John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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No U.S. Consular Facility in Northern Nigeria

by John Campbell
August 13, 2013

Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Viola Onwuliri (2nd L) greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she arrives at Abuja International Airport in Abuja August 9, 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/Courtesy Reuters) Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Viola Onwuliri (2nd L) greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she arrives at Abuja International Airport in Abuja August 9, 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/Courtesy Reuters)

Before Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991, there was a U.S. consulate in Kaduna, the political and social capital of the former Northern Region during the colonial period. The city retained its status as the informal political center of the northern Nigeria even after the regions were abolished and were replaced by states. The consulate was the center of U.S. outreach toward the predominately Muslim part of Nigeria, including exchanges, promotion of commercial opportunities, and it was the center of a lively public diplomacy outreach.

However, largely as a short-sighted cost-cutting measure, when the new embassy in Abuja became operational, the consulate in Kaduna was closed. An argument was that the relative proximity of Abuja and Kaduna made the consulate redundant. However, the consular function in Kaduna ended before the consular operation in Abuja started. The embassy in Abuja began offering visa services over a decade later. That meant that Nigerians living in the North had to travel for several hundred miles to Lagos in the south for visa services. The journey from Kano to Lagos takes fourteen hours. The journey from Kaduna to Abuja takes three hours.

This added to the popular perception that the United States was somehow prejudiced against Muslims, especially after 9/11. Further, Abuja is a new creation with a national focus. Its location is in the Middle Belt, not the “core North,” the states that had adopted Islamic law (Sharia). By contrast, Kaduna had a specifically northern focus. In effect, by closing the consulate in Kaduna, the United States ended its diplomatic presence in the North.

American friends of Nigeria have long wanted the reopening of a consulate in the North. During the first Obama administration, the Department of State approved the opening of a consulate in Kano, by far the largest city in northern Nigeria and the cultural and religious center of the region. However, the Islamist insurgency labeled “Boko Harm” caused the opening to be repeatedly postponed. On July 31, the embassy in Abuja announced that it was suspending any plans to open a consular office in Kano.

Though understandable from the perspective of security–especially in the aftermath of Benghazi–suspending the opening of a consular facility in the North deprives the United States of an on-the-ground presence in a critical part of the Islamic world and at the very time that the Sahel (of which northern Nigeria is a part) is of increasingly strategic importance. As such, it is a setback to long-term U.S. interests.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by salisu borodo

    Since the idea of the consulate has been “only” suspended and not terminated, I hope in the long run it would be brought to life for the overall long term interest of Northern Nigeria and the USA.

  • Posted by Adams adesina

    To say that the American are prejudicial or don’t like Muslim that’s why the embassy in kaduna was closed is absolutely not correct thier are millions of Muslims in Nigeria southern states too, the Islamic radicalization in the north of Nigeria is nothing but failure of leadership which came about as a result of 40years of governance by the northerners who has nothing to show for holding on to peer for so long

  • Posted by Chike

    I’m not American, this isn’t really my business, but I’d really like to know what informs the location of US consular offices in Nigeria.

    For example, there’s no US consular presence in the oil rich regions of Nigeria (which are arguably as important & unfortunately just as insecure as the Islamic North).

    In addition, the oil rich regions are about a full day’s journey from Lagos.

    Secondly, I haven’t come across any US diplomat that appreciates that just like Kano is the nerve center of “Muslim Northern Nigeria”, Jos is the nerve center of “Christian Northern Nigeria”.

    I feel that US diplomats have a simple binary narrative: “largely Muslim Norrth and predominantly Christian South” and this informs their thinking.

    There are vast swathes of territory in Nigeria like the Middle Belt & the South East that are deemed to be of very little relevance to US diplomats.

    Nigeria is a very large, complex & interrelated nation & I’ve never felt US diplomats appreciate this. If they do, they don’t behave that way.

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