Some rich Nigerians have spent over $1billion this year alone buying themselves citizenship of other countries or golden visas as they plan ahead for safe haven should Nigeria collapse as a nation.
The $1billion is a conservative estimate, given the number of applications processed by the citizenship advisory firms.
According to a report published by Al Jazeera, more Nigerians paid for citizenship or golden visas this year, than in other years.
At London-based Henley & Partners, one of the world’s largest citizenship advisory firms, applications by Nigerians increased by 185 percent during the eight months to September 2020, making them the second-largest nationality to apply for such schemes after Indians.
More than 1,000 Nigerians have enquired about the citizenship of another country through Henley & Partners this year alone, which Paddy Blewer, head of marketing, said “is unheard of.
“We’ve never had this many people contacting us”, Blewer said.
Arton Capital, a citizenship advisory group, said demand from Nigerian families for Antigua and Barbuda citizenship is up 15 percent this year compared with the last.
St Lucia has also seen a record number of Nigerians applying in 2020. “It’s more than it’s ever been over the past four years,” says Nestor Alfred, CEO of the St Lucia Citizenship-by-Investment Unit.
The rush to escape from Nigeria reached the apogee in July, with the coronavirus epidemic raging.
Another propelling factor has been the recent #EndSARS protest, according to the report.
A Nigerian interviewed, cited the escalation of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria as a reason wealthy Nigerians started looking more seriously at citizenship abroad.
“Those with medical conditions that could not fly out – a lot of them are buying passports just because if there is any problem they can fly out,” said Olusegun Paul Andrew, 56, a Nigerian entrepreneur and investor who spends much of the year in the Netherlands.
“Flying out” of Nigeria is hard and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 26 countries allow Nigerian passport holders visa-free entry, many of them part of West Africa’s ECOWAS arrangement. Both the United Kingdom and Europe’s Schengen zone require Nigerians to obtain visas ahead of travelling.
For the wealthy, this is too much hassle. “They don’t want to be queueing for visas for any EU country or whatever,” says Andrew. Instead, why not purchase the citizenship of a country with visa-free access to Europe?
According to the report, the destinations of Nigerians seeking citizenship or golden visas are Malta and many Caribbean nations.
In Malta, all they need to do for citizenship is to have an investment of between $100,000 to $800,000 in the country.
In St Kitts and Nevis, a passport can cost as much as $400,000.
The passport opens doors to Europe and America, where they do not to get visas anymore.
Bimpe, a wealthy Nigerian who was interviewed for the report said she has three passports. One Nigerian, which she says she never uses, and two from Caribbean nations: St Kitts and Nevis; and Grenada.
“The St Kitts and Nevis passport, which cost her $400,000 via a real estate investment programme, was useful when she travelled between London and New York on business as it allows for visa-free travel to the UK and Europe. But now that she has retired in Abuja, Bimpe, whose husband has passed away, wants her three adult sons to have the same opportunities to travel and live abroad.