Nigeria’s complex visa process raises dust among campaigners for Africa’s free movement

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    By Michael Oche

    Have you wondered why organisers of regional events in Africa often choose countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius and not Nigeria for their conferences?

    Some stakeholders say it may not necessarily be connected with the insecurity in parts of Nigeria. They suspect that Nigeria’s cumbersome visa processes, added with expensive charges, could leave many applicants frustrated, thereby discouraging them from visiting the country.

    Checks have shown that potential visitors to Nigeria face a lot of immigration huddles. Some of the hurdles range from allegations of extortion at various points of entry, as well as high visa fees.

    “EXPENSIVE VISA”

    At a time where the African Union (AU) is campaigning for elimination of all obstacles against free movement of goods and persons within Africa, Nigeria’s recent decision to hike visa charges for potential visitors to the country, has stirred up debate among various stakeholders.

    Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) last October increased the biometric fees for Visa-on-Arrival applications to $170. Prior to this, the biometric fee for Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) applications was $90.

    The visa itself costs $25 but Nigeria charges a $20 “processing fee” and $170 for biometrics, bringing the total fee to $215 for a 30 days single entry visa.

    In comparison, the Kenyan government in January 2024, replaced its single-entry visa, which previously cost visitors $50, with the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system that allows visitors to pay $35 for single entry visa. A $15 reduction.

    Also, countries like Zambia and Uganda charge 25 and 50 USD respectively for a tourist/conference visa. The biometric is done at the point of entry without an extra cost.

    Campaigners for Africa’s free movement protocol say the cost of Nigeria’s visa contradicts the spirit of openness and cooperation promoted by the African Union, and will negatively impact the push for AfCFTA, which seeks to facilitate easier travel and trade across borders.

    Larry Madowo, CNN’s International Correspondent recently stirred fresh concern after complaining that he spent $645 on 3 visits to Nigeria in four months.

    Madowo’s complaint appeared to have drawn attention to broader issues surrounding visa policies in Nigeria and their impact on regional integration and economic development in Africa.

    “How can we achieve a borderless Africa, or the promise of the AfCFTA, if we charge Africans $215 for a single-entry visa?” he said while narrating his experience on his last visit to Abuja.

    Critics argue that the steep rise in visa fees by the Nigerian government could have negative consequences, such as deterring potential visitors and hindering business and tourism growth for Africa’s most populous country.

    Tunde Salman, Team Lead and Converner of Good Governance Team, (GGT) says the exorbitant charges by Nigerian immigration officials at the Nigerian airports and embassies for travelers (especially Africans) coming to Nigeria for legitimate business, is very worrisome.

    He says, “There have been a series of revelations that travelers, especially Africans, face difficulties to pay for Nigeria visa application. That the money is too expensive for Africans. The irony is that Nigeria has been in the forefront of the pursuit for African integration, particularly in the West African region in the last 40 years . So I wonder why the Nigerian government finds it difficult to allow other Africans who have legitimate business to do in the country come in without facing a lot of huddles.”

    Comrade Akhator Joel Odigie, General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa says on the other hand, a visa-free Nigeria offers enormous benefits to Nigeria’s economy.

    “Abuja is a lovely city and lots of Africans and other foreigners want to visit it. A visa-free Nigeria offers immense benefits to our cities, people, and economy than this lock grid visa arrangement we currently operate,” he says.

    ITUC-Africa has been a leading voice for a borderless Africa, calling for elimination of all obstacles against free movement within the continent.

    Allegations of extortion

    Besides the visa charges, visitors to the country have complained that Nigeria’s Immigration online visa payment portal does not work. Visa applicants are therefore compelled to come and pay on arrival with extra and hidden costs.

    There have been allegations in some quarters that the online visa application payment portal may have been deliberately compromised so that visitors are exposed to extortion.

    Odigie raises serious concern about the impression such suspicious arrangement will leave on visitors.

    He says, “Since borders as entry points are the first places visitors get to be welcomed into the country, we must eliminate naked and aggressive corruption by the various border and security agencies at such border points. Failure to do so is contributing to the affirmation and assertion of Nigeria as a corrupt country. What we experience at the border points are organized and open extortions.”

    He says further that “This year alone, I have made online visa applications for Zambia and Uganda and paid online (50 USD for a single entry and 75 USD for multiple entries respectively), and the processes were seamless. For Zimbabwe, I made an online visa application, got the visa, and made a payment (25 USD) at the point of entry in Harare. Nigeria needs to do better. Our government and its institutions and agencies must make conscious and urgent efforts to defeat corrupt practices at our border points. This is why we say that migration is not a security issue but corruption at the border is a security concern!”

    He says ITUC-Africa, which represents the interest of workers across Africa, has twice had to report to Nigeria’s Minister of Interior (through the Permanent Secretary) that officials of the Immigration Service at the airport demand extra payments and issue dubious receipts.

    Salman adds that “Unfortunately these government officials doing this extortion are further painting the image of the country black rather than being good ambassadors.”

    He called immediate action to be taken by authorities especially to quell the extortion by the immigration officials.

    Comrade James Eustace, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) focal person on Labour Migration governance shares a similar experience of how such complexities with Nigeria’s online portal for visa application have been discouraging visitors and organisers of regional meetings in the country.

    He said, “We have had experience of such, especially during ATUMNET meetings in Nigeria, where the participants from outside the country were made to pay more than the official fee. The immigration people made it very difficult for these people to access the online platform for them to process the required documents.

    “At the point of entry, because of delay and being stranded, they were constrained to pay more as demanded by the immigration officers. That actually made nonsense of the visa-on-arrival thing. Because if one arrives and has to spend about 4 to 5 hours processing documentation to enable him or her to enter, it then makes a whole nonsense of the entire visa-on-arrival arrangement.

    “The worst part of it is that the Nigerian immigration website where the foreigners coming in for meetings and businesses should process the required documentation before departing their country is very difficult to access. Sometimes we even get the documents from Nigeria Immigration indicating that these persons are arriving for an important meeting and it’s granted, but when they get to the point of entry, because of bureaucratic bottleneck and the difficulty of accessing the immigration platform, the visitors still fall into exploitation.”

    Implications on the economy:

    Campaigners for free movement protocol say Nigeria is losing a lot. They argued that it appears that the Nigerian government is literally neglecting the positive impact on the potential that a single visit of any one can bring to the country.

    “If you place a road block at the entry level, you are not mindful of the positive impact in terms of contribution to hospitality (Hotel accommodation), transportation, and the entire business chain,” Salman said.

    Comrade Eustace noted that, “Government should be aware that Nigeria is losing a lot because of these corrupt and ill practices of our immigration officials because many organizations are choosing other countries in Africa for the location of their meetings and conferences. For instance, ATUMENET finds it very easy to hold its meetings in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and other countries. These meetings bring patronage to hotels, markets, even the visa fees which ordinarily should go to the national treasury is lost as well. And all of these gains are lost because of the selfishness and corrupt actions of those individual immigration officers at the entry point. They are more interested in what goes into their personal pocket than the damage and loss they cause to the image and treasury of the country. If people because of the extortion of our immigration officials choose to go to other countries to do their conferences and meetings and other businesses, the country loses a lot.

    What should be done?

    Odigie says Nigeria is a strong voice for Africa’s integration, arguing everyone wins when there is a robust migration governance architecture in place.

    He said, “What should the government do? Review the cost of biometric capture to a reciprocity arrangement. In other words, Nigeria will apply this arrangement only to countries that apply this process to Nigerian visa applicants. Most African countries don’t do this to Nigerians.

    “Fix the online visa application payment portal as the country is currently doing well in establishing a cashless economy.

    “Make conscious efforts to implement a no-visa regime for Africans as the socio-economic benefits are immense. There are easy and humane means to identify visitors without the lazy recourse to the time-worn “security concerns”.

    James says, “The Nigeria government must first, simplify the visa application process and also keep a serious watch on the immigration officers, because many of them are painting the image of our country blacker at our international airports. Especially those managing the online platform. People planning to visit Nigeria on legitimate business should access the immigration application platforms easily, fill their data to enable them get the documentation and have easy entrance into the country. It is very sad that the case is always this worst when it comes to Nigeria.”