Between FG’s Ease-of-Doing-Business and Visa Obstacles

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The plan to boost foreign direct investment by the federal government is being frustrated by hiccups in the visa on arrival process, writes Chinedu Eze

Ethiopia, known for decades as a very conservative country was one of the first African nations to relax its visa process, introduced visa on arrival policy for certain countries and later expanded it to encompass all African countries. Today the landscape of Ethiopian major cities has changed with foreign investment in manufacturing, real state, transport and tourism.

Rwanda first selected some countries in Africa that would benefit from visa on arrival policy and later opened its nation to the world. Today there is a boost in Rwanda’s tourism and its national carrier; Rwand Air is rising to an airline to reckon with in Africa.

This progress in these two east African countries is made possible by the visa on arrival policy.
In June 2017, Nigeria introduced visa on arrival policy and recorded tremendous increase of foreign investors who started setting up business in the country.

It also encouraged tourism as more foreigners visited Nigeria and participated in events like the Calabar Carnival, music festivals, fashion shows and international conferences held in the country.

Today, more African countries have eased their visa process and many of them have started visa on arrival regime. This has encouraged foreign investment, increased foreign exchange and also enhanced the hospitality and tourism industry.
Retrogressive Step

But despite the obvious gains made by Nigeria after the introduction of visa on arrival in 2017, the country seems to be vacillating over its visa on arrival policy. But statistics show that after the introduction of visa on arrival in Nigeria, international arrivals improved from less than 800,000 tourists in the first half of 2017 to about 1.2 million at the end of the first half of 2018.

In 2019, it was expected to rise to two million by the end of the year with a projected earning of N3.63 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) and increased growth of 1.5 per cent.

THISDAY also learnt that the Nigerian Immigrations Service (NIS) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, (MMIA) issued about 13,000 Visas on Arrival in February this year, toping it with 2,194 in the month of July 2019.

The July figure of Visa on Arrival represented an increase of over 30 percent compared to similar figures the same period last year and there has been increase in requests in 2019 as more foreigners are poised to invest in Nigeria.

But that process is facing hiccups currently because in the bid to make the process web-based to ensure transparency and to redefine the applicants who are qualified to benefit from the visa on arrival, the Nigerian Immigration Service has made it difficult to obtain visa on arrival.

Immigration issued a circular on Monday, signed by its Comptroller General, Muhammad Babandede, clarifying earlier statement on requirement for embarkation of non-Nigerian passengers to Nigeria.

The circular stated that the following non-Nigerians arriving to the country without visa issued from Nigerian mission abroad include ECOWAS Community citizens and countries with visa abolition agreement with Nigeria requires no visa for embarkation to he country.

Citizens of Kenya can arrive Nigeria without visa and obtain visa upon arrival at the point of entry. Also, holders of Diplomatic/Official passport from Brazil, South Africa, Namibia, China, Rwanda, Tanzania, Turkey, Singapore, Mauritius, Sudan, Cuba, Morocco, Venezuela and Kenya can enter Nigeria without visa.

The Immigration explained that others not mentioned above applying visa on arrival must apply and obtain approval online before embarkation, adding that all categories of these applicants are expected to pay online, since cash payment is not allowed.
Hiccups

Complaints received from travellers who wanted to take advantage of the visa on arrival regime is that there are too many challenges linked to the online registration process.

Those, who spoke to THISDAY said the website is slow and sometimes does not respond at all and noted that in other countries in Africa that offer visa on arrival policy, passengers pay cash on arrival and obtain their visa.

But the Nigeria Immigration Service said it cannot adopt cash payment because of corruption, noting that it was in the bid to abuse the process that it decided to make it online, so that applicants can make their payment online.

A travel and tourism consultant involved in organising tour carnival in Nigerian by foreigners from Africa and other parts of the world, told THISDAY on Tuesday that the problem with the visa on arrival is that Nigeria makes a policy and then changes it every week, remarking that when Ethiopia started offering visa on arrival service, it identified the number of countries that would benefit from it and later expanded it.

Now, in addition to offering the policy and collecting cash from applicants, Ethiopia has also offered online service, which is also working very well.

“Ghana offered the same service and it is gradually increasing the number of countries that will benefit from it but Nigeria is limiting the number of countries that will benefit from the policy, after it offered it to many countries in 2017 when it started. Rwanda has now included everybody in its visa on arrival policy.

“I think Nigeria needs some upgrade. We are really not making progress. In Nigeria, online registration for visa on arrival is difficult and to make the matter worse, Immigration insisted that the applicant must use foreign credit card and make online payment. It is difficult to pay online; it is not working,” the source told THISDAY.

Reciprocity
A senior Immigration official told THISDAY in Lagos, that the visa on arrival status quo was still the same, but the only change is online application, which the Nigerian Immigration Service has made compulsory.

“There is no exchange of cash. If you apply online and you qualify you will be granted. When you print it and you arrive with it we endorse it on your passport. Visa conditionality is based on reciprocity. Every nation guards its border. We have visa abolition with 25 countries. Our visa on arrival regime is strictly for those who want to come and do business. So if you click other option that is not business, you may not succeed in getting approval,” the NIS official said.

On Saturday, a Kenyan who came to Nigeria and who was qualified to obtain visa on arrival, considering the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Kenya, was quoted to have said out of frustration, “If I can’t pay online and I can’t pay cash, how do I get a visa to your country?”

THISDAY gathered that many travellers from Africa who wanted to come to Nigeria for tourism and trade have been affected by the hiccups in the visa process.

“Now with what is happening, Nigeria has effectively ended the attempt to improve our arrival procedure. Some countries signed visa protocols with Nigeria and have enjoyed such services. Seychelles and Kenya are the African countries allowed in Africa outside ECOWAS with airport visa. With this directive, no one is allowed here without prior visa. I consider this against the stated purpose of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC).

“Now other countries will reciprocate and ask Nigerians to get a visa before their trip. Everyone who has attempted getting Nigeria visa online has a tale to tell. Anyway, government knows what it wants to achieve, but from my little corner it’s a backward step in trade and tourism,” said tourism industry consultant.

PEBEC was set up in July 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari, to remove the critical constraints and bureaucratic bottlenecks to doing business in Nigeria. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was named by the President as the chair of PEBEC in demonstration of the administration’s commitment and political will to ease the business environment.

Easing the Process
THISDAY also learnt that unless the problem associated with online visa on arrival regime is urgently improved on, it would affect many economic activities between now and December, when Nigeria records influx of foreigners that visit the country.

For example, in December about 600 people are being targeted to come from different parts of the world to attend the Calabar carnival that would be held in Cross River state. Most of these visitors are expected from countries Nigeria may not have missions and so they would have to rely on visa on arrival process to obtain visa into the country.

Before the latest change on the visa on arrival process, officials from NIS, MMIA told THISDAY that the July figure of Visa on Arrival represented an increase of over 30 percent compared to similar figures the same period last year and noted that there has been increase in requests in 2019 as more foreigners are poised to invest in Nigeria.

Obviously, the hiccups occasioned by frequent change in the methodology for obtaining visa on arrival will frustrate many applicants, including those who wish to come and invest in Nigeria.

Foreign Investment
In July 2016, the Nigerian government inaugurated the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, as the administration’s flagship initiative to reform the business environment. PEBE was expected to attract investment and diversify the economy to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil.

The objective was to make it easier for micro, small and medium enterprises to do business, grow and contribute to sustainable economic activity, and provide the jobs essential to improving social inclusion.

The PEBEC later approved the third 60-day National Action Plan (NAP 3.0) from February 5 to April 5, 2018 to drive the ease of doing business initiative.

The action plan was expected to further reduce the challenges faced by the MSMEs when getting credit, paying taxes or moving goods across the country among others by removing critical bottlenecks and bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria.
Part of the bottlenecks is the time it takes for foreigners who wished to invest in Nigeria to obtain visa from Nigeria’s missions abroad, hence the introduction of visa on arrival policy by the federal government.

The Nigerian Immigration Service has confirmed that the objective, which prompted the policy is being realised as more foreign investors have been attracted to come and do business in Nigeria. But the frequent change in the policy is akin to giving out something with the right hand and collecting it back with the left.

Africa has become a competitive market because the world sees it as the next investment haven. Other countries that have put their act together are going to take advantage of these opportunities by encouraging people to visit.