Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nigeria: US Department of State Issues Updated Travel Warning

Effective January 8, 2014, the US Department of State has issued an updated travel warning for Nigeria:

The Department warns US citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria and recommends that citizens avoid all travel to Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states because of the May 14, 2013 state of emergency proclamation for those three states by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

The security situation in the country remains fluid and unpredictable. The US Department of State strongly urges citizens in Nigeria to consider their own personal security and to keep personal safety in the forefront of their planning. 

The declaration of a state of emergency gives the government sweeping powers to search and arrest without warrants. On November 20, 2013, the national assembly approved the President of Nigeria’s request for a six-month extension of the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. 

The ability of the US Embassy to provide assistance to US citizens in those states remains severely limited. The Department continues to recommend against all but essential travel to the following states due to the risk of kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks: Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara. 

The Department also warns against travel in the Gulf of Guinea because of the threat of piracy. 

Based on safety and security risk assessments, the Embassy maintains restrictions for travel by US officials to those states listed above; US officials must receive advance clearance by the Nigerian government for any travel deemed as mission-essential. 

US citizens should be aware that extremists could expand their operations beyond northern Nigeria to other areas of the country. The Embassy advises all US citizens to be particularly vigilant around government security facilities; churches, mosques, and other places of worship; locations where large crowds may gather, such as hotels, clubs, beer parlors, restaurants, markets, shopping malls; and other areas frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers. 

Security measures in Nigeria remain heightened due to threats posed by extremist groups, and US citizens may encounter police and military checkpoints, additional security, and possible road blocks throughout the country.

Note: The "running" roadblocks is not recommended as those who run government roadblocks will usually result in their being fired upon.

Boko Haram, an extremist group based in northeast Nigeria designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State, has claimed responsibility for many attacks, mainly in northern Nigeria. Its members have killed or wounded thousands of people during the past four years. 

Boko Haram has targeted churches, schools, mosques, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Taraba, the Federal Capital Territory, and Yobe states. Tens of thousands of Nigerians have been displaced as a result of violence in the north.

Late 2013 saw an increase in Boko Haram attacks and clashes with Nigerian government security forces in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has also targeted women and children for kidnapping, reportedly kidnapping women in northern states for marriage as “slave brides.” 

Boko Haram is known to descend on whole towns, robbing banks and businesses, attacking police and military installations, and setting fire to private homes. Various curfews are intermittently in effect in several states in the North. 

All US citizens should remain aware of current situations including curfews, travel restrictions, and states of emergency in the areas they are in or plan to visit. This information is commonly announced via the news media, but at times it can change with very little notice. Please take the time to find out this information for your area.

Cell phone service has, at times, been disrupted in Nigeria, particularly in areas where a State of Emergency has been declared, and when extremists have attacked cellular telephone towers. 

US citizens should attempt to arrange for multiple means of communication in case of need during emergencies.

The Ansaru group, an offshoot of Boko Haram, has carried out several kidnappings targeting foreigners in Nigeria. Ansaru has also claimed responsibility for other violent acts in the past year. Kidnappings remain a security concern throughout the country. Since the beginning of 2013, several high-profile kidnappings have occurred involving US citizens. Kidnappings of foreign nationals and attacks against Nigerian police forces in Lagos State and the Niger Delta region continued to affect personal security for those traveling in these areas. 

Criminals or militants have abducted foreign nationals, including US citizens, from off-shore and land-based oil facilities, residential compounds, and public roadways. 

Nine foreign nationals have died in connection with these abductions, including three killed by their captors during military-led rescue raids. Local authorities and international corporations operating in Nigeria assert that the number of kidnapping incidents throughout Nigeria remains under-reported. 

Attacks by pirates off the coast of Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea have increased substantially 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.

In 2013, extremists targeted both Nigerians and foreign nationals involved in polio eradication efforts in northern Nigeria. Several US government partner agencies working on public health development activities in northern Nigeria have curtailed their activities in response to these threats. 

US citizen missionaries in northern Nigeria have received specific written threats to their safety and well-being, typically in the form of anonymously-distributed “night letters” (covertly-distributed anonymous threat letters intended to frighten intended victims).

Violent crimes occur throughout the country. US citizen visitors and residents have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglaries, armed robberies, car-jackings, rapes, kidnappings, and extortion. Home invasions also remain a serious threat, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls, accessing waterfront compounds by boat, following residents or visitors, or subduing guards to gain entry to homes or apartments. 

Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all and provide little or no investigative support to victims. US citizens, other foreign nationals, and Nigerians have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials.

The Department advises against traveling outside of major cities after dark because of crime and road safety concerns. 

While Nigeria is undertaking a comprehensive electrical power sector expansion, the nation’s erratic electricity grid does not meet the country's power needs, with frequent power outages that sometimes occur even in highly-sensitive locations. In March 2013, the international airport in Lagos suffered multiple nighttime power outages that lasted several minutes each, leaving the runways in total darkness and forcing at least one inbound flight to abort a landing attempt while on final approach.

For the entire text of the updated travel warning:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_6243