access request.  We’re just not getting anywhere at all.

JC  12:07
And presumably, they won’t talk to you about individuals, an individual’s pension?

GNC   12:17
What the DWP? [JC: Yeah]  I think, I think my aunt through someone, through maybe Citizens Advice, she did a subject access request. And after that, I’m not sure what the process is. No one seems to know, like if somebody has died, whether you are entitled to get a pension up to the time he’s died? It’s a mystery to everybody, including the government. Yeah.

 JC  12:42
And I’m just still interested in what you were saying about your uncle, because you’re saying that he wasn’t able to then attend his daughter’s wedding. So were his children, all of his children here and that, while he remained in Nigeria, mostly.

 GNC   12:58
At the time of the wedding they were all back. They went back briefly and they all came back. Great. Well, let me see, one of them, the one that was not born here, she she was a Windrush victim and she had problems. But she’s now got a British passport. Under the Windrush scheme, she’s got a British passport. Yeah.

JC  13:16
And did that go quite smoothly? What?

GNC   13:20
Yes, not, well. In 2018, I went to Nigeria, when I heard about the Windrush scandal, and I told her she was a Windrush victim and all the other people I knew.  So because she happened to have a visitor’s visa because her daughter’s here and her grandchildren, so she flew here to do her application, but all the, all the other people that applied in Nigeria, they were all refused. And she was she was successful, because she was actually here and then she’s got a British passport now.

 JC  13:48
But so the people that are applying from Nigeria what’s the process they have to go through when they’re applying? Where do they go to apply?

 GNC   13:55
There’s an overseas, there’s a form for overseas applicants. They do it online. Then they have to go to some kind of processing centre for the biometrics.  It’s not the High Commission, I think it’s VAC [visa application centre] some kind of centre anyway, or TFS, for the biometrics, then they go home.  I think all the, all the paperwork is sent here. And then after that, they get a decision, which is usually negative.

 JC  14:21
I was at one of the, you know, they have the home office, were doing those zooms, telling people about the scheme and encouraging them to you know, apply to them. And somebody brought up the issue of Nigerians having to send in their physical passports and then seemingly, maybe they go missing or something like that. And I was wondering if you had heard about…

GNC   14:51
Not so much that they go missing. I’ve heard of some cases where they hold on to them. I’m not really sure why for ages and ages until people kick up a huge fuss here. Then they get them back. I’m not sure why, why they do that. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to hand in the original anyway. I’ve got my uncle’s original and yeah.

 JC  15:10
So when did you first become aware that people of Nigerian heritage were actually having problems with their citizenship status. Was it? Was it literally because of your uncle? Or?

GNC   15:23
That was one of the reasons and all the other people from that particular town. That was early 80s, probably. Yeah.

 JC  15:29
And then I guess from the early 80s, you may have just thought it was a an individual, you know, kind of individual issue rather than a much wider issue. And so when did you realise no, this is like a big thing.

GNC   15:45
Um, I’ve been hearing rumours about this two-year thing that if you’re away for more than two years, you can’t get back in. Just been hearing it and, you know, even at school, I think some of the Caribbeans they wouldn’t go on school trips or anything, because they’d heard things. Like if they went, they wouldn’t get back in. And, yes, I’ve been hearing things growing up. But um, I didn’t know, it was a widespread thing across the entire Commonwealth.

 JC  16:13
So did you, you said you went to Nigeria in 2018. Was that literally then when it started being reported in the media?

 GNC   16:22
When I heard about the Windrush scandal, I thought, Oh, these people are all Windrush victims, yeah. Then I went to Nigeria. And I had a meeting with them. And then I just started the ball rolling, but before that, April 2018, I had called the Home Office, and given the details of all these people, and they said they are Windrush victim’s including my deceased uncle. So that was April 2018.  I’ve got all the notes that I made. So then,

 JC  16:48
So that was literally, was that just before the scandal broke?

 GNC   16:52
No as soon as I heard it.  David Lammy and all the rest of it. As soon as I heard it. And when the Caribbean heads of, heads of government when they went to see Theresa May, since I heard that, yep, I was on the phone, to the home office, like literally all these people, were Windrush victims. And they said, Yeah, they are so. Yeah.

 JC  17:14
And so all the people that you mentioned to them, do they have their situations resolved now?

 GNC   17:23
My cousin because she flew here.  All the other ones that applied from Nigeria, no, they refused them. I’ve gone through the review process of one of them. They refused that as well. And there’s no appeals process. So.

 JC  17:36
So there’s, okay, so there’s no appeals process. And meanwhile, when they make the application, what kind of documentation are they asking them to share with them?

 GNC   17:46
Passports showing that they were here, school records, maybe.  Just evidence that they were here before 1973. And also, we’ve got this ridiculous situation where people are saying, well, I made enquiries, at the British High Commission, and they said, No, your ILR’s lapsed, you’ve got no Right of Abode. In my cousin’s case, they said she wasn’t born here. So she’s got no rights. And the home office in their letters, they say, ‘Well, who did you speak to in 1982, 1983, 19’? And who did you actually speak to? We haven’t got any, any evidence that you went to the British commission. It’s like a template letter they’ve sent to all of them.

 JC  18:26
So they’re expecting people to remember who they actually spoke to?

 GNC   18:30
And provide evidence that they went to, yeah. So when I’ve asked the home office, well, do you have records then? And they said no, they don’t. Those would have been FCO records, Foreign and Commonwealth Office as it was then. And they don’t, they no longer have those records. But they expect the applicants, the Windrush applicants to provide that evidence. Like who they spoke to, what they said. You know, just just going around and around in circles.


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