Rift in government over U.S. travel ban

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The statement credited to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, urging Nigerians to disregard another presidential directive to steer clear of the United States (U.S.) pending the clarification of its immigration policy is now a subject of controversy.

Speaking in Abuja, the minister had maintained that there was no basis for such caution, as the relationship between both nations remained cordial. But some Nigerians yesterday picked holes in Onyeama’s position saying there was enough evidence that US-bound Nigerians with valid visas were being returned on “next available flights.”

The office of the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Abike Dabiri-Erewa had on Monday issued a statement urging Nigerians who do not have pressing needs to shun the U.S. It also claimed that citizens with valid documents were being denied entry.

The conflicting directives from two top officials of the administration obviously underscore a lack of cohesion in information dissemination within the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government.

The minister dismissed the earlier information and enjoined the media to limit their sources of information on foreign affairs matters to either the spokespersons of the president or their counterparts at the ministry.

He said: “On the trendy news that Nigeria should be wary of the U.S., this is not the case. If government is speaking about international relations, the most authoritative foreign affairs issues’ sources are the media team of the presidency or the ministry.

“The American leader recently called President Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him on the good work he is doing and extended a hand of assistance to Nigeria.

“It is business as usual between Nigeria and the U.S., and a very good business too. Anything else you hear is incorrect. So, any Nigerian with valid documents should travel.”

But the Nigerian Coalition For Quality Governance, a non-governmental organisation, yesterday accused the minister of “parading the corridors of the country’s media establishments in his effort to deny and dismiss the effects of the Executive Order of the US President Donald Trump banning nationals of select countries from the United States despite their possession of valid US visa.” The group agreed that “Nigeria is not officially among the countries whose citizens have been banned from entering the US, but noted that “enough evidence has already surfaced that not a few Nigerians had been put on the next available planes from the US airports back to Nigeria despite their possession of all travelling documents including the US entry visa.”

To the group, Mr. Onyeama’s denial that Nigerians have been affected by the US president’s Executive Order “may not have been unconnected with the Travel Advisory issued over the weekend by the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa that advised Nigerians who have no compelling or urgent reason to travel to the US to postpone their travel plans until the new administration’s policy on immigration is clear.”

Dabiri-Erewa’s advisory had added that “in the last few weeks, the office has received a few cases of Nigerians with valid multiple-entry US visas being denied entry and sent back to Nigeria” with “no reasons…given for the decision by the US immigration authorities.”

“It does not really matter,” Dabiri-Erewa yesterday told The Guardian on telephone while insisting that she has good working relationship with the Minister. Although she would not respond to the minister’s comments, she said the most important thing was for the media to analyse her message to Nigerians. “My message is to Nigerians (and) I can give two examples of people returned to Nigeria. Even schools in the US are telling people not to travel because they may not be able to return.”

A public commentator and journalist, Mr. Dele Agakemeh, had on a television programme Tuesday morning painted a picture of how his friend was denied entry into the United States and returned in next available flight to Nigeria through Johannesburg.

“While we’re not questioning the right of the Foreign Minister to an issue that borders on foreign policy as this, Mr. Onyeama has undoubtedly put the wrong foot forward in calling on Nigerians to ignore this Travel Advisory in the face of verifiable evidence that Nigerians are being unfairly targeted and included in the dragnet of the US immigration authorities,” the Nigerian Coalition For Quality Governance said in its statement yesterday.

On the reports that some Nigerians were turned back from a U.S airport, Onyeama dismissed the claims, saying nothing of such was received from Nigerian embassies. He added that he had engaged the U.S. consulate in Nigeria, which equally denied the allegation.

Onyeama continued: “We have embassies and consulates in the U.S. which we rely on for information. We have absolutely no report from them that any Nigerian has been returned from a U.S. airport.”

The minister also refuted earlier reports that over 100 Nigerians were killed in the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

According to him, no such information was received from the Nigerian High Commission in that country.

“Figures are being bandied about the number of Nigerians killed in South Africa. No Nigerian was killed in the country in the course of the xenophobic attacks.”

Onyeama added that since the incident began, the Federal Government had engaged its South African counterpart in “trying to ensure that the incident does not repeat itself.”

He noted that he would be leading a delegation to the country over the matter and brief Nigerians appropriately after returning.

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  • Akin Malaolu

    Abike Da Ebi Ru Wahala.
    She acted in haste due to her laziness and unskillfulness.

    According to TheCable, Dabiri-Erewa has asked Nigerians to postpone their trips to the US alleging that the US authorities were cancelling the visas of Nigerians and deporting them on arrival.However, the US authorities are not taking her statement lightly and have protested to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    A senior official of the ministry said: “The US authorities are worried that she made such a weighty statement without investigation, without evidence. The bigger issue, though, is that it is not within her remit to issue travel advisory to Nigerians. It is the job of the foreign affairs ministry.“

    By failing to observe due protocol, she has caused a diplomatic problem for the country which we have to carefully manage. A travel advisory is a serious issue that cannot be issued by a presidential aide.”

    Dabiri relapsed back to the status of a Reporter back to her days in NTA.

  • Osanebi Osakuni

    That former news broadcaster Abike is a neophyte as far as diplomatic relations are concerned. She should be limited to propagating fake propaganda within Lagos political arena.

  • Rubaji

    Why has the Foreign Minister kept quiet since? He has in fact not been
    doing his job. Abike has no locus standi to issue statements on foreign
    policy as that is the work of the Foreign Minister. All through the
    South Africa saga, the minister kept mum and allowed Abike to be
    speaking with the media. The man hasn’t been doing his job.
    On the
    Cabal thing. It is true. Please remember that Onyeama is the nominee of
    the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari. The two men have been
    personal friends for more than 30 years. It’s pure mischief for Onyeama to
    have issued the statement. Abike’s advisory could have been withdrawn
    diplomatically without giving any signs of rancour if the government was
    working in unity. And our Igbo brothers should not show any tribal solidarity on this issue. When Igbo shops were being burnt and Igbos and other Africans were being hunted in South Africa, Onyeama, an Igbo man, did not show that he was bothered. It was Abike who was speaking with the media, calling for the protection of Nigerians.

  • Alao Moses

    The Minister seems to be more correct on this issue. The Immigration Officers in the US may just be on a very high alert due to the Executive Order. It is not something unheard of, for people to be turned back at the port of entry.