Nigeria ‘Blindsided’ by Trump Travel Ban, Its Top Diplomat Says

By Lara Jakes

WASHINGTON — Nigeria’s top diplomat said on Tuesday that he was “somewhat blindsided” by the Trump administration’s ban on Nigerian immigrants but that he had been assured by American officials that visa restrictions could soon be lifted.

Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, said that his government was already working to address security concerns that Trump administration officials said had prompted the decision, announced last week, to reject visas for Nigerians seeking to immigrate to the United States.

“We were somewhat blindsided with the announcement of the visa restrictions by the U.S.,” Mr. Onyeama told journalists at the State Department. But, he said, “we know — and the U.S. officials have also confirmed — that we have been able to tick most of those boxes.”

He said that included efforts to directly share personal data — including immigrants’ criminal histories, stolen passport information and suspected links to terrorism — with the United States and Interpol member countries.

“Hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list,” Mr. Onyeama said.

Standing next to him, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “Nigeria has room to grow in sharing important national security information.”

“I am optimistic that’s going to happen,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Nigeria was one of six countries the Trump administration added Friday to its list of nations whose citizens face strict travel restrictions to the United States. The ban on Nigerian immigrants takes effect on Feb. 22; it will not prevent travel by Nigerians coming to the United States on student and certain employment visas.

In 2018, the latest data available, the State Department issued more than 7,920 immigration visas to people from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.ADVERTISEMENT

Mr. Onyeama said he learned about the immigration ban as he prepared to visit Washington for an annual meeting between the United States and Nigeria this week that is billed by the State Department as seeking to “expand cooperation and advance shared goals.”

Nigeria’s inclusion in the ban was first confirmed the week before it was announcedshocking the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. Mr. Onyeama said the announcement initially had confused Nigeria’s government, but added that “it was very gratifying to come here, speaking to U.S. officials, and to understand more clearly the reasoning behind this.”

American immigration lawyers and immigration advocates note that immigrant visas are more carefully vetted than most visitor visas, raising questions about why they would present a greater security concern.

But Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, defended the action. “This very narrow approach, where we try to do as little harm to our friends like Nigeria as we possibly can while still keeping America safe, does seem to be garnering the reaction we hoped for,” he said in a separate interview on Tuesday.ADVERTISEMENT

Mr. Pompeo touched on the immigration ban only briefly in his remarks. He said the Trump administration considered Nigeria a “strategic partner” against terrorism.

He also sought to salve the diplomatic bruise with the release of $308 million in frozen assets to Nigeria that were stolen and laundered through the United States’ financial system during the 1990s by Sani Abacha, the country’s military dictator at the time.

Mr. Pompeo called Nigeria the United States’ second-largest trading partner in Africa, and said American companies have helped create more than 18,000 jobs in the country. He also noted that Nigeria recently bought 12 combat propeller planes from the United States, worth $500 million, as an example of the security ties between the two nations.

Mr. Onyeama was careful to sound upbeat during his remarks, and thanked Mr. Pompeo for listening “very attentively, and very sympathetically, I might say” to Nigeria’s concerns about its relationship with the United States.ADVERTISEMENT

But even in acknowledging security issues that are “causes of disquiet amongst our partners,” Mr. Onyeama said more could be done to bolster trade between the two nations.

With the addition of Nigeria to its list, the Trump administration’s travel restrictions will affect nearly a quarter of the 1.2 billion people in Africa, according to the Center for Global Development. Experts warn it could harm African economies and create a vacuum that China, Russia and Turkey would fill.

Read from source New York Times