The federal government and the Senate have registered their strong displeasure with the planned visa policy of the United Kingdom which would require first time visitors from Nigeria to deposit a £3,000 bond which they would forfeit if they do not abide by the terms of their visa.
This is just as the United States Government has confirmed that security challenges bedevilling the nation are to blame for Nigeria’s exclusion from President Barack Obama’s three-nation shuttle to Africa.
The federal government also requested that the discriminatory policy be reconsidered, as it was inconsistent with the strong relationship built over the years between the two countries.
Britain, however, said no final decision has been reached on the yet-to-be-implemented policy, which also targets nationals of India, Pakistan, Ghana, Bangladesh and other “high risk countries” as the plan was leaked to the media.
Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, met with the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja yesterday and pointed out that the people-to-people relationship between the two countries would be jeopardised.
He emphasised that the federal government has the responsibility to protect the interest of Nigerians who may be affected by the policy if it is introduced.
In a statement released after the meeting, Ashiru noted that the proposed policy would negate the joint commitment by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Goodluck Jonathan to double the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries by 2014.
Ashiru, according to the statement, also pointed out that the decision was being taken at a time when the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers had unanimously recommended the adoption of a proposal to waive visa requirements for holders of official and diplomatic passports from member states at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, later this year.
“The minister recalled with nostalgia, the times when nationals of the Commonwealth travelled freely to the UK and to other member states. This, no doubt, deepened the strong historical bonds between the peoples of the various countries who were all regarded at that time as Commonwealth citizens.
“He further recalled that this time-honoured practice was unilaterally jettisoned by the UK government in 1985, thereby weakening the bonds of the Commonwealth family,” the statement read.
But the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Pocock, in a statement issued by the High Commission, said no final decision had been taken as details of the pilot scheme of the policy, which would be undertaken on a very small scale, were still being worked out.
Pocock, however, noted that if the policy were to go ahead in Nigeria, it would affect a small number of the highest risk visitors and most applicants would not be required to pay the bond.
“Those who pay the bond would receive their money back if they do not abuse the terms of their visa,” he clarified.
“The British government has announced that it intends to undertake a very small scale trial of the use of financial bonds as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system (which occurs when some people overstay their visa terms).
“Let me put this in perspective. Over 180,000 Nigerians apply to visit the UK each year. About 70 per cent or around 125,000, of those applicants are successful.
“Travel between our two countries is a key part of our strong cultural and business relationship. Financial bonds would be focused on only a tiny minority of potential abusers.
“It would NOT be a ‘£3,000 visa charge’ as some media reporting has alleged,” Pocock added.
The envoy said the Nigerian government and the public would be fully informed as soon as more details on the policy have been decided.
The proposed policy has generated a lot of anger from Nigerians, many of who took to the social media to express their disgust at what they consider the disdainful regard for Nigerians in spite of the longstanding historical, cultural and business ties between the two nations.
A highly-placed government official, in an off-record discussion with THISDAY, said Britain was simply looking for revenue to keep its economy afloat and was now looking to immigration, which is a source of revenue owing to the high number of visitors that the country receives each year.
The UK recently increased its visa applications fees and fees for all immigration status.
“The UK makes a lot of money from Nigerian visitors alone, add that to what they make from Indians and Pakistanis who also travel a lot, that is a lot for their economy.
“Imagine if they collect that bond from 500,000 people every six months, they would put it to good use for their own economy and of course, they would not refund it with any interest after the owner has returned to his country without exceeding his stay,” the source said.
The source derided the policy, which he described as exploitative, as a visitor may have his bond automatically seized if he decided to leave Britain on the last day of his visa and suddenly encountered unforeseen circumstances.
“If they go ahead with this and all the mentioned countries gang up against them and shun travel to their country, or even shun studying in their country, the country stands to lose a lot.
“They treat us with disdain, but they vigorously advertise their schools and offer various study incentives to our people, because they need our money.
“It would encourage Nigerians to seek out other holiday destinations; imagine having to deposit £3,000 per person by a family of four that wants to go on holiday. There are more pleasurable and less expensive holiday destinations,” he said.
In the Senate’s reaction to the proposed policy, Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, yesterday said Nigeria had the option of reciprocating the UK’s plan to place a £3,000 bond on Nigerians seeking entry into the country.
“Reciprocity is not an option lost to us (Nigerians),” Ndoma-Egba said.
He said if the UK insists on implementing the plan, Nigeria might be left with no option than to also compel travellers from Britain to do the same.
He also disclosed that the Senate leadership had written the president requesting “areas of priority” in the 2013 Budget Amendment Bill that was submitted to the National Assembly on March 14.
He, however, said the Senate was yet to receive any response from the president, a factor, which he said, contributed to the delay in legislation on the amendment.
“The Senate leadership has written President Goodluck Jonathan and we are waiting to receive areas of priority in the amended 2013 budget,” he said.
In the meantime, the United States government has confirmed that security challenges bedevilling the nation were to blame for Nigeria’s exclusion from President Obama’s three-nation shuttle to Africa.
But the exclusion will not affect bilateral relations between the US and Nigeria.
The US government said the trip would focus on trade and investment, democratic institution-building, young people, and unleashing economic growth.
The clarification was made at a briefing by the US Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes.
The briefing was addressed jointly by the Senior Director for African Affairs Grant Harris and Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, on President Obama’s upcoming visit to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
The text of the briefing was made available to journalists in Abuja yesterday by the Information Office of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S Embassy.
Rhodes said: “With respect to Nigeria, we certainly believe that Nigeria is a fundamentally important country to the future of Africa. We’ve put a lot of investment in the relationship with Nigeria through their leadership of ECOWAS, through the significant US business investment in Nigeria and through our security cooperation.
“Obviously, Nigeria is working through some very challenging security issues right now. And in that process, they’re going to be a partner of the United States.
“We certainly believe we’ll have an opportunity to further engage the Nigerian government through bilateral meetings going forward. But at this point, we just were not able to make it to Nigeria on this particular itinerary.
“I will say that we purposefully designed the itineraries to be able to reach West Africa, South Africa and East Africa, and in West Africa, to visit Senegal, a French-speaking, Muslim-majority democracy that is an important partner of the United States and also provides a platform for the president to speak to the broader region.
“We are also looking at ways, at the president’s town hall meeting in South Africa with young African leaders, to draw in through technology young people in Nigeria and in Kenya, among other places, so that the president is using this trip to speak to the broader African audience. We recognise we’d like to go to as many countries as possible.
“Time only permits us to go to these three. But we want to make sure that in each country we’re speaking to the broader region. And we’re going to make use of technology and other means to do so.
“And to the middle question, the Africans who have been frustrated — look, I think it points back to Andrea’s first question. This is a region that, frankly, has been underrepresented in our travel.
“And for all these questions of why the president is going to Africa, I think the question that we’ve been getting is why hasn’t the president been in Africa more?”