Africa / Nigeria’s Visa on Arrival


By Olayanju Phillips

S.P.A Ajibade & Co

Lagos, Nigeria

On 11th December, 2019, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, at the Aswan Forum for Peace and Development in Africa in Cairo, announced the grant of visas on arrival to all travellers holding passports of African countries starting from January 2020. This announcement was unexpected, especially going by the Nigerian President’s delay in signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) and by the closing of the nation’s land borders.

The pronouncement comes a year after African nations ought to have scrapped visa requirements for all African citizens, following the launch of the single air transport market in 2018 twenty-one member states of the African Union to abolish visa requirements for all Africans. It also comes at a time when it is reportedly easier and cheaper to travel outside Africa than from one African country to another.

Nigeria joins 26% of African countries that currently issue visas on arrival to other countries, according to the Africa Visa Openness Report 2019. Although critics have condemned this decision by Africa’s most populous nation, arguing that the visa on arrival policy is detrimental to the government’s efforts to curb population expansion, unemployment, insecurity and infrastructure deficit, the benefits of the policy far outweigh the challenges that come with it.

At the top of the list of benefits is making Nigeria an investment destination of choice amongst Africans with easy movement of persons and goods. It is noteworthy that the top performing countries for visa openness in Africa are among the top countries for foreign direct investment on the continent. Another advantage of the visa on arrival policy is the promotion of Nigeria as a tourist attraction amongst Africans. With a visa on arrival, other Africans will be encouraged to take advantage of the easy entry into Nigeria to visit her cultural sites. This will spur further investment in Nigeria’s tourism industry. Additionally, the policy promotes African integration and intra-African trade through the movement of persons, goods and services with minimal barriers. Together, increased investment and a developing tourism industry will spur economic growth and development.

The visa on arrival is not an entirely new development in Nigeria. Before its recent extension to African nationals, it was granted to high net worth investors with business interests in Nigeria and visitors who may be unable to obtain the visa at the Nigerian Missions and embassies in their countries of residence.

The granting of the visa requires a valid passport with a minimum of six months’ validity and a valid return ticket. The visa also has a maximum validity of 30 days and is neither valid for employment nor residence. The grant of a visa approval letter before travelling is necessary to the issuance of a visa upon arrival in Nigeria.

To curb the insecurity challenges that may arise with the new policy, a border management technology, known as the Migration Information Data Analysis System (MIDAS) has been activated at all international airports in Nigeria located at Lagos State, Rivers State, Kano State and the Federal Capital Territory respectively. The MIDAS collects, processes, stores and analyses migrant information in real time. It also checks the incoming Advanced Passenger Information against international alert lists from international security organisations. This way, it can detect a passenger with a high security threat before they land in Nigeria.

The Nigerian legislature has flagged down the policy, stating it has not received the endorsement of the legislative houses. However, this warning has been largely ignored and the Nigerian Immigration Service, directed by the Nigerian President, has begun implementation of the policy.

It is hoped that the Nigerian government would take advantage of the opportunity that the policy offers to grow its tourism industry. In addition, the Nigerian Immigration Service will have to put further safeguards in place to deal with the security challenges that accompany the movement of people with lesser barriers and implement a seamless policy.