Nigerian govt rejects proposed British visa bond policy, UK reacts
WARNING of the danger a proposed visa policy by United Kingdom (UK) poses to the stability of the Commonwealth, Nigeria on Tuesday stressed the need to review the move. The proposed policy would compel visitors from some countries, including Nigeria, to deposit £3,000 bond before being allowed entry.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga A. Ashiru, Tuesday expressed the displeasure of the Federal Government over the UK's policy.
Ashiru, who made government's position known to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock Tuesday, described the proposal "as not only discriminatory but also capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth family."
The new development came as the Senate also Tuesday rejected the proposed policy, saying it would not accept Nigeria being part of the list.
The upper legislative chamber threatened that it would push for a similar policy against the UK citizens in Nigeria or those seeking entry into the country by the time Nigeria is officially notified of the new development.
Ashiru had summoned the British High Commissioner to a meeting which was held at the Tafawa Balewa House, Abuja.
A statement issued by the ministry's spokesperson, Ogbole Amedu Ode, which was made available to The Guardian Tuesday, quoted the minister as recalling with nostalgia, the times when nationals of the Commonwealth travelled freely to the UK and other member-states.
"This, no doubt, deepened the strong historical bonds between the peoples of the various countries who were all regarded at that time as Commonwealth citizens," Ashiru said.
He further recalled that this time-honoured practice was unilaterally jettisoned by the UK Government in 1985, thereby weakening the bonds of the Commonwealth family.
The minister further stated that the proposed policy would definitely negate the joint commitment by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Goodluck Jonathan to double the volume of trade between the two countries by 2014, just as it would hinder people-to-people contacts, which is one of the cardinal principles of the Commonwealth.
He pointed out that the decision of the UK government is coming at the time the Commonwealth foreign ministers have unanimously recommended for adoption at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) holding in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November 2013, a proposal to remove visa requirements for holders of official and diplomatic passports from member- states.
He, therefore, called on the UK government to reconsider the proposed policy, which is incompatible with the strong and cordial relations built over the years between the UK and Nigeria. He also informed the British High Commissioner that the Federal Government of Nigeria has a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians who may be affected by the proposed policy, if finally introduced.
Responding, Pocock confirmed that the policy was still being developed and expressed regret that the yet-to-be announced policy was leaked to the media, as the modality for its implementation has not been worked out.
He confirmed that some elements in the report are correct and the policy, could, indeed, affect a few Nigerians, especially first-time visa applicants.
He further clarified that the proposed cash bond is not a general visa fee payable by all applicants. He, nonetheless, assured the minister that the views and concerns of the Nigerian people and government would be conveyed to his country.
Also Tuesday, the Head of Press & Public Affairs Section, British High Commission, Abuja. Rob Fitzpatrick, in a statement confirmed that Pocock met with Ashiru on speculation in the press regarding the possible implementation of 'visa bonds' for Nigerian visa applicants.
Following the meeting, Fitzpatrick quoted Pocock as saying: "I welcome the chance to set out the facts on so-called "visa bonds."
"The British Government has announced that it intends to undertake a very small scale trial of the use of financial bonds as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system (which occurs when some people overstay their visa terms).
"The details of a pilot scheme are still being worked out. No final decision has been made. If the pilot were to go ahead in Nigeria, it would affect only a very small number of the highest risk visitors. The vast majority would not be required to pay a bond. Those paying bonds would receive the bond back if they abided by the terms of their visa.
"Let me put this in perspective. Over 180,000 Nigerians apply to visit the UK each year. About 70 per cent or around 125,000, of those applicants are successful. Travel between our two countries is a key part of our strong cultural and business relationship. Financial bonds would be focused on only a tiny minority of potential abusers. It would NOT be a "£3,000 visa charge" as some media reporting has alleged.
"As soon as more details of the policy have been decided, we will inform the Nigerian government and public fully and officially, in the spirit of our long-standing friendship, and our wish to help bonafide Nigerian visitors to work, study or do business in the United Kingdom."
The policy requires Nigerians travelling to the UK to produce a cash bond of N730,000 (£3,000, $4,600 or 3,500 euros) before they enter the UK, as they are among country nationals deemed to pose a "high risk" of immigration abuse.
The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs also condemned the policy, saying it is discriminatory and unacceptable.
Chairman of the committee, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, in a statement issued in Abuja on Monday, said such policy was not in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
"This is totally discriminatory and unacceptable. It is targeted at non-white Commonwealth", she said.