What Does Nigeria’s New Visa-On-Arrival Policy Really Mean?

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Last Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that people holding African passports can now apply for a visa upon arrival in Nigeria.

“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,” Buhari said at the Aswan Forum in Egypt.

“We should furthermore promote free trade within and amongst Africa and Africans especially now that we have launched the African Free Trade Area Agreement,” he added.

Putting into consideration that Nigeria was one of the last countries to sign AFCTA and has closed its land borders with neighbouring countries for months, what does this new policy mean? Is the Buhari administration pushing for more openness, and why?

What exactly does the policy entail?
Before Buhari made the recent announcement in Egypt, Nigeria had a visa-on-arrival policy for

“frequently high net worth investors and intending visitors who may not be able to obtain visa at the Nigerian Missions/Embassies in their countries of residence due to the absence of a Nigerian mission in those countries or exigencies of urgent business travels,” according to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).

However, the new visa-on-arrival policy, which is set to kick off in January 2020, appears to further expand the class of people who can come into the country with less restrictions.

It favours Africans with a valid passport who wish to come into the country for a short visit, for purposes such as tourism, and grants them legal stay for up to 90 days.

“The visa is only valid for people visiting, not for those who want residency or employment,” Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammed Babandede, told Channels TV in a phone interview on Friday.

Babandede said President Buhari had given approval for the new visa regime a long time and directed the NIS to consult with stakeholders, operate the process in a transparent manner and ensure it does not compromise national security.

Babandede asserted that the NIS had followed the President’s orders, noting that the new policy had been extensively discussed at its retreat in Benin-city and that it has consulted with stakeholders, including security agencies, the hospitality industry and civil society.

“We are really prepared,” he said.

To Do Or Not To Do – The Issues
But not everyone is convinced the NIS has the capacity to ensure the new policy benefits the country.

While recognising the advantages of open borders – increased trade, more earnings from tourism activities – a Professor in the Department of Economics at Bayero University, Kano, Garba Sheka, believes the policy stands the risk of increasing unemployment in the country as it allows migrants from poorer countries to sneak into the country to work.

“We may enter into problems that we come to regret later,” Prof. Sheka said, while responding to questions on Sunrise Daily.

A security expert, Tony Nyiam, also warned that the timing of the policy was wrong, considering the security situation in the country.

“There is too much wishful thinking rather than critical thinking,” he said.

He argued that every country – UAE (Dubai), Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Rwanda – which has implemented a visa-on-arrival policy have tied it towards certain targets geared towards improving the lives of their citizens. It is wrong to do it just because “it is an AU policy, you need to have your own national interest.”

Nyiam noted that “there is no proper in depth consultation within the immigration service” and that “Nigeria doesn’t have the technical infrastructure to detect if someone comes in and disappears.”

“We are a rich country in the midst of poor countries,” he added. “The President was too much in a hurry.”

However, President of a Nigerian foreign relations think-tank, the Association of Foreign Relations Professionals of Nigeria, Gani Lawal, described protectionist perspectives as “local.”

“The trend is that everyone is moving towards free movement,” he said. “We started with ECOWAS; Nigeria played a leadership role there and it has been successful. Now we are moving to Africa in order to show the leadership that God has endowed us with.”

Lawal said Nigeria’s decision to implement a visa-on-arrival for all Africans will pull in other African countries to do the same.

Continental Leadership Over National Interest?
President Buhari’s announcement in Egypt was slightly surprising for two immediate reasons.

The first was that the country had taken its time to sign the AFCTA, despite being one of the major countries that championed its drafting. The government had to consult labour unions and local manufacturers, assuaging their concerns that the agreement would not flood the country’s market with inferior or subsidised foreign goods.

Secondly, in August, President Buhari started to implement a policy of closing the country’s land border in an effort to stem the flow of contraband goods and criminal activity.

Also, since 2015, the Buhari administration has pursued insular policies that seek to achieve autarkic results. For example, the central bank set the value of the naira and banned the use of government foreign exchange to purchase certain goods while directing investments towards local agriculture and manufacturing.

Overall, the messaging from the government was that the country had to depend on its own citizens to grow the economy.

“My greatest desire is that Nigeria moves from import-dependence to self-sufficiency in local production and becomes an export-led economy in goods and services,” President Buhari has said.

Meanwhile, the government’s approach to achieving that dream continues to generate controversy. And the new visa policy will add to the debate. Will the policy end up empowering the Nigerian economy or will it increase the country’s security problems?