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Nigeria, U.S. begin talks on resolving visa row in Washington3 minutes read

Officials from both countries are meeting in Washington as part of the Nigeria-US Binational Commission talks meant to strengthen ties.

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Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama speaks to the press with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo(R), at the Department of State on February 4, 2020 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP)

Nigerian and US authorities on Tuesday began talks and expressed optimism that President Donald Trump’s administration would soon lift last week’s visa restrictions slammed on Africa’s most populous country.

Officials from both countries are meeting in Washington as part of the Nigeria-U.S. Bi-National Commission talks meant to strengthen ties. 

On a previously scheduled visit to Washington, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said he sought more information on Trump’s latest immigration crackdown announced last week which targeted Nigeria and five other countries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting Onyeama, said Trump took action partly due to the “terrorism threat” in West Africa, where Nigeria has fought alongside the United States against terrorists, an AFP report said.

Nigeria remains a “strategic partner” but Trump restricted visas as it has “room to grow in sharing important national security information.” 

“I’m optimistic that’s going to happen,” Pompeo told reporters.

Smiling and striking a diplomatic tone, Onyeama said his talks were “very gratifying” but acknowledged that many Nigerians put “different spins” on why Trump was moving against them.

“We were somewhat blindsided by the announcement of the visa restrictions,” Onyeama said.

He said that Nigeria had already been looking to address U.S. concerns, such as providing information on suspected terrorists and embedding electronic data into passports.

“We know, and the U.S. officials have also confirmed, that we have been able to tick most of those boxes,” he said.

The lingering problem, he said, involved how to handle lost and stolen Nigerian passports.

He said Nigeria was putting in place a system that would make data from such passports “immediately available” to all members of Interpol, the global law enforcement body.

“We hope to have that up and running very soon,” he said. “Hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”

Trump came to office vowing to impose border restrictions and notoriously was quoted as using a vulgar epithet for African and other developing nations that send immigrants to the United States.

Unlike a controversial order days after he took office that essentially banned entry to citizens from a number of Muslim-majority countries, the latest restrictions primarily involve foreigners who seek to immigrate rather than visit.

Along with Nigeria, Trump imposed the curbs on nationals from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

– Strengthening defense ties –

Despite the visa row, the Trump administration has stepped up cooperation with Nigeria as it cracks down on Boko Haram, the terrorist group notorious for suicide attacks against civilians.

The Trump administration has agreed to sell to Nigeria twelve A-29 Super Tucanos, which are light attack aircraft frequently used by the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan, and accompanying weapons for nearly $600 million.

The previous administration of Barack Obama had suspended aircraft sales over human rights concerns, but Pompeo said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to uphold standards.

“The United States will hold Nigeria to that pledge and will help you achieve it,” Pompeo said. 

In January 2017, a botched Nigerian air strike intended to hit extremists in the remote northeastern town of Rann killed at least 112 people as aid workers were distributing food.

On Monday, the United States and Jersey, a self-governing British island off the coast of northern France, announced the return to Nigeria of $308 million that had been stashed abroad by former military dictator Sani Abacha.

Under the agreement, the money will go to build three infrastructure projects under outside oversight, with Nigeria paying back any funds lost to corruption.

Buhari “has made the fight against corruption one of the real key areas and priorities of the government,” Onyeama said.

“It has not been easy, but it is one that we are determined to win.”

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Politics

Lesotho Prime Minister resigns, to leave office in July

While there’s speculation that his resignation follows mounting pressure over his former and late wife, Thabane attributes his decision to lack of energy.

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Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane./Yahoonews

Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane has announced his resignation. He also failed to show up at a court on Friday for a trial that involved himself and the first lady over the death of his ex-wife.

In a televised speech in the capital in Thursday, Maseru, the 80-year old PM said the decision has been the hardest he’s made in his career and promised to step down in July despite pressure by members of his party.

“Today I wish to reiterate my announcement to retire from office. I might still have the necessary zeal and fervor to continue serving my people and country, but the truth is that at my age I have lost most of my energy. I’m not as energetic as I use to be a few years ago”, he said.

He appealed to all Basotho “not to intentionally misconstrue my announcement to retire from office,” as being linked to his ongoing trial.

While there’s speculation that his resignation follows mounting pressure over his former and late wife, Thabane attributes his decision to lack of energy.

“My fellow countrymen and women it is very unfortunate that some have deliberately decided to distort my decision to retire either motivated by hate or for political gain”, Thabane added in an AFP report.

The Prime Minister was on Friday charged with the murder of 58-year old Lilopelo Thabane, who was murdered in June 2017 by unknown assailants. But he was absent from court and his son said he had gone to South Africa to see a doctor.

“He’s not fled the country, he has gone to South Africa to see a doctor,” Potlako Thabane told Reuters by telephone.

The couple was embroiled in a bitter divorce. Months after assuming office. Thabane married Lesotho’s current first lady, Maesaiah Thabane.

The 48 year old is also facing trial over the murder. She returns to court on March 17.

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Politics

‘Nigeria too important to be on US travel ban’, seeks removal -Interior minister

“Nigeria is too important an ally of America to deserve such a sanction,” Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola told the visiting US Ambassador.

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Nigeria's Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola and US Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Mary Beth Leonard during a working visit to the minister's office in Abuja on Thursday Feb 20th, 2020 where they discussed issues on the Visa Reciprocity Policy vis-a-vis; Length of Visa Validity, Partial Refund for Rejected Visa Applications, Use of Dropbox amongst others./Twitter: @raufaregbesola/OgundiranDolapo

The Nigerian government has asked the United States to remove it from the list of countries whose citizens are banned from accessing certain categories of visas for long stay or permanent residency by the new policy which took effect on Friday, Feb. 21.

Nigeria’s interior minister, Rauf Aregbesola made the request to drop the ban to the U.S. ambassador in Abuja, a ministry statement said on Thursday.

“Nigeria is too important an ally of America to deserve such a sanction,” Aregbesola said, according to the statement quoted by Reuters.

“We are positive that (the) visa restriction is a temporary one, it will soon be put behind us,” he said, adding that Nigeria had complied with most of the concerns raised by the United States.

The statement did not say how U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard responded to the request, but it said she assured Aregbesola of “her country’s determination to continue to collaborate with Nigeria”.

U.S. President Donald Trump included Nigeria and five other countries in an expanded version of his travel ban list early this month, sparking outrage from many of them.

U.S. officials have said the six countries failed to meet U.S. security and information-sharing standards, necessitating the new restrictions.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is the biggest country on the list whose citizens will be suspended from U.S. visas that can lead to permanent residency.  

The original travel ban, issued in 2017, barred nearly all immigrants and travellers from seven countries with majority Muslim populations.

The policy was revised amid court challenges, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in 2018.   

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East Africa Politics News

President Kiir, Machar agree to form South Sudan unity government on Saturday

“We had a meeting with the president on the outstanding issues. We have agreed to form the government on 22 Feb,” Machar, First Vice President-nominee said.

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President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar pledge to power-sharing deal
South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar in a previous reconciliation meeting in Kampala, Uganda brokered by President Yoweri Museveni. /AFP

Former rebel and opposition leader, Riek Machar said he has agreed to form a unity government with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to meet Saturday’s deadline, following talks at state house on Thursday.

Before the announcement, it had been unclear if the Feb. 22 deadline would be met as key benchmarks of the 2018 peace agreement had not been fulfilled. The deadline had elapsed several times without an agreement between the two sides.

“We had a meeting with the president on the outstanding issues. We have agreed to form the government on 22 Feb,” Machar said.

Kiir confirmed the agreement, a Reuters report said.

“We have agreed to form the government,” he said after the meeting, adding that he will appoint Machar as first vice president on Friday.

“We are going to discuss the security arrangement for the protection of all opposition forces and members,” Kiir added.

All the members of the opposition will be given protection, he added. “And if there are things we have not agreed upon, we had agreed to resolve them. We shall finalise them incoming days,” Kiir said.

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