A former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, speaks with FEMI MAKINDE about the visa restrictions imposed on immigrants from Nigeria by the United States, border closure, the visa-on-arrival policy of the Federal Government and other issues
What step do you think the Federal Government should take for the US to lift the visa restrictions slammed on immigrants from Nigeria?
The visa ban is an expression of political sovereignty which the United States has. The US Government has the right under international law to determine who can come to the United State, who to be granted visa. Visa has a specific meaning. It means an acceptance or an approval of a request which is normally given the country issuing a passport. When you hold the passport, like Nigerian passport- the meaning is that the issuing authority that is the Nigerian government is recommending the holder to another country whose government is represented in an accredited nation. The embassy of the United State in Nigeria is representing the government of the United States here in the country. When you hold a passport, it is believed that the holder of the passport has been investigated, has been cleared of any criminal records. So when you take your passport to an embassy, you are going there on the basis of an introduction by the government of Nigeria. So, it says that you are a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On this basis, the government to which you are presenting the passport will now look at the recommendation and the holder and check, is the holder of the passport good enough? Should he be given visa? When you are granted visa, it is an approval of the recommendation of the country that issued that passport.
Now when you bring this into the travel ban, you now have to ask yourself a question, why did the United States take the decision it took on visa? The United State has on the basis of its political sovereignty decided that anybody who is not properly identified will not be allowed to enter into its country.
The second thing is that the United State is asking the government of Nigeria to share information on terrorists. On the basis of these two conditions i. e proper identification of immigrants and sharing of information on terrorism and the government of Nigeria has not responded and has not been cooperating with the Washingtonian authority.
The US has exercised its right as a sovereign state to say if you are not properly identified, and your government is not sharing information on terrorism to know whether you, the holder of the passport you are a terrorist, then why should we give you the privilege of coming to our country? Just stay where you are.
Why has Nigeria not been sharing information on terrorism with the US?
Well I don’t know. But you cannot say whether Nigeria is also exercising its sovereign right because international relations is guided by the principle of sovereign equality. That means this country is not superior to this so you can’t be asking me to do anything you required. But the fundamental issue that is raised is conflict of interest in sovereignty.
What is the way forward to get Nigeria delisted from the list of the affected countries now?
It is easy with what I have listed above. The US is directly accusing Nigerian government of ineptitude, inefficiency and nonchalant attitude and it’s now challenging public administration in Nigeria. The US has made it clear to Nigeria that it is interested in having information on situation of terrorism and if Nigeria is not ready to provide such information, nothing is stopping it from saying this is the situation. Even if you have information and you don’t want to share it, you can say you do not have such information. This is the beauty of diplomacy. Why are you not giving information about immigrants? If you have any reason why you don’t want to do so, there are many ways to communicate it in very beautiful language what you do not intend to do. That is why you have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Or you tell them that you would communicate to them tomorrow and the good thing is that tomorrow will never end.
Now, my position is, the government of Nigeria should find out what its public officials have done. Why they have not responded to the provision of the requirements. Terrorism is not the business of Nigeria only, it is an international question and everybody wants solution to it. So, why is it that our own government, our public officials have not been able to provide answers to the questions raised and the observations made by the government of the United States?