Relations between Nigeria and Britain may soon hit a new low, with the former threatening a diplomatic backlash if Britain presses ahead with a new policy that would see intending visitors from Nigeria pay £3,000 refundable bond before they can be granted entry visa.
“If they decide to go ahead with the discriminatory policy, we will act accordingly,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Olugbenga Ashiru told Anadolu Agency.
He said they have not been officially notified about the new policy commencement date, suggested to be next November.
“I do not have any communication to that effect.”
The Financial Times reported last week that first-time visitors from Nigeria, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – all commonwealth countries – would be tagged as “high risk tourists.”
Under a “pilot” scheme, to be introduced in November, those seeking a six-month visitors’ visa would be required to deposit a cash bond of £3,000.
The bond is refundable if the affected person honors all the conditions attached to the class of visa granted him/her, including leaving the UK at the expiration of the six-month window allowed under visitor's visa.
According to the British government, these six countries pose the “most significant risk of abuse’’ of visas by their citizens.
But Rob Fitzpatrick, the spokesman of the British High Commission in Abuja, said he was not sure the policy is about to commence any time soon, falling short of denying the FT report outright.
“No final decision has been made,” Fitzpatrick told AA.
“As British Prime Minister David Cameron has said, we want the brightest and the best to help create the jobs and growth that will enable Britain to compete in the global race."
"So, for example, if you are an overseas businessman seeking to invest and trade with world class businesses, one of the thousands of legitimate students keen to study at our first-class universities or a tourist visiting our world class attractions, be in no doubt: Britain is open for business.”
More than 180,000 Nigerians apply to visit Britain each year and about 125,000, nearly 70 percent of the applicants, are successful, according to official data obtained from the British High Commission.
Ogbole Ode, the Foreign Affairs Ministry's spokesman, said Ashiru had summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock, on June 25 to convoy their opposition to the new policy.
“We have made our position clear to the British Government: if it goes ahead with the discriminatory policy we will invoke the principle of reciprocity," he told AA.
"So we urge them to reconsider."
Both countries currently have frosty relationship.
Nigeria bluntly rejected British Prime Minister David Cameron's criticism about the ban Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, had imposed on same sex marriage.
Britain colonized Nigeria until 1960 when the latter got its political independence.
Whilst many believe Nigeria should retaliate what they called “the belligerency" of the British government, others said the bond should be a wakeup call to the Nigerian government to reboot the economy and build a country that citizens would gladly want to live in.
“The policy amounts to aggression in diplomatic terms, and so if the UK pursues it contrary to pleadings from Nigeria then the latter should be bold enough to retaliate accordingly,” Dr. Abubakar Momoh, who teaches political science and international relations at the Lagos State University, told AA.
“Yes there could be some bad eggs among Nigerians who may have abused the UK visa policies but that should not be enough reason to impose discriminatory policy that targets even the innocents. The policy is discriminatory and harsh.”
Bamidele Aturu, a human rights lawyer with background in diplomacy, agrees with Momoh that the policy is harsh.
Still, he questions Nigeria’s ability to invoke the “principle of reciprocity”, a term in diplomacy meaning a country’s strength to impose deterrence on another nation believed to have showed belligerency towards its citizens.
“Whilst the UK has disciplined officers who would implement this policy to the letter, the fact of the matter is that our immigration officers and even the government officials cannot be relied upon to exhibit the same zeal," he told AA.
"So in a way Nigeria lacks the power and will to impose such (measure)."
Dr. Festus Iyayi, a university don with decades of diplomatic experience, heaps the blame on his own government.
He told AA that Britain was emboldened to carry out such “belligerent act” because its “officials know that in the end, the victims are helpless as their country is not governed by patriotic people who can wield the big stick or see the action as a clarion call to encourage good governance in their countries."
"So, for me, I don’t blame the UK wanting to protect its interest. It is for Nigeria and Nigerians to brace up. Can they do that to US or even South Africa?”