19 January 2013

Nigeria: South Africa - Visa Label Scarcity Worsens At Nigerian Embassy

Businessmen and other investors in South Africa seeking visa labels to travel to Nigeria have been facing herculean problems in securing the vital document from the country's mission in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

LEADERSHIP WEEKEND learnt that the problem, which started in November 2012, has continued into the new year.

It was further gathered that the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa has not been issuing visas to applicants and other intending travellers to Nigeria for over two weeks.

When contacted, a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not the business of the ministry to print visa labels.

He said such enquiries should be referred to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), adding that the ministry only handles visa matters in missions where there are no immigration personnel.

At the NIS, most of the officials contacted declined to comment on the matter.

The only official who volunteered information on the issue on condition of anonymity said the recent changes in the leadership of the NIS had affected its operations.

The official said that some of the key personnel who could have given an insight into the issue were redeployed, adding that their successors would resume work on Monday.

Sources said that the development might be connected to the fact that the High Commission in South Africa and other trading partners of the country had no stock of visa labels.

Some of the applicants lamented their inability to meet scheduled appointments and transact business in Nigeria.

A source also told our correspondent yesterday that those seeking visas are being turned back or asked to return on a future date.

The development has also come as a shock to many applicants who had planned to visit Nigeria on business and holidays.

One applicant told our correspondent that his plan to visit on business this month had been ruined by the visa label scarcity.

A visa label is placed in the holder's passport or travel document, and contains information about the holder's entitlements to travel to and stay in the country that he or she is visiting, as well as other conditions (such as the ability to work or study ).

When contacted over the matter, the director of communications, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ode, told our correspondent he was not aware of the development.

The ugly development has reportedly affected the booming trade relations between the two countries, especially Nigeria, which has become the bride of South African investors and tourists since MTN made a strong inroad into the country's telecommunications sector.

Since then, more South African companies have thronged Nigeria, investing in the real sector. The firms have also penetrated the consumer market, food, construction, and the banking industry.

The two countries have also taken steps to boost the patronage of goods and services by their nationals, which have led to the trade relations between them inching towards billions of dollars.

Against this backdrop, business owners and investors in the two countries have appealed to the federal government to wade into the visa label crisis to stimulate the inflow of investment from South Africa.

In fact, South Africa in 2012 exported 277,844 vehicles to Nigeria. Also, the country's export to Nigeria between 1999 and 2008 rose from $520 million to $2.9 billion while exports from Nigeria to South Africa increased from $9.2 billion to $5.6 billion during the period.

Nigeria's export to South Africa include crude, rubber, and palm oil. Hundreds of Nigerians are also working in South Africa, where they repatriate huge funds home.

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