Tough times await Nigerian travellers to the United States as the US Transportation Security Administration has listed Nigeria and nine other countries as ‘security risk states.’
The other countries similarly categorised are Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
A statement on Sunday night by the TSA, the agency responsible for air security measures, also listed Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as ‘sponsors of terrorism.’
It said that air travellers with Nigerian passports and any of the above listed nations would henceforth face thorough screening.
This development is sequel to the aborted Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound US Delta Airline aircraft by a Nigerian, Mr. Umar AbdulMutallab.
But the Federal Government, in a swift reaction, described the categorisation of Nigeria among ‘security risk states’ as unfair.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, in a statement on Monday said the behaviour of the bomb suspect did not reflect that of Nigerians.
Akunyili said, “It is unfair to include Nigeria in the US list for tighter screening because Nigerians do not have terrorists tendency. AbdulMutallab‘s act was a one-off thing. He was not influenced in Nigeria. He was not recruited or trained in Nigeria. He was not supported whatsoever in Nigeria.
“AbdulMutallab‘s behaviour is not reflective of Nigerians and should therefore not be used as a yardstick to judge all Nigerians. It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person.
“AbdulMutallab was a well-behaved child from a responsible family who developed the ugly tendency to do what he tried to do because of his exposure outside the shores of Nigeria. Nigerians are peace-loving and happy people. We were even voted as the happiest people on earth.”
Already, the National Security Adviser, Gen. Sarki Muktar, has called an emergency meeting of all security chiefs for today (Tuesday) over the US statement.
It was gathered on Monday night that the meeting would deliberate and advise the government on how to respond to the US position on Nigeria.
The TSA had said in its statement that passengers from Nigeria and other affected countries would be subjected to random security searches. Such searches include advanced explosive detection or imaging scans.
It said, “Today(Sunday), the TSA issued new security directives to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010.
“The new directive includes long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.
“Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world travelling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.
“The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on US bound international flights.”
It was also learnt on Monday that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has already directed Delta and Arik Airlines, the two airlines that fly directly to the US, to ensure compliance with all secondary screening and profiling of passengers after routine checks on them.
In addition, Delta Airline (belonging to Northwest Airlines) and Arik Airline have been directed to ensure secondary screening of passengers bound for the US.
A top official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria told one of our correspondents on Monday that the NCAA and FAAN also issued directives to both airport and airline managers in response to the TSA’s fresh security measures.
According to the source, the airlines have also been directed to advise their passengers to arrive at the airports at least three hours before take off in order to go through all necessary security checks.
They are also to carry out 100 per cent search on passengers and luggage.
It was learnt that NCAA threatened to ground any airline that failed to implement the new security measures.
Our source said, “Both the NCAA and FAAN have directed airlines to ensure profiling of passengers. The airlines have also been directed to ensure secondary screening of passengers. Profiling include getting passengers’ phone numbers and residential addresses. If there is any error anywhere, you stop the passenger from flying.
“This is an era of aggressive screening. If you don’t comply, you don’t fly. You can go and start your own airport. Now, there is no sacred cow. Even ministers will be subjected to these checks.”
The NCAA Director-General, Dr. Harold Demuren, did not pick his calls when our correspondent called his mobile telephone on Monday.
But a US-based Nigerian professor in Michigan, Dr. Steve Nwabuzor, told US-based Nigerian news agency, Empowered Newswire, that AbdulMutallab’s action would further subject Nigerian-Americans to stricter searches and questioning.
Meanwhile, there were indications on Monday that the US Embassy in Nigeria may have been refusing a large number of visa applications by Nigerians.
Investigations revealed that majority of those who had appointments with the embassy as well as those who applied via drop-box since the December 25 incident have had their applications rejected.
When contacted by one of our correspondents, an official of the Information Unit of the embassy in Abuja, who did not wish to be named, denied the development.
“There has not been any change in the visa approval indices of the embassy,” he said.