A successful flower business owner travelling from Ethiopia to Nigeria seeking prospects in Nigeria’s flower industry is still waiting to be issued a visa since applying in January. A group from Gordon Business School billed to come into Nigeria in February for an event missed it before visa process can be completed.
Nigeria only grants visa exempt status to 18 out of 54 African countries and the visa and immigration procedures provoke pain.
According to Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), expatriates desiring to work in Nigeria must first be placed on a valid expatriate quota, in addition to being issued with a Subject Regularization (STR) visa. Upon entry to Nigeria he is expected to apply for a Combined Expatriate Residency Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC). The expatriate will then be reissued re-entry visa to further egress from and ingress into the country. All these process on paper, appear charming but the problem is actually going through the motions.
Nigerians abroad who have had cause to try to renew their passports in the country they are currently studying or working tell tales that rend the heart.
But it is not the same in Mauritius, over 6,000 kilometres away from Nigeria. Some thinking goes into the process.
Mauritius restricts visa from only Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen, some of the hotspots in the world today where the sound of thunder competes with those of bombs. Mauritius grants free visa to citizens of over 50 out of 54 African nations.
Nigeria is among ten countries in Africa that imposes harsh visa requirements for fellow African nations. While Nigeria exempts fellow Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members, South Africa’s visa rules border on paranoia. Last year, it was forced to review the rules when it threatened tourism and stoked tensions in the ruling party. Nigerians spent N2billion on the procurement of South African visas from 2013 – 2015, according to Mokgethi Monaisa, South African Consul General in Nigeria.
And it is having a telling impact on businesses. Fred Swaniker, who established African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius, did so largely because the rules were more business-friendly.
“One of the reasons why we moved here to Mauritius was because it was hard for us to get work permits for our staff in South Africa. As you know we have staff from all over the world and we were struggling to get work permits and visas for them and so we moved to Mauritius. We moved here with 40 staff and currently we have 70 staff. We had no trouble with all those challenges,” he said.
Mauritius policy to liberalise visas for 50 out of 54 opened the way for an investments in a regional campus that will yield 10,000 students in a project that has already seen $100 million worth of investments and set to grow.
Online applications for Nigeria’s visa process complicate matters. They are fraught with error and prone to systemic failure. Analysts posit it is posing a threat to medical tourism, religious tourism, student exchange programs and raining on people’s vacation’s plans to Nigeria.
Little wonder Mauritius is ranked 32nd out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index while Nigeria ranks a distant 169. While it takes about 6 days to register a business in Mauritius, Nigeria will have you jumping hoops for the better part of 40 days.
Mauritius has attracted more than 32,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India, South Africa, and China. Investment in the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. Mauritius’ textile sector has taken advantage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a preferential trade program that allows duty free access to the US market, with Mauritian exports to the US growing by 40% from 2000-2014. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew in the 3-4% per year range in 2010-14, and the country continues to expand its trade and investment outreach around the globe reports the CIA World Factbook.
These examples signals what can be achieved if government takes a deliberate policy to strengthen ease of doing business by simplifying visa requirements. However, there is the legitimate argument that Nigeria is home to hundreds of illegal migrants from African nations. This month, NIS arrested 500 migrants of whom 300 were declared illegal immigrants and awaiting deportation. This is largely due to Nigeria’s borders that are so porous chicken coops have better controls.
Experts say Nigeria has a potential to be an economic hub in Africa, but much will depend on how it simplifies its visa process.