For most Nigerian businessmen, holding a Nigerian passport raises a red flag and would often require extra documentation for validation.
Nigeria is placed 95 on the annual Henley Passport Index which ranks the world’s passport according to the countries they can visit without a prior visa. Ranked 95, Nigerian passport holders can visit two fewer countries now than they could in 2010 without a visa.
Faced with such difficulties, wealthy Nigerians are buying citizenship in Caribbean nations to ease business travel, get elite education for their wards and have a second home for holidays.
St. Lucia, a small island in the Caribbean, has issued 60 passports to Nigerians under its Citizenship Investment Program (CIP). The program grants resident permit or citizenship to foreigners for a fee.
“That pricing model has resonated well with the Nigerian community,” said Nestor Alfred, chief executive of St. Lucia’s CIP office. “A lot of our Nigerian applications consist of families.”
Other Caribbean islands such as Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis also offer investment migration programs with minimum costs of $100,000 and $150,000 respectively.
Citizenship by investment is estimated to be a $3 billion industry and it is believed that around 40,000 passports have been issued under the program. The program attracts high-net-worth individuals from poor countries or weak passport power.
Tari Best, a Nigerian logistics business owner, told The Economist that a Grenadian passport opens market opportunities for him. “We are treated as equals,” he said.
Henley and Partners, which advises people on how to acquire additional nationality, recently opened a new office in Nigeria. It also has offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.
“The reason we opened in Nigeria is because we saw significant potential in the market with growth in private wealth without global mobility for high net worth individuals,” said Paddy Blewer, public relations director at Henley & Partners. “What you have is a community of wealthy individuals who cannot travel without visas.”
Nigeria and South Africa account for 85 percent of Henley and Partner’s customers with Nigerians having a keen interest in Caribbean countries, the firm said.
An IMF report in 2016 on citizenship investment said: “Offering citizenship in return for investment has been a “win-win” for some small Caribbean states. The substantial inflows of funds from these programs have helped boost employment and growth. Inflows to the public sector alone in St. Kitts and Nevis had grown to nearly 25 percent of GDP as of 2013.”
St Kitts and Nevis is one of the pioneers of the Citizenship by Investment program, which it launched as far back as 1984 to help develop the country. The program has since been implemented by other countries as a means of generating revenue.