Nigeria may not be ready yet
By Lukmon Akintola
In tandem with the newly launched African Union (AU) passport which came into effect at the 27th ordinary AU Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama has announced the aim of the government to implement the visa-free requirement for all travelers across Africa visiting Nigeria.
By this, African travelers will enter Nigeria without securing visas from their countries of origination as was the previous requirement for all except West African citizens.
According to the minister, the proposal will bring economic prosperity to Nigeria as producers and entrepreneurs in the country will now have a larger market for their products. This will equally aid economic integration among African states.
“We are firmly in support of the African single passport and the proposed Free Trade Area in the continent from next year, which will enable Nigerian manufacturers and entrepreneur to have a larger market for their produce. Nigeria wants to extend the free movement of people across the continent beyond the ECOWAS area and unrestricted movement of people will promote trade,” he said.
However, as laudable and convincing this move might sound, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to think outside the box before implementing this policy. This is based on several grounds that might threaten the existence of the Nigerian state if this policy is implemented come 2017.
New Visa requirement: Is it worth the risk?
The raison d’être of any government is to ensure the security of lives and properties in the state. This is totally non-negotiable to any serious government. This informs why developed states will always care for the lives of their citizens either at home or abroad, irrespective of the international organization in question.
Some evidence could be seen when the US evacuated its citizens from Liberia during the civil war that struck that country between 1989 and 1996. In the same vein, Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) stems from, among others, the issue of uncontrolled immigration from other European countries into Britain, which has affected her economic and security permutations.
In the case of Nigeria, implementing a visa-free scheme could do more harm than good. This assertion stems from the series of security challenges the Nigerian state is currently encountering, ranging from Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast to Niger Delta Avengers in the South-south to kidnapping in the east and Fulani herdsmen activities among others. In the view of some, these security challenges could become worse if more foreigners could gain access to the country without proper visa controls.
For now, Nigeria is expected to adopt strict border policies that will protect the lives and properties of its citizens and not signing international protocols that will affect its national interest.
According to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, the Fulani herdsmen havoc has been difficult for the Nigerian government to resolve due to, among others, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol, which allows all citizens of community member states to enter, reside and establish itself in the territories. For this reason, Fulanis from neighboring countries are still allowed to move freely in the country based on this protocol.
At the economic end, this new no-visa requirement will lead to large influx of citizens from other African countries, which will in turn pose a threat to the existing labor force in Nigeria. As at March, the unemployment rate in Nigeria has been reported to be 12.1%. Fierce competition will exist among Nigerian citizens and foreigners over available jobs, consequently increasing the unemployment rate. In all good sense, it will not be too good for the Nigerian economy and the society at large. It would have sounded much better if other African states are all ready at the same time to implement the visa free AU policy.
It is necessary to note that the unfortunate upsurge in xenophobic acts may be inevitable if the Nigerian government fails to properly restrict the influx of foreigners into the country. The South African xenophobic attack in 2015, where non-South African blacks were killed and maimed is an issue that still exists in the books of history. This is just a reminder.
For the greater good of the country at this time, the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs should be restrain from the implementation of the new Visa requirement anytime soon as the internal situation in the country is not favourable for the coming into force of such a policy. As interesting as its envisaged benefits might sound, they do not still outweigh the challenges that will follow the policy. It is believed that the Nigerian national interest should come first before the integration campaign of the African Union.