For Nigerians travelling abroad to study, settle down, do business, or undertake any transaction that may require their Nigeria-issued documents such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce certificate and other legal documents, it may be necessary to authenticate such documents at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja. This means that it is important to know how to authenticate documents at the ministry – specifically the procedure, costs, and other important details involved in the process.
In order to use public documents (issued in Nigeria) outside the country, such documents must be legalized, certified and authenticated through the Apostille authentication process carried out by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Apostille Stamp or authentication seal basically lends international legitimacy to a particular document and certifies that it is original and was issued by the appropriate authority as claimed.
Depending on your individual circumstances and objectives, some of the documents you may need to authenticate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs include: Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Divorce Decree, Power of Attorney, Transcripts, Single Status Affidavit, International Passport data page, Copy of Driver License, Authorization Letter, Police Authority, and Academic Certificates (degree, diploma, WAEC, etc).
How to Authenticate Documents and Certificates: The Official Procedure
The procedure to legalize or authenticate documents with Apostille Stamp at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja may seem fairly straightforward on paper, but as with all things that involve the government bureaucracy in Nigeria, artificial bottlenecks characterize the process. This makes it somewhat complicated and frustrating.
Depending on the document you want to authenticate and the country’s embassy you’re presenting the document to, the first step is to contact a certified Notary Public to notarise the document for you. This role is typically played by lawyers, and you should contact a lawyer to inquire about this. The cost of notarising the document is not fixed, as it varies significantly depending on the Notary Public in question and on your bargaining power.
After the document has been notarised by the Notary Public, the second step is to take the document with you to the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the actual authentication process takes place, with the appending of an Apostille Stamp on the document.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ask for assigned officers of the Legal Services Division (LSD), to whom you should directly submit the documents – usually between the hours of 9.am to 12 noon on Mondays to Thursdays.
However, to the best of my knowledge, the notarisation requirement is only applicable when you’re presenting the document(s) to the Chinese Embassy. In other words, if you’re authenticating the document for use in China, then it is compulsory to notarise it before taking it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for authentication. However, if you’re presenting the document to other countries’ embassies, it may not be necessary to notarise the document. Simply take the document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for legalization and authentication.
In the case of the Italian embassy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will issue an authentication receipt in addition to the authentication stamp appended on your document. The issuance of this receipt is applicable mainly for documents to be presented to the Italian Embassy, otherwise, the embassy may not honour the authenticated document.
If you’re authenticating an academic certificate such as WAEC certificates, then it is necessary to first authenticate it at the Ministry of Education BEFORE proceeding to the Ministry of Foreign affairs for subsequent legalization.
Cost and How Long it Takes To Authenticate Documents & Certificates
The Apostille document authentication process at the Ministry of Foreign affairs usually attracts an official fee that is currently about N300 – N500 per page, for which payment must be made to the Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) at any commercial bank. Consequently, you would submit the bank teller to the designated cashier at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the issuance of receipt.
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However, do not expect that the official authentication fee is all that you would part with at the ministry, as you may have to grease some palms with tips in order to expedite the process. Otherwise, your document may take an eternity to be authenticated or legalized at the ministry.
The official time-frame for authenticating documents and making them ready for collection is 48 to 72 hours, but of cause it can take much longer or much shorter than that depending on how ‘nice’ you are to the officials at the Foreign Ministry’s Legal Services Division. Don’t be surprised if the documents take weeks to get authenticated, coupled with the incessant goings and comings you’d have to do to follow up on the status.
If you want your documents treated and stamped expeditiously, then it is advisable to ‘encourage’ the officials with the little you can afford to spare. If all goes well, you should be able to collect your authenticated document with the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs authentication seal within a couple of days (Monday to Thursday).
However, depending on the nature of the document, there may be some additional layers of work required – which means a longer waiting time for you to collect it. This is occasionally the case with certain types of certificates (such as marriage or divorce certificates, for instance) which may have to be sent to the issuing authority (e.g. courts or registries) for confirmation of genuineness prior to authentication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is not always the case though, as the additional vetting aspect may be sidestepped depending on certain considerations.
Which Copy Should be Authenticated – Original Document or Photocopy?
A lot of people have asked whether the original copy or the photocopy of a document should be authenticated. The answer to this question is that it depends, as the jury is still out on this one
As a general guide, what we know is that the original copies of documents such as marriage certificate, birth certificate, divorce certificate, Police Authority Certificate and similar documents should be authenticated, whereas the photocopy of your academic documents and credentials should be authenticated.
If the original is too valuable to risk sending it through several tables (and risk losing it in the process), then perhaps you could try using a very good quality coloured photocopy that looks like the real thing. I believe it is also fine to use good coloured photocopies for documents like birth certificates, as there’s not so much scrutiny in that regard. Then again, this is entirely up to you, and a lot depends on what the embassy you’re presenting it to requires.
The Unofficial and Quick Way to Authenticate Documents at the MFA
What I described above is the official procedure. But as we all know, in Nigeria, things can get stuck in man-made bottlenecks and take forever if you choose to follow the official process in government bureaucracy related matters.
Unofficially, you can authenticate documents and certificates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the same day (in a matter of hours) if you are willing to do things the ‘Nigerian Way’.
When you have notarised your document with a certified Notary Public, (if you are presenting it to the Chinese Embassy) take the copy you want to authenticate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the main gate, you would see security officers (policemen and Civil Defence personnel) guarding the premises.
Simply ask one of them to help you get the document across for authentication and indicate your willingness to pay the unofficial fee. Of course, this costs a whole lot more than the so-called official fee earlier mentioned, but the unofficial fee for authenticating documents (charged per page) varies, depending on your bargain.
When you reach an agreement, pay and then follow the security man’s instructions. He may ask you to wait around for about an hour or come back later in the day to collect your authenticated document. If you’re very busy or in a hurry and choose to return later, you may collect his phone number and call later to confirm that the document has been authenticated/legalized and ready for collection.
With this unofficial process, you don’t need to go through the hassles of the frustrating official procedure to authenticate documents. If you prefer to do things the official way and follow due process, then be prepared to end up waiting for weeks and wasting transport money going back and forth from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja. This is unfortunate, but then, This is Nigeria.
So there you have it. That is how the Apostille and document authentication process works in Nigeria. If you need further clarification or would like to share your experience during document authentication at the ministry of Foreign Affairs, feel free to drop your comments here.
OPTIONAL DOCUMENT AUTHENTICATION SERVICE:
If you’re not based in Abuja and would like to get someone to help you authenticate your documents, we might arrange this for you, to help you save transport costs and the associated risks and logistical inconveniences. You could email us the soft copy of the document and then we will print it out and authenticate the copy for you, after which it will be sent to your location via courier. Alternatively, if necessary, you could send the hard copy document(s) via one of the popular transport companies or courier services to us in Abuja.
We will print out or physically receive the documents and sort out the authentication/legalization process on your behalf and then send the authenticated document back to you via courier or waybill. The whole process should take less than three days. Considering the logistics and effort involved here, this is a premium service for which a premium fee will be charged. Kindly note that this optional service is not ‘cheap’, but at least you will be sure of getting your document duly authenticated/legalized and delivered to you with peace of mind.. Feel free to contact us if you need this service.
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Phone Number: +234 905 613 7169