There are strong indications that the Nigeria Immigration Service will begin special screening of visitors entering the country from Kenya, Libya, Somalia and other African countries that are battling terrorism.
This, according to findings, is in line with the Federal Government’s announcement of a new policy that permits other Africans to get visa on arrival in Nigeria, beginning January 2020. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), on Wednesday at the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, held in Cairo, Egypt, announced the new visa regime for Africans.
“We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020,” he said.
The Federal Government last year announced visa on arrival policy for selected categories of people. Over 2,000 of such visas were given to potential investors at Nigeria’s main airport in Lagos in July. The government has also been considering new types of visas for applicants.
However, top immigration officials at NIS headquarters in Abuja said on Saturday that the service would begin the special screening of visitors/passengers coming into the country through airports and land borders from countries battling insurgency or have become transit points for terrorists.
According to immigration officials at Lagos and Abuja airports, some of the countries that have issues relating to insurgency whose citizens or residents may be subjected to strict screening include Kenya, Somalia and Libya. A top immigration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter explained, “With this new visa regime, we are going to pay special attention to visitors and passengers coming from countries that have issues with insurgency or terrorism. These include Kenya, Libya, Somalia and others.
The official further said, “But some are taking advantage of the visa on arrival to come for other activities such as tourism and church activities. This is because sometimes, they find it difficult to get approval from embassies.
“The majority of people coming are Chinese citizens and other church worshippers who come to Synagogue Church in Lagos. Most of those who come for religious tourism are from Africa. They come in large numbers, especially from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and a few other African nations. They come strictly for church-related programmes. “But we carry out extra checks on those from countries like Syria due to terrorism and others in Africa such as Libya. We also scrutinise Kenyans, but the majority of those who come to Nigeria are for church-related purposes.
“They go through security checks and we have a stop list that guides us. On entering Nigeria, the system will alert us of a suspected terrorist because we already have their names with us. The system is installed at the airport. When any Kenyan comes, he goes through the security checks to ensure he/she is clean. We send back inadmissible persons. But with this new regime, security screening will increase.”
According to another top official, the 1975 Protocol on Free Movement created the platform for interaction among West Africans, East Africa, Central Africa and North Africa.
On how prepared the NIS is for the new visa regime, another immigration official said, “We will soon get a formal directive through a circular on the matter from Abuja. “However, we have taken proactive steps to handle whatever traffic by expanding our operations in the D and E arrivals to accommodate more foreign migrants at the Lagos airport, which is our flagship airport.”
Online visa application no longer compulsory for Africans
The NIS said it was no longer compulsory for other Africans visiting Nigeria to submit an online visa application before coming to Nigeria, following the announcement of the new visa regime.
Explaining the development, the spokesperson for the NIS, Mr Sunday James, said, “Visa on arrival is not free; the one for Africans is given the priority of being issued at the point of entry after due diligent clearance without prior application until they get to the entry point.
“It is a liberalised process worth commending the Federal Government for, an uncommon approach to immigration diplomacy in integrating African nationals.”
The immigration spokesman, however, explained that although it was no longer compulsory for African visitors to apply online before coming into the country, those interested in applying online could still do so.
James explained that the NIS was going to tighten the noose on immigrants in the coming days as it stepped up efforts to implement Buhari’s directive.
The NIS said visiting Africans would be subjected to tight security clearance and airport protocol, noting that each visitor would undergo passport validity verification, watch list checks, suspect index, wanted list records, Interpol diffusion record and risk analysis index.
The spokesman stated, “The issue of online application is a matter of choice for Africans. On arrival at the entry point, they will be subjected to immigration security clearance, which includes passport validity verification, checks on a watch list, suspect index, wanted list records, Interpol diffusion record and risk analysis index, all in an effort to step up national security.
“So, visa on arrival at the point of entry is not the way people think; nobody can infiltrate and enter the country without proper security clearance and checks. The NIS is statutorily ready to tighten security at entry points while imbibing international best practices.”