By Daniel Kanu
The United States of America penultimate Friday, January 31, announced the expanded list of six countries to be affected by its immigrant visa ban.
Sadly enough, Nigeria among the other five countries, Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar, made the list.
The suspension is expected to come into effect on February 21, 2020.
The President Donald Trump administration said it designed the new policy to tighten security for countries that do not comply with the U.S. minimum security standard or cooperate to prevent illegal immigration.
A report in the Washington Street Journal said that in the new policy, the citizens of these countries would not be able to apply for any category of visas that would allow them to live lawfully in the United States anymore.
Sunday Sun gathered, however, that immigrants who obtained visas before then would still be able to travel to the United States. Non-immigrant visas, including those for students and certain temporary workers, as well as visas reserved for potential employees with specialized skills, would not be affected by the ban.
This is not the first time the Trump administration is barring some countries from entering the US.
In his first week in office in January 2017, he barred nearly all immigrants and travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations. The policy was revised amid court challenges, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in June 2018.
The existing version of the ban includes the Muslim-majority nations of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. North Korea and Venezuela also face visa restrictions, but those measures affect relatively few travellers.
Trump has made immigration crackdown a focus of his 2020 re-election campaign and is expected to press the issue in the months ahead.
Acting US Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, said that the new measures were the result of failures by the affected countries to meet American security and information-sharing standards.
Following the development, President Muhammadu Buhari has set up a committee to study the development.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said that the committee would be headed by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola to study and address the updated U.S requirements.
The presidency, however, said that the restriction did not affect other categories of visas like official, tourism, business visas or student travel.
“For Nigeria, the restriction is the suspension of the issuance of immigrant visas to Nigerian passport holders only,” it noted.
The presidency used the opportunity to reiterate that Nigeria remains committed to maintaining productive relations with the U.S. and its international allies, especially on matters of global security.
International relations experts and policy strategists have been dissecting the implications of the action, as well as the real reasons behind it.
Fulbright scholar, historian and international relations expert, Prof Sheriff Folarin, said that the implication of the action is negligible being that it’s strictly on immigrant visa and has nothing to do with a non-immigrant visa.
Folarin who is the Head of Department of Political Science, International Relations, Covenant University, told Sunday Sun that issues on information sharing on terrorism concern are one that must be taken seriously and addressed quickly by the Nigerian government.
“Let’s start by saying that the implication is negligible, it’s not significant because it’s an immigration restriction and not an outright travel ban. Nigerians who are legitimately planning to go to the United States and who have entry visa can go and return, like Nigerians who don’t have visa, but who want to travel to the US for a short stay and, of course, for such other programmes such as cultural exchange programmes like Fulbright, study of US institutes etc, can also obtain visa and travel and return.
“The immigration ban basically is for those who want to go and have a longer stay in the US, they want to go there as immigrants and eventually they want to become citizens, permanent residents, that category is what Trump is banning and the reason is that they are not going there for a short visit, they are going there to stay and what if they are mixed-up with these elements that you cannot really identify easily, you know what I mean.
“Nigeria is made up of different groups now that you have lots of killer elements among them. What if they also seek such a visa to go to the US and they pretend to be regular Nigerians and when they go there they become the seed for terrorism. And besides, the rate at which we have terrorist gangs and bandits growing and growing in the country, with lots of firearms you can’t account for that are flowing all over, with the kind of indoctrination that some groups and persons have received, they have filtered into all regions of the country.
“It’s not impossible that Nigeria can be a transit point for terrorist elements in North Africa, Middle East and with ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa) being in Nigeria now, it’s not impossible that such groups will use the cover of Nigerian and the fact that Nigeria has a good relationship with the US, they will also seek immigration visa and go to the US, have a longer stay and convert, become American citizens or permanent residents and do havoc with time.
“Trump is not banning those that are going legitimately maybe as journalists for short holidays or for conference or people going for some educational programmes etc. Even those that don’t have entry visa at the moment they can still apply and they will get their visa as long as they can establish that they are going there for a legitimate reason.
“They didn’t apply for an immigration visa they applied for a non-immigrant visa. So, a non-immigrant visa is still open to all. Some of us who are alumni of US government-sponsored cultural exchange programmes, one of our duties is to situate that there is a smooth relationship between our countries and US that hosted us for a while, so we are like cultural ambassadors for United States so we need to enlighten people so that there will always be that understanding between the US and our country, Nigeria.
“We are cultural ambassadors for Nigeria and, of course, for the US, part of my duty is to see that we enlighten the public so that the public doesn’t go with erroneous perception on issues. What is there is a temporary immigration restriction. If Nigeria can quickly review it and work with the US and take care of the internal measures to see to it that we are able to upgrade our standards where we can identify or deal with identity, manage identity etc, ensure also that information sharing is upgraded to a level that American government will have adequate confidence in the country, Nigeria will be removed from the list if we can get that done between now and the February 21 date.
“We should also try to do well in terms of engaging diplomatically. In the 80s and 90s, this won’t happen even if Nigeria was the worst in terms of the criteria America is using because we were one of the best in Africa in diplomacy, always working underground not this showmanship of the APC and the PDP, then they knew what they were doing, they were rich in knowledge, they knew what foreign policy was all about and they knew where we stood in the world.
“There are benchmarks for identity management and information sharing. Nigeria does not meet up to the benchmark. It is just a minimum requirement, even Chad, Togo, Cameroun etc, all meet up with the minimum requirement, but Nigeria does not. For instance, somebody can use somebody’s international passport and travel in this country. Somebody can use another person’s visa and travel and all that and in some cases too where you don’t have electronic ID card or electronic international passport people clone passports, clone cards, so anyone can use it, Boko Haram elements can use it, ISWAP can use it and that could be creating or constituting very huge security risk to the US.
“Nigeria does not share information as expected from them. Nigeria does not share information properly, it is believed that they are even covering Boko Haram elements and integrating them into the military; it is jeopardizing the whole efforts America has made since the Obama days till the present day to see to it that Nigeria is declared safe, safe to travel to and safe to host by the US and other countries. Another implication of this ban is that other countries that are allies of the US will begin to consider it too.”
Dr Tunde Oseni, head of Department, Politics and International Relations, Lead City University, Ibadan said that the ban was an outcome of the failure of bilateral relations with the US, which hinges more on Nigerian citizens overstaying in the US with their visa rather than keeping to the time frame.
He said that the second reason has been on the inability of the Nigerian government to convincingly share terrorism intelligence with the US, which they are not comfortable with following the security challenge in the land.
The respected political thinker told Sunday Sun that “it’s a failure of bilateral relations between Nigeria and the United States because when one country bans your citizens from getting an immigrant visa it means that you have not been able to diplomatically resolve areas of differences. However, there are two basic reasons the US is banning Nigerians from getting that kind of visa.
“One is that many Nigerians go to the US, they overstay their visa and they don’t come back to Nigeria and so statistics have shown that Nigeria is guilty of that. The number two reason is that the Nigerian government has not been sharing terrorism intelligence with the United States; these are the two basic reasons.
“And so, it is somehow funny that you can now see Nigeria being classified along with other countries that are not as diplomatically important to the US. Never the less, I think the main implication will be that there will be some kind of pressure on, maybe other western countries because Nigerians like to travel a lot and there is no way Nigerians cannot just but travel for either economic or educational purposes. So, with BREXIT, you are now going to have some kind of pressure on the United Kingdom and other European countries and probably Canada in North America, so the earlier it is resolved the better because Nigeria is a key ally to the United States of America.
“There are insinuations that part of the security challenge in Nigeria is part of it, but I don’t think it should be the only reason because virtually all countries of the world have one challenge or the other and I do not think that Tanzania has the kind of terrorist security challenges that we have here. And people, Nigerians who travel to the US are probably not terrorists; I think the reason of overstaying visa is more germane than the reason of saying that Nigeria is exporting terrorism.
“Some say Nigeria is a pariah state, but that depends on the context. A pariah state is a state that no other state wants to relate with you, I do not think that is the case with Nigeria as we speak. Of course, the security challenge may be huge, but just last month Nigeria was one of the countries that had this UK-African Summit in London, before that we had the Tokyo Agreement with Nigeria, so I do not think that Nigeria is a pariah state in the sense that countries of the world are not actually saying that they will not interact with Nigeria, both on diplomatic or economic levels.
“I think that Nigeria is not a pariah state, so to speak, but Nigeria has security challenge which, of course, largely is not due to the failure of citizens, but partly a failure of leadership. So, when you ban Nigerians from coming to your country, you are not banning the government, you are banning the citizens who are, of course, not responsible for the security challenges”.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has urged the U.S. President to rescind his decision to include Nigeria in the expanded list of countries hit with the travel ban.
In a statement he shared on his Twitter handle, Atiku said Trump should consider Nigerians’ attraction to the U.S, urging him to instead go after those in government who have failed in their duties.
Also, fiery human rights advocate and lawyer, Femi Aborishade said that the ban was an indictment on the government whom, he said, has remained insensitive both to its citizen’s welfare and bilateral relations.
He said that Nigerians would not be desperate to leave the country at all costs if the leadership has been on top of its responsibility, insisting that the rejection of Nigerians by any visa category was horrible given the endowment, human and natural, that abound in the land.
Aborishade said that the Nigerian condition was pathetic, urging the citizens to ensure their leaders are held accountable.
“My position is that it is an indictment against the APC-ruling government at the centre that has reduced the way in which Nigeria is now regarded internationally such that we are now more or less being rejected, going by the policy of US Donald Trump-led administration.
“If Nigeria had been developed there would not have been any attraction in the first place for people to want to check out in the ‘Andrew sense’, so it is because Nigeria has been destroyed and perceived to be a house under fire and the occupants must just check out by all means. It is the pressure to move out at all costs that Donald Trump is responding to.
“In the past, from different countries of the world students used to come to Nigeria to study because of the level of education then and the standard of living relatively better as at then. But today, Nigeria has been destroyed, brought to its knees, as you can witness people are being killed in large numbers every day. Recall the protest of the CAN recently all over Nigeria and the insecurity is actually more pronounced in the North, but indeed the same insecurity is being experienced all over the place.
“Hunger is pervasive, Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world, so all of this has reduced the value of life in Nigeria and people are just looking for an opportunity to check out. So, it is an indictment and we have to hold our government responsible for this sordid state Nigeria has find itself. The implication is that horrible: other countries are saying they don’t want you.
“But to have the knowledge that other countries don’t want you is a horrible experience, we are rejected internationally-based partly on the basis of poverty that has compelled many to engage in criminalities and so foreign countries like the US are afraid that terrorists even though America establishment is the number one terrorist government of the world, are worried,” he said.
Prof Lai Olurode, former dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos, said that although the development is an ugly one that he welcomed the news with mixed feelings because it may provide a good platform for Nigeria to reflect and take a giant stride into the future.
The former national INEC commissioner told Sunday Sun: «For me, it›s a good development because it will compel us to look inwards. It›s a golden time and we should seize the opportunity to look inwards. We have what it takes to build a United State of Nigeria as a country like America if all our assets, cultural assets, individual assets, if they can be ploughed back into this economy, and we guarantee security, we can go places in Africa.
“We are the number one destination in terms of commerce, in terms of education, in terms of anything. We have people and professionals that are world-class. You need to go to American universities and see Nigerians over there. If we can just get our acts together, get leadership right, I think nothing can stop Nigeria from becoming a power to reckon with in Africa and beyond.
“It’s an insult for any country to want to ban us because they take more from us than we take from them. We can give more to the world if we get our acts right, so we should use this opportunity to look inwards and develop our potentials because we are being assaulted and insulted all over the world. They are the ones that preach globalization and they preach one world, now it’s not one world again once Nigerians are involved.”
An international relations expert, Robert Nsima also said that the ban is an issue that could be easily resolved if Nigeria is serious.
“The United States recently donated an additional $40 million to assist humanitarian efforts in the Northeast even with the recent pronouncement of the ban, so it’s a bilateral issue. The donation was announced by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo at the end of the 5th Session of the Nigeria-United States of America Bi-national Commission held in Washington D.C, United States,” Nsima pointed out.
In all, there seems to be hope rising as Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffery Onyeama has assured that the US may lift the ban in one-month if all the issues raised were quickly addressed.