Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nigeria: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning

The US Department of State has updated its travel warning for Nigeria, effective June 21, and has warned its citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria, and continues to recommend that US citizens avoid all but essential travel to the following states because of the risk of kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks: Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Plateau, Gombe, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno, and Kano. The Department also warns against travel to the Gulf of Guinea because of the threat of piracy.

Violent crime remains a problem throughout the country and is perpetrated by both individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms. Based on safety and security risk assessments, travel by US officials to all northern Nigerian states (in addition to those listed above) must receive advance clearance by the US Embassy as being mission-essential. US citizens should be aware that in light of the continuing violence, extremists may expand their operations beyond northern Nigeria to the country’s southern states. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Nigeria dated February 29, 2012, to update information on the continued violent activities in the country.

On December 31, 2011, the President of Nigeria declared a state of emergency in fifteen local government areas in the states of Borno, Niger, Plateau, and Yobe. This State of Emergency remains in effect, although with modification in some areas. According to the Government of Nigeria, the declaration of a State of Emergency responds to activities of extremist groups. The State of Emergency gives the government sweeping powers to search and arrest without warrants.

Retaliatory violence and protests continue in Kaduna State following a series of church bombings on June 17. In Damatura, Yobe State, Nigerian police and security forces have been fighting members of the extremist group Boko Haram since June 19. The government has imposed a 24-hour curfew for the city of Damaturu and the entire state of Kaduna.

The risk of continued attacks against Western targets in Nigeria remains high. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for many attacks, mainly in northern Nigeria, killing and wounding thousands of people. Multiple Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SBVIEDs) targeting churches exploded June 17, in the Kaduna State cities of Kaduna and Zaria, resulting in several deaths and injuries. Nigerian government forces and local extremists exchanged gunfire in Maiduguri, Borno State in an hours-long confrontation on June 7. On June 10, a Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) exploded in Jos, Plateau State, and extremists shot at people at a church in Biu Town, Borno State, with casualties resulting from both attacks. On April 29, assailants attacked the Theatre Hall on the campus of Bayero University of Kano with improvised explosive devices (IED) and gun shots, killing at least eight people and wounding several others. On April 26, a VBIED simultaneously detonated at “This Day” newspaper in Abuja and the same newspaper’s offices in Kaduna. On the evening of April 24, an IED went off at a Jos sports bar, injuring at least four people. On April 8, a VBIED exploded at a roundabout close to a church in Kaduna, killing at least 20. At least two people died and dozens sustained injuries when a VBIED exploded at a church in Jos on March 11. On February 7, the Boko Haram extremist sect claimed responsibility for three simultaneous attacks on Nigerian military targets across Kaduna that killed or injured dozens of people. In addition,eleven people died during a January 22, gun battle and bomb attacks in Bauchi, Bauchi State. On January 20, elements of Boko Haram claimed responsibility for multiple explosive attacks and assaults against eight different government facilities in Kano. The attacks lasted several hours and claimed hundreds of lives in the most deadly attack yet by Boko Haram members in Nigeria. Boko Haram continued attacks in January and February, focusing on Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, and Kaduna states, and the group continues to publicly threaten attacks throughout northern Nigeria.

Extremists conducted other high-profile bombings in Abuja over the past two years. Boko Haram claimed credit for an August 2011 suicide bombing that killed 25 at the UN Headquarters building, a June 2011 bombing at the Nigerian Police Headquarters building, and a December 2010 bombing at a “fish bar.” The Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta took credit for two car bombs that detonated during Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations in 2010.

Kidnappings remain another security concern. In May 2012, criminals kidnapped an Italian national in Kwara State. In April 2012, criminals kidnapped a US citizen in Imo State and a Spanish citizen in Enugu State in separate incidents. In January 2012, kidnappers abducted a US citizen from his vehicle in Warri (Delta State) and killed his security guard. Assailants kidnapped a German citizen, also in January 2012, along a road in Kano. The German citizen was killed by his captors on May 31 during a military-led raid. In 2011, five kidnappings of US citizens reportedly occurred in Nigeria. The most recent took place in November when pirates abducted two US citizens, along with a Mexican national, in international waters off the Nigerian coast and held them captive for over two weeks in the Niger Delta. Other kidnappings have occurred in Lagos and Imo States. Also, elements of Boko Haram kidnapped a British national and an Italian national in Kebbi State in May 2011. Their captors shot and killed them on March 8, 2012, when Nigerian and British security forces attempted to rescue them. Since January 2009, criminals have abducted over 140 foreign nationals in Nigeria, including seven US citizens since November 2010. Six foreign nationals died during these abductions, while two US citizens died in separate kidnapping attempts in Port Harcourt in April 2010. Local authorities and expatriate businesses operating in Nigeria assert that the number of kidnapping incidents throughout Nigeria have remained underreported.

Travel by foreigners to areas considered by the Nigerian government to be conflict areas should not occur without prior consultation and coordination with local security authorities. The Nigerian government may view such travel as inappropriate and potentially illegal, and it may detain violators. In 2008, Nigerian authorities detained six US citizens, including journalists, on six occasions, in areas where militant groups had operated. The Nigerian government interrogated these US citizens for lengthy periods of time without lodging formal charges against them before their eventual deportation. Journalists must obtain a special accreditation from the Ministry of Information prior to traveling to conflict areas in the Niger Delta region in addition to obtaining a general press accreditation and valid Nigerian visa required to conduct such activities elsewhere in Nigeria.

Many foreign oil companies operating in the Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers have implemented “essential travel only” policies for their personnel. The US Embassy requires advance permission for US government travel to these states, as well as the states of Abia, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara Plateau, Gombe, Kano, and Yobe, given the safety and security risk assessments and the limited ability of the US Embassy or Consulate General to provide assistance to individuals detained by Nigerian authorities in these states. Due to recent violent activity, the Embassy has temporarily restricted all but the most essential travel by US government personnel to northern Nigeria. All official travel to northern Nigerian states must receive advance permission by the Embassy and be deemed mission-essential to be granted.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society in which different ethnic and religious groups often live in the same area. A number of northern states have experienced violence in the past year exacerbating tensions along those lines.

US citizen visitors and residents have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglaries, car-jackings, rapes, kidnappings, and extortion -- often involving violence. Home invasions also remain a serious threat, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls; following or tailgating residents or visitors arriving by car into the compound; and subduing guards and gaining entry into homes or apartments. Armed robbers in Lagos also accessed waterfront compounds by boat. US citizens, as well as Nigerians and other expatriates, have become victims of armed robbery at banks and grocery stores and on airport roads during both daylight and evening hours. An extremists’ organization's modus operandi is to attack banking institutions. Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. US citizens, Nigerians, and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials. Traveling outside of major cities after dark is not recommended due to both crime and road safety concerns. Attacks by pirates off the coast of Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent years. Armed gangs have boarded both commercial and private vessels to rob travelers. The Nigerian Navy has limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea.
The situation in the country remains fluid and unpredictable. The US Department of State strongly urges its citizens in Nigeria to consider their own personal security and to keep personal safety in the forefront of their planning.