Aviation industry stakeholders posit that Nigeria will gain a lot more if it embraces the visa on arrival policy, writes Chinedu Eze writes
Visa on arrival policy has supported economic activities in many countries in Africa. Because of its many gains in many areas, which include government revenue, tourism and increase in passenger traffic for local airlines; many stakeholders have called for the adoption of the policy.
They explained that visa on arrival, as practiced in some African countries, do not require prior notice like e-visa, where the applicant would make request online and pay, which they deemed cumbersome.
President Mohamadu Buhari, had announced Nigeria would offer visa on arrival for Africans. He had while holding a meeting in Egypt, December 11, 2019, assuring that the new policy would be implemented from January 2020.
But since then the Nigerian Immigration Service, THISDAY learnt, was yet to fully implement the policy.
The Mix Up
On January 6, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) issued a public release, detailing what it described as visa on arrival on its website.
It had stated that, “This is to notify the General Public that Nigeria Immigration Service has rolled out a new Visa on Arrival Application Process for all Business Travelers and African Union (AU) countries, except for ECOWAS member countries.”
According to details on the NIS website, the visa on arrival is available to frequently traveled, high net worth investors with business interest in Nigeria; and citizens of African countries.
For African nationals to apply for a visa, they need to visit the NIS portal and follow the instructions after selecting the option, ‘Visa on Arrival’.
But experts have insisted that this is not visa on arrival but e-visa, where the applicant is expected to apply online before he would be worthy to meet the conditions prescribed by Immigration.
They said that you don’t need prior notice before you benefit from visa on arrival. In Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Mozambique, Seychelles, Kenya where visa on arrival is practiced, passengers arrive the airport with their passport and go to Immigration where they are documented and given visa.
The Chairman of Quits Aviation, a business jet terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Sam Iwuakoju spoke to THISDAY on the benefits of visa on arrival and emphasised that there should be no more delay in adopting the policy, as Buhari had already given his blessing in what he described as the President’s visionary idea.
“Visa on arrival is highly beneficial to our country and the economy. Other countries that are not up to Nigeria are doing visa on arrival. These include countries like Ghana, which is our neighbour, Kenya, Uganda, Seychelles and Rwanda. Also Mozambique and Ethiopia are operating visa on arrival. For Nigeria to do visa on arrival properly, there should be no pre-arrival process from Abuja. That is not proper visa on arrival but e-visa.
“Nigeria should adopt visa on arrival the way it is being done by other African countries. The proper way refers to the system that looks at the security implication and x-rays applicants to ensure they are not security risk and that way is the adoption of finger print and biometric at the port of entry. By doing that you have data of everybody coming into Nigeria or leaving Nigeria. This is what is practiced in those countries I just mentioned,” he said.
He explained that what Nigeria is doing now as visa on arrival is akin to what is obtainable in Dubai, where those who meant to travel apply online to obtain their visa, but the difference is that while the applicant can obtain his visa online, in the case of Dubai; in Nigeria, the dully filled visa application only is given validity with a visa on arrival.
Iwuajoku, described this as cumbersome process and said that the Nigerian online system is not yet well developed and that explained why many who tried to apply for it experience hiccups with network issues.
“We said we are the giant of Africa. We cannot be the giant of Africa and close our door to people from other countries. We have the population; we have the market and our country is like the Hollywood of Africa.
“We have the entertainment industry; Nollywood industry and others. So most people want to come to Nigeria. By doing that, we open our tourism industry as big business in Nigeria. You cannot make it difficult for people to come into our country, he said.
Iwuajoku, cited example with Ghana and observed that the country liberalised process with visa on arrival and raking in huge revenue for the government.
“Look at Ghana, which is next door to us. You come in from anywhere with your passport, you pay $100. They give you visa on arrival. By paying that $100, government is instantly making money.
“When the man steps out of the airport, he gets a taxi and pays the taxi. He checks into a hotel and pays for the accommodation, pays for the food. This is how the economy works. Nigeria cannot work in isolation. People are laughing at us. We are behind. We must stop doing things in ancient way. We must start visa on arrival regime.
The Chairman of Quits Aviation noted that the issue of security should not discourage the laudable policy, saying that with the capture of every applicant with biometrics and fingerprints, the Nigeria Immigration would keep the record of inbound and outbound foreigners that benefitted from the process. He also noted that people who travel through the airports with their passports and go for proper documentation rarely constitute security threats, but those who go through land borders, which is where government must monitor effectively. He added that countries with terror threats like Kenya has been implementing visa on arrival policy for years.
“If they are talking about security, as long as they have biometrics and finger print, they can profile every applicant and ensure that there is no infringement in security. But that should not discourage us from embracing visa on arrival. After all, there is insecurity in Kenya, where Al Shabab is holding sway. There are also security issues in Ethiopia where some tribes are warring against the state; yet, they opened the country for visa on arrival.
“I wish to point out also that the system at the airports is not security porous. It is tight. So allowing people to enter Nigeria through the airports cannot endanger the country. Immigration and security operatives should border about those who cross to Nigeria through land or sea.
“That is where we should put a serious check on security. We should not use the Dubai system, which has adopted e-visa as our own system. We should adopt the system our African sisters have adopted, which is working effectively.
“The economic dynamics of Dubai is different from the dynamics in Africa. We should emulate the other African countries doing it. We should look at the benefits,” Iwuajoku said.
Speaking in the same vein, Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, said visa on arrival would provide the trajectory for tourism industry in Nigeria.
He said to overcome security fears, government should limit visa on arrival to the five international airports in the country.
“To overcome security fears, government can insist that visa on arrival can only be obtained at the five international airports in the country. So if anyone wants to benefit from the policy he will travel by air.
“This will enable concerned security operatives and Immigration to comprehensively screen those that will benefit from the policy,” Uko said.
On the benefits of visa on arrival, the travel expert remarked that it would help tourism in Nigeria to grow. It will also help trade, but said that Nigeria should offer visa on arrival to Africans on the condition of reciprocity; that other African countries should also offer similar policy to Nigerians and if after 12 months of the implementation of the policy, any African country that does not offer similar diplomatic gesture to Nigeria would be withdrawn from benefitting from the policy.
Speaking on the economic gains of visa on arrival, the Chairman of Quits Aviation recalled, “When we went to open Dangote’s cement factory in Ethiopia. We applied for visa at the Ethiopian embassy. At that time, they had not embraced visa on arrival policy, but six months later, the country adopted the visa on arrival regime. “Their visa on arrival is only $50. The President of Ethiopia told Mr. Dangote that when the country adopted the visa on arrival policy, its economy grew by 30 per cent. This is because with visa on arrival more people started coming to the country.
“If Nigeria embraces visa on arrival policy, not only that it would boost Nigerian revenue, but you have to also know that in West Africa, Nigeria has the biggest airline industry.
“Many people in West Africa would like to travel to Nigeria. Businessmen who hitherto travel to some other countries in the sub-region would come to Nigeria, taking advantage of the new visa regime as tourists,” he said.
Iwuajoku, said visa on arrival is a key way to develop tourism and provide market for service providers like the hospitality industry and other business.
“This is how tourism is developed. We have lovely beaches yearning to be developed. If we don’t do visa on arrival because of security, it means that Boko Haram has defeated us. This is because the aim of the terrorists is to strangulate our economy. If we yield to them they will succeed.
“I commend the federal government for taking that initiative. Nobody should try to discourage Mr. President. I voted for him because I believed in his development agenda and he has not disappointed.
“I like his vision. People should not sabotage him. They should obey the President’s directive by issuing visa on arrival. The Ministry of Internal Affairs will see the benefits. The dollar income the Ministry will generate will be so huge that they won’t ask the government for money again,” he said.
Iwuajoku, suggested that what the government should do is to direct airlines operating into Nigeria to allow people to come into the country without visa because they will get their visa on arrival.
He said if fully embraced the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos would become a hub, as more Africans would come to Nigeria, as tourists and this would also give vent to the development of transit facilities by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).