The committee set up by the President Muhammadu Buhari to look into issues surrounding the recent suspension of United States’ immigrant visa issuance to Nigerians has begun talks with the American government officials over the matter, Punch learnt on Friday, February 7, 2020.
Buhari had named the minister of interior, Rauf Aregbesola, as the head of the committee, raised to liaise with the US government on the matter.
The visa ban effective from February 21 listed Nigeria together with Eritrea, Myanmar, Tanzania and Kyrgyzstan.
It was also reported that the US justified the decision, stating that Nigeria didn’t adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information necessary for the protection of national security and public safety of the US.
A highly placed source privy to the development told Punch on Friday, February 7, 2020, that the committee which included the minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, held a meeting with the US government in Abuja on Wednesday night.
The source said the issues raised by the US were largely addressed even before the sanction was slammed on Nigeria. He, however, stated that the absence of proper communication caused Nigeria to be sanctioned.
He said the sanction by the US was for an ‘offence’ committed in 2017, adding that things had greatly improved and Nigeria would soon be delisted by the US.
The source said, “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.”
He said with the activation of MIDAS, biometrics data of anyone who entered Nigeria would be taken at the airport, saying such would alert the Interpol should such person coming in is a terrorist or has criminal records.
Speaking further, he 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 immigrant is a punishment for 2017 offence.
“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.
“The visa ban is more about denting Nigeria’s image than the actual damage. The problem of visa ban by the US was caused by the absence of proper communication and meeting deadline. It was not because we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.
“But this ban is about politics more than anything. The US will not say that and our government will not also say it. But all of them know that it is about using it to boost the rating of Donald Trump ahead of the election.’’
He noted that Trump intended to use the ban to show Americans that he was serious about homeland security.