What makes Nigeria a unique country to travel to?
Nigeria is a developing country in western Africa that has experienced periods of political and communal violence. It has the largest population on the continent, estimated at over 170 million people, and its infrastructure is not fully developed or well-maintained.
Violent crimes committed by individual criminals and gangs, as well as by some persons wearing police and military uniforms, occur throughout the country, especially at night. Visitors and residents have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglaries, car-jackings, rapes, kidnappings, and extortions, often involving violence. Home invasions remain a serious threat, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls; following or tailgating residents or visitors arriving by car into a compound; or subduing guards to gain entry into homes or apartments. Armed robbers in Lagos also access waterfront compounds by boat. U.S. citizens, as well as Nigerians and other expatriates, have become victims of armed robbery at banks, grocery stores, and on airport roads during both daylight and evening hours. Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens, other expatriates, and Nigerians have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials. Traveling outside of major cities after dark is not recommended due to crime and road safety concerns. Maritime crime including piracy, continues off the coast of Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea, with armed gangs boarding commercial and private vessels to rob travelers and occasionally take hostages for ransom. The Nigerian Navy has limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea.
Nigerian-operated fraud schemes, known locally as "419" scams, are noted for their cleverness and ingenuity. These scams target foreigners worldwide, posing risks of financial loss and personal danger to their victims. Scams are often initiated through internet postings or from internet cafes by unsolicited emails, faxes, and letters, or can involve credit card use. As anywhere else, no one should provide personal or financial information to unknown parties or via Nigerian telephone lines. The expansion of bilateral law enforcement cooperation has resulted in numerous raids on commercial fraud premises and the limited return of some assets to fraud victims. New types of even more sophisticated scams seem to appear almost daily.
U.S. citizens frequently become victims of Nigerian confidence artists offering companionship through internet dating web sites and social networks. These confidence artists almost always pose as U.S. citizens visiting or living in Nigeria who unexpectedly experience a medical, legal, financial, or other type of “emergency” requiring immediate financial assistance. We strongly urge you to be very cautious about sending money to any unknown person or traveling to Nigeria to meet someone with whom your sole communications have occurred via the internet and telephone. Other common scams involve a promise of an inheritance windfall, work contracts in Nigeria, or an overpayment for goods purchased on-line. For additional information on these types of scams, see the Department of State's publication, International Financial Scams.
Commercial scams that target foreigners, including many U.S. citizens, are common. You should remain alert regarding scams that may involve you in illegal activity that could result in arrest, extortion, or bodily harm. These scams generally involve phony offers of money transfers, lucrative sales, contracts with promises of large commissions or up-front payments. They may improperly 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 or a U.S. embassy official. In some scams, criminals use government stationery and seals to advance the scam. The ability of U.S. consular officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals or scams and their subsequent consequences is extremely limited. U.S. citizens have been arrested by police officials and held for varying periods on charges of involvement in illegal business activity or scams. Nigerian police and other law enforcement officials do not always inform the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General immediately of the arrest or detention of U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has published advisories for the U.S. business community on a variety of issues that should be seriously reviewed with respect to doing business in Nigeria. To check on a business’ legitimacy within the United States, contact the Nigeria Desk Officer at the International Trade Administration, Room 3317, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20230, telephone: 1-800-USA-TRADE or (202) 482-5149, fax: (202) 482-5198. If you are abroad, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Nigeria, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Nigeria, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Nigeria has a number of well-trained doctors, yet medical facilities in Nigeria are in poor condition, with inadequately trained nursing staff. Diagnostic and treatment equipment is often poorly maintained, and many medicines are unavailable. Caution should be taken when purchasing medicines locally as counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a common problem and may be difficult to distinguish from genuine medications. This is particularly true of generic medicines purchased at local pharmacies or in street markets. Hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the type that predominates in Nigeria, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine. Because travelers to Nigeria are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area, and up to one year after returning home, you should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician your travel history and what anti-malarials you have been taking. T
Safety and Security
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria, and continues to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid all but essential travel to the following states because of the risk of kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, and Zamfara states. The Department of State also recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all travel to Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states because of the proclamation on May 14, 2013, by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of a State of Emergency in those three states. The Department also warns against travel to the Gulf of Guinea because of the threat of maritime crime including piracy. (Please also see the Crime Section below.) Based on safety and security risk assessments, travel by U.S. officials to all northern Nigerian states (in addition to those listed above) must receive advance clearance from the U.S. Mission as mission-essential. In light of the continuing violence, extremists may expand their operations beyond northern Nigeria to other areas of the country.
The U.S. Mission advises all U.S. citizens to be particularly vigilant around churches, mosques, and other places of worship; locations where large crowds may gather; hotels; clubs; 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 U.S. citizens may encounter additional police and military checkpoints, additional security, and possible road blocks throughout the country.
In 2012, an extremist group based in northeast Nigeria known as Boko Haram (BH) claimed responsibility for many attacks, mainly in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram members have killed or wounded thousands of people during the past three years. Multiple Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIED) targeted churches, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Taraba, and Yobe states. In December 2011, the President of Nigeria declared a state of emergency in 15 local government areas in the states of Borno, Niger, Plateau, and Yobe. This State of Emergency remains in effect, although with modification in some areas. According to the Government of Nigeria, the declaration of a state of emergency gives the government sweeping powers to search and arrest without warrants. Several states in the North are under various curfews, which change frequently. All U.S. 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.
In May 2013, when the State of Emergency was established in three northeastern states, cell phone service was cut off in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Service was temporarily restored in some of those areas but again cut off in July 2013, after attacks by BH resumed. Cell phone service has has been partially restored in Yobe and Adamawa states, particularly in the respective state capitals of Damaturu and Yola.
Beginning in September 2012, extremists attacked cellular telephone towers in Northern Nigeria, damaging over 50 towers and degrading cellular telephone and internet communications nationwide. Additional attacks could further weaken the ability of citizens to communicate through cellular telephones and the internet. Land line telephone communications in Nigeria remain extremely limited. U.S. citizens should attempt to arrange for multiple means of communication in case of emergencies.
In addition to the threat posed by BH, an offshoot of BH, the Ansaru group, has carried out several kidnappings in Nigeria targeting foreigners. In February 2013, seven foreigners, of different nationalities were abducted while working on a construction site in Bauchi State; the seven hostages were executed after three weeks in captivity. In May 2012, a British citizen and an Italian citizen were kidnapped by the group in Kebbi State and subsequently executed. In December 2012, a French citizen was abducted in Katsina State and is believed to still be held by Ansaru.
The Ansaru Group has also claimed responsibility for other violent acts such as a prison break in Abuja in November 2012 and an attack on Nigerian troops who were to deploy to the conflict region in northern Mali in January 2013.
Kidnappings by other extremist groups and criminal elements remain a security concern. Extremists abducted another seven foreign nationals in northern Cameroon in February 2013 and reportedly moved them to northern Nigeria. In 2012, six foreign nationals, including three U.S. citizens, were kidnapped in Kwara, Imo, Enugu, Delta, Rivers, and Kano states. Criminals or militants have abducted foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, from offshore and land-based oil facilities, residential compounds, and public roadways. To date, sixteen foreign nationals have died in connection with these abductions, including three killed by their captors during military-led raids. Local authorities and expatriate businesses operating in Nigeria assert that the number of kidnapping incidents throughout Nigeria remains underreported.
Travel by foreigners to conflict areas without prior consultation and coordination with local security authorities is not recommended, as the Nigerian government may see this activity as inappropriate and potentially illegal, and may detain travelers. Journalists, film-makers, and other professionals involved in the creation of news or information products require special accreditation from the Nigerian Ministry of Information for all film and media activities in the Niger Delta prior to entering the area. This special accreditation is in addition to the general press accreditation and valid Nigerian visa required to conduct such activities elsewhere in Nigeria.
Foreign visitors may not take photographs or videotape any government buildings, airports, or bridges. Individuals may be questioned, detained, or arrested when near these sensitive sites without evidence of permission from the Nigerian government, or for carrying electronic equipment such as cameras, recorders, etc.
Periodically, the U.S. Mission in Nigeria restricts travel by U.S. officials and Mission personnel to certain parts of Nigeria based on changing security conditions, often due to terrorist attacks, crime, general strikes, security threats, demonstrations, or inter-religious or communal violence. Jos, the capital of Plateau State, and its environs have seen several outbreaks of violence in the past several years. The potential for future flare-ups remains. Nigeria held national elections in April 2011. Although the elections themselves remained largely peaceful, violence temporarily erupted in many northern states after the announcement of results in the presidential race.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Nigeria, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Roads in many areas of Nigeria are generally in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few working traffic lights or stop signs, and few traffic control officers to manage the flow of traffic during power outages. Additionally, some traffic control officers may occasionally seek bribes when citing drivers for traffic violations. The rainy season, generally from May to October, is especially dangerous because of flooded roads and water-concealed potholes.
Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles, and the absence of any official vehicle inspection for roadworthiness all present additional hazards. Motorists seldom yield the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Accidents on inter-city highways with high casualties are common. Gridlock is common in urban areas. Chronic fuel shortages have led to long lines at service stations, which disrupt or block traffic for extended periods.
Public transportation vehicles, such as buses and motorbikes, are unsafe due to poor maintenance, high speeds, and overcrowding. Motorbike taxis, known in Nigeria as "okadas," offer a common form of public transportation in many cities and pose serious danger to other motorists, their own passengers, and pedestrians. Motorbike drivers frequently weave in and out of traffic at high speeds and observe no traffic rules. Motorbikes are banned within Abuja's city limits and many major thoroughfares in Lagos. Okada drivers and passengers are required to wear helmets in a number of cities in the country; police can fine violators on the spot. 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. Mission recommends avoiding public transportation throughout Nigeria.
Short-term visitors should not drive in Nigeria. A Nigerian driver's license can take months to obtain, and international driving permits are not recognized. Major hotels and the customer service centers at the airports in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano offer reliable car-hire services complete with drivers. Inter-city roadside assistance is extremely scarce, and medical facilities and emergency care are poor. Persons involved in a traffic incident might encounter the lack of available medicalfacilities to treat either minor or life-threatening injuries.
All drivers and passengers should wear seat belts, lock doors, and keep windows closed. It is important to secure appropriate automobile insurance. Drivers and passengers of vehicles involved in accidents resulting in injury or death have experienced extra-judicial actions, i.e., mob attacks, official consequences such as fines and incarceration, and/or confrontations with the victim's family. Driving between 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. should be done with extreme caution, as bandits and police roadblocks are more numerous at night. Automobiles, trucks, or "okadas" often drive on the wrong side of the road or on sidewalks. These vehicles are difficult to see at night because streets are very poorly lit, and many vehicles are missing one or both headlights, tail lights, and reflectors.