|Wikileaks:||View 01ABUJA1380 at Wikileaks.org|
|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
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