Despite the objections raised by the Senate and reservations expressed by some Nigerians about its visa-on-arrival policy for Africans, the Federal Government has commenced the implementation of the new visa regime.
According to findings by Sunday PUNCH, the visa-on-arrival policy commenced on January 1, 2020, as planned. Also, the Nigeria Immigration Service has deployed a new border management security system in four airports across the country.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on December 11, 2018 at the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, in Cairo, Egypt, announced the visa-on-arrival policy for Africans.
“We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020,” the President said.
But, the announcement was greeted with criticisms by many Nigerians who believe the policy might worsen the security challenges facing the country.
The Senate also on December 17, 2019 summoned the Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbosola, and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede, to brief the them on the policy.
The resolution was sequel to a motion sponsored by the Senator representing Ekiti North, Olubunmi Adetunmbi, when he drew the attention of his colleagues to the fact that the executive did not carry the legislature along before coming up with the policy. Adetunmbi is also the chairman, Senate Committee on National Planning.
Adetunmbi, in his lead debate, argued that the executive did not seek necessary amendments to extant laws by the National Assembly before the policy would become operational.
The Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, in his contribution, had said Nigerians were worried about the policy because of a spate of insecurity in the country caused by some foreigners coming in.
“We want to make sure that we take care of our citizens before we start taking care of the whole Africa,” he added.
Senator Gabriel Suswam also said that since the President made a policy statement “it is now incumbent on him as Mr President to also direct the necessary authorities to bring the Immigration Act for us to amend.”
On his part, Senator Abba Moro, who is a former Minister of Interior, said when international agreements were entered into by Nigeria, they should be properly domesticated to give them a bite of legality and legitimacy.
Meanwhile, Senator Jibrin Barau has called on the National Assembly to provide legal backing to the policy, adding that the visa-on-arrival policy is being practiced in developed countries and that it could open a country’s economy to emerging markets and investment opportunities.
In his remarks after the debate, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, called on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to forward all treaties and agreements entered into by the Federal Government to the National Assembly for ratification.
Lawan thereafter threw the matter up for vote and a majority of the senators voted against the policy.
But contrary to the Senate position, the immigration service had begun the implementation of the policy.
It was further learnt that a border management technology known as the Migration Information Data Analysis System had been activated at all the international airports before the commencement of the policy.
They include the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and the Port Harcourt International Airport.
The MIDAS collects, processes, stores and analyses migrant information in real-time across the border network and provides a strong statistical base for security, migration policy, and planning.
It automatically captures travellers’ biographic and biometric data through the use of document readers, webcams and fingerprint readers for the purpose of identification, biometric verification, inspecting, authenticating travel document and collecting and analysing data of migrant information in real-time across the border network.
Before a traveller arrives at a border crossing point, the MIDAS is able to check incoming Advanced Passenger Information data against international alert lists from the International Police Organisation and other security agencies.
Meanwhile, the NIS has also posted necessary information on the revised visa process on its website to guide prospective applicants. It described the facility as a class of short visit visa issued at the port of entry to frequently travelled high net-worth investors and intending visitors who may not be able to obtain the visas at the Nigerian Missions and Embassies in their countries of residence due to the absence of a Nigerian mission in those countries or exigencies of urgent business travels.
Intending visitors are required to obtain a visa approval letter before proceeding to Nigeria.
The NIS post read in part, “Visa approval letter is a document approved by the Nigeria Immigration Service headquarters that allows a traveller to proceed to Nigeria to pick up entry visa at the point of entry.
“Visa approval letter normally takes two working days to process and e-mailed to you and your representative/contact who applied on your behalf in Nigeria through email or your representative/contact in Nigeria. Visa on arrival is not valid for employment or residence.”
Applicants are required to have a passport with six months validity period and were expected to proceed to the visa on arrival section for approval verification, biometric enrollment, and issuance of entry visa upon arrival at the port of entry.
The applicant will be required to present their approval letter, passport, evidence of payment, evidence of accommodation in Nigeria and return ticket.
Spokesperson for the NIS, DCI Sunday James, told one of our correspondents in Abuja on Saturday that the service personnel were ready to implement the visa policy as directed by the Federal Government.
He stated, “At the point of entry, biometric capture is carried out by the MIDAS, a technological tool that collects the data of migrants with Iris facilities for facial capture apart from the fingerprints for a two-step security verification process.”
“All NIS personnel working at our service windows, especially at the entry and exit points, have requisite knowledge of the visa policy and service direction using the criteria for security, economy and transparency as a fool-proof measure.”
Currently operational in countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, the MIDAS was designed to be compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Organisation for Standardisation.
Speaking during the installation of the MIDAS at the Abuja airport in November last year, the Comptroller General of Immigration said that the system would curb transnational crimes.