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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet

Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Nigeria

Nigeria - Consular Information Sheet
January 19, 2001

TRAVEL WARNING (Issued April 7, 2000): The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Nigeria. Nigeria has limited tourist facilities, and conditions pose considerable risks to travelers.

Violent crime, committed by ordinary criminals, as well as by persons in police and military uniforms, can occur throughout the country. Kidnapping for ransom of persons associated with the petroleum sector, including U.S. citizens, remains common in the Niger Delta area.

Use of public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided. Taxis pose risks because of the possibility of fraudulent or criminal operators and poorly maintained vehicles. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, and there are valid concerns that maintenance and operational procedures may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Nigerian-based business, charity and other scams target foreigners worldwide and pose a danger of financial loss. Recipients pursuing such fraudulent offers risk physical harm if they come to Nigeria. Persons contemplating business deals in Nigeria are strongly urged to check with the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Department of State before providing any information or making any financial commitments. No one should provide personal financial or account information to unknown parties. An invitation to enter Nigeria without a visa is normally indicative of illegal activity. Under no circumstances should U.S. citizens travel to Nigeria without a valid visa. Furthermore, the ability of U.S. consuls to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and their consequences is extremely limited.

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Nigeria is a developing west African country that has experienced periods of political instability. Its internal infrastructure is neither fully functional nor well maintained. The inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999 marked the return of civilian rule after sixteen years of military governments.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. The visa costs forty-five U.S. dollars and must be obtained in advance. Promises of entry into Nigeria without a visa are credible indicators of fraudulent commercial schemes in which the perpetrators seek to exploit the foreign traveler's illegal presence in Nigeria through threats of extortion or bodily harm. U.S. citizens cannot legally depart Nigeria unless they can prove, by presenting their entry visas, that they entered Nigeria legally. Entry information may be obtained at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2201 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, telephone (202) 822-1500, or at the Nigerian Consulate General in New York, telephone (212) 850-2200. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest Nigerian embassy or consulate.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Nigeria regularly experiences localized civil unrest and violence. The causes and locations vary. Locations where outbreaks of violence have occurred in the past year include the Lagos area, southwestern Nigeria, the oil-producing states in the Niger Delta region, and Anambra, Benue, Kaduna, and Kano states.

Several parts of Nigeria have recently suffered from ethnic-religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims and between Hausa and Yoruba. In February 2000, there were demonstrations and civil unrest resulting in numerous casualties in and around the city of Kaduna in north central Nigeria. Subsequent disturbances occurred in the southeastern cities of Aba, Abia State, and Onitsha, Anambra State. In October 2000, over 100 people were killed in Lagos as a result of inter-ethnic conflict.

U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in these disturbances and incidents. Nonetheless, they and their vehicles may inadvertently become caught up in a demonstration or disturbance.

While the federal government has authorized a few vehicle checkpoints, unauthorized checkpoints continue to be a problem throughout Nigeria.

In the oil-producing region of the Niger River Delta, U.S. citizens and other foreigners have frequently been threatened and held hostage for ransom. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Government will not pay ransom nor make other concessions to kidnappers; therefore, the ability of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to assist U.S. citizens taken hostage may be limited. U.S. citizens who are resident in this area should review their employer's security information and contingency plans. Between May and December of 1999, there were four attacks and occupations of U.S. oil company compounds.

Due to security concerns, employees of the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos are advised to notify the Consulate in advance before leaving Victoria, Ikoyi, and Lagos Islands on the city's coast, where the Consulate residences are located. In addition, the Consulate advises its employees against visiting Lagos Island or mainland Lagos after dark. Consulate employees travel in armored vehicles between the islands and Murtala Mohammed International Airport. When traveling to the airport at night, Consulate employees are accompanied by a second vehicle carrying a police officer.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations have been known to occur. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

CRIME AND CRIMINAL VIOLENCE: Violent crime affecting foreigners is a serious problem, especially in Lagos and the southern regions of the country. Visitors and resident Americans have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglary, kidnappings and extortion, often involving violence. Carjackings, roadblock robberies, and armed break-ins are common. Many Americans have been victims of armed robbery on the road from Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian officials.

Upon arrival in Nigeria, U.S. citizens are urged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos where they may obtain current safety information and advice on minimizing risks.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa, provide useful information regarding personal security while traveling abroad and on travel in the region in general. Both are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

COMMERCIAL FRAUD: A major and continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that targets foreigners, including many U.S. citizens. Such scams may involve U.S. citizens in illegal activity, resulting in arrest, extortion or bodily harm. The scams generally involve phony offers of either outright money transfers or lucrative sales, or contracts with promises of large commissions, or up-front payments. Alleged deals frequently invoke the authority of one or more ministries or offices of the Nigerian government and may cite by name the involvement of a Nigerian government official. In some scams, government stationery, seals, and offices are used.

Expanding bilateral law enforcement cooperation, which has resulted in numerous raids on commercial fraud premises, does not yet appear to have significantly reduced the overall level of fraud activity. The ability of U.S. consuls to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and their consequences is extremely limited. Since the mid-1990s, several U.S. citizens have been arrested by police officials and held for varying periods on charges of involvement in business scams. Nigerian police do not always inform the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of a U.S. citizen in distress. The Department of Commerce has issued advisories to the U.S. business community on doing business in Nigeria. Both the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos can provide business travelers with further details.

For additional information, please consult the Department of State's brochure, Tips for Business Travelers to Nigeria, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities in Nigeria are generally not up to U.S./European standards. Diagnostic and treatment equipment is most often poorly maintained and many medicines are unavailable. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a common problem and may be difficult to distinguish from genuine medications. This is particularly true of generics purchased at local pharmacies or street markets. While Nigeria has many well-trained doctors, hospital facilities are generally of poor quality with inadequately trained nursing staffs. Hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide for payment of medical services outside the United States. Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas. A provision for medical evacuation is strongly encouraged due to the near total lack of trauma care or other sophisticated care for the critically ill or injured in Nigeria. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to an overseas hospital or doctor or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international traveler's hotline at telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or by visiting the CDC's Internet home page at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nigeria is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Roads are generally in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few traffic lights or stop signs. Lagos, a city of over 10 million people, does not have a single operating traffic light. The rainy season from May to October is especially dangerous because of flooded roads.

Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, and the lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles are additional hazards. Motorists seldom yield the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Gridlock is common in urban areas. Chronic fuel shortages have led to long lines at service stations which have disrupted or blocked traffic for extended periods.

Public transportation vehicles are unsafe due to poor maintenance, high speeds and overcrowding. Passengers in local taxis have been driven to secluded locations where they were attacked and robbed. Several of the victims required hospitalization. The U.S. Embassy advises that public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided.

Short-term visitors are urged not to drive. A Nigerian driver's license can take months to obtain, and the international driving permit is not recognized. Major hotels offer reliable car-hire services complete with drivers. Inter-city travelers must also consider that road-side assistance is extremely scarce, and lack of access to even modest health care facilities means that a traffic incident that might result in a minor injury in the United States could result in death or permanent disability in Nigeria.

All drivers and passengers are reminded that wearing seat belts saves lives, and, when in a vehicle, to lock the doors and raise the windows. It is important to secure appropriate insurance. It is also important to realize that drivers and passengers of vehicles involved in accidents resulting in injury or death have experienced extra-judicial actions, for instance, mob attacks, in addition to official consequences such as fines and incarceration. Night driving should be avoided. Bandits and police roadblocks are more numerous at night. Streets are very poorly lit, and many vehicles are missing one or both headlights.

The government of Nigeria charges the Federal Road Safety Commission with providing maps and public information on specific road conditions. The Federal Road Safety Commission may be contacted by mail at: Ojodu-Isherri Road, PMB 21510, Ikeja, Lagos; telephone [243] (1) 492-2218 or 492-3369.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AIR TRAVEL SECURITY: On December 22, 1999, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation announced that the United States was lifting its ban on direct flights between the United States and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos. The decision followed a detailed review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) security experts that determined that the airport's security system had been extensively overhauled and conformed to international security standards.

The Nigerian government has announced its intention to privatize Nigerian Airways. A number of Nigerian airlines serve the domestic market and some foreign destinations. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, limited technical capabilities and face serious financial problems. The U.S. Embassy is concerned that some of their operational and maintenance standards may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers, nor economic authority to operate such services between the United States and Nigeria, the FAA has not yet formally assessed Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 618-229-4801.

PHOTOGRAPHY RESTRICTIONS: Permission is required to take photographs of government buildings, airports, bridges or official-looking buildings. These sites are not always clearly marked, and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Nigerian security personnel. Penalties may include confiscation or breaking of the camera, exposure of the film, a demand for payment of a fine or bribe, or a roughing-up.

CURRENCY ISSUES: The Nigerian currency, the naira, is non-convertible. U.S. Dollars are widely accepted. Nigeria is a cash society, and it is usually necessary to bring sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit. Credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few hotels. Due to the prevalence of credit card fraud in Nigeria and by cohorts in the United States, credit card use is not advised. While Citibank cashes travelers checks, most other banks do not. American Express does not have offices in Nigeria, but Thomas Cook does have offices there. Inter-bank transfers are often difficult to accomplish, though money transfer services are widespread. For further information, visitors may contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nigerian law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, and/or expelled. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nigeria are strictly enforced. Those arrested routinely face prolonged detention before trial, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos, and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Nigeria. Currently, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja only provides emergency consular services. Non-emergency, as well as emergency, consular services can be obtained at the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 9 Mambilla, Maitama District, Abuja. The telephone number is [234](9) 523-0916. The U.S. Consulate General is located at 2 Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos. The telephone number is [234](1) 261-0050. The e-mail address for the Consular Section in Lagos is: Lagoscons2@state.gov.

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