THE Australian government has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Nigeria due to safety concerns arising from violent protests, terrorism, kidnapping and Internet scams in the West African country.
The warning was published on a website – smartraveller.gov.au. Smartraveller is a travel advisory provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for Australian citizens.
In the latest update on Nigeria, which was classified as ‘Still Current’ as of November 21, 2020, the Australian government recommended “Do not travel’ to its citizens who intend to visit Nigeria.
The travel advisory issued by the Australian government suggested that Nigeria is currently perceived as a dangerous, volatile destination for prospective visitors.
The recent #EndSARS protests, which culminated in widespread violence and looting across the country, with attendant loss of lives, was a major concern for the Australians.
The Australian government also believes that Nigeria is prone to terror attacks, in addition to having a high crime rate. The Australian authorities noted that in Nigeria, criminals sometimes disguise as policemen or soldiers.
Nigeria is not safe
In general assessment of ‘Safety’ in Nigeria, the travel advisory said, “Recent large-scale protests in Nigeria, as well as subsequent violence, deaths and looting in Lagos and in other locations throughout the country, indicate the continued need to exercise caution and avoid locations where protests or street gatherings may be occurring. The situation has the potential to change rapidly.
“There’s a high risk of terrorist attacks in Nigeria by militant groups. Possible targets include government and security sites, international organisations, embassies, oil infrastructure, tourist and public areas, transport and airports. Avoid popular hotels and crowds. If you must visit a crowded place, have a clear exit plan.
“The kidnapping threat is high. If, despite our advice, you travel to a high-risk area, get professional security advice.
“Nigeria’s crime rate is high. Crime increases at night and includes assault, armed robbery, home invasions and carjacking. Assaults and robberies are common on public transport and in taxis. Petty crime is common in crowds. Don’t travel after dark. Don’t visit banks or use ATMs alone.
“Criminals may pose as police or military, or company representatives at airports and hotels. Arrange pick-ups with someone you know. Always keep your car doors locked and windows up, even when moving.
“Internet romance, friendship and employment scams often start in Nigeria. If you travel to Nigeria as a scam victim, you may be in danger. Be wary of online contact from people you don’t know. Don’t send money until you’ve checked who you’re sending it to.”
The Australian government further advised its citizens who visited Nigeria to avoid driving at night, and always carry extra fuel, bottled water and first aid kit wherever they are going to in the country.
“Regular taxis and motorcycle taxis are dangerous. Use car hire services with a local driver. These are available at most major hotels. Don’t use public transport due to safety issues and the risk of crime. Piracy, hijacking, kidnapping and armed robbery occur in Nigerian waters. Check the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reports,” the travel advisory added.
Terror attacks can happen anywhere, anytime in Nigeria
The Australian government, in the travel advisory, noted that, in Nigeria, terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and at any time but are more frequent in the North-eastern states.
Pointing out that terrorists could target places popular with foreigners or crowded public areas, the travel advisory noted that “Australian officials take extra security measures when they travel outside Abuja and Lagos”.
Highlighting the activities of ‘militant groups’, such as Boko Haram, also known as Islamic State West Africa Province, the Australian government noted that “targets for future attacks may include Nigerian government and security institutions, internally displaced persons’ camps and international organisations, police stations, diplomatic buildings, financial institutions, oil facilities and infrastructure, tourist and public areas such as markets, hotels, licensed premises, restaurants and cinemas, airports and transport, schools, colleges, universities, large sporting and recreation events.”
It added that terrorists may attack during religious festivals, significant dates and national holidays, such as Ramadan, Christmas and Easter.
Noting that Boko Haram plan to take control of large parts of North-eastern Nigeria, the Australian government said the group is mostly active in North-western states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Yobe; and North-eastern states of Kano and Kaduna.
“Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1000 people and killed more than 10,000 people. More than 2.5 million people are now displaced as a result of recent attacks. Affected areas have been pillaged, buildings burnt and crops destroyed.
“Parts of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe are still under Boko Haram’s control. Recent attacks are in retaliation to continued military operations in the region,” the travel advisory said, adding that a militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, has attacked multiple oil facilities and workers across the Niger Delta region.
The travel advisory observed that “many buildings in Nigeria have tightened security”, and suggested that “security presence may mean a higher risk of an attack”. But it also added that less security may not mean less risk.
Noting that Nigerian authorities may set, change or cancel curfews without notice, the advisory went ahead to counsel Australians on ways to cope with terror attacks in Nigeria.
“To protect yourself from terrorism: always be alert to threats, especially in public places; avoid known targets including popular hotels and crowds;
monitor the media for threats, curfews and other restrictions; take official warnings seriously, follow the advice of local authorities; report any suspicious activity or items to police. If you’re in a ‘Do not travel’ area, leave if it’s safe to do so. If you must go to a crowded place, have a clear exit plan. If there’s an attack, leave the area immediately. Avoid the affected area in case of secondary attacks,” the travel advisory said.
Threat of kidnapping high in all parts of Nigeria
The Australian government, in the travel advisory, further observed that “the threat of kidnapping is high in all parts of Nigeria”.
It noted that the UK Government has warned that Boko Haram plan to kidnap foreigners, including in Bama Local Government Area of Borno state, along the Kumshe-Banki axis. In March 2019, the US Embassy also warned that terrorists plan to kidnap travellers in Borno state, it added.
The travel advisory said kidnapping is a risk in the ‘South-eastern riverine states’ of Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River.
“Kidnappers usually target locals, but Westerners, including Australians, have been taken. Aid workers may be targets. Kidnapping of Westerners occurs mostly in regions where we advise Australians ‘do not travel’,
sometimes in other parts of Nigeria, including Abuja and Lagos.
Motives for kidnapping are usually financial in the south — holding victims for ransom; political in the north — holding victims for terrorist reasons.
Kidnappers sometimes execute their victims,” the travel advisory stated.
The Australian government pointedly warned it’s citizens: “If you travel to a high-risk area despite our advice, we may not be able to provide consular services. Seek professional security advice and arrange personal security measures.”
The Australian Government’s longstanding policy is that it doesn’t make payments or concessions to kidnappers, the travel advisory stressed.
In Nigeria, violent protests can occur spontaneously and in several locations at once
The travel advisory observed that, in October, demonstrations and protests over police conduct resulted in subsequent violence, looting and deaths in Lagos, Abuja and other locations across Nigeria.
Advising Australians concerning protests in Nigeria, the advisory said, “Temporary state-wide curfews in several Nigerian states were imposed. While the daytime curfew has now been lifted in Lagos, and curfew conditions relaxed elsewhere, these conditions may still change at short notice. Monitor local media closely and follow the advice of local authorities.
“Under all circumstances, exercise caution and avoid locations where protests or street gatherings may be occurring. Stay indoors unless you are an essential service provider or first responder.
“Protests have the potential to occur spontaneously and in several locations at once. Follow the advice of local authorities for information on their locations, and avoid protests. The situation can change rapidly.”
The Australian government noted that public protests and events that draw large groups of people can turn violent, adding that civil unrest can interrupt phone networks, road travel, border crossings and domestic and international flights.
It added, “Long-standing tribal, religious, political and community arguments cause serious violence and unrest. Many civilians have already died. This occurs most often in central and northern Nigeria. Protests by pro-Biafran groups occur in the south-east of Nigeria and can turn violent.
“Political gatherings and demonstrations are frequent in major Nigerian cities, including protests by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and protests against police conduct in Lagos, Abuja and/or other locations.”
Noting that foreigners generally are not the target of political violence, the travel advisory however observed that Australians and other foreigners in Nigeria could get caught up in violence directed at others.
Nigeria has a high crime rate
Stating that Nigeria’s crime rate is high, the Australian government observed that crime increases at night, particularly in major cities and on highways.
It listed kidnapping, violent assault, armed robbery and banditry, home invasion even in walled and guarded compounds and carjacking as forms of violent crime that persons visiting Nigeria should be wary of. “Assaults and robberies are common on public transport and when travellers are alone in taxis,” it added.
The travel advisory said foreigners risk falling victim to petty crime especially in crowded places.
The Australian government added, “Crime is common on the roads near airports in Lagos, Abuja and other urban centres. Criminals might pose as: police, military personnel, greeters or company delegates at airports and hotels.”
Counseling its citizens on ways to avoid falling victim to petty crime while in Nigeria, the travel advisory stated, “To protect yourself from petty crime avoid travel after dark; always pay attention to your security; keep car windows up and doors locked, even when moving; don’t go alone to banks or ATMs; only use ATMs in banks, hotels and secure buildings.”
“To protect yourself from impostors make sure you know who you’re meeting and where; arrange airport and hotel pick-ups with someone you know;
always check the identity of the person who collects you,” the advisory added.
The Australian government further advised its citizens who fall victim to violent crime, especially rape, to get immediate medical attention. “Nigeria has a high HIV/AIDS infection rate,” it noted, adding that “Police can be slow to respond to reports of criminal activity. Sometimes they don’t respond at all.”
Internet scams often come from Nigeria
The Australian government, in the travel advisory, stressed that Internet scams, mostly in the form of romance, friendship, business and job offers, often come from Nigeria.
To protect themselves from scams, the Australian government advised its citizens who visited Nigeria to be wary of online contact from people they don’t know and to avoid sending money to anyone until they have thoroughly checked them out.
“If you suspect a scam, get legal advice. Don’t travel to Nigeria to get your money back or to get revenge. You could be in danger,” the travel advisory warned.
Further highlighting the prevalence of Internet scam in Nigeria, the Australian government told its citizens – “If you’re travelling to Nigeria, your family and friends may receive bogus phone calls and emails from Nigeria. Scammers may claim that you’re in legal, financial or medical trouble and that you need money. Some scams ask you to transfer money through the Australian High Commission in Abuja. Some scammers pretend to work there.”
The Australian government advised its nationals to “be careful about giving out personal information or disposing of personal documents while in Nigeria”.
“Tell friends and family to contact you directly if they receive any emails about you; if friends and family can’t contact you directly, they should contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre,” the advisory added while urging Australians to check with the Australian High Commission in Abuja if they are asked to send money or details to them.
Further warning Australians concerning the activities of Internet fraudsters in Nigeria, the Australian government, in the travel advisory, noted, “Scammers can access your personal data when you use open networks. Be careful when and where you use internet banking and other sites that transmit or store your data or passwords.”