Topmarké Attorneys LLP, one of Toronto’s leading law firms offering an integrated array of services, has just opened an office at 2 Gafar Close, Aromire, Off Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria. The principal partner, Johnson Babalola, who flew into Nigeria recently fielded questions from TheNEWS about the services offered by his firm, especiallly immigration consultancy, what applicants can do and the steps they can take in order not to fall victims of scammers. Kemi Oduwole, the one of the firm’s partners in Canada also flew into Nigeria, was also at the interview session. She is currently in Nigeria to consult on Canadian immigration matters. Over the next few weeks, the firm will be providing free sessions on every area of Canadian immigration and business opportunities in Canada.
You are in Nigeria, your country, again from your base in Canada. Is it for pleasure or business or both?
Johnson Babalola: It is for business. We came in to set up our law firm in Nigeria and we found out that there had been an increase in the numbers of Nigerians that are interested in travelling overseas (especially Canada) specifically to do business and also to seek to stay in the country. Applications for Canadian residency from Nigeria have increased tremendously so we thought we needed to have an office, a base here to be able to meet with people and access them properly because we found out that a lot of people are being provided with the wrong advice. But beyond immigration we do some other things because we are business and immigration lawyers, so that is why we are here.
The name of your company is now Topmarké Attorneys. It has gone through some metamorphosis over time. Kindly explain this.
Johnson Babalola: Basically when we set up the business many years ago, I was the sole lawyer. The firm’s name was Johnson Babalola law firm. Over the years, we had gone through some positive changes. About two years ago, we brought in seasoned lawyers as partners and associates. If you want to grow to a higher level (I really had a vision for this firm), I do believe that you need great minds to come into the business boat with you and turn it into a ship. That is what we tried to do and I was lucky enough to have Kemi Oduwole (who came into Nigeria a few days ago to consult on Canadian immigration matters), Akin Reju (who is in Canada right now). We also brought in a Canadian immigration lawyer to permanently manage the office in Ikeja. They came on board and we made some changes and added some other professionals: lawyers, paralegals and consultants. Now we have up to 20 staff working with us, we have two office locations in Canada, now we have one in Nigeria and we still hope to expand to other locations. Our office in Nigeria is headed by a Canadian immigration lawyer. The whole idea is to have the capacity to be able to handle our cases on time and improve our customer services and deliver the works we have been engaged to do on time. That was why we wanted a name that would not be attached to a particular person. So after deliberating for a long time, we arrived at Topmarké. That is a beautiful name. Beyond the name, our partners, associates, paralegals and consultants are some of the most sought after immigration lawyers in Canada.
I visited you in your office in Ikoyi, is this an extension of that place or is it independent of this one on Adeniyi Jones Ikeja?
Johnson Babalola: No, Ikoyi is no more, we rested Ikoyi some years back and then we gave birth to a new child and then here we are!
Apart from Immigration consultancy what other services do you offer?
We do other things, we are into Immigration, Refugee Protection, Corporate & Commercial Law, Real Estate, Wills and Estates, Family Law Litigation Children Protection, Mining, Energy Law, Intellectual Property, Franchising, Adoption, Compliance, Mediation and Arbitration.
Kemi Oduwole: We are into debt recovery, company secretaryship, trainings, and we do a lot of mediation, arbitration and general corporate and business services.
Now recently Canada unveiled a three-year plan, 2018-2020. Apart from increasing the number of immigrants from 300,000 to 310,000, certain terms were used which we want you to explain: Economic Immigrants, Express Entry, Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) and others…
Johnson Babalola: You know the yearly information about the number of immigrants to admit into the country is not new, it’s always done every year. What they did was to announce that for example, the coming year, we are going to take x numbers of people. The government is looking at raising the annual immigration intake by 13% by 2020. The immigration plan is to bring the immigration level to 0.9% of the population. In 2017, our population in Canada is 35.5 million people. That translates to about 300,000 immigrants to be brought in. In 2020, this will rise to 340,000 immigrants. Interestingly, this still falls short of the 450,000 immigrants recommended by 2020 by the government’s advisory council. Canada is a country that has set its goal re immigration intake just like I believe all of us should be setting some goals in life. And they believe that they cannot just open their door and say to everyone to come in! So they have a number that they are looking at for every year and that’s what they are working towards.
In respect of the breakdown, you mentioned economic migrants, express entry, spouse sponsorship. What they are looking at is to bring people in based on these different programs. When we talk about economic migrants, these are individuals who are, because of their education, work experience, business experience can transfer all these to Canada, and establish there. Some will come in as investors. Some can come in as self employed. Be you a business person, artist, business manager etc, once you meet certain criteria, you may be able to emigrate under the business class. That is the route that many people should be taking. Under the economic migrant scheme, we also have the express entry program.
Express entry which is for the individuals who are professionals. There is also the skilled trade class. Such individuals must meet certain criteria and must be prepared to live in Canada permanently. They have to go through some processes. The name express entry might be deceitful as it the process might not be that fast. Unfortunately in Nigeria there are many people that do hear that and say oh it can be done within three months. Yes that is possible through three to six months, you might have your permanent residency right from here in Nigeria or wherever you are. Unfortunately majority of the people that use this entry programme are either not qualified at all or will stay in the pool for several months before they get picked if at all they get selected. It is like JAMB system. There is a cut off mark, everyone all over the world is applying for this programme. What they do is that they give points to different criteria, they are looking at age, education, proficiency in French, English, work experiences, relation in Canada etc. They are looking at those at different points. I plead with Nigeria not to pay thousands of dollars to anyone to assist you unless you are sure you stand a chance of being selected to apply for permanent residence. So the points that they will give to a 25-year old applicant for age is different from what they will give to a 44 -year old. Different points for work experience, language proficiency etc. So, by time you put these together and then you are looking at the figure, let’s say for example, out of 1,000 in total, you score 250 and there are other people who are scoring 500. Obviously Canada will pick those who are scoring higher, just like JAMB. That is the way it works, and then if one makes it, they will ask you can apply for permanent residence, that is where the word express fits in. Until you are picked, it is not express! It can inn some cases be like a slow locomotive train.
Topmarké Attorneys, Canada
There is also the spousal sponsorship. Basically if you have a spouse, husband or common law partner that basically wants to sponsor you, such application can be initiated. The relationship must be genuine and not be for immigration purpose. People can also come in as sponsored children by their parents.
There are other visa programs: student visa for those that plan to come to Canada to study. You must show proof that you will return to your country after completing your studies. There is the work visa application. It concerns me when I read or hear in Nigeria that Canada is looking for workers and people are being made to pay for such. The rule is simple: Your prospective employer in Canada must show that there are no Canadian residents available or qualified for the job you are being offered. This is not an easy process. Such prospective employers will also not ask you to pay them any fee in exchange for employment. You should be concerned if you are being asked to pay in order to obtain employment in Canada
Then the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) is basically another immigrantion channel that has been put in place in difference provinces and each province will approach the Federal government and make a case for why they should be allowed to bring in x number of people under different programs. Once they have the Federal government’s green light, they then proceed to set up different programs to attract immigrants to their provinces. There are strict criteria for these programs. Some will be through sponsorship by family. Others will be through employment, work experience or education. Quebec has a unique immigration process thar prospective applicants can explore too.
The other thing I want to say to Nigerians is that we hear often that once you are refused any type of Canadian visa, student, visiting, permanent residence, work permit etc, there is nothing you can do. That is not correct. I encourage those in such situation to seek for a Judicial Review of the decision at the Federal Court in Canada through a Canadian lawyer. This is one of the reason why we are in town: to educate Nigerians of what they can do legally. Our firm can handle such matters. We can basically handle a lot of things from here, the world is a small place, we are in Lagos now and we are consulting, for a couple of months we will be consulting, so people can always walk in and ask us questions.We’ll also continue to be on the ground to assist.
Is there any term like Canadian visa lottery?
Johnson Babalola: There is nothing like visa lottery, it is unfortunate that many fall for this misinformation. I have come across many that had lost money into individuals who are misleading them. It is a scam, it doesn’t exist. But I think the term came from the express entry program wherein you put your information in the selection pool. When you get selected, it seems like a lottery, but it is not a lottery visa at all and Nigerians need to understand that. I honestly plead with Nigerians to engage the services of Canadian immigration lawyers or IRCC recognized immigration consultants to handle their matters for them. I think there are too many unregulated people misleading people. It is sad. Only Canadian lawyers and regulated consultants can represent individuals before the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Only lawyers are allowed to represent applicants before the Federal Court of Canada and other courts. So, as they say in Nigeria, shine your eyes!
How can people who want to travel to Canada beat scammers?
Kemi Oduwole: The first thing I will say is that they should not be impatient. A lot of Nigerians want quick action, and it is when somebody tells you bring N2 million in order to travel to Canada, you should be wary of that, they should learn to follow due process. Anything you want to do, any where you want to go, there are processes to doing things, you find somebody explaining to you that I can do this thing within two months, and they will tell you because we know somebody inside, I think they should be wary of that. This is one of the most important things to look out for and then two, if it is too good to be true then it might not be true. We must understand that no serious country in the world will open its door to all applicants to come in without checks and balances. Especially, Canadian immigration system is an old well established system. Canada is a very friendly immigrant nation but there are processes which must be followed. So you must learn to follow due process.
I must add that like Mr. Babalola said previously, prospective applicants must engage the services of professionals. There is one important thing I want people to be careful about. A lot of people look out for information via the internet. Thank God for the internet but all you read on the internet might not be correct information. Prospective applicants should go online and check people’s profile. Ask questions. Be prepared for good services. There are a lot of people by the time their application had been refused due to one error or the other, they approach us for remedy. Often, the foundation to the whole application is faulty and difficult to rectify. At times the firms they patronised are not recognized by the IRCC. In visa applications, owners of such unregistered firms file applications in the ames of the applicants rather than in the name of the firm as representatives.
It is better to consult with the right people to do the work for them so that we don’t have to start doing another processing which will cost them more. Sometimes the wrong steps applicants took may even damage future applications and applications to other countries like the US, New Zealand, UK and Australia. Canada has a five country agreement to share informaation with these countries. Individuals who had misrepresented some facts to the Canadian government will be found inadmissible to Canada for five years. Even misrepresnetatiion made inoccently may attract being found inadmissible. I mean you will be inadmissible for years. So you have to make sure that you get the right professionals to guide you as to how to go about it. If you cannot afford the fee of the professional, you can settle for consultation only.
Johnson Babalola: If I may react to that. Like Kemi had said, you know there is no country in the world that would open its doors for everyone to walk in. It is not possible! When people say here that Canada wants workers, this and that, people should always bear in mind that there will be criteria, if you don’t meet the criteria, go back and work on that criteria. If you are short on a couple of points to qualify for immigration, work on it. For example, if you will gaing extra points with a master’s degree, go and do a masters program and then come back and try again. Knowledge, whoever is representing, you must have knowledge, ask questions and ask to the extent of what they can do.
The other thing I want to say to Nigerians is that the reality is that not everyone will qualify for immigration. Some will remain in Nigeria all their lives. They should make the best of it rather than waste on a process with no prospect of being successful. Sadly, some had spent all their hard earned resouces on applying for different immigration programs without any success. They might need to hit the pause button and think through this. Some also base their decisions on the counsel of their pastors, imams or babalawos. They tell them they cannot make it in Nigeia until they travel. So, all their active lives, they foscus on notin else but leaving Nigeria. Immigration is not for all. Some that had travelled, especially those that had left illegally, are not doing well. That is the reality.
So basically there is a lot that people need to know. We have free ongoing seminars on Canadian immigration in Lagos, Abuja, Abeokuta and Ibadan for the next few weeks. This is all about providing truthful information to interested individuals. Indviduals are free to email us to register to attend the free seminars.
What is your success rate?
Good question, here is a way I always answer this kind of question. You ask someone that wants to make money his success rate. What will you expect him to say? He’ll say 100% or thereabout. But the buttom line is this, when it comes to the work we have done I will say to you that our success rate is very high. But one thing though, when it comes to being successful in immigration, there are a number of parties to it, lawyers or the consultants on one side, you have the applicant, you have the officer or person reviewing the file, everyone has a role. The lawyer could have done his best, excellent job but you might have to find out that the applicant himself or herself had misrepresented some facts, which is a major problem here. You have people that might not have money in their accounts but find one way or the other to provide some account details, which might not necessarily be authentic. This is not common and it is not peculiar to Nigerians, but it happens. If such a person is refused, that can affect the success percentage of the lawyer, it is not the lawyer’s fault, these are the kind of things we need to look at and avoid. I always say that applicants should at least be truthful. When you engage a professional, ask questions. Do not sign forms or documents you don’t understand. Ensure you are on top of your application. Obtain copies of all documents submitted on your behalf. Canada hates it when people bring in fraudulent document. Then the third party to an application process is the decision maker. There are different people with different mindsets. What officer A might overlook or rationalize, officer B might not. This affects the decision especially in situation where the decision to say yes or no is at the diecretion of the decision maker. We always represent our clients to the best of our professional ability. Clients must always provide verifiable documents and information based on truth. Very important.
What is generally the relationship between Nigeria and Canada
That is a tricky question! I don’t want to get political. I would believe that I remember some years back when former President Jonathan, came to Canada for the G-20 summit and then he addressed a group of Nigerian Canadian business people and I happened to be there. He traced the two countries’ diplomatic relations back to many years. He spoke about how Canada stood by Nigeria at difficult times. There is a lot of trades between the country. In 2012, The Canada-Nigeria Bi-National Commission was created and it serves as the forum for bilateral discussions on trade, politics and other issues. I read that in 2016, Nigeria was Canada’s largest bilateral merchandise trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa worth about $1.88 billion. In 2016, Nigeria was Canada’s largest bilateral merchandise trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with bilateral merchandise trade totaling $1.88 billion. Same year, Canada’s merchandise import from Nigeria was about $1.57 billion. Canada imports mineral fuels and oils, cocoa, rubber, lead and processed foods from Nigeria and exports products that include wheat, cars, software etc. Canada also offers bilateral development assistance to Nigeria in other areas: security, humanitarian etc. In 2014, Nigeria and Canada signed an agreement: Canada-Nigeria Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). There is a lot of opportunities in the mining sector.
Over the last few years a lot of Nigerian business people had come to Canada to explore the opportunities in Canada. Nigerians should learn from Canada: how has such a country veeb successful? We have His Excellency, Adeyinka O. Asekun, the new Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, an extremely respected business man, and I do believe that people like him will improve our relationship. I think we should explore mining, which an area of law we handle in pur firm. Education is another area Nigeria can learn from Canada. Right now a lot of Nigerians are studying in Canada. We can do better by improving our education system. Diplomatically we need to improve and speak more about what we can offer the world and Canada inclusive. Nigerians are doing very well in Canada.
Is there any way you are handling or helping Nigeria in terms of bilateral relations? Has the Nigerian government approached you? If so, are you ready to help?
No, I have not been approached, not directly, not by the government. We do a lot of work for individuals, in terms of immigration, businesses, there are some people that just come into Canada to study the environment and some Canadians of course who want to explore Nigerian business terrain. We are professionals, we are lawyers, we are business people and so we have been very relevant in those areas but in terms of government approach, no. There are some areas Nigeria will need to learn from Canada. In immigration system, it needs a lot of work, quite frankly even as a lawyer there are some things others here can learn from the Canadian lawyers association to get to that level whereby we are respected. When the judicial system of a country is weak, it is not good for business and other things. Nigerian can learn from Canada with respect to a solid judicial system. In all those areas we are able to help, we are open to help anyone that wishes to be helped including the government.
What is your advice to those who want to travel and work in Canada?
My advice is to think deeply about it before you leave Nigeria. Living in Canada or any other country in the world is not a bed of roses. There might be some thorns. If you word hard though, you will be successful. Also, stay away from smugglers, we all saw the video of some of our brothers and sisters trying to cross to Europe through different places who were made to go through hell. Nigerians go through hell because they are desperate. Many are vulnerable. There is also misinformation about what truly obtains in foreign countries. Smugglers promise heaven on earth but they abandon them once they leave the shores of Nigeria. Some are forced into prostitution. If you don’t know what waits you at the other side of the door, don’t go through the door.
Nigeria is losing a lot of brains. The government must wake up to its responsibility. Many Nigerians go through illegal means to leave the country and that means that if they get to Canada, they have no stability for many years. So people should try to research: are there legitimate means for me to travel. Nigerians seeking to travel should seek professional help. Having said that, if you plan your life well and you are well informed ahead of your travel, you will be very sucessful here. Canada is a beautiful country that provides opportunities to succeed if you have the right status. Personally, I am proud of many Nigerians living here. They are very hardworking and successful.
Finally, I will advice parents sending their minor children to foreign countries to study to be at alert. Some of the children are lost to the foreign countries while many do well. That is a different discussion for another day and we are happy to counsel parents ahead of their children travelling abroad to study.