There are strong indications already that the new visa policy recently rolled out by President Muhammadu Buhari has manifested more underlining interests than the promoters have publicly declared.
At a time when the internal dynamics not adding up are accompanied by a general sense of existential angst in the land, a sensitive open-door policy such as visa-on-arrival deserves better handling than some extra-logical optimism that Abuja has been rationalising.
For the purpose of clarity, we understand that the integration of the African region via connectivity and intra-migration of person is noble and commendable as it is being explained. After all, a united and interdependent continent is certainly more viable than a pocket of weak economies struggling in silos. Therefore, a renewed determination at diplomatic cooperation through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is welcome.
As this newspaper noted the other day in a related issue, the ‘‘big brother’’ Nigeria was on the right track of leading the way to sustainable integration of the continent. But we warned policy makers to tread cautiously and aim at mutual benefits through home-grown competitive strength. But from all indications, some key provisions of the Nigeria Visa Policy 2020 suggest that the thought processes have not aligned on the path of caution. Many are therefore left to wonder what the hurried rollout was all about.
The policy in its expanded form provides for a lot of things. Most germane to the Nigerian public is the visa-on-arrival provision for visiting Africans coming to the country on a short stay through international airports. Besides, the policy makes a shift from six classes of visa to 79. Among the lot is the visa for diaspora Nigerians by birth, with dual citizenship.
As it is well known, the visa is approved by a sovereign country for nationals of another nation of mutual interests to upon request come into its domain for the specified purpose and within a time frame. Based on local priorities that vary from one country to another, visa requirements are as well diverse from country to country and often reviewed in line with diplomatic realities.
One is inclined to ask: what are the priorities of Nigeria behind the visa-on-arrival policy for all Africans? Buhari at the inauguration of the new visa policy 2020 said it was intended to attract business opportunities, tourism and integrate Africa. Specifically, the president said: “The policy aims to fast-track innovations, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), specialised skills and knowledge from overseas to complement local capacity without compromising national security.” But a closer scrutiny will show that though the goals are indeed necessary they are not sufficient within the dominant realities.
In global context, one of the main bases of liberal entry policies is its tourism potential. Most visited destinations like Hong Kong, London, Paris, Dubai, and Tokyo, to mention a few, can attest to the fact that tourism is a money-spinning export commodity. Nigeria, the most populous black nation with a year-round good climate for tourism is not even among the top 10 most visited countries in Africa. Morocco, Rwanda, Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Ghana have far better earnings from tourism’s yearly turnover. Therefore, the Federal Government is making a smart move to ease visa conditions to bolster tourism earnings.
Correct as the reasoning sounds, the problem is that a friendly climate and executive hunch are not enough. Tourists’ destinations, just like FDI, are enticed by attractions, accessibility, and security, all of which Nigeria lacks in varying proportions at this time. Besides churches, music and Nollywood movies that have assumed the export lives of their own, tourists’ destinations are still not attractive or accessible for even the locals to see and tell. Perhaps, because of lack of imagination by state actors and concerned authorities, a handful of natural sites that are the most sought-after in contemporary tourism marketing, are still lying fallow and unpackaged to be sellable as our unique contribution to the fastest growing industry in the world. And sadly nothing concrete beyond rhetoric is being done to address these challenges at the moment.
It is self-evident that the Federal Government has, again, failed to acknowledge that a business-friendly environment is more of a self-engineered attraction to both local and foreign investors than an imaginary gain from a migration policy. If the internal dynamics are right, it is most unlikely that the government will have difficulties attracting investors, keeping local businesses or our best skills-sets at home. It suffices to say that seeking requisite skills from abroad when the circumstances that encourage brain drain are still endemic is just as curious as it is side-splitting.
In case the current administration is in doubt, Nigerians are not in short supply of sound education and modern innovative skills. There is practically no skill around the world that at least a Nigerian does not have its mastery. After all, the most educated immigrant group in the United States today is Nigeria as research journals have revealed. More than 70 per cent of black doctors in the U.S. are of Nigerian descent, occupying all 84 sub-specialties in medicine. American Census Board has it that four per cent of about 380,785 Nigerians in U.S. holds a PhD, 17 per cent master’s degree and 37 per cent has a bachelor’s degree.
The point is that average Nigerian blood is a superior performer anywhere and has a love for the fatherland. But because of dismal socio-economic realities and hopelessness on account of consistently depressing clueless leadership, they are finding solace overseas. So, which is more realistic for a government that means well: to improve prevailing conditions and keep the best brains here or junket around the world chasing shadows on the wings of a visa-on-arrival offer?
As this newspaper has always argued, it is almost senseless to keep importing technical skillset from Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cameroun that are either available locally or could be developed by deploying our army of unemployed youths currently roaming the streets.
Most worrisome in the entire arrangement is that the visa-on-arrival policy has an inherent self-contradiction that the promoters have failed to notice or deliberately overlooked. Yet it borders on national security. The security concerns that forced the Seme border to be shut to our neighbours and traders alike in the last seven months have seemingly been disregarded in the new policy. Lately, one would observe that terrorism in the North East has assumed a new dimension and styles typical of international terror groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Abductees, like Pastor Indimi Lawan, were never killed dressed in red or black garments until lately. Even the security agencies have consistently alluded to infiltration by foreigners. If the Boko Haram sects and so-called Fulani killer herdsmen are not Nigerians and have not been repelled to date, then how sensible is the idea of legitimised influx into an already stressed country?
For good measures, the immigration has promised deploying biometric technology to scrutinise applicants of visa-on-arrival to prevent a breach of security. But a borrowed technology is never foolproof and the pioneering countries know this. Otherwise, why is the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, China and other superpowers not granting visa-on-arrival with all the sophisticated intelligence and screening gadgets at their disposal? The matter is especially more complicated with a rash of 79 classes of visa to process by immigration officers currently caught in-between overwhelming schedule, corruption, and beggarly tendencies. Without a comprehensive overhaul of immigration duties, the visa complexity will further expose the officers to fatigue, lure them to sharp practices, and attendant security breaches.
Without gainsaying, the deficiency in our intelligence gathering, identity and data management is staggering. The recent U.S. ban on Nigerian immigrants said as much. While we commend the ongoing efforts at gathering and harmonising data of the citizenry, the process should have been given more priority than a make-belief good Samaritan disposition to Africa. U.S. prohibition of Nigerian immigrants clearly shows that our intelligence system is not as sophisticated or ready as the new policy suggests. Is it that the Nigerian authority didn’t have the requisite information or willfully decided not to cooperate with Washington in sharing information on terrorists and identities of migrants to America? Either way, the development has in unspoken terms accused the government and public administrators of ineptitude, inefficiency, and nonchalance in reputation management. In the main, we would like our duty bearers in the nation’s capital to note that our dysfunctional system at this moment does not need a new visa policy. And so we require urgently a sincerity of purpose, strong internal dynamics, and clarity of thought – yes, for the public good.