Visa on Arrival: Compromise on Security? - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
Many Nigerians were largely apprehensive when on December 11, 2019, President Mohammadu Buhari announced in Egypt that the country will begin to issue visa on arrival for all African nationals.
While the news was received with elation by Africans, many Nigerians were circumspect. Ironically, tourism business promoters have been campaigning and urging the federal government to introduce visa on arrival, to reduce the cumbersome process and the highhandedness of Nigerian embassy officials in many countries, where it is very difficult to obtain Nigerian visa for many that would want to visit the country. But many of these tourism promoters did not celebrate the announcement made by the President.
They seemed not disposed to talk about it publicly, but they glibly expressed their doubt about the sincerity of intensions of the Buhari administration in opening the doors wide for other Africans to come into the country.
“The lack of understanding of the kind of politics the President has played since his administration began and the unconfirmed allegation that the administration is inclined to allowing certain sects of people to come into the country, have given reason to skepticism. “We are not certain about what his intentions are. So we cannot say exactly what is going on because of the circumstances we found ourselves. We fought for this (visa on arrival policy), but the way Nigerians are responding, the tourism message may have been lost in politics,” said one tourism and travel agency promoter in Nigeria who pleaded to remain anonymous told THISDAY.
Perhaps this may be the reason why there is so much stress on security whenever the policy is mentioned. There is the general view that unskilled, uneducated people may take advantage of the policy to come into the country and add to the population of teeming miscreants. There is also the fear that such people would come into the country and constitute a nuisance in terms of security breach and terror threat.
But travel expert and the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, said before the President made the pronouncement, Nigeria was not implementing visa on arrival policy, but was issuing e-visa to visitors.
“Nigeria was not doing visa on arrival before now. What we do is e-visa. It is not visa on arrival. The e-visa that you are issued on arrival is a response to your online application and provision of all that is required. “It is not like what they do in Ethiopia, Seychelles, Kenya and Rwanda, where, without prior application, you arrive at the airport and you are given visa. With the President’s pronouncement, it is now that we want to start implementing visa on arrival,” Uko said.
Security expert and former Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) said in reaction to the visa on arrival policy that it might compromise the security apparatus at the airports.
“Visa on arrival may break the standing rules on Aviation Security Defence Layers if the Immigration is the only government agency involved and not including the NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority), airlines and the airport authority.
“It would be expected that the home country should share some knowledge of the passengers with the airlines and the country of their destination, in this case Nigeria, before their departure always.
“As much as I want to believe the that the roles of our national security intelligence and the immigration would drive protocols, these agencies networks, especially Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) must include the NCAA which in turn would share the information received with airport’s security network and not leaving the security of incoming passengers that need Visa on Arrival to immigration alone.
“Airports are border areas and there is nothing yet stated that the visa on arrival passengers would get any enhanced security checks by their state security agencies or at the departure airports,” Ojikutu said.
He noted that these passengers cannot be different from those with visa on watch list but still like (Umar Farouk) Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) would scale through Immigration and airport security because the State’s intelligence does not work closely with the Civil Aviation Security Authorities and the airlines.
“Let’s recall the Abdulmutallab case where the information sent by the father to the US Embassy and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was never shared with the NCAA, Immigration, SSS (State Security Service), FAAN (the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria) AVSEC (Aviation Security) nor the KLM.
“Abdulmutalab who was then on the US watch list escaped but for God, more than 200 passengers on Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit would all have been killed on Christmas day of December 2009,” Ojikutu who is also the secretary of Aviation Round Table (ART), a think-tank group in the industry, added.