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.
The visa-on-arrival policy commenced on January 1, 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 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 practised 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 findings on Saturday showed that 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.
Aregbosola, Babandede may address Senate February
Meanwhile, there are strong indications that Aregbesola and Babandede may address the Senate on the visa-on-arrival policy in February.
A senator, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the issue on the condition of anonymity, however, said the red chamber would go ahead with its plans to summon them.
The source, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Interior, explained on Saturday that the resolution of the legislators to summon Aregbosola and Babandede to appear before them at plenary was taken two days to the start of the Christmas break by the National Assembly.
The source said, “It (visa -on -arrival policy) is a sensitive issue that must be carefully handled by the Senate before we give our approval. We could not do anything before we proceeded on the Christmas break but considering the importance of the matter, we will start taking steps to address it when we resume on January 28.
“The joint committees on Interior and Judiciary will meet and conclude arrangements on how to ensure that the Minister and the Immigration CG brief the Senate so that we could take an informed decision on the issue.
“All things being equal, the two of them should brief us on the issue by February latest.”
Our correspondent learnt that Aregbesola and Babandede would first brief the Senate Committees on Interior, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on “the technical, logistics, legal and constitutional issues required for compliance before the said implementation” of visa-on-arrival policy.
Several attempts made by one of our correspondents to speak with the Chairmen of the two joint committees, Kashim Shettima (Interior) and Opeyemi Bamidele (Judiciary), were not successful on Saturday.
Responses from their mobile phones indicated that they were either switched off or that they were out of the network coverage area. They had also yet to reply to the text messages sent separately to their mobile phones as of the time of filing this report.
However, the Senate spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki, told one of our correspondents that he would not be able to speak on pending activities of the various committees until the Senate formally resumes on January 28.
He said, “We are still on break and no activity is currently going on. I have to wait till when Senate resumes and find out the update from the committees.”
SANs divided over need for NASS approval
Lawyers, especially Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, were divided over whether the visa-on-arrival policy needed the approval of the National Assembly.
A SAN, Sebastine Hon, said the President lacked the power to begin the implementation of the visa-on-arrival policy without it being first enacted into law by the National Assembly.
Hon said the implementation of the policy without the parliamentary validation through the making of a law would amount to usurping the powers of the National Assembly.
He said, “It falls outside the executive powers of the President. It falls within the Schedule to the Constitution that grants the National Assembly the legislative powers. So, it is something that is on the legislative list of the National Assembly of the Federal Government. It is the National Assembly alone that can take an action on such issue because it must first enact it into a law.
Another SAN, Ahmed Raji, however, argued that the National Assembly’s intervention was not required in the implementation of the policy, but queried the rationality of the policy.
He said, “I do not think executive powers require the intervention of the parliament. It is a policy for a particular purpose. But the question is, is it a desirable thing? If we allow everybody to come to Nigeria, is that what we need. Can’t we learn from the United Kingdom has gone through with the European Union which is not making them to opt out.
Another SAN, Yusuf Ali, said it was a policy and not a treaty. He stated that since it was a policy, it was within the confines of the executive arm of government to give directions without necessarily going through the National Assembly.
Another SAN, Mr Adeniyi Akintola, who urged the Federal Government to overhaul the nation’s foreign policy, said Nigeria’s foreign policies, currently, had no direction.
Policy has serious security implications for Nigeria – Experts
Meanwhile, speaking on the policy, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, describing it as the worst policy he had seen.
He explained that it was a wrong time for Nigeria to take such a decision, especially when agents and mercenaries of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had just been dislodged from Syria and could be on their way to Africa to join forces with their ally, Boko Haram, in West African.
He said, “Why would any reasonable government want to facilitate the entry of all manner of people. The criterion is if the person holds a passport issued by an African country. Many of these people (terrorists) have no fewer than two to three passports, and don’t forget that these days some countries are said to be aiding and abetting Boko Haram.
“This is the worst and very myopic policy that I have seen as a professional student, because it does not render any help in protecting our national integrity. I do not know whether the situation we find ourselves is truly redeemable with this kind of policy.”
Also, an aviation security expert and former Military Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Group Capt John Ojikutu (retd.), said the policy could break the standing rules on Aviation Security Defence Layers if the Immigration is the only government agency involved.
He said the National Intelligence Agency should share information with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, which would, in turn, share the information received with airport’s security network.
Citing the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, who was convicted of attempting to detonate plastic explosives while flying from Amsterdam to Michigan on December 25, 2009, Ojikutu said Umar might not have sailed through if intelligence agencies work together with Civil Aviation Security authorities and the airlines.
He added, “It would be expected that the passenger’s home country would share some knowledge of the passenger with the airlines and the country of their destination, in this case Nigeria, before their departure at all times.
“Airports are border areas and there is nothing yet stated that the visa on arrival passengers would get any enhanced security checks by the state security agencies or at the departure airports.”