Thoughts on the global mobility of Nigerians
There are so many beautiful places in the world, even within Nigeria. I would love to visit as many of these destinations as possible in my lifetime. Many Nigerians would like to see the world but travelling with just a Nigerian passport presents issues. You have to be sure that your green passport can surmount all possible barriers that it will be certain to encounter.
When I think about travelling for pleasure, the first thought that comes to my mind is whether a destination offers Nigerians visa-free or visa-on-arrival access. Even if money was not a constraint, the average Nigerian can’t just wake up one morning and decide they want to travel somewhere. They would have to first ensure that they can get to their proposed destination either without a visa, with a visa on arrival, or with enough time to apply and get a visa. Not forgetting the additional prayer and fasting involved when one wants to apply for a visa. All of your documentation may be complete, and you could still get denied.
While I was studying in England, we had a class trip scheduled to Germany a few weeks into the New Year. The Schengen visa requirements stipulated a two–three week application timeline for Nigerian passport holders. I had already made plans to be in Nigeria in December so I couldn’t apply for a visa immediately especially as I wasn’t sure I would get my passport back in enough time to travel back home. Knowing this, I planned to apply once I got to Nigeria.
I arrived on Christmas Eve and found out the German Embassy was closed until the New Year. I was scheduled to leave Nigeria at the end of the first week in January, so I prayed that my application process could be expedited. Unfortunately, on the day of my visa appointment, I discovered that I couldn’t apply in Nigeria as I was currently residing in the UK. Thank God they didn’t collect my visa fee!
I left for London some days later and immediately made the two-hour journey to Southend-on-Sea where my school was so I could pick up an introduction letter and drop my bags. Then I made another two-hour journey back to the visa processing centre in London to submit my application. I had exactly two weeks before the trip. Another classmate from the Maldives arrived a few days later and did the same thing.
On the day of the trip, I had already packed my bags so that I could rush to the visa processing centre, pick up my passport, and then hurry to the airport. I had everything planned, I just needed confirmation that my passport was ready. I got a text message that morning to come and pick up the passport in the afternoon. That would have been late for me so I called to request an earlier pickup as I had to travel immediately. Another two-hour trip into London and I found out that I didn’t get the visa. The reason? There was insufficient time to process my visa! I lost my visa fee, ticket fare, and travel insurance fee: I was pained o! My Maldivian classmate who applied a few days after I did was luckier as he got his visa that day. My Nigerian classmates whose applications were successful got one-week single entry visas but my Maldivian classmate who applied after I did, got a one-month multiple entry visa!
Travelling on a Nigerian passport presents a special series of challenges probably unknown to other global travellers. From trying to acquire the passport itself to applying for visas, arriving at a foreign airport, and even departing from or arriving at a Nigerian airport, the huddles just keep appearing. We don’t just face challenges from foreign countries, we also manufacture challenges for our citizens: a story for another day.
Many Nigerians have different negative experiences travelling or attempting to travel with their green passport. I recall when Zanzibar changed their visa procedure for Nigerians overnight leading to confusion among people who were already destination bound or scheduled to travel. Or was it when a journalist travelled to Mozambique for a conference on the assumption that it was a visa-on-arrival country based on her research only to find out that she had needed an invitation letter to get the visa approved? And we all know about the visa requirement changes to the UAE, once upon a time, our Nigerian playground.
I recently came across the current Henley Passport Index, a ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival. In the current ranking, Nigeria placed 97th out of 109 places. A whole giant of Africa, down at the bottom together with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. Even Ghana placed 80th and the Benin Republic placed 83rd meaning their citizens can access more destinations than we can. What a pity! At the top of the list are Japan (1st), Singapore and South Korea (2nd), and Germany and Spain (3rd). Any wonder why many people strive to acquire second passports to enhance their global mobility?
So, what determines passport strength? The major factors cited include national income and the state of a country’s internal security. Countries with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita according to World Bank data enjoy more visa-free destinations. This means that countries are more likely to provide access to citizens of wealthy nations because of the economic benefits they stand to gain from business and tourism. Also, citizens from high-security risk countries are more likely to constitute a welfare burden by seeking economic dependence: asylum and visa overstay. These high-risk countries are also unattractive to people seeking to travel because nobody wants to die.
Both factors fit Nigeria as we find that our current financial situation is not as attractive as it used to be, same for the state of our internal security with all the news about terrorist actions, kidnappings, etc. Also, consider the negative actions that many Nigerians have perpetrated abroad and how that has painted every one of us with a bad brush. Even our government does not appear to deliberately project the country as either a tourism or business hub. Ghana has been taking action with tourism especially as they have introduced their annual homecoming events which attract several Black Americans. Lebanon as well, deep in the throes of a financial crisis, but it remains a tourist favourite for many.
We, the citizens and the government, each have our roles to play in improving our marketability as a nation. We have to focus on making our country more attractive to not just foreigners but also Nigerians. From national reorientation to foreign policy, deliberate action must be taken to enhance how we are perceived globally. We have a long way to go but we can improve our position, this is the way I see things today.