Diplomatic row exposed

Earlier this year, when the South African government was once again caught off-guard by a spate of attacks on foreign African nationals, Namibia and Nigeria were also embroiled in a diplomatic spat that has only now been resolved.

09 October 2019 | Ministries

In April, while South Africa was grappling with ongoing attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal, a diplomatic spat erupted between Namibia and Nigeria, which has now been officially revealed by both countries.

It involved the deportation of Nigerian nationals and some officials from that country, which in turn led to visas being refused to Namibian passport holders in the West African country. This led to the cancellation of Air Namibia's Windhoek-Lagos-Accra route.

The Nigerian foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Onyeama this week paid a visit to Namibia to address the visa standoff. He also discussed improving bilateral relations.

He said the tension grew because the explanations given to the Nigerian high commission in Namibia were not satisfactory.

“And so the Nigerian government felt that this was an issue of non-freedom of movement of persons, which had affected Nigerians who wanted entry to the country. And so certain segments, not all the segments, felt to make a point and made it difficult for Namibian travellers to obtain visas to visit Nigeria,” Onyeama said. Speaking at the same meeting at the Nigerian high commission on Monday, Namibia's international relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah confirmed the saga started in April this year and also impacted the operations of Namibian's national airline, Air Namibia.

“It is true that you have to look at economics. At the time when Air Namibia was running [to Nigeria], it was running at 70% and in the airline industry you can make money. But since April it has reduced to 12%; it had to be suspended,” she said.

She added that those visitors who do not have consular services in their country of residence will be allowed to obtain a visa upon entry in Namibia.

“But they will [only] get it when they meet the immigration requirements. Namibians and Nigerians will have to meet these requirements wherever they go. For Africans, including Nigerians who are residents in countries where they have missions, [they] will get visas in those countries,” she said

Nandi-Ndaitwah also urged visitors not to interfere with the work of the immigration officials or question the immigration requirements.

“It is also the understanding and practice, as part of the Vienna Convention that whenever a citizen of any country is in the custody of another country, their embassy, if it exists, will immediately be informed. Then the person will have access to the services that can be provided by that particular mission, including the Nigerian mission. We believe that as citizens we will respect the laws of the two countries,” she said.

Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa confirmed the suspension of the route came as a result of the standoff.

He added they are ready to go into business with Nigeria again, but this option must not be weighed against the current economic environment.

The international relations ministry confirmed the standoff last week.

The standoff arose after Nigerian visitors were deported by immigration officials in April.

The fallout allegedly included accusations of xenophobia.

However, the ministry's executive director Selma Ashipala-Musavyi told Namibian Sun the issue has now been resolved and there is “no longer a standoff”.

According to a well-placed source at the immigration ministry, the issue escalated to the point that the highest echelons in the international relations ministry were tasked to deal with it.

The source said the standoff came after some Nigerian nationals, including relatives of Nigerian high commissioner to Namibia Lilian Onoh, were turned away at the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

The source added the matter was deemed extremely sensitive because there were some attempts to link it to the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerian nationals in South Africa.

“They came here without proper papers. How do you allow someone into the country who say they are here on business, but they have no money on them, claiming it is held up in another country?” the source remarked.

An airline source, who refused to be identified, said Air Namibia was forced to suspend its Lagos and Accra routes as a result of the diplomatic spat, because Namibian passport holders were struggling to get visas to visit Nigeria.

These routes were cancelled at the end of May this year.

“It got so bad that even our auditors could not get visas, which made them an illegal business,” the source said.

Ashipala-Musavyi said last week: “We have been engaging the Nigerian high commissioner in Namibia and that process has now been finalised.”

She emphasised that Nigerian foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Jideofor Onyeama' s visit this week is not linked to the standoff.

Immigration minister Frans Kapofi said there was nothing personal or sinister about the Nigerian nationals being turned away at the airport.

He said there was no standoff between the two countries, adding the supposed diplomatic incident is a figment of some people's imaginations.

“What I know is that like all other travellers, if you come to the airport and you do not have the necessary documents, then you will have problems with the immigration officials. If some Nigerians are affected then it is not an issue between Namibia and Nigeria. There is really no issue that Namibia is targeting Nigeria,” he said.

Repeated emails, phone calls and other enquiries to the Nigerian embassy proved fruitless.

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