Nigeria on defensive after US travel ban casts accusations of security noncompliance

U.S. Embassy Abuja Deputy Chief of Mission David Young awaits U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he deplanes on August 23, 2016, at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, in Abuja, Nigeria, after arriving for meetings with Nigerian President Muhummadu Buhari, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, and Governor’s of the country’s Northern region. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain, United States government. Taken on August 23, 2016.

On January 31, 2020, the Trump administration confirmed a travel ban on six additional countries: Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea and Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania.

Four of the six countries are in Africa, leading many netizens and critics to call this latest travel ban an “Africa ban” shaped by “racist” and “xenophobic” logic.

They join Syria, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Venezuela and Yemen, who have been subjected to a controversial US travel ban since 2017, widely referred to as the “Muslim ban,” because most are Muslim-majority countries.

Citing national security concerns, the United States suspended immigrant visas for citizens of Nigeria and Eritrea while for Sudan and Tanzania, citizens are no longer able to join the US diversity visa program — the “lottery” that grants green cards to immigrants specifically from places with low numbers in the US.

The ban came as a surprise to Nigeria, a major security and trade partner with the US, causing netizens and analysts alike to protest and ponder the ban’s discriminatory nature.

The US could not confirm any verifiable terrorist threat from the African nations listed but they rationalized the ban by citing security concerns regarding “vetting capabilities and processes for detecting attempted entry” under Executive Order 13780 to “protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry” into the US. The ban is predicated on the assessment that these nations have not complied with US security criteria, including “refined performance metrics” and “information-sharing criteria.”

A White House-issued statement said that the government used three criteria to make the controversial decision: 1. “whether a foreign government engages in reliable identity-management practices and shares relevant information; 2. “whether a foreign government shares national security and public-safety information; 3. and whether a country otherwise poses a national security or public-safety risk.

In renewed and tightened protocols, all countries must issue electronic passports for all major classes of travel documents and they must report lost or stolen passports to INTERPOL within 30 days, among other performance criteria.

Based on these criteria, the countries listed in this travel ban “do not comply” when it comes to sharing security-related information and restrictions will be enforced in full effect on February 21, 2020.

‘High risk’ for terrorism?

Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation and one of its strongest economies — said it was somewhat “blindsided” by the travel ban news as a strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism.

According to US intelligence, Nigeria does not “adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information.” Nigeria was also deemed “high risk” in terms of “terrorist travel” to the US.

President Muhamadu Buhari immediately put together a committee to review the travel ban and address several deficits, affirming its commitment to working with the US as a global partner.

In fact, Nigeria just purchased $500 million worth of 12 US-made A-29 aircraft, according to the US Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, President Buhari faces criticism at home for increasingly complex security challenges, including acts of terrorism claimed by Boko Haram, a militant group, since 2011. But the West African nation has never sponsored state terrorism.

The US Department of State designates four countries as state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, — because they “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Nigeria is not one of them.

Little wonder that none of the sanctions officially prescribed by the US Congress on state sponsors of terrorism applies to Nigeria.

The isolated incident of the Nigerian suicide bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who unsuccessfully tried to detonate plastic explosives on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day, 2009, is a case in point where Nigeria has supported the US in its fight against terrorism.

Nigeria worked hard with the US to establish that Abdulmutallab was radicalized in Yemen by Anwar al Awlaki, a radical US-born cleric. Based on this cooperation, then-President Barack Obama ordered a US drone strike in 2011, which killed Awlaki in Yemen.

And Nigeria has recently undergone a major overhaul of its national digital identification system with a focus specifically on ramping up security measures.

Travel ban: ‘Height of hatred’

If the travel ban was really about deterring terrorists, as claimed, the tourist visa may have been more deserving of restrictions. However, many netizens pointed out that the ban on migrant visas points to Trump’s racist agenda to quell migration from black and brown countries to the US.

With this travel ban, nearly a quarter of the continent will be restricted from immigration to the US. As of 2017,  348,000 Nigerian immigrants currently live in the US, “making Nigeria the top birthplace among African immigrants in the country,” according to Pew Research.

In fact, Nigerians who migrate to the US contribute more than any other immigrant group as the most educated: As of 2016, about six in 10 Nigerians in the US  — about 59% had a bachelor’s degree or higher — “a share roughly double that of the overall American population,” according to Pew Research.

About 17 percent of Nigerian immigrants to the US have a master's degree while 4 percent have a doctorate. Consequently, Nigerian immigrants have higher chances of getting good jobs.

This netizen called out the racism and fear that fueled the decision to include Nigeria in the travel ban:

And this netizen also called the travel ban a “racist policy, period:”

Nigerians at home and abroad have railed against the travel ban, but Trump has also received high approval ratings in Nigeria, at least until now.

Yet, the travel ban received very little official resistance from the Buhari administration, due to numerous strategic ties that have kept the Trump-Buhari administrations close.

American companies have invested over $1 billion USD in Nigeria in 2018 alone. Just days after Trump announced the expanded travel ban, the US government also repatriated over $308 stashed in the US by a former Nigerian dictator and announced “an additional $40 million in humanitarian assistance” to Nigeria — a diplomatic means of enforcing good behavior.

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