There were indications on Tuesday that the Federal Government would opt for a retaliatory measure if the United Kingdom went ahead to implement its proposed £3,000 visa bond.
Nigeria was said to have made this known during a private meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, and British High Commissioner, Andrew Pocock, in Abuja.
The PUNCH had reported exclusively on Tuesday that the Federal Government summoned Pocock over the policy which it said was capable of harming the existing cordial relationship between the two countries.
Nigeria is one of the six countries whose nationals would be required to pay the £3,000 bond under a proposed policy that will take effect in November. The others are India, Bangledish, Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
It was gathered that Pocock admitted at the meeting with Ashiru that the UK planned to introduce the “financial bond as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system”, but added, “No final decision has been made.”
Ashiru, who was said to have recalled the days when nationals of Commonwealth travelled freely to the UK and other member states, expressed displeasure over the policy which he described as not only “discriminatory but capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth family.”
A source privy to the meeting said, “The minister conveyed the reservations of the Federal Government to Pocock, who said the policy was still a proposal. The minister reminded him of British investments in Nigeria and vice-versa.
“He asked him to think about the implications a retaliatory measure would have on the two countries. The minister stressed that Nigeria might also impose £3,000 visa bond on British nationals coming into the country too.”
After the meeting, the ministry issued a statement in which it recalled “the strong historical bonds between the peoples of the various countries who were all regarded at that time as Commonwealth citizens.”
It further “recalled that this time-honoured practice was unilaterally jettisoned by the UK in 1985, thereby weakening the bonds of the Commonwealth family.”
According to the statement by the spokesperson for the ministry, Ogbole Ode, Ashiru told the British envoy “that the proposed policy would definitely negate the joint commitment by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Goodluck Jonathan to double the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries by 2014.”
It added, “Ambassador Ashiru pointed out that the decision of the UK government is coming at the time the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers have unanimously recommended for adoption at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2013, a proposal to remove visa requirements for holders of official and diplomatic passports from member states.”
Ashiru, who appealed to the UK to reconsider the proposed policy, noted “that the Federal Government has a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interests of Nigerians, who may be affected by it (policy), if finally introduced.
“The minister informed the British High Commissioner that the Federal Government values the very cordial relations and strategic partnership between the two countries and would not want the introduction of any new policy to affect these cherished relations,” the statement added.
In its own statement, the British High Commission reiterated that details of the policy were still being worked out. “No final decision has been made,” the Head of Press and Public Affairs Section, Rob Fitzpatrick said.
The commission said, “if the plan were to go ahead in Nigeria, it would affect only a very small number of the highest risk visitors.”
The statement added, “The vast majority would not be required to pay a bond. Those paying bonds would receive the bond back, if they abided by the terms of their visa.
“Let me put this in perspective. Over 180,000 Nigerians apply to visit the UK each year. About 70 per cent or around 125,000, of those applicants are successful. Travel between our two countries is a key part of our strong cultural and business relationship. Financial bonds would be focussed on only a tiny minority of potential abusers. It would not be a “£3,000 visa charge” as some media reporting has alleged.
“As soon as more details of the policy have been decided, we will inform the Nigerian government and public fully and officially, in the spirit of our long standing friendship, and our wish to help bona fide Nigerian visitors to work, study or do business in the UK.”
Also in Abuja, the Senate raised its voice against the proposed visa policy and warned that Nigeria would have to adopt the principle of reciprocity if the UK went ahead to implement it.
Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, said, “ I will like to say immediately that diplomacy is based on reciprocity and it is not an option that is lost on us. When we had misunderstanding with South Africa, Nigeria rose to the occasion. We will always rise to the occasion;but I think the way out is for Nigerians to have more faith in their country.”
Senator Ita Enang, who is the Chairman Committee on Rules and Business and his counterparts in the Petroleum (Downstream) and Navy committees, also said the policy would greatly hurt relations between Nigeria and Britain.
Anyanwu, for instance, advised the UK authorities to be considerate in their anti-terrorism policies in order not to hurt the ties between Nigeria and Britain.
She said, “I know it is a way of expressing their own frustration with the involvement of some Nigerians in negative things.This is what I think, but it is going to be a very offending policy; it is surprising that it is coming from Britain because we have a special historical link with them.
“I think that what Britain ought to do is to encourage us and fully accept Nigeria as part of its history and not to extend such a mild form of hostility towards us. We will have to respond in ways that are loud and clear. We have to tell them that enough is enough.”
Meanwhile, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, has said he had contacted some human rights lawyers in the UK to challenge the proposed policy when passed by the British parliament.
“We will challenge the British government under their own Human Rights Act and European Human Rights convention. The law does not allow the UK to target the nationals of any particular country for extortion. The Federal Government must also be prepared to retaliate in like manner if the policy is allowed by the British government,’’ Falana said.
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