Spirited public discussion in Nigeria trailed the recent disclosure that Britain is contemplating a policy which would make it mandatory for intending visitors to Britain from six African and Asian countries, including Nigeria, to make a deposit of £3,000 (?750,000) as bond before they are allowed to enter the United Kingdom.
Projected to commence in November this year, the visa bond policy generated widespread indignation and consternation in the country from government officials, the National Assembly and the civil society, many of whom considered it discriminatory, even insulting and a departure from the family spirit which had hitherto prevailed within the Commonwealth of Nations.
National Assembly members and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Olugbenga Asiru hinted darkly at retaliatory measures with some newspaper columnists suggesting suspension of flights of the British Airways to Nigeria to express our disapproval of the policy. Not even the clarification by the British government that the policy would apply only to first -time visitors to Britain who are considered ‘high-risk’ had proven sufficient in dousing public outrage in Nigeria as some analysts consider this an afterthought.
Of course, Britain as a sovereign country has the right to determine or regulate the flow of immigrants to itself and in the light of its national security objectives, given for example that terrorism has become a live and real threat to several countries including Britain. Coming fast on the heels of the insensitive threat of Britain to sanction Nigeria on account of a law passed by the Nigerian legislature banning same-sex marriage however, the visa bond policy was bound to cause irritation and raise prospects of a chill in Anglo-Nigerian relations. It is proper, therefore, for Nigeria to employ diplomatic pressure to get Britain to rethink its visa bond policy in the light of mutually beneficial and umbilical relations between the two countries.
Having said that, it should be observed nonetheless that the travel itch of Nigerians is often related to the crisis of governance at home, whereby a desperate hustle arises to escape a magnificently endowed country but which is virtually reduced to a hell hole by its leaders. This is another way of saying that if Nigeria were better governed, there would have been no need in the first place for the ungainly spectacle of anxious mobs of Nigerians besieging foreign embassies supplicating for the coveted visas that will take them out of Nigeria.
International travel is of course a vital part of relations among countries, more so in an age of globalisation, just as the freedom to travel is a fundamental human right. What is disturbing and even tragic is the pursuit of every means imaginable by Nigerian youths to secure an exit into the uncertainties of other nations, some of which are in despairing throes of economic meltdown.
We do not share the argument made in some quarters that the visa bond policy is being embarked upon as a projected cash cow for Britain, since even at the current visa fee rate of roughly ?20,000 affecting close to 200,000 Nigerians who apply to visit Britain annually, Nigerian travel is already a steady source of revenue for the British embassy in Nigeria. In any case, Britain as a longstanding member of the community of nations knows too well the repercussions of charging exploitative fees on foreign travels since that could lead other nations around the globe to copy the example with potentially harmful consequences on international relations.
It is difficult to understand why Nigeria should have been included on the list of the six countries affected by the visa bond since there are thousands of Nigerian professionals and university students from Nigeria who are carrying on their normal businesses in Britain without infringing on the law in any way. If terrorism is indeed the apprehension of the British government, then it should be pointed out that a visa bond policy is unlikely to deter terrorists who in any case are believed to be heftily funded through an international network. Obviously, the anti-terrorist war must be anchored on better foundations than a visa bond policy.
Also, if, as the British government clarified in the wake of the controversy, the visa bond is to affect only individuals considered ‘high-risk’ then why grant them a visa at all?
It is urgent for Britain to have a rethink on the controversial visa bond policy as it affects Nigeria in the longer term interest of enduring and harmonious Anglo-Nigerian relations.