The Visa On Arrival Policy - THISDAY
President Buhari should engage Nigerians before taking vital decisions that will affect them
Under pressure from an estimated population of some 200 million citizens, and without any structure in place, the federal government has decided that visitors from all African countries can now enter Nigeria without the requirement of applying for visa in advance. According to the announcement made from President Muhammadu Buhari's official tweeter handle while in Egypt, Nigeria will give all African travellers visas on arrival from January 2020. "Nigeria is committed to supporting the free movement of Africans in Africa... At the Aswan Forum in Egypt, I announced that, in January 2020, we will commence issuance of visas at the point of entry into Nigeria, to all persons holding passports of African countries," the statement said.
To be sure, there are some good grounds for this decision. As things stand today, out of Africa's 54 countries, the five considered to have the best 'visa openness' policies are Rwanda, Ghana, Seychelles, Benin Republic and Senegal. With Nigeria ranked at number 30, and South Africa, at number 36 in 2019, it is obvious we are not doing well on that score. Within the context of the aspiration for the economic and eventual political integration of the continent, there are merits in the policy option.
However, we should be clear in separating the issues - the merits of the policy and the manner of its implementation. The immediate problem is with the latter on which pertinent questions arise. What is so urgent about the policy that there are only two weeks between announcement and implementation? Since we are neither a tourist destination nor an employment and labour attraction, what skills do African visitors have to bring to our country? Why was the policy not subjected to any debate in the country before it was announced abroad in a such a cavalier manner? Should we aim to undo the colonial boundaries or strengthen the nation states as units for continental integration? Against the background that one of the reasons often touted for the closure of land borders with neighbouring countries is national security, how does this sudden policy align with that decision which is yet to be rescinded?
There are also several challenges to consider. Nigeria does not have the resources to support an influx of African immigrants at a period our country ranks very high on the global poverty index. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on free movement of persons within 15 countries in the sub-region has its challenges. It is an open secret that the Nigeria Immigration Service and the security agencies lack the capacity to track and trace those who are granted visas into the country to ensure they do not overstay.
Without building such capacity, what this policy will ensure is that all manner of people will enter and vanish into the crowd in a country where locations, maps and addresses are fluid and far flung with the result that even legitimate residents are hard to trace.
We are concerned because the federal government has not provided a reasoned rationale for this policy that has not been debated anywhere; not even at the National Assembly. It is therefore very disrespectful of Nigerians, to put it mildly, that the president would just fly to a conference in Egypt and make such a serious announcement. It may sound expedient to want to align policies and practices with other African nations. It is however foolhardy to dabble into such policies without subjecting them to rigorous analysis against the dismal backdrop of our economic and national security circumstances.
Whatever may be the merit of the idea of Visa on arrival for African travellers, the real problem is the manner this administration has handled this very important policy decision. As witnessed recently with the controversial ill-fated RUGA policy, President Buhari must avoid smuggling in hasty policies that suggest less than altruistic motives in a badly divided polity.
CYLINDER EXPLOSIONS in Nigeria
Several years ago, African women built primitive hearths in the form of a u-shaped brick wall to cook without matches; if you didn't keep the home fire continually burning and use a large metal lid to cover the embers of the fire at night you woke up to find the ashes cold like a dog nose. What it means was that you might need to walk miles to borrow fire from your neighbors the next morning.
Today, cooking gas has gained wide acceptability among womenfolk because of its energy efficiency, precise temperature control, immediate heating and cooling, lower operating cost and the ability to work without power. But our kitchens have become the den of deaths due to explosions of cooking gas cylinders. Many Nigerians, including women and children have lost their lives through explosions. The story of a seven-year-old girl and a stroke patient who were severely burnt after a cylinder exploded at Ogunmokun Street in Mushin reminds one of pathetic cases of gas explosions.
Another disturbing incident was at Sara, Jigawa State in 2018 where three siblings died dreadfully when a gas exploded, leaving others with varying degree of injuries. These could be a discouraging factor for people to embrace the usage of cooking gas in Nigeria, particularly in the rural areas where people still cook their meals over open fires.
The pertinent question is: why would a cylinder explode? There are a lot of factors that have been identified by experts ranging from importation of fake cylinders, expired cylinders and lack of proper training on the use of cooking gas. According to Mrs. Nkechi Obi, a former National Coordinator of the Women in LPG Group, bringing fake cylinders into the country "is like bringing explosives into homes, which can be deadly."
The monster called corruption is responsible for those cylinders that found their way to Nigeria without certification. What do we say about the officials that cleared such goods?
I was listening to "Morning Cross Fire" on 99.3 FM last week with a team of experts invited to educate the masses on the disturbing trend of cooking gas. They itemized some steps which include: how to use cooking gas, safety precautions to be observed in cylinder handling, what to do if there is raging fire and checks for leakages and cylinder maintenance, among other safety precautions.
What do we do if there is a raging fire at home? "The first attempt is to check if there is chance to switch off the verve, if it is not possible, the victim should run for his life like an antelope pursued by a lion and evacuate everybody in the house."
Having a fire blanket in the house is another good way to douse the fire at the embryo stage. A fire blanket is a very helpful safety device which is used to put off small fires.
Fire thrives on three elements: heat, oxygen and fuel and a fire blanket work is to cut off the oxygen supply. It can be got at the safety fire shop of fire service offices nationwide.
Other precautions outlined by the experts include putting the gas cylinder outside the kitchen. Ventilation is very important. According to the experts protecting your cooking gas from sun or rain will make it last long. Other gas experts describe liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a colourless, odourless liquid which readily evaporates into a gas. By and large an odourant has been added to it to help detect leaks, but how many people smell it before the disaster happens?
The gas professionals further added that LPG may leak as a gas or a liquid; if the liquid leaks it will quickly evaporate and form a fairly plume of gas which will drop to the ground as it is heavier than air. LPG vapors can run like a horse along the ground and can collect in drains or basements. When the gas meets a source of ignition it causes burn or explodes.
Similarly, an expert in cooking gas emphasizes on the illegal fillings of cylinders which he said also cause accidents. He said consumer should always check his hose manually by getting soap with water to rob on the hose. If it is leaking, you will observe some bubbles.
Olusanya Anjorin, Lagos.
He said that consumers are expected to check their rubber tubes every three years, but people use it for five to 10 years, resulting in wear and tear which in turn becomes dangerous.
As more and more people are getting injured, burnt and dying due to cylinder blasts over the last couple of years, we can't keep mum again. Awareness must increase as to how to use cooking gas at home. Government agencies like the Standard Organization of Nigeria, Department of Petroleum Resources, Federal Fire Service and Nigeria Orientation Agency have a big role to play. The (SON) must begin to come hard on importers of fake cylinders. In addition, there should be constant retrieval of bad cylinders still in circulation.
It is a global standard that cylinders are taken for reassessment every five years; but in Nigeria the LPG cylinders are mostly metallic with a lifespan of roughly 15 years which ought to be destroyed after expiry date, but in reality what do we do? We romance rickety cylinders and even paint them severally to make them look handsome.