Posted by Yusuf Alli and Vincent Ikuomola
Minister of Foreign Affairs Olugbenga Ashiru said yesterday that the Federal Government will defend the interest of Nigerians on consular related issues with foreign countries.
Ashiru spoke in Abuja following a proposal by the United Kingdom to introduce a bond of 3,000 pounds (N750, 000) for intending visitors from Nigeria and five other countries.
Speaking at the 2013 Ministerial Platform, Ashiru reiterated that the UK government was yet to officially notify Nigeria on the proposal scheduled to start in November.
“Really, we have received no official communication from the UK government.
“When we receive communication from them, we will study whatever proposal they are trying to do but I can assure all Nigerians that President Jonathan’s government will defend the interest of Nigerians by whatever means it can.’’
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee kicked against the policy. Chair of the Diaspora Committee Abike Dabiri –Erewa asked Nigeria to adopt the principle of reciprocity if the UK insists on the visa bond from Nigerians traveling to Britain. She suggested a N5million bond for any Briton seeking Nigerian visa as a visitor.
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ms. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje described the visa bond as discriminatory and unacceptable. She said the House of Representatives would take a critical look at the policy as it affects Nigerians and come up with a way forward. Dabiri-Erewa said: “Nigeria should adopt the principle of reciprocity. If they ask us to pay £3,000, let their citizens also pay N5million visa bond.
“This is a discriminatory policy and it is unacceptable. Do not forget that we are a member of the Commonwealth, what are we going to enjoy if they could impose such a discriminatory policy?
“I am quite sure that France will not impose visa bond on their former colonies. The UK Government should reverse it or else we should pay them back in equal measure.
“The Federal Government should not allow the situation to lie low; it should reject it and make it reciprocal.
“When South Africa said we should be paying N100, 000 visa bond and we reciprocated, it quickly stopped the policy.
“If Nigerian and Indian doctors withdraw their services in the UK, their health sector will collapse.
Elendu-Ukeje described the new UK visa bond as discriminatory and unacceptable.
In a statement in Abuja, the lawmaker said such policy was not in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
She said: “This is totally discriminatory and unacceptable. It is target to non-white Commonwealth.
“They should realise that it is not in the best interest of UK. We will as a country, going to look at it vis-a- vis our citizens and come up with a decision.
“We agree totally with our Foreign Minister that the policy is totally unworkable and impractical’’.
“It is contrary to the commitment made to our President by Prime Minister David Cameron during their last meeting. We believe it is for political reason ahead of general elections.
“We seek that our long historical relationship should take precedence over political expediency.”
The minister admitted that the biggest challenge facing the present administration’s foreign policy thrust was the welfare of Nigerians abroad.
He said Nigeria missions abroad had been directed to pay utmost attention to the needs of Nigerians abroad, particularly the plight of Nigerians in various prisons abroad.
He acknowledged that many Nigerians were stranded abroad in prisons and that the affected Nigerians had continued to suffer various forms of discriminations in their host countries.
According to the minister, over 9000 Nigerians are currently serving prisons terms abroad, with the largest number of 752 in the UK.
“Most of the remaining prisoners are concentrated in the Asia – Pacific region and a good number of them are on death row.
“We are concluding Prisoners’ Transfer Agreement (PTA) with all those countries, such as United Kingdom, Thailand, Japan, China, Indonesia, Switzerland, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Hong Kong, so that we can bring home these Nigerians to complete their prison terms.
“I wish to seize this opportunity to appeal to members of different groups; the media, civil societies, religious groups, traditional rulers, etc, to join hands in the education of our youths in an enlightenment campaign against trafficking in drugs, in particular, and other social vices in general. “This assignment should not be left alone to Governments at different levels to handle.’’
On the much-talked about reopening of Information Centres abroad, the minister appealed to the Federal Ministry of Information to ensure proper funding for the centres.
“All I will appeal is that when it starts, they must be well funded; I do not want cases where you send information officers abroad and after nine months or six months the funding will be tied.
“You must ensure proper funding and we in the ministry of foreign affairs are in favour of this move because three or four heads are better than one’.