I was looking forward to being in Nigeria this weekend, writing a preview for the presidential elections at the end of the month. Not the way every Telegraph reader might want to spend their weekend, I grant you, but by foreign correspondents’ standards, it’s a Premier League fixture.
The contest will decide who rules West Africa’s most important country, and in the wake of last year’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, the wider world will be following it in a way they never used to.
Sadly, if it’s on-the-ground reportage you want, don’t come to me. Or The Times or Channel 4 News. Or any of the 20-odd other British media outlets that have asked for press visas to cover the elections, and whose applications still languish in a pile at the Nigerian High Commission in London. (Fee £300, non-returnable.)
Nobody has actually been refused outright. But given that the process normally takes only a week, and given that my application went in two months ago, I’m beginning to think the Nigerian government doesn’t want me there. Or, indeed any of the other foreign hacks whose applications are still waiting other at Nigerian embassies around the world.
Have I written something to offend them? Much as it would be nice to think that I have upset the rich and powerful as a result of previous reporting trips to Nigeria, I don’t think it’s anything personal. Rather, it seems that elements in the government – either in the presidency or the security services – have decided that it would be best if the international media were kept at bay.
Goodluck Jonathan – does he not want foreign media covering his re-election bid? (EPA)
Instead, West Africa’s biggest elections – in which a country three times the population of Britain will be casting its vote – will go ahead with only a limited foreign media presence, courtesy mainly of local representatives of the BBC, Reuters and Associated Press.
The Nigerian government accepted £305m of British aid this year, not to mention British help in training its military and hunting for the missing schoolgirls. But when it comes to elections, it would rather we minded our own business.
So why is this happening? Officially, it’s just a matter of bureaucracy: a few have been granted, apparently, but a lot of others are still awaiting “clearance” from no fewer than three different government ministries. The problem with that excuse, though, is that the applications were originally filed in time for a previous election date, February 15. That was then postponed until March 28, to allow the government to make more efforts against Boko Haram, and ensure polling booths could open in the north.
That’s an extra six weeks, during which it would surely have been possible to sift through a few hundred press visa applications. After all, Nigerian High Commissions around the world process thousands of routine business visas every day. Read full on Telegraph