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 is compulsory to authenticate such documents by notarising them and getting an Apostille stamp on them at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means that it is important to know how to authenticate documents at the ministry, especially the process, costs, and other important details.
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 basically lends international legitimacy to a particular document and certifies that it is original and was issued by the appropriate authority as claimed.
How to Authenticate Documents and Certificates With Apostille Stamp
The procedure to legalize or authenticate documents with Apostille Stamp at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja is fairly straightforward on paper, but as with all things that involve the government bureaucracy in Nigeria, artificial bottlenecks characterise the process.
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.
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 typically less than N500 per page (currently about N300), for which payment must be made to the 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 with the Apostille Stamp.
The official time-frame for authenticating documents and making them ready for collection is 24 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. 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 Apostille seal by the next morning (Monday to Thursday) or within two days at most.
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 prerogative considerations.
The ‘Real‘ Unofficial and Quick Way to Authenticate Documents
What I described above is the official procedure. But as we all know, things can get trapped in man made bottlenecks if you choose to follow the official process in government bureaucracy related matters on Nigeria. Unofficially, you can authenticate documents and certificates at the ministry within the same day (less than 2 or 3 hours) if you are willing to do things the Nigerian way.
When you have notarised your document with a certified Notary Public, take the copies 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 place.
Simply ask one of them to help you get the document across for authentication and indicate your willingness to pay the unofficial fee. It costs between N1, 500 – N2, 000 per document, depending on your bargaining power. Pay about half of this and collect the security man’s phone number.
The security agent would likely ask you to wait around the premises or come back a few hours later for the authenticated document. When you call him and he confirms that the document has been authenticated, you can pay the balance and collect the document. With this unofficial process, you don’t need to go through the hassles of the frustrating official procedure to authenticate documents.
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.