US embassy cable - 01ABUJA1380

NIGERIA: VISA FRAUD ON LAGOS/NYC FLIGHT--MEETINGS WITH MINISTERS OF AVIATION AND INTERNAL AFFAIRS

Identifier: 01ABUJA1380
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA1380 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-06-18 14:28:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: EAIR CVIS PGOV NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 001380 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/2006 
TAGS: EAIR, CVIS, PGOV, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: VISA FRAUD ON LAGOS/NYC FLIGHT--MEETINGS 
WITH MINISTERS OF AVIATION AND INTERNAL AFFAIRS 
 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter; reasons 1.5 (b) and 
(d). 
 
 
 
 
1. (U)  Summary.  Ambassador Jeter met with Aviation Minister 
Kema Chikwe and Minister of Internal Affairs Afolabi during 
the week of June 11 to discuss the problem of fraudulent U.S. 
visas and other travel documentation on the direct Lagos-New 
York flight, and to discuss solutions.  The Ambassador 
informed the Ministers that the INS was willing to send a few 
of its officers back to Nigeria to assist Nigerian 
immigration and airline officials in detecting fraudulent 
travel documents, including visas, and to train immigration 
officers in fraud-detection.  Both Ministers responded 
favorably to the proposal, and expressed concern over the 
potential impact high turnaround rates might have on the 
long-term economic viability of this and future direct 
U.S.-Nigeria flights.  While jurisdiction over this issue is 
shared between Aviation and Internal Affairs, both Ministers 
expressed a desire to address this problem in an expeditious 
manner.  The Ambassador promised to send a draft MOU from INS 
that could serve as the starting point for negotiations for 
an INS presence at Lagos' Murtalla Mohammed Airport.  End 
Summary. 
 
 
2. (U)  In a June 11 meeting, Ambassador Jeter congratulated 
Minister of Aviation Kema Chikwe on the progress made in 
civil aviation during her tenure.  Chikwe said that Virgin 
Air would soon commence flights into Abuja and Lagos that 
would compete with British Air, and hopefully compel BA to 
offer better onboard and other services.  Ambassador Jeter 
addressed the high turnaround rate for fraudulent visas on 
the South African Airways (SAA)/Nigerian Airways (NA) flight 
from Lagos to New York.  He said that the fines paid by the 
airlines were very substantial (over a quarter of a million 
dollars) and threatened the profitability of the route, but 
more importantly might scare off other competitors interested 
in beginning direct Nigeria-U.S. flights.  Chikwe responded 
that this development was disturbing.  The Ambassador 
recalled that informal assistance had been provided by INS 
agents at the Lagos Airport after the commencement of the 
flight, and at that point there were no significant problems 
with visa fraud.  Ambassador Jeter told the Minster that the 
USG was willing to send an INS team back to Nigeria to train 
Nigerian immigration officers to better detect fraudulent 
visas and other documentation.  Chikwe said that such 
training would be helpful, and should be done in a timely 
fashion.  She asked the Ambassador to send her a letter 
formally describing the proposal, to include a draft MOU, and 
said she would work with Minister of Internal Affairs Afolabi 
to get the MOU signed. 
 
 
3. (U)  On privitization, the Ambassador asked Chikwe her 
position on the proposed sale of Nigeria Airways.  She 
described the three options proposed by the Bureau of 
Privitization of Enterprises' (BPE) guidelines for selling 
Nigeria Airways as turn-around, liquidation and creating a 
new competing option.  She said that turning Nigeria Airways 
around prior to sale was currently the consensus option, but 
complaind that the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) 
condition-- a five year monopoly on most routes--was onerous, 
and would harm the Nigerian consumer.  She added that the IFC 
blamed the Ministry for having signed the Open Skies 
Agreement, which she said would ultimately benefit the 
Nigerian travelling public.  Chikwe said that the EX-IM Bank 
loan facility of USD 30 million for the repair of Nigeria 
Airways' (NA) decrepit aircraft would go a long way toward 
"beautifying" NA prior to sale.  Chikwe also said that she 
was in favor of dual-designation of routes as a means of 
encouraging short-term growth in air traffic, and creating 
income for NA.  In that context, she mentioned that Virgin 
Air would soon be flying into Abuja from London.  "British 
Air cannot hold this country to ransom any longer," Chikwe 
said. 
 
 
4. (U)  On June 13, Ambassador Jeter met with Minister Sunday 
Afolabi and his staff to discuss the SAA/NA visa fraud 
problem.  After Afolabi read a letter from the Ambassador 
that had been sent to him in April on this subject, (a letter 
he claimed he had never received), he commented on the 
seriousness of the problem.  The Ambassador said that during 
the first month of the flight, there were no fraudlent 
documents, but that since then the rate had increased 
alarmingly, and threatened the commercial viability of the 
SAA/NA flight.  Ibrahim Jarma, Comptroller General of the 
Prisons Service, commented that the Immigration team at the 
Murtalla Mohammed received an award for their excellent work 
in catching fraudulent visas, but the team was later split up 
and assigned to other duties.  Ambassador again said tha INS 
was willing to send a team back to Nigeria to assist in 
screening passengers and to train Nigerian officials, but 
added that a MOU would have to be signed by all parties. 
Afolabi said that Chikwe would take the lead on this since it 
fell within her Ministry's jurisdiction, but agreed to work 
with her and other GON Ministries to get the MOU signed. 
Poloff asked whether it would be possible as an interim 
measure to re-unite the original team of officers that were 
trained by the INS to work the flight pending the conclusion 
of a MOU. 
 
 
5. (C)  Comment:  Both the Ministers of Aviation and Internal 
Affairs seemed to recognize the importance of addressing this 
issue before Nigeria develops a reputation with foreign 
immigration agencies and air carriers for incompetence in 
weeding out fraudulent visas.  While Chikwe and Afolabi both 
appear prepared to take action, getting from "yes" to a 
signature can be a fairly torturous process.  In a separate 
meeting with the Secretary to Government for the Federation 
(SGF) Ufot Ekaette (septel), the Ambassador also raised the 
issue of getting a MOU signed by both Aviation and Internal 
Affairs so that INS officers could be re-deployed as soon as 
possible.  The SGF asked for a copy of the Ambassador's 
letter to Afolabi, and said he would assist in bringing the 
process to a conclusion in case it were to stall.  We are 
complying with that request. 
 
 
6. (C)  Chikwe's comments regarding privatization are 
interesting in light of her reputation as one of the most 
corrupt Ministers in the Obasanjo Administration. 
Reportedly, Chikwe exercises her regulatory control over the 
airline industry in such a way as to obtain maximum pecuniary 
benefit to herself.  Little wonder that she would oppose the 
IFC's five-year monopoly of routes by Nigeria Airways--she 
would lose access to the foreign air carriers who apparently 
feather her nest.  End Comment. 
 
 
Jeter 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04