Yesterday, at the Aswan Forum in Egypt, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that in January 2020, Nigeria will commence the issuance of visas at the point of entry to all persons holding passports of African countries.
“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.
Last year, the Nigerian government announced visa on arrival for selected categories of people. In July, over 2000 of such visas were issued to some persons considered in the category of investors.
In November, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) announced plans to issue visa on arrival. Concentration was centered on pilgrimage as a way to boost tourism in the country. The recent announcement by Buhari to grant all African passport holders travelling into Nigeria, visa at entry, has however set a new milestone in African integration. But there is a contradiction!
The news although welcomed by many, came surprising for obvious reasons. Since August, Nigerian land borders have been closed, a development that the Buhari-led administration has defended as a means of curbing the smuggling of banned goods and services and to promote locally made goods.
The argument that the border closure is hurting already fragile economy has gone on deaf ears. All these are happening at a time when Nigerian signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a pact that is designed to spur intra-African trade and continental integration.
The principles of the AfCFTA guarantee free movement of people, goods and services. Each of these principles has been utterly violated by the border closure and it is hurting the economy of the whole West African region.
In his speech at the Aswan Forum, Buhari reminded other Africans countries of the need of connectivity through free-flowing transport system, especially through intra-African roads and railways.
“Africa should embark on the provision of transport connectivity by enhancing the development of roads, rail, and air links which will ease the free movement of persons, goods and services within the continent. In this regard, we in Nigeria have already commenced an aggressive drive to upgrade our rail transport system and road networks across the country.
“We should furthermore promote free trade within and amongst Africa and Africans especially now that we have launched the African Free Trade Area Agreement,” he said.
It is an unprecedented contradiction that action alone can substantiate. Whilst his speech is acknowledged as a fact, the closed borders have without words, refuted his preachment.
One of the implications of the closed borders has been restriction of movement of people, goods and services. A situation that has not only limited the inflow of goods through the land borders but also the growth of locally made products.
The needed integration that was advocated in the Aswan Forum has been preceded by anti-integration decisions that need to be unwound for the anticipated benefits of AfCFTA to materialize.
But on the basis of the contrasts between words and actions, the puzzling word-deed misalignment casts doubt on intent. When the largest economy in Africa preaches integration in one way and opposes it in another, it creates a bedrock of economic chaos.
Already, Ecowas countries are becoming vindictive, and are taking measures to fight what they perceive as economic injustice, and the overall trade of the region is at the receiving end. Nigerian traders in Ghana have become targets of government sponsored oppression, an attempt to register the country’s displeasure over the closed borders.
Ghana’s exports to Nigeria have been limited to the barest minimum and so it is with Benin and Niger Republic, and the three countries are seriously weighing the options.
While Nigeria’s ‘visa on arrival’ gesture is a good example for other African countries to follow, the fate of members of Ecowas should not be on trial. Charity begins at home. Therefore, Nigeria should open the doors to her immediate siblings.