Authentication and legalization of documents is often a necessity for Nigerians travelling abroad to study, settle down, do business, or undertake any transaction that may require their Nigeria-issued documents and certificates such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, WAEC and degree certificates, police character certificate, bank statement for visa applications, and other documents. Most consulates, high commissions, and embassies will require you to authenticate such documents and certificates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja.
In order to use public documents (issued in Nigeria) outside the country, such documents must be certified and authenticated by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Apostille Stamp or authentication seal appended on your document by the Foreign Affairs Ministry basically lends international legitimacy to that document and certifies that it is authentic and was duly issued by the appropriate authority as claimed. Therefore, it is important to know how to authenticate documents and certificates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – specifically the procedure, costs, and other important details involved in the process.
Depending on your individual circumstances and objectives, some of the documents you may need to authenticate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in furtherance of your visa application include: Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Bank Statement, Power of Attorney, Single Status Affidavit, International Passport Data Page, Declaration of Assets and Income, Copy of Driver License, Authorization Letter, Police Authority, and Academic Certificates (WAEC, NECO, Degree, Diploma, Transcripts, etc.).
How to Authenticate Documents and Certificates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Official Procedure
Document authentication 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 or certificate 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 notarize the document for you. This role is typically played by lawyers, and you should contact a lawyer to inquire about this. The cost of notarizing 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 (unless explicitly stated by the particular embassy as a requirement). Simply take the document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for legalization and authentication.
If you’re authenticating an academic certificate such as WAEC or NECO certificates, then it is necessary to first authenticate it at the Ministry of Education BEFORE proceeding to the Ministry of Foreign affairs for authentication.
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.
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 applies to certain types of certificates (such as marriage certificates and academic certificates, for instance) which may have to be transmitted to the issuing authority (e.g. courts, registries and schools) for confirmation of genuineness prior to authentication by the Ministry. This may take weeks or longer, so be prepared for many ‘come today, come tomorrow’ delays. However, this is not always the case, 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, divorce certificate, and Police Character Certificate 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 the requirement of the embassy you’re presenting it to.
How to Authenticate Educational Certificates and Academic Documents at the Ministry of Education
For those who are seeking to study abroad, it is compulsory to first authenticate your academic certificates and credentials (such as WAEC or NECO certificate, degree certificate and in some cases examination transcripts) at the Ministry of Education before presenting them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for authentication as described above.
Unfortunately, the process for authenticating educational certificates and other academic documents at the Ministry of Education is even more stressful and time-consuming than what you would later encounter at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
First, you have to take your academic documents to the 8th Floor of the Federal Secretariat Building in Abuja (where the Education Ministry is located), present a print out of your WAEC or NECO certificate, and obtain a form which you must fill to begin the process of authentication.
For those who want to travel to Malaysia for studies, there is an extra retirement known as the Letter of Eligibility which will be issued by the Ministry of Education alongside legalization after evaluating your First School Leaving Certificate, Testimonial, and other associated documents. This can take a considerable amount of time to sort out.
Subsequently, you will be asked to go and make payments via REMITA in any commercial bank for each of the documents to be authenticated. The official cost or each document is about N300 – N500 per page currently. The total cost would be computed to let you know exactly how much you need to pay at the bank. Being a REMITA payment, you would have to first generate a REMITA payment ID that will be used to designate your payment to the appropriate government account.
After making payment, you have to make a photocopy of your payment slip and take the original to the Revenue Office of the Ministry of Education. Afterwards, you would submit it along with your certificates and wait for instructions pertaining to when you should return for the authenticated certificate(s). Be prepared for many frustrating ‘come today, come tomorrow’ delays,, only you choose to follow the unofficial process which is discussed subsequently.
Note that the Ministry of Education only attends to issues relating to authentication of academic documents on Mondays to Thursdays, so Fridays are out of it.
The Unofficial and Quick Way to Authenticate Documents at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Education
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’.
After you have notarised your document with a certified Notary Public, (if required by the embassy you’re applying to, e.g. 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. They would assist your with the necessary bank payments and scaling the official hurdles to get the document out quickly, albeit for a much higher fee than the official cost. That’s a premium you may be willing to pay for your convenience and urgency needs.
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.
If you’re authenticating an educational certificate or academic documents such as WAEC, degree certificate and transcripts, you would have to first sort out the authentication at the Education Ministry as discussed earlier. However, these officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs may also help you organize the authentication at the Education Ministry for a significantly higher fee. You would have to negotiate that separately with them.
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 and the Ministry of Education 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, or Ministry of Education 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 depending on the nature of the document and your location.
Considering the logistics, legwork, and effort needed to handle this task efficiently, please note this is a premium service for which a premium fee will be charged. But at least you will be sure of getting your document duly authenticated and delivered to your location with peace of mind.. Feel free to contact us if you need this service.
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