Traveling within Africa remains a huge task till date. Beyond the challenges of obtaining visas to other African countries, travelers also have to deal with high fares. Over the years, stakeholders in the travel and tourism sector have advocated for visa on arrival, which they argued would help grow inbound tourism for Nigeria. Particularly, Ikechi Uko of Akwaaba and Peace Anyiam-Osigwe of AMAA have both made it a point of duty to always remind African leaders of the need to encourage free movement within the continent.
But in a surprise declaration on December 11, in far away Egypt, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a visa on arrival policy for all Africans coming to Nigeria. Buhari made the announcement while attending the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, which was hosted by Egypt.
Till date, only holders of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) passport could come into Nigeria without the need for visas. Citizens of few other countries with which Nigeria had agreements with such as Seychelles and Kenya, could come into the country and obtain a visa on arrival.
The announcement, though well received, raises questions about whether the president would follow through with immigration changing its policies. Notwithstanding, many Africans have hailed the pronouncement considering it is often cumbersome for African nationals to obtain visas to visit other countries across the continent. Countries such as Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are among the few that currently grant visa on arrival to all Africans.
While it remains to be seen how Mr. President intends to drive the new policy, especially when the pronouncement was made without contribution from the National Assembly, stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry have listed the gains of operating visa on arrival, even as they raised concerns over the way the announcement was made without input from stakeholders.
Reacting to the development, the founder of Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, described the policy as a movement towards the right direction, adding that other African countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia have since commenced issuing visa on arrival. He, however, disagreed with the notion that Nigeria has already commenced visa on arrival without approval.
“Visa on arrival means I come to your country, whether I’ve booked online or not, and I can pick up the visa at the airport. Ghana started it last year; Rwanda, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Kenya does that. Nigeria does that to only Seychelles and Kenya in Africa; they are the only Africans that can come to Nigeria that way. Every other African has to apply and get an approval and pay before coming to Nigeria, that’s what Nigeria is currently doing.”He continued: “What Buhari is now offering is to do what other countries like Ghana, Rwanda does; that you can pick it on arrival. But I’m reading stories that Nigeria has already started visa on arrival without approval, no! Nigeria is still following the old process; someone has to apply, get approval, pay before you start coming to Nigeria. That’s the process now, we haven’t changed.”
While commending the president for the move, Uko, a renowned travel and tourism expert observed, “Those of us in tourism have been fighting for visa on arrival and open skies before now, but the way Nigeria’s own was done, it wasn’t done with industry participation; it was more like political. That’s why a lot of people in the industry were taken unawares; they actually have no opinion anymore. People outside the industry are the ones responding more, so, there might be some things they know that we don’t know. They are talking about security, about migration… we can’t talk about those things because we don’t know. For me, those things they are talking about, we can only observe and find out what exactly are they saying.”
On the positive side of the proposed policy, he said, “That’s actually what we need. For people, who do events, visa on arrival is your best bet; it solves all the problems for you. The biggest thing for every event you do is having people arrive; if people don’t arrive, what do you do? Your event can’t work without people arriving, especially when it’s an international event. Everything we do, we depend on the immigration and they have been cooperating with us.”
On possible security risk, Uko said, “It’s because of Nigeria’s peculiar problem; the migration by the herdsmen, which is actually the biggest complain I’ve seen in the media. Outside that, I’ve not heard of any other complain.”In her reaction, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe of AMAA explained that visa on arrival doesn’t mean a no visa policy.
“It means that visitors will be given visas on arrival, which obviously come with its own time restrictions. The policy would impact on tourism and trade arrival; Rwanda saw a 24 percent increase in tourism arrivals and a 50 percent increase in intra-African trade. Trade with the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone increased by 73 percent.”
On the fear of insecurity and Nigeria becoming a dumping ground, which remains a major concern for most Nigerians, the filmmaker said, “This is because we realise we have officials in immigration and customs, who might not enforce the laws adequately if people breach their entry visas. As much as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda and some other African countries have adequate security measures to protect them from an influx of the wrong people, Nigeria too can do so.”She informed that over 15 percent of the world’s jobs are created within the tourism sector, adding that Nigeria has immense possibilities to grow this sector and market it well.
“It would also bring down the huge cost of running our missions within the continent. Increased tourism will give rise to new businesses opportunities in tour guides, affordable accommodation transport, shopping and food.”For Lagos-based tourism practitioner, Mohammed Abdulahi, visa on arrival policy is a welcome development as it aims to connect Africans easier and better.
“It will certainly affect tourism positively because more African tourists will be flooding the country and the ripple effect will be a boom on hotel occupancy, more spending into the economy and of course, more money into the coffers of government through the visa on arrival charges. The advantage of the policy is that it eliminates the time wasting and bureaucracy associated with conventional visa application process, which discourages tourists from traveling.”
On the fear of insecurity, he said, “What we need to harp on is that Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and other security agencies should adequately and professionally do their job of checking and scrutinising properly the tourists as they arrive the country. Besides, the visa on arrival policy mostly affects air travel and this means of travel involves high security measures. So, there is absolutely no security challenges whatsoever if Nigeria’s security apparatuses will do their job Professionally.”
Describing the proposed visa on arrival policy as a welcome development for Nigeria, Mohammed Kwajaffa of South Africa Tourism said it enables easy access for tourist and investors into the country. “On impact, globally, tourism grows faster ones access factors such as visa is made easier as more tourist/investors means more hotels needed to accommodate them, more restaurants to feed them, etc. The private sector needs to take advantage of the opportunity to offer more products and experiences to sustain the influx.”
For Efetobo Awhana, founder Nigeria Tourism Award (The Balearica Award), for there to be any positive benefits to the tourism industry, there’s need for active involvement of the industry. “Visa on arrival schemes in other countries come with certain requirements and there are also designated ports of entry. I for once have gotten a single entry visa on arrival in Mozambique around 2011/12 and then left the country to the neighboring Kruger National Park, hoping to get stamped back into the country, but wasn’t able to do so. I was told the visa on arrival was only possible at designated airports like Maputo. So, what are the details of our visa on arrival policy? If the industry players don’t have the details, how can we take advantage,” he quizzed.
He continued: “Are the visas free on arrival? When is the commencement or has it commenced? Communication will be very crucial to the success of the policy. By success, I mean economic advantage for the tourism industry and for Nigeria through creation of jobs and much needed revenue flow. With clear articulation, it presents an opportunity for the industry to target inbound tourists from around Africa, which have always been our lowest hanging fruits as per issues of culture shock and blending in. There’s already a yearning largely created by the love for Nigerian celebs from Nollywood and music indistry, special marketing campaigns and MICE initiatives such as Akwaaba Travel Market and Nigeria Travel Week can be used to capture the African market,” he said.
Reacting to the development, ANJET president Omololu Olumuyiwa described the policy as a good idea that may increase the inflow of potential and genuine tourists into Nigeria. “If well implemented, it may be a way for Nigeria to be seen on the global tourism map. At the same time, we need to be very conscious of the passengers/visitors obtaining visa on arrival; our immigration and security personnel need to ascertain that they are genuine visitors with traceable contacts, valid travelling documents. Security and proper screening should not be limited to our airports alone; as all our points of entries should not be taken for granted. If we’re not ready to do it well, no need to rush into it. Countries that operate visa-on-arrival don’t take their security issues for granted,” he cautioned.
In his submission, founder of Africa Sports Tourism Summit, Deji Ajomale-McWord, observed that, in spite of the narrative out there, there are tons of foreigners (Africans) that want to visit Nigeria, but would rather not ache their heads over tedious process and cost of getting Nigerian visa.“This new visa policy will definitely help in creating excuse for the army of African globetrotters to visit Nigeria. The question, however, is how well are we ready for this? What’s the state of the infrastructure needed to support their footfall and experience? I think that should come before this visa policy, while we do away with the bottlenecks, bureaucracies and corruption that scare away visitors at our embassies.”