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Why US may lift visa restriction on Nigeria, as FG, American Govt begin talk

To hold crucial meeting next week

THERE are new indications that the United States government may reverse its decision on the recent visa restriction policy against Nigeria following crucial discussions held between the Federal Government and top officials of the American government.

This is due to the fact that the major concerns raised by the US government, which includes information sharing about matters of security with the International Police (INTERPOL) and biometric data of every individual who enters into the country, has been addressed.

It could be recalled that on 1st February, the US government listed Nigeria among four other nations – Myanmar, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Tanzania in its new visa restriction policy.

The restriction is expected to take effect from 21st February but both nations planned to hold an important negotiation meeting next week.

Following the development, a committee headed by Rauf Aregbebsola, the Minister of Interior including Geoffrey Onyema, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was set up by the President to work with the US government and possibly address the concern.

A report by Punch revealed that the presidential committee held a meeting with US officials on Wednesday night, in Abuja where some of the concerns raised were for long addressed even prior to the US sanction, except for lack of proper communication on public safety with the Americans.

The Nigerian government officials identified the Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS), an offence purportedly committed since 2017 as well as proper reporting of lost passports among reasons for Nigeria’s inclusion in the restriction policy.

“The US Consul General was invited and they held a meeting on the issue. The meeting was held on Wednesday night. They made progress and another meeting has been fixed for next week.

“The Minister of Interior and the US Consul General were at the meeting. On the refusal to share information on security which the US accused us of, the Migration Information and Data Analysis System which have been activated at four of our international airports will take care of that. The Minister of Interior inaugurated it (MIDAS) since January 2020. It was just officially inaugurated by the President about three days ago.

“They also asked us to be reporting lost/stolen passports to Interpol but do you know that a platform for reporting that had been done but was not activated.  That is unfortunate. It has been done but not activated, so the US did not agree that we have done it.

“The consular also advised that there should be proper, official and effective communication. The US said it was not enough for us to deploy MIDAS but we should communicate officially to them,” the source told Punch.

Meanwhile, as of November last year, Nigeria launched its MIDAS platform at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.

“MIDAS helps the Government of Nigeria to better understand mobility patterns through its statistical information and also ensure that those crossing Nigerian borders do not pose threats to national and international security,” Muhammad Babandede, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) Comptroller General said during the unveiling in Abuja.

However, the Nigerian authorities during the meeting added, “Now that we have activated MIDAS, if anybody buys a ticket from any part of the world to come to Nigeria, their data is sent immediately to Interpol. You know it is mandatory for airlines to request for passport data page before selling a ticket to a traveller.

“If we didn’t deploy MIDAS before the take-off of visa-on-arrival, all the terrorists in the world will come to Nigeria. So, MIDAS was activated before visa-on-arrival was inaugurated.

“Most of the issues raised by the US had been addressed but you know most Nigerians won’t act until we are sanctioned.  The visa restriction for the immigrant is a punishment for 2017 offence.”

Speaking further the source noted that the US government is always very conscious of deadlines and meeting their requirements, adding that reasons for not meeting such notice should have been presented, hence, the restriction.

“The way those people (US) do things is different from ours. Once you are given a deadline, you do not meet it, and you did not notify them ahead of the reasons why you would not meet the deadline, even if you do it a day after, they will consider it undone. That is what happened in this case.

“In 2018, the US granted over 460,000 non-immigrant visas to Nigerians. The figure for 2019 has not been released. They still issue visas to Nigerians whereas the immigrant visas granted to Nigerians in the same year was about 5,000.

“The restriction is not as serious as it is being made to appear. Even despite that, the issues raised have been addressed. It means that immigrant visa is about five per cent of the visa which the US grants to Nigerians.”

 

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