The on-going rift between the governments of Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken a new dimension as the Arab country has barred Nigerians from applying for work permits and placed visa restrictions on them.
An official at the Ministry of Labour (MOL) in the UAE confirmed that work permits were being regulated in view of precautionary and preventive measures for COVID-19.
The MOL governs all work-related issues and is responsible for issuing work permits (or labour cards) and imposing labour bans “on those who are entitled to one.”
However, the new regulation imposed by the ministry seems to target only Nigerian nationals. Director of the Nigerian in Diaspora Organisation (UAE) Fernando Judel told The ICIR that the restriction was an internal arrangement restricted only to the ministry, and Nigerians seeking to apply for work permit renewals were barred from doing so.
“We have been having that issue for about a week plus now, where some people would apply for this labour or work permit and it would get rejected. This is only for Nigerian nationality, although over the years, we have been having issues like that and the issue always comes when our people indulge in a profile crime.
“If you want to apply, you would see a display in the dialogue box that it is restricted to this nationality being Nigeria. So the person cannot even apply at all, let alone the ministry receiving the application and rejecting it,” Judel told this newspaper.
It was gathered that on June 15, some Nigerian cultists in Sharjah got into a bloody fight that left more than a dozen people dead, according to unofficial sources.
A footage circulated online showed a group of armed with machetes arriving at an apartment complex in Sharjah where they forcefully gained entry into an apartment and attacked its occupants.
Other videos showed the aftermath of the attack: mutilated bodies lying on the floor of a narrow bloodied hallway.
Further investigations revealed that the clash on June 15 coincided with the 58th anniversary of The Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC), also known as the National Association of Airlords, which was formed at University of Ibadan in 1963.
However, a member of the confraternity identified as Habakrier NA Airlord insisted that SEC was not a cult but a socio-cultural brotherhood that believed in the communion of minds and the traditional teachings of the ancient African oratorical practices.
“SEC is not a gang and as such does not engage in gang-related activities. We renounce any forms of violence perpetrated by individuals with nefarious intent within and outside the walls of the Nigerian Ivory Towers as proven by our strategic presence in the National Inter-Frat Council (NIFC) and the SEC initiative of ‘Stop the Confra Wars,’” he said.
But many do not believe his position, given the perceived violent nature of the group.
Another video has also emerged online of a medical practitioner clad in a personal protective clothing calling out some girls for allegedly killing a local after the cult clash and lamenting how the bad behavior of a few Nigerians was robbing off on the entire black population in the UAE.
“Once you’re a Nigerian, they will be running from you. Hushpuppi own dey. Woodberry own dey. Some Nigerians dey do cultism for Sharjah, that one still dey there. Now some girl go kill local. Now, whether you are a Nigerian or Cameroonian, they are just arresting everybody,” he said in pidgin, a local brand of English spoken mainly in west and central Africa.
He called on all Nigerians to assist the police in fishing out those engaged in nefarious activities so that the innocent and hardworking majority would not be made to pay for the sins of a few.
Visa restriction on Nigerians by UAE
Recent infamous activities of some Nigerians may not be unconnected to the recent rejection faced by Nigerians trying to renew their work permits in the UAE, even though the country’s labour ministry claims the measure was put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Judel said only a few persons who had applied for work permits were able to get them on concessionary grounds, adding that “another category of people that get visas is free-zone companies.” He explained that employees in free-zone companies were not affected by this regulation because free-zone companies dealt directly with the immigration department who issued them visas.
In addition, he said any Nigerian who had been issued labour or work permit from the ministry of labour by their employer could get their employment visas renewed with ease.
UAE and visa restrictions on Nigerians
However, Judel frowned at the UAE for arbitrarily restricting visas from Nigerians without an official communication.
“Once they indulge in that profile crimes, the UAE would restrict our visa, whether employment or tourist but over the years it has been happening. For the years back, there has been no official statement about our visa restrictions. When they know that they do not have any stand to justify the restriction, they would tag it anything,” he said.
Last July, the UAE imposed a restriction on Nigerian visas after two rival cult groups – The Neo-Black Movement of Africa (also known as BlackAxe) and The Aromate Group (also known as Barggas) -had a clash also in Sharjah, which resulted in casualties, including the number one leader of the Aromate Group.
The UAE at the time denied blacklisting Nigerians from getting visas into the country. The Embassy in Abuja cited precautionary measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus as the reason for the ‘temporary suspension’ of visas.
“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE took a number of precautionary measures to combat the virus’ spread, including the temporary suspension on issuing UAE visas for all nationalities as of March 17, 2020,” the Embassy tweeted.
The restriction was eventually lifted in September after Nigeria agreed to allow the operation of Emirates Airlines in Nigeria, which had been suspended due to the pandemic, as disclosed by the Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika.
“UAE has written to state that they agree to issue visas to Nigerians. Consequently, decision has been reached to allow Emirates to fly into Nigeria. Commencement of the Visa issuance is condition precedent. Please bear with this unusual situation. Many thanks,” he said via Twitter.
Flight, COVID-19 and diplomatic row
Flights between Nigeria and the UAE have been suspended since March 17 of this year over disagreement relating to COVID-19 testing, which Sirika said was specific to Nigeria.
It is not immediately clear whether the restriction of visas for Nigerians is calculated to compel the Nigerian government to reconsider its position and accept the UAE’s COVID-19 protocol, which Sirika has described as discriminatory and not backed by science. This has worsened the diplomatic row between both countries.
Many Nigerians think the row could have been responsible for work permit denials.
A Nigerian resident in the UAE who did not want his name mentioned, said things were no longer the same in recent times as many Nigerians were becoming more frustrated with work permit restrictions and ‘ a fallacious labelling of a large number of Nigerians as criminals.’ He said some criminals from other parts of Africa also committed crimes while pretending to be Nigerians, saying that the authorities in the UAE were aware of that reality.