The United States has given reasons for imposing visa restrictions (travel ban) on Nigerians and five other countries’ nationals.
It said Nigeria did not comply with the established identity-management and information-sharing criteria assessed by the performance metrics.
The US also said Nigeria did not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information necessary for the protection of the national security and public safety of the US.
The full report of the visa restrictions titled, ‘Proclamation on improving enhanced vetting capabilities and process’ posted in www.whitehouse.gov read in part, “Nigeria also presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the United States. Nigeria is an important strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism, and the United States continues to engage with Nigeria on these and other issues.”
It further stated, “The Department of State has provided significant assistance to Nigeria as it modernises its border management capabilities, and the Government of Nigeria recognises the importance of improving its information sharing with the United States.
“Nevertheless, these investments have not yet resulted in sufficient improvements in Nigeria’s information sharing with the United States for border and immigration screening and vetting.”
Nigeria is the only country in West Africa sanctioned by the US Department of Home Security following a review and update of the methodology (performance metrics).
Other countries on the list are Eritrea, Myanmar, Tanzania, Sudan and Kyrgyzstan.
The new visa regime announced by the US government on January 31, involves the suspension of the issuance of immigrant visas to Nigerian passport holders. It comes into effect on February 21.
Strong reactions have, however, greeted the US visa restrictions with the Presidency announcing the setting up of a committee to address the issue.
The committee is chaired by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, a State House statement said on Saturday.
“The committee will work with the US government, INTERPOL and other stakeholders to ensure all updates are properly implemented,” the statement by the media aide to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), Mr Femi Adesina, said.
However, the Presidency noted that the restrictions did not affect other categories of visas like official, tourism or business visas.
The Presidency’s reaction to the development read in part, “On January 31, 2020, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced temporary travel restrictions on six countries including Nigeria.
“For Nigeria, it is the suspension of the issuance of ‘immigrant visas’ to Nigerian passport holders only.
“Nigeria remains committed to maintaining productive relations with the United States and its allies, especially on matters of global security. Accordingly, President Muhammadu Buhari has established a committee to be chaired by the Minister of Interior to study and address the updated US requirements.”
The Senate condemned the inclusion of Nigeria on the list of countries under US visa restrictions and promised to spearhead a diplomatic arrangement in collaboration with the relevant agencies with a view to addressing the issues advanced by the US for the ban.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, who described the US travel ban on Nigeria as “quite unfortunate” in an interview in Abuja, however, stressed the need for Nigeria to put in place citizenship integrity mechanism.
He said, “We need to address the issue of citizenship integrity because, at the moment, we are a nation of anonymous citizens. We don’t have records of our citizens and anybody can claim to be a Nigerian.
“We don’t have recognised records to be sure that anybody carrying a Nigerian passport is actually a Nigerian.
“I am not talking as a politician but as a patriot. We need as a government to address the issue of citizenship integrity. We should have a proper record of birth registration and identification of our citizens.”
The Senate spokesman described the ban as “a wake-up call”, noting that it would spur the nation to take seriously the national identity card project.
Basiru added, “The travel ban is a wake-up call, a rude one at that on the need for us to be alive to our responsibility to our people and ensure that we have citizenship integrity.
“We have been working on the national identity project for a very long time, and till today, I am not sure that we have 25 per cent of Nigerians on the database. Are we even sure that we conducted a proper integrity test on those that on the database to ensure that they are real Nigerians?”
Trump’s travel ban discriminatory -US Speaker
The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, also condemned the US policy, describing it as “discrimination disguised as policy”.
In a statement on her verified Twitter handle, @SpeakerPelosi, she said, “The Trump administration’s expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law.
“The sweeping rule, barring more than 350 million individuals from predominantly African nations from travelling to the United States, is discrimination disguised as policy.”
The Speaker, however, said the House of Representatives would, in the coming weeks, bring to the floor of the congress legislation to prohibit “religious discrimination” in the country’s immigration system and “limit the President’s ability to impose such biased and bigoted restrictions.”
The statement added, “In the congress and in the courts, House Democrats will continue to oppose the administration’s dangerous anti-immigrant agenda. We will never allow hatred or bigotry to define our nation or destroy our values.”
It’s a wake-up call to Nigeria, Kingibe, Atiku, Duke, others
A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, said nothing had changed as the restriction would help strengthen the country’s national security.
He noted that the US-listed six categories of reforms for Nigeria to meet, stressing that only three were met.
According to him, Nigeria will assume its previous status if the conditions are met eventually.
He said, “We have implemented three of the six (reforms) and we are in the process of implementing the remaining three. The presumption is that once these three reforms are implemented, then the policy does not apply to Nigerians who wish to immigrate to the US.
“So, I think it should not be blown up to something which it is not. It is in our national security interest to implement the reforms required. It is about information sharing, lost passports, and stolen passports, among others.”
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar urged Trump to punish those responsible for the immigrant visa ban on Nigerians and reconsider the ban.
He said the ban did not take into account the pro-American sentiments of the Nigerian public and the solidarity previous Nigerian administrations have had with the US.
He said he understood the reasons given by the US for the ban, which are the alleged failure of the Buhari government to share information and to address issues of terrorism.
In his statement titled, “US travel ban on Nigeria: Punish those responsible, not the Nigerian people’, Atiku said, “I urge the Donald Trump government to consider the history of US-Nigerian relationships. Nigeria was one of the few African nations that joined the US-led coalition during the Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991 when the US championed the liberation of Kuwait.”
Ex-Cross River State governor Donald Duke said the visa ban was a wake-up call to Nigeria to start putting things in the right perspectives.
Duke said, “You cannot blame the United States for this decision, because there was a time Nigeria formed one per cent of the immigrant population in the US but committed 10 per cent of the immigrant crimes. We now have an administration in the US that is determined to put the US first.”
He stated that Nigerians love the United States and had been a major force in the positive development of the US.
APC, PDP trade blame over ban
But the Buhari Media Organisation blamed the Peoples Democratic Party government for the visa restrictions.
In a statement by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the group said rather than celebrate the ban, Atiku should be remorseful that his party was responsible for this inconvenience caused Nigerians.
The group said, “The United States visa restriction is symbolic – to show security concerns over two issues. One is the printing of the Nigerian passport, and the other is the storage of data and other vital information on the holders of the passport.
“Now, these are crucial matters in a world where information sharing is of the utmost essence in the face of security challenges everywhere. The Nigerian passport was being printed by a company in Malaysia before the PDP gave it out to an Irish company.”
The BMO said the PDP government signed a ‘double-faced contract’, which was renewed just two weeks before losing the Presidency to the All Progressives Congress in 2015.
The statement said, “In one breath, the contract was to last for four years, but in another breath, it was agreed that the said contract would not lapse until the company has printed 10 million copies of the travel document.
“As we speak, only three million copies of the Nigerian passport has been printed by this company. This and the huge volume of vital information being held by this Irish company has created a huge security nightmare for concerned security agencies.”
According to the group, the International Criminal Police Organisation reported that Nigeria was not sharing information.
It further argued that in an effort to redress the situation, Buhari directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to ensure that the passport was printed by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Corporation.
“Unfortunately, this directive could not be executed because of legal issues raised by the Irish company contracted by the PDP government,” BMO said.
But the PDP said the Presidency and the APC should be held responsible for the US action.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, said visa restriction “is another huge misfortune brought by the Buhari administration and the APC to Nigeria.”
He lamented that the travel ban would deny Nigerians many opportunities.
Ologbondiyan said, “More depressing is that the APC and the Buhari administration have been reversing diplomatic gains achieved by previous administrations while gradually pitting our nation against other countries with its poor record on security, corruption and human right issues.
“Only recently, our nation was rated as the third country with the highest level of terrorism in 2019 after Iran and Afghanistan in the Global Terrorism Index rating by the Institute for Economics and Peace.”
He added, “This is in addition to damning reports by reputable organisations including Amnesty International, Transparency International, European Union and United States Department of State, which in various independent reports, raised grave issues of escalated corruption, violation of human rights, disregard for the rule of law, abuse of processes, election rigging and poor handling of security issues under the APC.”
US won’t delist Nigeria without compliance — Akinterinwa
A former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said the US would not delist Nigeria from its immigrant travel ban list unless the Federal Government complied with its insistence on sharing security information on intending immigrants.
Speaking in an interview on Saturday, Akinterinwa said the US should not be blamed because it was a target for terrorists, especially after killing the Iranian military chief, Qassem Soleimani.
He blamed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and Nigerian Government for not sharing the required information, saying no amount of plea would make the US to delist Nigeria without doing the needful.
He said, “The US is asking the government of Nigeria to share information, knowledge on terrorists. The Federal Government has raised a committee but why do we need to always wait until we are sanctioned before we do what is right?”
The Director (Legal and Public Affairs), Christian Association of Nigeria, Kwamkur Samuel, said the sanction would expose Nigerians to a lot of difficulties.
“They should restrict the ban to those who have failed woefully in protecting the lives and property of Nigerians despite visible failure but failed to improve,” he said.
US wants access to Nigeria’s national identity database — Security specialist
A Strategic Security and Intelligence Specialist, Kabir Adamu, said the US imposed the visa ban on Nigerians because it was unable to access the national identity management database which is crucial to the global fight against terrorism.
Although Nigeria and the US have shared intelligence over many years, Adamu noted that America was not satisfied with a lack of unified identity management database in the country where it could get information on any Nigerian of interest.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, Adamu, who is the Special Advisor Security and Intelligence to the President of the Senate, said, “In Nigeria, we have the problem of identity management. Over time, there have been attempts to have a unified national identity identification database, but that has not been possible. To that extent, the US is correct.
“Of all the West African countries, Nigeria has the worst identity management data system. Because of the importance of this to the fight against terrorism, any country that does not have that would have a challenge in tackling terrorism.”
Adamu, who is the Abuja Chairman of ASIS International, Abuja Chapter 273, a professional organisation for security professionals, noted that the national database which is being managed by different organisations including the National Identity Management Commission, Nigeria Immigration Service and financial instructions had to be streamlined.
Findings also indicate that part of the database was also being managed by an Indian firm, Continental Transfert Technique.
He faulted US claims that Nigeria was not cooperating on information sharing, adding that there was liaison intelligence partnership between the National Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence and Nigeria’s Department of State Services and the Nigeria Police Force.
The Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said, “It’s an unfortunate development, the ban questions our foreign relations with the US and other countries. It is a reflection of the impression they have about our system, our identity chain, our capacity to protect ourselves, our system and our management of our citizens.”
Commenting on the visa ban, a former Nigerian ambassador to Brazil, Vienna, and Poland, Sulaiman Dahiru, said Nigeria was not doing the right thing, hence the decision to single it out for visa restrictions in West Africa.
A former Nigerian ambassador to Argentina, Amb. Chive Kaave, said it is within America’s diplomatic rights to determine who gets its visa, adding that the Federal Government was free to reciprocate the US action.
Nigeria/US Bi-National Commission meets Monday
The fifth session of the Nigeria/United States of America Bi-National Commission is scheduled to hold from February 3 to in Washington DC.
The visa ban imposed on Nigeria by Trump is also expected to feature prominently on the agenda.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, would lead the Nigerian delegation to the meeting with the theme, ‘Mutual Prosperity through Innovation and Ingenuity.’
Deliberations at the session will focus on areas of mutual interest, including good governance and anti-corruption; trade and investment; development and food security; and security and counter-terrorism efforts.
The MFA spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, in a statement on Saturday, said the BNC had continued to serve as a veritable mechanism for sustained bilateral high-level dialogue to promote and coordinate diplomatic, economic, military, technical cultural and social cooperation between Nigeria and the United States.
The Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission was established in April 2010 in Washington DC as a platform for closer cooperation between both countries. (Sunday PUNCH)