Deepening Nigeria’s democracy with presidential debate

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nigerians across the world will on Sunday, March 22, be treated to an interesting spectacle void of hot air that has pervaded the 2015 electioneering campaigns. It is the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) presidential debate.
With bated breath, Nigerians look forward to seeing the best and worst from not just the leading presidential candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, but a roll call of all 18 presidential candidates standing for March 28 election.
Followers of Lagos Governorship Debate already have their appetites whet to the stimulating engagement expected to herald the live debate.
The expectation is high because the entire country is the panel and though actual measurement of impact may be tentative, especially in a developing country where there are challenges of illiteracy and access to mass media, the performance of the candidates ordinarily reshapes the conversation and can significantly influence voters’ choice.
The essence of a presidential debate would be fully appreciated in a society where the people see it as an opportunity to evaluate the policies, preparedness and demeanour of those who seek to govern them. It must, however, also be warned that a great leader may not be the best of debaters.

Buhari and Jonathan

Buhari and Jonathan

Chairman of the NEDG and Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Mr. Sola Omole, during his sensitization visit to The Guardian newspaper, said the debate, which will be held in three sessions, 12noon-2pm, 3pm-5pm, and 7pm-9pm, will be broadcasted to over 300 million audiences across the world.
Omole, during his visit to The Guardian, said the mission of the NEDG is to ensure the debate process becomes a strong component of Nigeria’s democracy. “All over the world, this is what happens before any presidential elections. We want to make the debate culture a part of our growing democracy and we have initiated discussions with the National Assembly to propose a bill in order to legalize presidential debates ahead of general elections.”
The culture of televised presidential debates is one of the many cultures that were copied from the United States of America (USA).
The first ever debate in the USA between rivals for elective political office can be traced to 1857 when Abraham Lincoln insisted on having a debate with Stephen Douglas on “the virtue of the republic and the evil of slavery”. Abraham Lincoln lost that election but a history in political debating had already been made.
Lincoln would later win the presidency in 1860, in an election, which featured no political debates. In fact, there were no debates between presidential candidates until 1952.
The culture of televised debate would later become formalised with the televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. The handsome and more charismatic John Kennedy won the televised debate while an earlier radio debate had been won by Nixon. Nixon was said to have appeared rather “shifty” on television and that contributed to his loss of the election.
If televised debates could prove the downfall of a candidate who otherwise could have won in an election, why bother to participate in it? President Lyndon Johnson refused to debate with Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964; he was leading in the polls, and public speaking was not his forte.
Just as John McCain was about to do in one of his 2008 presidential debates when he said he was attending to legislative matters in Congress, President Jimmy Carter in 1980, refused to participate in the first presidential debate because it included independent candidate John Anderson.

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

He, however, attended subsequent debates and that memorable question by Ronald Reagan did him great damage: “Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?” The state of the economy and the American hostage crisis in Iran suggested it was the right question that would nail the coffin of the Carter presidency.
On the home turf, the highpoint of Nigeria’s experience with presidential debates and the last time Nigerians enjoyed something really close to an exciting debate was during the 1993 presidential elections. It was a memorable encounter between the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
At the end of that debate, it was clear who among the duo was better experienced, much more intellectually capable and more endearing to the electorate in terms of readiness for the job being applied for. That is what a debate, under these circumstances, is: a job interview.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a remake of the 1993 feeling. Voters would be denied this opportunity for comparison, assessment, interaction, excitement and drama that comes with a debate of any sort, as Buhari announced on Tuesday that he be shunning the debate on Sunday.
It would be recalled that the APC had said it will not participate in the previously scheduled public debates on national television and radio stations organised by the NEDG, long before the elections were postponed from February 14 to March 28. The party had alleged that NEDG, which is co-ordinating the debate, was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, according to Malam Garba Shehu, the Director Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Organisation.
Clarifying his stance, Buhari, in an interactive session with journalists, said there was nothing worth debating with the president, which has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. According to him, the mere fact that Jonathan had to rely on Chad, Niger and Cameroun to tackle the menace of Boko Haram speaks volume of the failure of the PDP-led administration.

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Reacting, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, claimed the APC took the decision to boycott the debate simply to shield from Nigerians and the international audience its candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari’s intellectual laziness and inability to constructively engage contemporary national issues in a live television and radio debate.
It is not only political gladiators that are bothered about the seeming intransigence of Buhari to debate with Jonathan as the two leading contenders for the 2015 presidential elections. Citizens like Niran Akintunde are also showing similar concern and what it portends to the electioneering process.
In his Facebook post recently, Akintunde said: “Yes, I am supporting Buhari but ask me what does my candidate think about local government autonomy or creation of state police, I would not know. This is really a shame, I must admit. But beyond rhetoric, both Buhari and Jonathan have really not helped Nigerians to be able to decide wisely.
“I expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make political debates compulsory as part of the electioneering process in the interest of the electorates because at the moment, mediocrity is found in both the Jonathan and Buhari camps.”

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Many political watchers have complained to a great length the seeming absence of issues in the campaigns of the two leading political parties. Sadly, in the few days before March 28, the campaigns might never rise beyond the present disenchanted state, which is focusing greatly on personalities rather than issues. They argued that only a presidential debate would change the narrative.
Reacting to concerns by the APC, who had earlier pulled out of the debate earlier scheduled for February 8 over the integrity of the process, Sola Omole said efforts have been made by organisers to make the debate credible.
“The debate platform, which is designed by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) comprises of all radio and television stations across the country. With our over 300 membership, it is going to be the largest broadcasting session ever.
“Over 4,000 questions were sent in from across the world and it has been polled and vetted by our technical team to avoid repetition. The questions have been kept secret from our panelists, which would only be delivered to them minutes before the debate begins. At the same time, it is the same questions that will be asked from all the contestants, while the debate is going to be aired live so there would be no filtering.”
The chairman of the debate group added that the contact committee of NESG has been in touch with the APC leaders to carry them along and explain the whole process of the debate. He, however, noted that with or without the APC participating in the debate, it would still go on as scheduled on Sunday.

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Ascendancy of social media in build up to elections

• Remembering Orevba, the hero of 2011
By Tope Templer Olaiya
Few weeks before the general elections, the virtual social media space has been saturated by canvassers and cyber-warlords who have taken over the unregulated mass communication platform to run a vigorous, no-holds barred campaign either for change, as represented by General Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) or continuity as proclaimed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Long before these blood-dripping and nail-biting crusades from both divides interrupted sanity and polluted the social media space, President Goodluck Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had in 2012 dismissed the pool of online critics as collective children of anger.

War 4In defense of his principal in a piece titled ‘The Jonathan they don’t know,’ Abati, feeling rattled from unending social media jibes hurled at Jonathan had branded the new media adherents as “the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, and the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan.”

But can these ‘children of anger’ be blamed for exploiting the channel the president himself elevated to state art when in 2010, he made a public ceremony of his signing up on Facebook and went ahead to publish a 360-page book titled ‘Goodluck Jonathan: My friends and I,’ which documented his conversations with Nigerians via the social media platform.

Explaining why he decided to open a Facebook account, considering the fact that a president should be too preoccupied with state matters to have less time for inanities like chatting, he responded that he was motivated by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and his novel use of social media network during his presidential campaign to stimulate new thinking on participatory governance across the world.

War 1Facebook is one tool of social media that allows for interaction between government and the governed. Opinions on issues, policy and governance can be expressed in an unedited, uncensored way by the citizens. While you used to wonder if your letter would ever get to the president, such doubts are eliminated through Facebook. The multiplicity of opinion, variety of thoughts and the engaging, argumentative nature of the posts are very essential to breeding understanding and building consensus in the democratic process. I love Facebook also because it allows me to get some information that may normally not get to me, having been ‘edited’ along the line,” he had said.

From the thousands of feedback and raw comments the president got from Nigerians, the one which stood out for particular mention after the president got elected in 2011 was the post from one Babajide Orevba, whose father, Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba, slumped and died jubilating Jonathan’s poll victory. It took the entire country by surprise, when for the first time in the history of inaugural speeches, the president on May 29, 2011, at the Eagles Square, Abuja, acknowledged the death of a 65-year-old Orevba, who collapsed out of enthusiasm and joy immediately he was declared winner, and died three days after.

Jonathan, in his address to the nation, had said: “Only a couple of days ago, I received an entry on my Facebook page. It was sent by Mr. Babajide Izegaegbe Orevba. He wrote to inform me that I had lost a great fan. That fan was his father, Mr. Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba. The deceased, the son told me, was no politician, but had campaigned enthusiastically for my ticket. Tragically, overwhelmed by the joy of our victory, he collapsed, and passed on three days later. I pray God Almighty to grant his soul eternal rest.”

War 3

Late Orevba

Orevba’s commitment and love to President Jonathan started shortly after he became the acting president. A native of Sabongida Ora, Owan Local Government of Edo State, Orevba fell in love with Jonathan’s style of government and his determination to put an end to the epileptic power situation. He was said to be particularly impressed by the patience and maturity demonstrated by Jonathan when the controversies started over whether as Vice President, he should be allowed to act in the absence of his former boss, late Shehu Yar’Adua, who was hospitalized for over 90 days in Saudi Arabia.

Today, Babajide, a graduate of Psychology from the University of Ado Ekiti, who now lives and works in Abuja, has taken up the gauntlet from where his father left it to unabashedly campaign for the president’s reelection, using the same medium that brought him access to the president in 2011- Facebook.

Narrating how his father died, Babajide had in 2011 told The Guardian that, “three days to the presidential election in 2011, my father reminded us to ensure we all voted for Jonathan. We all assured him that we won’t do otherwise. On the day of election, before I went to cast my vote in my ward, which was a few distance away from his, I assisted him to check his name. On Sunday, he sat glued to the television monitoring as the results trickled in from the states.

War 5

Babajide Orevba

“By Monday evening, when it was obvious that the president was in a clear lead, my father’s spirit became high. At that point, if you demand anything from him, he would gladly do it. He always told us he never supported Jonathan because of getting an appointment in return. ‘Of course, I do not know him neither does he know me, but I believe in him.’”

“On Monday night, the situation changed. The family members were all in the living room when chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, declared Jonathan as the winner of the election. Out of enthusiasm, my father shouted but he collapsed. I quickly grabbed him but he could not hold himself so we rushed him to the General Hospital, Ikeja. At that time it was already Tuesday. He remained on admission till Saturday and was not able to talk before he finally gave up.”

Explaining how he posted the death of his father on Facebook, Jide said, “I have been a fan of the president on Facebook six months before the election and anytime I have any issue to comment on, I sent it to him through Facebook. So, when my father died, I published it on the president’s Facebook page just as I used to do without attaching any importance to it, but to my surprise, when he mentioned my father’s name in his inaugural speech, friends and neighbours started calling me to say the president just mentioned your name.”

“Until his death, his belief was that Jonathan’s presidency will fix the power problem in the country. I hope my father’s sacrifice would not go in vain. If it is only the power problem Jonathan can fix in the next four years, then he would have succeeded in making Orevba happy inside his grave.”

War 2For failing to make Pa Orevba happy in the grave, and many other promises not yet fully met, the president in the run-up to his reelection has courted the wrath of many ‘all-knowing crowd of Facebook and Twitter addicts.’ Surprisingly, the bandwagon effect of the social media population is queuing behind Buhari, who has now been renamed FeBuhari, as a riposte of the February 14 presidential election day, which across the world is lovers’ day and St. Valentine’s Day.

It must, however, be noted that the FeBuhari brigade are not having a field day on the turf. As the epic day draws near and Nigerians count down in trepidation, it is a harsh tag battle between the #IHaveDecided, #ThingsMustChange Buhari camp and the #OurGEJ, #ForwardNigeria, #NoGoingBack group rooting for President Jonathan.

With his more than 1,700,000 Facebook followers, Jonathan is the first Nigerian President to use social media to communicate with the citizens. Apart from using the online platform to tell Nigerians some of his achievements while in office, the President has been using the medium to seek the electorate’s support.

Every Facebook post of the president attracts thousands of likes and comments from his supporters and the opposition.

His party, the PDP, has just a little above 60,000 followers on Facebook and about 28,000 Twitter followers.

War 6Likewise, a few days after Buhari was elected to run against Jonathan in next month’s presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, he too took the campaign for voters’ support to the social media. In just few days after signing up on Twitter, the former head of state has gained over 70,000 followers and also commands about 100,000 followers on Facebook.

His party, the APC, with over 75,000 Twitter followers, has tweeted more than 8,000 times – seeking for the electorate’s votes, while some of them are also geared towards “attacking” the PDP. The APC seems to be using the service more frequently than the PDP, which has less than 2,000 tweets.

Meanwhile, Buhari has said he would create time to read through the comments and observations of his fans via his Facebook page as he contests against President Jonathan. “I take note of every comment, suggestion and feedback you give me. Please keep them coming. Thank you for your support,” he wrote on Facebook.

With the hue and cry over difficulty getting the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), it remains to be seen how this online battle will translate to victory for both feuding sides on Saturday, February 14. Whoever carries the day will be hugely indebted to the passion of the teeming mass of both virtual and physical combatants who sacrificed sweat and blood to make it happen. Who will be the next hero after Orevba?

 

When President Jonathan came to town

Syn 2

By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor

LAST Saturday, September 20, 2015 political movement was activated at the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos, as adherents of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West trooped out in large numbers to receive President Goodluck Jonathan at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) for a Southwest Sensitization and Unity rally.
A mammoth crowd of supporters across the six states of the South West geopolitical zone had defied the early morning downpour to express support for the president’s re-election bid in 2015. They were buoyed by the party leadership’s adoption of Jonathan as the PDP’s presumptive presidential candidate.
As expected, there was lockdown on citizen’s movement as some roads leading to the TBS and on other locations where the president was being expected were blocked.
The Lagos Bus Transit Service (LAGBUS), had early on Saturday morning, tweeted: “President Goodluck Jonathan is expected in Lagos this afternoon. As a result, roads around TBS and CMS area have been closed.” Other roads on Lagos Island, including Adeniji Adele road, were also cordoned off.
One of such locations that witnessed airtight security was the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Ikotun, venue of the president’s first public appearance last Saturday.
Visiting the collapsed guesthouse of the church in company of the state’s Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire and PDP National Chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, Jonathan had vowed to investigate the cause of the tragedy, which left at least 115 dead.

Syn 3 “My coming here is to express my personal condolences to Prophet Joshua, the Synagogue of All Nations and of course the bereaved families,” Jonathan said during the visit.
The president, who arrived by helicopter at the sprawling church compound in Ikotun, said he would hold talks with the construction industry and state governors on how to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.
“We will work with the people to ensure that such an incident does not happen again,” he said.
Jonathan said he deeply regretted that scores of South Africans had died in the tragedy, and that he had already expressed his sympathies with President Jacob Zuma.
After a private meeting of the church leaders with Jonathan, which lasted a few minutes, the president hopped into his chopper, flew over Lagos skyline and alighted at the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Aremu Akiolu I.
For this visit, the president’s delegation was boosted by his advance party team, which was led by Vice President, Namadi Sambo, top government officials and PDP stalwarts including PDP Deputy National Chairman, Uche Secondus; Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha; former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa; PDP chieftain and member Board of Trustees, Chief Ola Bode George; Chief of Staff to the President, Gen. Jones Arogbofa; Special Adviser to the President on Interparty Affairs, Sen. Ben Obi; and Group Managing Director, Energy Group, Jimoh Ibrahim.
President Jonathan, who expressed gratitude to the Oba and his Council of Chiefs for the warm reception always accorded him each time he visited, said royal fathers are custodians of the nation, as such he could not be in Lagos without paying homage to the Oba to receive royal blessings and prayers.

Syn 1 He noted that Lagos is key to the economy of Nigeria and gave assurance that the Federal Government was committed to ensuring that nothing negative happens to the state. He said this informed the reason the Federal Government rose to the challenge against the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in partnership with the governor, Babatunde Fashola.
“We thank you for the service you have been rendering right from when you were in service as a police officer and now as the Oba of Lagos. We assure you that we will continue to do our best in infrastructure development of the country and maintenance of peace and security in the country.
“We are here for the PDP Southwest Unity rally. We are not here for campaign but we will still come. Before we go, we need your royal prayers and blessings because you (traditional rulers) are the owners of the land,” he said.
While responding, Oba Akiolu, ‎who noted that leadership is given to anybody by God, prayed that God will be with President Jonathan and protect him to realise his vision for the country. He appealed for free and credible elections in Lagos and Nigeria next year.
“I have special love for Mr. President. God has put you in that position, He will be with you, God will not abandon you. On the current security challenges, I know God will bring it to an end. I urge you to continue doing whatever you have in mind for Lagos, not minding politics,” he said.

Syn 4 After the exchange of courtesies and pleasantries, it was time for the president and his entourage to leave for the day’s biggest assignment. And at exactly 1:15pm, the president’s motorcade made a grand entry into the bowl of TBS to kick off proceedings at the rally, where Fuji maestro, Abass Akande, popularly known as Obesere, kept thousands of rain-soaked party faithful entertained.
It was especially an opportunity for the many gubernatorial candidates in Lagos State to sell themselves to supporters ahead of the party’s primaries. They took turns hounding the opposition and throwing support for the adoption of the president as the party’s sole presidential candidate.
Aspirants from other states in the Southwest were also represented but were not as vocal as the agents of the gubernatorial aspirants in Lagos. Of the pack, it was supporters of the Minister of state for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro that stole the show and overwhelmed the rally.

KorobucciByVPUN8CMAEz--m
The rally, which was a colourful display of music, dance and politicking, was dominated by supporters of Obanikoro, popularly known as Koro by admirers. His banners and supporters, clad in different costumes could be seen conspicuously everywhere across the rally. A creative highlight of the Minister’s presence at the rally was a group of young stuntmen, skaters and young ladies who were all over the place dressed in t-shirts with the inscriptions; #Korolette, #Korobucci.

Syn 6 Before now, the minister, who was the party’s governorship candidate in 2007, had only made a feigned interest in running again for office, but all doubts were dispelled at the weekend as towering posters littered TBS and its environs welcoming the president to Lagos. The subtle declaration of his intention was his imposing image on the posters, with the rider: “Dream Team: Jonathan+Obanikoro=Winning Together.”
And there was more. The minister’s mobilization at the rally took many Lagosians by surprise, not leaving out many of those who had earlier signified interest to run for governorship ticket in the party.
Other aspirants, which included Jimi Agbaje, Babatunde Gbadamosi, Ade Dosunmu, and Deji Doherty, all made an impressive showing with their throng of supporters, but their efforts were glaringly overshadowed by the Obanikoro buzz, which ringed loudly at the square.
For special effect, the minister’s buzz took several sobriquets that appealed to various segments of the society, such as: Korolette, Koro Bucci, Koro for Better Lagos, Lagos can be greater, Jonathan+Koro=Winning Together, Koronated, among many others.
And it was to a rousing applause when firing the first salvo, the minister, who spoke on behalf of the body of Southwest ministers, flanked by Minister of State for the FCT, Mrs. Olajumoke Akinjide; Minister of State for Works, Prince Dayo Adeyeye; Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina; Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson; and Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Jeilili Adesiyan, assured Jonathan of their unalloyed loyalty and further promised to mobilise for him (Jonathan) when the campaign gathers steam.
Obanikoro explained that the president has done well and therefore deserves a second term to continue with his Transformation Agenda. “The party in the west has resolved to “work for the re-election of President Jonathan and we are committed in working for him so that he can continue with the good works he has started not only in the south west but in the country. With all the good things he has done, he deserves a second term.”

Syn 7Responding, Jonathan expressed gratitude to the members of the PDP in the region for giving him the right of first refusal as the party’s sole candidate for next year’s presidential polls.
He said: “Let me sincerely thank the leaders of our party; from the chairman, committee members, our governors, our National Assembly members, our Board of Trustees members, and all members of the party for giving me the right of first refusal of the presidential ticket.
“There are no dictators in the PDP. There is no one that is so powerful to determine who becomes councillor, local government chairman, state House of Assembly member, House of Representatives member, senator, governor, and even president, in the PDP. The decision is by the people, for the people, and that is why the PDP will continue to do new things and give right leadership,” he said.
The Lagos chairman of the party, PDP, Tunji Shelle, however, said the party would not adopt candidates for the various positions including governorship in the 2015 elections.
Speaking against the backdrop of the party’s adoption of President Jonathan as its sole candidate for the 2015 presidential poll, Shelle said the president’s emergence as a consensus candidate was different from the situation in Lagos State.
“The president is going for a second term and the party decided to let him continue and finish the good job he is doing. In Lagos State, it is different. The PDP is not the party in power; therefore, all aspirants must go for primaries, as it is the tradition of the party.
“There is no preferred aspirant. The candidate that would emerge would be decided by the party delegates,” he said.

Syn 8

The Nigeria, United Kingdom visa quagmire

TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA writes on how stringent visa policies tend to hurt trade relations and slow down investment opportunities between Britain and Nigeria

The stories about what thousands of Nigerians go through to obtain visas of developed and developing countries have been well documented. But what many do not know is that Nigeria also has what some have described as “stringent regulations” for issuing visas to foreigners, which many analysts now blame for the drawback of the country’s quest for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

     This was the crux of a sidebar discussion at the United Kingdom (UK)-Nigeria Trade and Investment roundtable, held in London recently, and organized by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), in conjunction with the Business Chamber Trade Association of the UK.

     The roundtable seeks to promote bilateral trade and investment relations, by bringing together business people from the two countries to establish, locate, renew and seek fresh investment opportunities. Besides, it hopes to develop long-term business relationships and finalize existing contracts.

     Nigeria’s ambassador to the UK, Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, set the tone for discussions in his keynote address on activities of the Nigeria High Commission (NHC) in the promotion of bilateral economic relations between Nigeria and the United Kingdom. According to him, Nigeria and the UK have continued to enjoy cordial bilateral trade and economic relations due to historical antecedents and shared ties in language, education and legal systems, which “have reinforced the robust relations and positively impacted on the economic prosperity of the two countries.”

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Immigration boss at Nigeria High Commission in London, representing the Minister for Interior, Aminu Muhammed; Director of Nigerian London Business Forum, UK, Dr. Chris Onalo; and British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Peter Carter, at the UK-Nigeria Trade & Investment Roundtable event, held recently.

 His words: “Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa and it is 32nd largest worldwide. The drive for improved trade and economic relations made the leaders of the two countries, President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron, in June 2011, to set an ambitious goal to double bilateral trade to eight billion pounds by 2014. Nigeria and the UK are very well on the way to achieving and possibly, surpassing the ambitious goal set by the two leaders.

   “It is instructive to note that in 2011 when the goal was set, the volume of bilateral trade was about four billion pounds and rose to seven billion pounds. There is also a conscious effort on the part of the two countries to diversify and shift focus from oil, financial services and food products, which had dominated Nigeria-UK trade relations in the past to the non-oil sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure, creative industry, information technology and retail business.”

     However, one of the organizers and member of the NILOBF Board of Directors, Dr. Chris Onalo, in a chat with The Guardian in Lagos, said it was shocking to participants at the conference when some UK businessmen revealed that Nigeria’s stringent visa policy, based on the doctrine of reciprocity, may hamper the realization of the eight billion pound trade volume target set by leaders of the two countries.

     He said: “We recognize that the operating instrument between Nigeria and other countries of the world is based on the basic doctrine of reciprocity. Sadly, Nigeria has not yet come to the level where we can demand such from the international community. And because we are a consuming population, we tend to depend solely on other countries for most of what we consume. We have not engaged ourselves in a constructive direction that can position us to reciprocate whatever foreign policy other countries throw at us.

     “Singling out Nigeria and United Kingdom for example, at the recent business forum where issues that would promote bilateral relationship between the two countries were discussed, a lot of the issues centred on the visa requirements. I realised that the immigration policy of Nigeria to the UK is even much more stringent than the regulation of the British to us.

     “I was shocked. These stringent conditions for issuance of Nigerian visas to British business visitors will not help the growth of bilateral relations between the two countries. The response from the Nigerian delegation was that, in the international diplomacy, it is more about reciprocity. It does not make sense that as a British businessman, I apply for a type of visa that allows me (only) 24 hours access to Nigeria.

   “It was strange to us that such treatment exists in this age. Issuing 24-hour business visa to citizens of countries not blacklisted or under any watch list? No businessman would come here and refuse to go back to his country, especially not a British,” he concluded.

     Applicants for Nigerian business visa are required to pay visa and processing fees totaling over $200. For expedited action, an additional $85 is required, alongside an invitation letter from the host company in Nigeria, which would accept full immigration and financial responsibility; a letter of introduction from applicant’s company; proof of legal residency and copy of airline ticket or flight itinerary.

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President Goodluck Jonathan (right) with Merkel, Obama and Cameron

Participants at the roundtable noted that apart from the advertised official rates, Nigerian consular officials also create unnecessary bottlenecks for applicants; a situation which, they argued, encourages corruption. It is also seen by some as a subtle retaliation for the “jungle of regulations and visa rules” the British Home Office institutes for immigrants to the United Kingdom from Nigeria.

     Efforts to get an official response from the Nigerian High Commission in the UK were unsuccessful as enquiries sent to the commission’s e-mail address got no reply and calls made to the Second Secretary (Trade, Industry and Investment), J.D. Pam, were not returned last week.

     An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ministry remains committed to protecting the interests of Nigerians by constructively engaging the diplomatic and consular missions in Nigeria, especially on visa matters.

     “As we demonstrated in our swift and effective response to the deportation of Nigerians from South Africa over the issue of yellow fever cards last year, we have made it clear that Nigeria would not tolerate the maltreatment of its citizens at home and abroad. We hold no responsibility for how citizens of other nationals are treated.”

     Last year, the Federal Government announced the introduction of a new Visa Policy, applicable to expatriates seeking to visit or invest in the country. The new policy seeks to transform the visa issuing process and guarantee easy access to immigration facilities by genuine visitors and foreign investors.

     Under the new regime, the five categories of visas are: Visa at Points of Entry, Short Visit Visa, Temporary Resident Visa, Employment Based Visa, and Scarce Skills Transfer Visa.

     The new policy also allows the issuance of a visa at the entry point, removing the barriers that currently prevent business people, tourists, and government delegations from visiting the country at short notice. Those visiting from countries where Nigeria does not have an embassy can now obtain visas at the port of entry.

     Also in the new policy aimed at boosting tourism, attracting foreign direct investments, opening up the economy for employment opportunities and securing Nigeria’s borders, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) will now issue a 30-day non-extendable tourist pass at the port of arrival. This will apply mostly to visitors from countries where Nigeria does not have Foreign Missions.

     Furthermore, Nigerian Foreign Missions will henceforth issue one-year multiple entry permits/visas to all genuine visitors and tourists who wish to visit Nigeria. Visitors who are in Nigeria for investment purposes are eligible to be issued 10-year visas where they meet laid down criteria.

   Foreign investors, with as much as $10,000,000 investment prospects, may be given up to a 25 per cent employment quota without sacrificing employment opportunities for Nigerians.

       The UK business visa requirement is similar to those requested from British businessmen visiting the country. In fact, one requirement that stands out is the UK Home Office’s insistence on copies of bank statements from the past three months, which must be well funded to the satisfaction of the issuing official. The official rate, though, is USD 136 for business visitors.

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Tafida, Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

Last year, Britain had planned to force visitors from six “high-risk” countries including Nigeria, to pay a cash bond of £3,000, but it was reversed after diplomatic consultations. According to a Conservative peer, Lord Howell, the UK’s visa rules are creating a “nasty” impression of the country and leaving many people “in despair.”

     He warned that tighter immigration controls could damage the economy. “We are concerned that the visa system is keeping out genuine business people and students. A new report by peers is urging ministers to make sure legitimate visitors get visas quickly, easily and cheaply. Also, the government’s language on immigration do not discourage those who would add to the UK’s prosperity from coming to the UK and supporting its businesses,” he noted.

     But Home Secretary, Theresa May, has rejected such claims, and launched a number of initiatives aimed at attracting wealth creators to the UK, including an invitation-only, fast-track visa service for top business people.

   New restrictions on graduate’s ability to remain in the country after finishing their degrees have seen the number of students coming to the UK fall. The move is part of a clampdown on so-called “over-stayers” – those remaining in the country after their visas expired.

     On the flip side, a Nigerian and member of the NILOBF, Patrick Ochuba, was denied visa to the roundtable after he had submitted all the relevant documents

   He narrated: “The visa officer wasn’t sure if I will return to my country of residence despite being a businessman and managing director of a thriving firm in Nigeria. I was made to understand that the stringent requirements or standards are mainly applied to visa applicants in countries with economic deficiencies who pose a risk to immigration rules.

   “Though, it is a general requirement to provide bank details with six months statements, but as an applicant who is legally residing in the USA or UK, you should be fine with one of three months provided the Visa Officer (VO) is satisfied in other aspects.

   “Furthermore, your travel history will put you in position of advantage, but each application is treated on its own merit, therefore, the requirements must be fulfilled. I was, however, pained that my application was rejected despite fulfilling all requirements and even providing the covering note from organizers of the event, which was endorsed by the Nigerian High Commission in the UK.”