‘Nigeria doesn’t enforce its immigration laws’
Many foreign countries are regularly reviewing their immigation laws in order to stiffen conditions for migrants. As a result, many Nigerians have been humiliated in an effort to get visas or gain entry into those countries. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, a Lagos-based immigration consulant and legal luminary, Eddie Onyeka, said Nigeria needs to enforce its own immigration laws. He also harps on the need to adopt reciprocity rules among other issues.
IMMIGRATION laws in Europe and America seems to disfavour Nigerians. For instance, Nigeria has been excluded from the American visa lottery. What do you think is the reason for this?
Immigration laws like most other laws undergo a period of reviews to reflect current realities. Immigration basically deals with movement of people between nations from country to country. And countries are always very conscious of the quantity and quality of those that come into their borders and reason for which they come. Where countries have shortage of skilled labour for example, they will intend to relax their laws to encourage qualified people from around the world to migrate, boost and to fill shortages that are desirable.
Conversely, where there is a glut of competent people or where you may have economic downturn or recessions, the opportunity becomes limited and they want to tighten the avenues through which people come into their borders.The U.S. government has tried to give us reasons for that action, but we believe that they might be more to that.
Why did the British government almost at the same time review their skill migrant programmes?
The one for visa lottery is targeted to Nigeria and some other few countries. The U.K immigration laws are in a state of flux, they are always reviewing. The review made by the United Kingdom is not targeted at Nigerians. It is a review that seems to have global application. There are different platform before now with which you can migrate to the United Kingdom to live and to work. But you found out now such platforms are no longer in existence,
they have been removed. For example, we have what is called the highly skilled migrant programme (HSMP) that enables people with a minimum of certain levels of qualification to apply to live in the U.K and work. I’m aware that thousands of Nigerians benefited and lawfully migrated to the UK under that platform. You have adaptation programme for our nurses. There is one
for our doctors. Presently, it is extremely difficult for a qualified Nigerian to migrate to the United Kingdom by reason of your special qualification. Qualifications no longer count as a platform for which you can migrate.
Do we have immigration tribunal in Nigeria?
We don’t have. What we have is the general courts as you know them. But countries around the world -Europe, America, Canada, Australia have designated specialized courts dedicated to adjudicating the cases of those who felt that their rights under various immigration rules for which they applied have not been met. For example, in Nigeria if you go to the British high commission to apply for a visa and the entry clearance officer denies you that visa, there are
cases where you are permitted to take your case on appeal to the immigration tribunal in U.K. There is no Nigerian court that can adjudicate the issue of visa denial. So in cases where you have a right of
appeal, you take your case to the appropriate immigration tribunal abroad where your matter would be adjudicated. But such right of appeal has been removed. You can no longer appeal. Students are now asked to go and do what is called administrative review, which is something entirely different. The opportunity that enables you adjudicate your matter before an impartial arbitral authority has been removed.
So as presently constituted, visa officers act more or less with impunity because if their decision cannot be challenged no matter how perverse, then they become a law unto yourself. They begin even to misinterpret and misapply the rules, knowing that it is unchallengeable.
Don’t you think it is time for us to have immigration tribunal in Nigeria?
The need to have specialised court or tribunals for immigration matters in Nigeria now. Nations all over the world now have specialised tribunals designated from immigration appeals. Our regular courts cannot cope with appeals arising from immigration matters when we review our immigration law. Foreigners who have approached Nigerian embassies abroad and applied for Nigerian visas and are denied can apply to Nigerian immigration tribunal. Now to be candid, how many people as a matter of fact are applying for Nigerian visas and are being denied? We have no
record of foreigners in our midst, but you and I know that they are in their millions. You and I know that they get into this country through processes that are not regulated by government. Though we have immigration laws regulating how people come into our country, there is no enforcement. Our borders are totally open, if we indeed have borders at all. So why do you need visa to come into an entity that has no borders? People in Europe and America, having legitimate businesses to do in Nigeria, will normally get Nigerian visa. The rate of denial of Nigerian visa to such people is very low. People abroad who intend to come to Nigeria will
easily do that by applying for our visa which we normally will give them or they just walk in through the borders without anybody challenging them.
What is the corrolation between lack of enforcement of our immigration laws and the insurgency we currently have?
Of course, the corrolation is direct. When you talk about the Boko Haram, who are they? I am
not a security personnel, but I believe that a greater percentage of them are foreigners and they have no business with our borders. If you don’t have immigration officers and security personnel manning our borders, it becomes very obvious that foreign fighters can come into the country easily. If our borders are manned properly, this insurgency will not be at this level that it is today. So there a direct corrolation between the porousness of our borders so to speak and the incidence of insurgency.
In what ways do you think our immigration laws can be reviewed to ensure strict enforcement?
Our immigration laws should deal with circumstances under which foreigners enter our territory.Our territory must be defined and sacrosanct. The integrity of our territory must be guaranteed. It is only when you fence your property that you determine how people come in. No law on paper can do that for you. We have to first of all make sure that we man our territory. If we don’t , then our law will be on paper only! Of course, people come in through the borders, but it does not apply to people around the world because, if you are in Canada trying to come to Nigeria, you don’t have to smuggle yourself through the borders. You have to apply for visas. Our African neighbours such as Cameron, Chad, Niger and others come through the bush. Unfortunately, we don’t have any means by which we identify ourselves as Nigerians. You are a Nigerian when you are here with me. Having said that, our laws needs some fine-tunning in terms of reflecting reciprocity regarding how some nations treat us because in international law, reciprocity is a key component of diplomacy. For example, you want to go to South Africa, they say you must do yellow fever vaccine. Reciprocity demands that we amend our laws to make the same applicable to South Africans coming to Nigeria. If we are not giving then yellow fever, we may give them something else. We may ask them to do meningitis before they come. Our students going to U.K now are made to do tuberculosis test and when they ask you to do tuberculosis test, they are not asking you to go to any specialized laboratory in Nigeria, they have a designated foreign laboratory in Lagos and Portharcourt. British people coming to Nigeria should be made to do the same test. We may ask them to do flu test. When you do that, nations will begin to respect you. When we see such restrictive regulations targeted discriminatorily against some group of people, what nations do is to immediately make the same applicable.
But our laws are static and have not reflected or show enough flexibility to ensure that we also adequately respond. That is the area that I think we need to closely look at, in addition to enforcing rules on how people come here to work. There is absolutely no enforcement. In other civilized countries, if they give you work
permit for two or three years, once your work permit expires, you are asked to leave, if you don’t, they deport you. Some people sneak into Nigeria with all kinds of expertriates quota designated to last for a particular period and they come and stay forever. We have thousands of foreigners who are in Nigeria on grounds of work permit that was issued by Nigerian authorities but there is no follow up as to whether they have exceeded it or not. I have no evidence of any foreigner who has been asked to leave by reason of violation of our immigration rules. In United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, deportation is a daily occurrence. Some are even deported at the airport. When you are coming in and they question you on the reason for which you are coming and it doesn’t sound clear to them, they
send you back. I have dozens of clients who have suffered such fate. You take somebody to the airport on his way to the United States, two days later, you see him on your door saying he was sent back. Why? No reason and it doesn’t happen here. We have to know that if we don’t enforce our laws, the laws are basically nonexistent.
What is your view about the war against terrorism. It appears that the world is very eager to show solidarity with France struck by terrorists last week than it does for Nigeria?
It is very sad and it is something that should strike the conscience of humanity. What you see is double standard in play. It is big news when 17 persons get murdered in France by terrorists. World leaders went to France to show solidarity with the government and the people of France. They condemned and stood in solidarity with them and asked in what capacity they can assist France for that singular act of terrorism. Though we know that France as a developed nation has the military capacity to enforce their laws and tackle that incident of insurgency. As we speak, the terrorists got killed in the process. But that is not what you see in Nigeria. The current incident in Nigeria where the
international community revealed that no less than 2000 Nigerians were killed in a remote village in Baga means nothing to the world. In news, they put on the footnote. The global community was not outraged. And you begin to ask why? Nigeria is a developing country. We
don’t have the military or the technological wherewithal to tackle the insurgency, and yet you see that there is global apathy. The civilized world that should have come to our aid in terms of military hardware are looking the other way. Does it mean that
our lives as blacks don’t count? Two persons died in the Boston marathon terrorism attack in American but it was a global issue. The way and manner Nigerians are massacred in their thousands by Boko Haram,we don’t get the requisite support that we needed, even in the reality that we don’t have the military capacity to confront this level of insurgency.
Are you not aware that international community has also offered to help?
We need to begin to isolate what nation has offered what? The United States said they would help, I do not know the details of the help they offered. I am not
aware that the British government made any specific offer of help. A lot of these offers may be political. In terms of mobilization, I haven’t seen much of it. I have not seen leading countries around the world making specific offers in terms of what they want to do for us. You may make a political statement at the spur of the moment and everything fizzles out. What is so
clear to me is that the world has turned its back against Nigeria at this time of need.
Don’t you think it may be as a result of the corruption perception?
When you are not willing to help, you can always rationalise your reasons. Nigeria may be corrupt, but Nigeria did not create the word corruption. Corruption is a global thing, but I think it is a question degrees. Nobody should look at Nigeria and the next thing is corruption. I don’t think Nigeria is more corrupt than Afghanistan or Pakistan. So what does corruption got to do with the fact that Nigerians are being killed in thousands. I see it as the manifestation of double standard that permeates international relations and diplomacy. What is America doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Iraq? Those countries are not better than Nigeria in any corruption indices. I don’t buy this corruption philosophy at all.