Editorial: Nigeria and Trump’s Immigrant Visa Ban 

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The recent decision by United States President, Donald J Trump, adding Nigeria and five other countries to the list of nations facing stringent travel restrictions, virtually blocking immigration from Africa’s most populous nation, is discriminatory, humiliating and on the surface should be seen as a grand design to continuously subject Nigerians to repeated abuse. President Trump is known to have made disparaging comments about African nations in the past, calling them “shithole countries” and complaining that Nigerians who entered the United States on visas would never “go back to their huts.” Therefore, as a practical matter, Nigeria should unequivocally declare it as unacceptable; and the federal government should, in line with the Principle of Reciprocity, respond to the US government appropriately.


The new policy which takes effect from February 22, 2020, imposes a ban on the issuance of immigrant visas to Nigerian passport holders. Immigrant visas are issued to those relocating to the United States but observers fear the ban may lead to some restrictions on the regular American visitor visas. Citizens from Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan won’t be allowed to apply for visas to immigrate to the US under the policy, which the Trump administration said was designed to tighten security for countries that don’t comply with US minimum security standards or cooperate to prevent illegal immigration. The Acting Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Chad Wolf, said the new immigration restrictions, were designed to address security concerns in the way the banned countries track their own citizens, share information with the US and cooperate on immigration matters. Mr. Wolf explained that Nigeria and the other countries were included in the list, partly because Nigerian citizens are amongst the highest risk visitors, who overstay their visitors’ visas at high rates. 


Figures from DHS showed that in the 2018, 15% of Nigerians on business, study or visitor visas overstayed their permits, compared to 24% of Eritreans and 12% of people from Sudan. Mr. Wolf said the Trump administration opted to place immigration restrictions on the countries that don’t meet its minimum security standards; saying Nigeria doesn’t take back Nigerian citizens the US is seeking to deport, and doesn’t share information on its citizens’ movements and on potential terrorist activity. But immigrant advocates have denounced the new restrictions, calling the new policy an “African Ban” and criticizing the Trump administration for not imposing restrictions on other nations that also don’t cooperate with the US. “There are bad actors in Russia, bad actors in China, and none of those places have been put on any kind of ban,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas.) whose Houston district includes the largest Nigerian community in the US. “It is pure discrimination and racism,” she noted.


Assuming arguendo that Nigeria is guilty of the infractions leveled by the Trump administration, the unilateral imposition of an immigrant visa ban that disqualifies potential Nigerian immigrants who have met all the legal requirements from immigrating to the USA is scorched-earth diplomacy that amounts to collective punishment. Pray, what percentage of 200 million Nigerians, for instance, apply for visas and travel to the US and overstay their visas? Who are these high risk visitors? Are they trained nurses, doctors or other medical personnel who provide a sizeable chunk of the brain-drain that the US and other European nation solicit and encourage to emigrate from Nigeria and other African countries? Or are they business persons? Why for example, would the wife and children of an American citizen born in Nigeria be refused an immigrant visa to unite with her husband who has filed all the legal paperwork and paid all the fees, simply because someone else overstayed their visa?


Besides its adverse effect on education and tourism, trade and business relations, an implementation of this new visa ban may nudge relations between Nigeria and the United States toward a diplomatic row. Few will disagree that since the return to democratic governance in 1999, the relationship between Nigeria and the United States has subsisted on a pretentious and lopsided kinship that was destined to face and has faced testy times in its historical development. Washington has missed no opportunity to lecture Abuja on issues ranging from corruption, good governance, human rights, respect for the rule of law and even in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Even as the State Department criticized Nigeria over its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, the US government went out of its way to blacklist Nigeria and blocked other western countries from selling vital military equipment needed in the ongoing war against Boko Haram. 


Another diplomatic row surfaced, when the Goodluck Jonathan regime, out of frustration with American double standards, pulled Nigerian soldiers from US-led joint training exercises alongside Cameroonian and Chadian forces. Obviously, the US has never forgiven Nigeria’s frontline role through its Afro-centric foreign policy sustained in the illustrious campaign against the apartheid regime of South Africa that was backed by the USA, Britain and other western nations. Despite the sometimes frosty relations, the US had never undertaken any action to vicariously punish Nigeria as a nation, because of the actions of a few delinquent citizens who violate US immigration laws. The immigrant visa ban sets a precedent which Nigeria cannot and should not allow to stand unchallenged.


Given this current action against Nigeria, the federal government should, in line with the Principle of Reciprocity, respond to the US Government appropriately. The message must be communicated to President Trump in whatever language he chooses to understand that no country has a monopoly of treating Nigerians with disrespect; Nigeria too can hit back. Now is the time to make the point and ensure that this obnoxious proposal is jettisoned. If the US authorities are genuinely desirous of curbing abuse in their immigration system, they have more adequate mechanisms in place to address that problem. Resorting to a discriminatory visa ban is a cheap, exploitative, nasty and punitive measure against Nigeria. Being Africa’s largest economy and a strategic trading partner, Nigeria does not deserve this dis-respectful treatment from America.


However, this should not be misconstrued as an uncritical support for both the indefensible lawlessness of many Nigerians abroad and the failure of past and present political administrations to make Nigeria home for Nigerians. Some Nigerians have often unconsciously transferred the accustomed culture of illegality, graft, mediocrity and corruption of this country into an unfamiliar terrain. Desperate, ill-prepared and often averse to the organized structure of governance in which they found themselves in foreign countries, they, before long, began to fall foul of the law of their host countries; and the backlash becomes the ill-treatment and image-battering that have befallen Nigerians.


Besides, the US government in a statement published on the White House website said Nigeria and the five other affected countries were notified of the change in its performance metrics for identity-management and information sharing criteria since last year. “The process began on March 11, 2019, when the United States government formally notified all foreign governments (except for Iran, Syria, and North Korea) about the refined performance metrics for the identity-management and information-sharing criteria,” the statement read. The US noted that a number of foreign governments sent senior officials to Washington DC to discuss those issues, explore potential solutions, and convey views about obstacles to improving performance. It said as a result of this engagement, one country made sufficient improvements in its information-sharing and identity-management practices and was removed from consideration for travel restrictions. So, why did the Nigerian government not engage the Trump administration or take remediation action to address the issues raised by the Americans?  


As many respected Nigerians have stated, the dwindling reputation of the country abroad is not hinged on isolated cases of some dubious individuals alone. In the last decades, successive governments have cumulatively acted to make Nigeria a bad brand. Repeated economic brutality, political emasculation, indiscriminate human rights violation and blatant denial of rightful desserts by their leaders have made Nigerians an embattled, impoverished species perpetually seeking refuge anywhere else. As a fallout of its profligate and inept leadership, which has crippled the economy and denied Nigerians of simple basic amenities, Nigeria has unjustifiably become a land of suffering, poverty, anguish, pain and hopelessness, thereby forcing desperate citizens, especially youths, to flee the country at the slightest opportunity.


With over 60% of 200 million population in the youth category, Nigerians are all over the globe making things happen exceptionally. The resilience of the Nigerian spirit to be world-beater has continued to marvel the world. But potential is not enough. Yes! Nigeria has the potential to be a leading economy and global powerhouse as the World Bank once predicted. But we cannot leverage population strength alone. We must match our leadership positions with the actual aspirations and badge of exceptionality. Only when the optics is right, will our leaders muzzle the strength to speak and the world will listen.


A government that requires its citizens to be treated with respect by foreign governments must set an example by first protecting the interest of its citizens at home. With this visa ban policy of the US government, it should also be clear to gullible and desperate Nigerian youths that there are no greener pastures anywhere. The grass is green only wherever it is made so. And so, as Nigerian leaders are urged to create an enabling environment for things to work, Nigerians with transformational potential should come home and seek to make a difference. In this way, the US or other western countries will think twice before treating Nigeria with contempt and disrespect because if Nigeria rises to speak in the international arena, the world would be able to say “Africa has spoken.”