Thursday, November 10, 2011

U.S. relaxes terror warning as Nigerian government stages protest

United States Embassy in Nigeria Wednesday released a security update which relaxed the emergency warning it issued at the weekend in which it warned US citizens to avoid certain luxury hotels in Abuja.

The security update is coming on the heels of a letter sent by the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC to the State Department to protest the emergency warning.

Thisday could, however, not confirm if there is a nexus between the new update by the embassy and the protest letter sent by Nigeria to the US government.

In the emergency message issued on November 5, 2011, following deadly attacks in Damaturu and Potiskum by Boko Haram which claimed over 100 lives, US embassy in Nigeria had warned its citizens to avoid three major hotels in Abuja - NICON Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.

The embassy had said that it had received information that Boko Haram could attack several locations and hotels in Abuja during the Sallah holiday.

But in a new security update yesterday, the US embassy said since it issued the emergency warning, it had continued to monitor closely the threat posed by the sect and had also noticed the increased security checks by the Nigerian government.

It therefore added that US government personnel were no longer instructed to avoid the three hotels.

The statement however urged US citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.

The latest statement posted on the embassy's website reads: "The US Mission in Nigeria issues the following emergency message regarding the current security situation for the attention of all US citizens in Abuja, Nigeria.

"The US Embassy continues to monitor closely the ongoing threat posed by an extremist group and their stated intention to carry out attacks against the Nigerian Government and western interests in Nigeria.

"The Embassy notes that increased security checks at major hotels, government facilities, and along major roadways over the recent Sallah holiday have improved the security environment to the general public. As a result, and with the Sallah holiday over, the Embassy is updating its warning to US citizens.

"US Government personnel are no longer instructed to avoid the NICON Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel. However, the Embassy reminds all US citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and personal awareness, particularly in and around Abuja, FCT, near Nigerian government facilities, diplomatic missions, large gathering places, hotels, markets and malls, and places of worship.

"We advise all US citizens to review their personal security plans, remain aware of their surroundings, including local events, monitor local news stations for updates, and report specific incidences of targeted violence to the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the US Consulate General in Lagos at the numbers below."

In its protest letter sent to the State Department yesterday, Nigeria maintained that the emergency message was badly timed, unwarranted and conflicts with the active collaboration of the security agencies of both countries to tackle the hydra-headed problem of terrorism.

Sources at the Nigerian embassy in Washington and the State Department told THISDAY that Nigeria maintained that such a warning had the potential of impacting negatively on the confidence reposed in the collaboration of the security agencies of both countries.

The protest letter was also said to have cited the implications that the emergency warning would have on the 17th Nigerian Economic Summit, billed to kick off today in Abuja.

The summit, which has as its theme, "Attracting Foreign Direct Investment through Global Partnerships", is billed to be flagged off by President Goodluck Jonathan and is expected to be attended by public and private sector leaders from around the world.

Nigeria was said to have further stated in the protest letter that while every country had its peculiar security challenges, the nation's security agencies and partners around the world were working around the clock to tackle the current security challenges facing the nation.

It however noted that such emergency warning issued by the US could further embolden the extremist sect and make it bask in the euphoria of scaring investors away from Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said it is not losing the fight against Boko Haram despite the spate of attacks launched by members of the sect recently which led to heavy casualty.

The Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, after yesterday's meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), said the security agencies had made considerable progress in the fight against terror and not every piece of information could be revealed.

He said President Jonathan was not losing the fight against Boko Haram or terrorism, pointing out that every week, he meets with heads of security agencies to review the situation while still going ahead with the counter offensives.

Maku said the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Owoye Azazi, had responded to issues bordering on the attacks, pointing out that the security agencies had not only gone into the offensive, but had also made arrests "though not all that has been achieved would be put in the public domain".

This Day

Related stories: Nigeria on alert as U.S. warns of Boko Haram attacks

Guests flee hotels in Abuja due to Boko Haram bomb threat

Nigerian government dismisses U.S. bomb warning

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