FG retains tough visa requirement for foreign journalists

The Federal Government has retained a controversial requirement for foreign journalists applying for Nigerian visa.

The provision, which was introduced by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, was retained in the new Nigerian Visa Policy 2020 launched by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

The policy states that foreign journalists applying for the journalist visa must, among other requirements, get a letter of clearance from the Federal Ministry of Information.

The visa category, known as F7A, is only valid for 90 days and permits a single entry.

The Nigerian High Commission in the United Kingdom states on its website that when a person applies for journalist’s visa, the application has to get “clearance from the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications and it can take anything from one week up to one month.”

After the journalist visa has been issued, the person is expected to head to the Federal Ministry of the Information, Abuja to get a clearance.

Although not expressly stated in the visa policy, The PUNCH learnt that the process of getting accreditation at the Federal Ministry of Information is often tedious and comes with its own requirements.

For instance, a circular issued by the Nigerian High Commission in the UK states that foreign journalists coming with video and camera equipment must be made to pay weekly.

The circular reads in part, “The weekly filming fee is $150 (N54,000) payable on arrival to the accreditation section, Federal Ministry of Information. Please be advised that it is mandatory that all journalists issued with entry visas report for accreditation and documentation on arrival in Nigeria at the External Publicity Division, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Room 3, Wing A, Radio House, Garki, Abuja, before embarking on any assignment in the country.

“Failure to report is a violation of the terms of entry.”

Reacting to the development, the Executive Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, condemned the Federal Government’s tough visa conditions for foreign journalists, adding that democratic nations ought to promote a free press.

Arogundade said Nigerian journalists could be made to suffer if other countries were to reciprocate.

The IPC executive director added, “It is not a right policy. It is not acceptable because it means it is the Ministry of Information that will decide who should come to the country or not and if they have issues with that journalist, he will not be allowed to come. I travelled to the Gambia under Yahaya Jameh’s dictatorship and it wasn’t this difficult to get a journalist visa.

“I first heard about this visa policy when some journalists were to come from South Africa shortly after the election and they were told by the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa to get a letter of clearance from the Ministry of Information and we opposed that.

“Nigerian journalists also apply for foreign visas and they are never given the condition of getting clearance from foreign ministries of information. So, it is just a form of gagging the press. They want to be able to control journalists and it is not good for the image of this country.”

Three officials at the Ministry of Information refused to comment on the matter when approached for comment.

However, a source at the ministry said the visa requirement for journalists was put in place for security reasons.

He said, “The policy predates this government. It is true that $150 is charged for those who want to do documentaries. It doesn’t apply to all journalists. Also, we ensure that visa applications of journalists are not delayed. No one is trying to stifle the press. We only do it for security reasons.”

<<Punch>>