Adelani Adepegba, Abuja
There are strong indications that the United States of America authorities’ refusal to allow some Nigerians with valid visas entry into the US has caused a division in the Federal Government.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, on Tuesday countered a travel advisory by the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, barely 24 hours after it was issued.
Onyeama, at a press conference in Abuja, stated that Nigerians with valid US visas were free to embark on their trips.
Our correspondent gathered on Tuesday that certain elements in the Federal Government were displeased with the advisory issued by Dabiri-Erewa in which she advised Nigerians against visiting the US for now until there is clarity on US President Donald Trump’s new immigration policy.
The advisory, which was against the backdrop of the barring of some Nigerians at the US ports of entry, was believed to have offended some top functionaries of the government.
A source said that Onyeama might have been directed to issue a rebuttal on the advisory in order to assert his position as the one in charge of the nation’s diplomatic relations.
The source said, “The rebuttal of Dabiri-Erewa’s travel advisory clearly exposes the division in the Federal Government. For the minister to have issued a counter-advisory without broaching the issue with the SSA (Dabiri-Erewa) or even taking time to find out the veracity of the report confirms the deep crack in the government.
“Onyeama may have been pressured to stick his neck out by a top member of the cabal and this is clear from the hastily organised press briefing he held.”
Onyeama at the briefing refuted the report that Nigerians were being sent back at the US borders, adding that he had reached out to the US ambassador who he said denied the incident.
He insisted that his ministry was the right authority to speak on the nation’s external relations and asked the public to ignore the alleged barring of Nigerians by the US Government.
The minister stressed that the most authentic sources of information on the issue of the nation’s foreign relations should be the President’s spokespersons and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He said, “On the issue of Nigerians being turned back from the US, this is not the case. If the Nigerian government is speaking on any external relations, you will hear it from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Office of the President.
“I have reached out to the US Ambassador to Nigeria and the country’s high level officials who said nothing of such had happened. I can tell you to ignore the advice to reconsider travelling to the US because there is no basis for that,” he added.
Onyeama said Nigeria is not among the countries currently under US travel ban, noting that both countries enjoyed cordial bilateral relations.
Dabiri-Erewa had said that at least four Nigerians were denied entry into the US in the last two weeks, adding that her office had been receiving reports about the incident.
She advised Nigerians without any compelling or essential reasons to visit the US to consider delaying their trips “until there is clarity on the new immigration policy.”
But a victim of the US travel ban, Francis Adekola, had narrated to The PUNCH how he was detained for over 10 hours at the Atlanta Airport on February 15 and then placed on the next available flight and returned to Abuja via Johannesburg.
A software engineer, Celestine Omin, had also tweeted his experience with the US border protection guards who delayed him and subjected him to mental humiliation when he visited America on the invitation of a tech firm, Andela.
The US Mission to Nigeria, however, denied that Nigerian citizens were barred from visiting America, pointing out that those denied entry might have had immigration issues peculiar to them.
The embassy spokesman, Russel Brooks, said Nigeria was not among countries affected by Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“On the statement issued by the special assistant to the president, again Nigeria was not named among the six countries, Nigerians are still able to travel to the US just as they were previously. An individual’s ability to travel to the US is based on that individual’s circumstances,” Brooks said, noting that the US Department of Homeland Security which was in charge of all the US ports of entry was free to allow or deny entry to any visitor.
He advised those barred from entering America to contact the homeland security department for clarification on their cases.
Meanwhile, a group, the Nigerian Coalition for Quality Governance, has tackled the minister for defending the US travel ban, saying he should rather put Nigeria first.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Gbenga Omoniya, it said Onyeama should have been circumspect in issuing his denial “if he had taken the time to go through the experience of Mr. Adekola.”
It said, “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 group admonished the minister “to wake up to his responsibility” and put the nation first.
It asked him to confirm the cases of those affected by the travel ban many of whom it noted might have had no one to complain to.
“Rather than engaging in spurious denials that has no basis in fact, we enjoin the Foreign Affairs minister to collaborate with the relevant agencies of the Federal Government in making sure that Nigerians are treated with dignity and respect wherever they may be; Trump is putting America first, Onyeama should put Nigerians first,” the group admonished.
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