US Travel Ban on Nigeria: A Global Perspective, By Almustaqim Balogun
POLITICS DIGEST – The United States has announced the inclusion of Nigeria and five other countries into its travel ban list. Other countries recently added include Sudan, Eritrea, Myanmar, Tanzania and Kyrgyzstan making the total countries affected by the travel ban 13. According to the BBC, the acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, said the new measure was the result of “failures by the affected countries to meet American security and information-sharing standards”.
The inclusion of Nigeria comes as a huge surprise considering the country is a long-term trade and diplomatic partner, playing an important and strategic role in the US effort in counter-terrorism. The US president, Donald Trump, had previously degraded Africa as a “shithole” continent, once reported to say Nigerians entering the US “would never go back to their huts.” Nigeria has been grappling with humanitarian and security crises, but the refusal by the US and ban on the provision on high tech military weapon sales to the government hindered the fight against the terrorist group, Boko Haram, resulting in the acquisition of weapons elsewhere. This travel ban is likely to strain the diplomatic ties between the two governments creating a vacuum for major powers like Russia and China to fill.
The US Government stated, in Nigeria’s case, that the travel ban only affected the issuance of “Immigrant” visa to the country’s passport holders. This may be seen as an attempt to not fully isolate Nigerians. Nevertheless, the travel ban is a slap on the face to the so-called Giant of Africa, a country with the potential to be Africa first superpower. This ban still allows Nigerians to travel to the US on a temporary visa which can be obtained by students, workers, tourists and others. But there is an expected scrutiny and extreme vetting of visa applicants which would lead to a high rejection of visa applications. According to Pew Research Center, Nigeria accounts for over 327,000 immigrants in the US, making it the largest African population in the country. The ban could affect family relations and cultural ties. Also, the US is a major study destination for Nigerians, with over 13,000 students. Cases of rejected and non-issuance of study visas are likely to be on the increase.
The last couple of years has seen a major strain in the US and Nigeria diplomatic relations although there have been an increase in cooperation in some areas such as financial and economic affairs cooperation. The refusal of the US during the Obama administration to supply sophisticated weapons to the Nigerian government in its fight against terrorism brought a new perspective and a need for the government to create a wider cooperation between other countries. The current travel ban on may also be seen as a disregard to Nigeria’s status in the global political sphere. It’s no news of a new change in the global affairs, of Russia and China increased interest and activity in Africa. Nigeria has the population, the resources and influence in the region to support the country’s geopolitical clout. China, a huge aid donor, her win-win strategic approach to Africa and its characteristic soft power tools have been able to draw admiration and cooperation with African countries. China is already the biggest trading partner for Africa surpassing the US and also boasts a military base in Africa. China played a major part in the African movement, assisting and training liberation groups. This also plays a role in deepening trust, a major and sensitive component in international relations. Russia, on the other, is also increasing its presence in the region. Russia recently held the first of its kind Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, bringing various world leaders and African heads of state. Nigeria was also present, leading other nations with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) having a scheduled private discussion with President Vladimir Putin. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an economical fragile Russia was born. Vladimir Putin is credited to have reinvented the Russian economy. Since he succeeded Boris Yeltsin and came to power in 2000, The Russian economy has multiplied eightfold. The 21st century brought about a rapid increase in Russian geopolitical expansion, its role in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, The JCPOA and also acting as mediator for political crises. Some of these have resulted from an assertive and aggressive game play, but these have been effective and positioned Russia back to middle of world affairs. Africa is the fastest growing continent, and strategically important for Russia’s expansion. The historical relations between Russia and Africa is also a huge player in this renewed alliance. Unlike the west, Russia has never been a colonial player and during the Soviet era provided economical, diplomatic and military support to some African states in their quest to gain independence from the west. These historical relations may also play a part in trust-building between the parties. The west cannot be relied on, this has been shown by the economical and military restrictions and unfavourable policies towards the continent. Just like China, Russia is also making the move. Moscow’s decision to write off $20bn Soviet-era debt is a huge welcome development and a lift on the burden on African states. Moscow is also setting up a $5bn funding trade mechanism between Russia and Africa. This will indeed increase the economical potential and build up development. Any slip and fallout in relations between Nigeria and the west is expected to quickly be grabbed by Moscow and Beijing. The west especially the US can’t afford to lose Nigeria, and to do this she needs to change posture and tighten her grip.
A major reason stated by the Trump administration on the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigeria and others is the non-compliance with the so-called established identity-management and information-sharing criteria (performance metrics). Interestingly, the Nigerian government announced the formation of a committee to assess and address the issue. Considering earlier reports of a potential addition to the travel ban list, this committee should have been formed earlier, before the imposition of the travel ban. Also, one of the reasons for this ban is the current humanitarian crisis, where Nigeria is grappling with the terrorist group Boko Haram. Although analysts may point at the US indirectly hindering the fight against the group due to its refusal to provide weapons to the Nigeria government, a lack of well-structured military strategy and corruption have prevented the government from fully wiping out the group.
Buhari has made strides and limited the terrorist sect’s activities, but a lot still needs to be done. Nigeria needs to fix her problems and step-up. It has the potential to become the first African superpower, but she needs to address her domestic issues and diversify her political and economic relations to stand a chance of achieving her potential.
Balogun, an international policy and affairs analyst, is the founder of The Lens for Social Change.