Trumps visa ban hits Nigeria-US ties, security concerns cited

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Monday, 24 February 2020 15:20

President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign made it clear that, if elected, the administration would establish a ban on Muslims entering the US. 

In alliance with this promise, he issued an executive order (the ‘travel ban’) that prevented citizens of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. With the majority of the Iranian, Libyan, Syrian and Yemeni population practising Islam, this was criticised by some as being, in effect, a ‘ban on Muslims’.

Trump stated in 2017 that: “We have entire regions of the world destabilized by terrorism and ISIS. For this reason I issued an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration from places where it cannot safely occur.”

From last Friday, February 21 2020, six additional countries will be subject to visa restrictions, including four African countries – Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania.

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Although citizens are still able to visit the US as tourists, they are prohibited from obtaining any visas that could eventually lead to permanent residences.

People from these countries, including spouses and family members of US citizens/permanent residents, will no longer be able to apply for immigrant visas.

  • For Sudan and Tanzania, the diversity visa lottery – a US government lottery programme that makes available 50,000 free immigrant visas annually – is no longer available.

The addition of these six countries is simply an extension of the current travel ban, which has no expiration date.

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Although it has been challenged in federal courts, this current version of the ban was upheld by the US Supreme Court on 26 June, 2018. However, Democrats are trying to push a bill to repeal it – the NO BAN (National Origin-Based Anti-discrimination for Non-immigrants) Act.

Countries were taken by surprise, with international news media agencies reporting the ban before governments were officially notified.

Twitter users, particularly Nigerians, expressed their disdain for the move.

@ceejayesq tweeted: “anyone who didn’t realise from the beginning that the ban was mostly about race, rather than security, has got to win an award for naiveté.”

@iamcrisshekinah was determined not to be discouraged, tweeting: “I am proudly Nigerian. Wow. We are the most educated immigrants in the #UnitedStates. God bless the federal Republic of #Nigeria. We are so talented and hardworking and the world is scared of us even @realDonaldTrump himself.”

Initial government response was more cautious.

Emmanuel Buhohela, spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs in Tanzania stated: “We don’t have official communication from the US government. We haven’t received a formal diplomatic communication, which is the official way of communicating between governments.”

Similarly, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, said: “On the issue of the travel ban our position is that it is still speculative because we are yet to be communicated. When we are communicated we will respond comprehensively.”

The addition of Tanzania and Nigeria are a consequence, according to Washington, of their failure to meet US security and information sharing standards.

Nigeria, in particular, is said to be feared to pose a risk of harbouring terrorists who may seek to enter the US.

  • However, there is no evidence to show that the resident terrorist group, Boko Haram, is trying to leave the continent, with its operations still mostly limited to West Africa.
  • Toyin Falola, Nigerian historian and professor at the University of Texas at Austin,  said few migrants from northern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s stronghold, come to the US.
  • And Nigeria has been working with the US counterterrorism work and border security: Trump acknowledges Nigeria as an “important strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism”.

President Buhari’s administration has responded by setting up a committee to work with the US government and Interpol to ensure that Nigeria meets global security standards.

  • Spokesman for the Presidency, Femi Adesina said: “Nigeria remains committed to maintaining productive relations with the United States and its international allies, especially on matters of global security.”

Shutting the door on Africa’s biggest economy (Nigeria) is considered an short-sighted move by some.

The “Prosper Africa” initiative, announced in 2019, aims to double two-way trade and investment between Africa and the US.

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Bottom line: As Nonso Obikili, a Nigerian economist, puts it: “If on the one hand you’re trying to make a push into Africa, and on the other hand you’re barring the largest African country by population from moving to your country, then it does send mixed signals.”

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