The announcement by the United States Embassy in Nigeria that it is shutting down its visa and consular services section in Abuja until further notice yesterday took many by surprise.
The development, the details of which remain skeletal, has thrown most Nigerian travellers and U.S. citizens resident in Nigeria into the state of confusion as no cogent reason was given for the action. However, a message posted on the embassy’s website said that scheduled visa and American Citizen Services (ACS) applicants for Abuja would be contacted for rescheduling.
“Until further notice, all consular appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja have temporarily ceased for both visa and for American Citizen Services. Consular functions in U.S. Consulate in Lagos are not affected and will continue.
“Scheduled visa and ACS applicants for Abuja will be contacted for rescheduling. “American citizens in northern Nigeria with emergency services needs should continue to contact the after-hours emergency number for Abuja at 09461-4000 and press “0” to go to the operator to request assistance,” the embassy stated. The statement further directed American citizens in northern Nigeria with urgent travel needs, who are to travel before Tuesday and who are willing to re-schedule their travel through Lagos, to contact the ACS office at Consulate Lagos ( 01460 3400 and LagosACS@state.gov) to discuss their options.
“Those travelling after Tuesday should follow up with Abuja ACS to confirm their appointments closer to their appointment date,” it said. The statement urged affected persons to monitor the Facebook and Webpage of the U.S. Embassy for a later announcement for the resumption of consular operations in Abuja. Information provided by the embassy is sketchy and sudden as it did not provide any reasons for the action, just as most visa applicants had no foreknowledge of the closure. This development, analysts say, would cause untold hardship for highly mobile Nigerians and U.S. citizens resident in Abuja and other northern states who, in the light of the current development, have to travel to Lagos in order access visa services. The inconvenience to potential visa applicants, notwithstanding, diplomatic watchers believe that this development will impinge on Nigeria’s credibility in the International community, because a look at the U.S. closing of embassy or consulate in any country or region is always predicated on insecurity.
This, it is argued, will create a negative impression about the state of affairs in Nigeria to the rest of global community. The lack of proper information on the rationale for this action has given room for speculations. For instance, politicians could take advantage of it to make political capital out of the situation by interpreting it to mean that the current government is unable to guarantee security, its primary responsibility. Also, it makes potential visa applicants vulnerable to exploitation by visa racketeers In an interview with National Geographics, Ambassador Ryan Coker, a career diplomat who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon, explained that closing embassies or consulates had more to do with evolving terrorist or security threats.
He said where there are reported cases of insecurity, embassy closures like the one that happened in the Middle East and North Africa in 2013 may become more common. During the administration of Barack Obama, the United States temporarily closed nearly two-dozen embassies and consulates, mostly in North Africa and the Middle East. Obama’s administration cited intelligence about potential terrorist attacks by al Qaeda in Yemen when it closed its embassy in that country. LEADERSHIP learnt that, usually, when an embassy or consulate closure is contemplated, Washington steps up security precautions in the affected countries by ordering all non-emergency embassy personnel to leave the country and all U.S. citizens to depart immediately as well. Coker, who leads the Bush School of Government and one of the highest ranking officials in the US Foreign Service, further explained that before an administration closes down embassy or consulate, it may have gotten what it considers credible information of possible attacks.
In that case, he said, the prudent thing to do is to temporarily close the affected consulate or embassies. Notably, in the history of diplomacy, embassy closures are used as a weapon of retaliation, llke the diplomatic tit-for-tat that ensued between Russia and the U.S. in April this year following the attack on Russian ex-spy, Yulia, in the UK. Russia gave notice to 60 U.S. diplomats to leave the country by April 5 in response to Washington’s expulsion of 60 Russian officials earlier that week. Russia also revoked the permit for the U.S. consulate in St Petersburg – meaning it must shut down – and issued a protest note to the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, regarding what it called “outrageous and unwarranted” diplomatic action against Russia.
Russia said the moves were made on the “principle of reciprocity.” For now all fingers are crossed over the action taken by the embassy without a matching explanation. Also, there is no hint yet as to when the embassy would reopen the said section.
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