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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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Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar Agrees To Lift Oil Blockade

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Self-styled Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), has said he would temporarily lift his blockade of the country’s oil production facilities.

Speaking on television, Haftar said that he has decided to allow the reopening of Libya’s oil ports “as per conditions and guarantees that ensure a fair distribution of wealth and spare it being plundered or used in terrorism financing.”

This the parliament in eastern Libya, which backed Haftar, resigned following protests in Benghazi and other cities over power cuts and deteriorating living conditions.

Ezzel-Deen al-Falih, a spokesman for the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), said Prime Minister Abdallah al-Thani tendered the government’s resignation to Speaker Aguila Saleh late on Sunday.

Haftar said Friday’s announcement about lifting the oil blockade followed an agreement with the UN-backed government in Tripoli under which oil revenues would be distributed fairly.

A government minister has said a committee would be set up to oversee the handling of the revenue.

But the national oil company says it won’t resume operations until Gen Haftar’s forces leave the production facilities.

His blockade – which began January – has starved the Libyan economy of billions of dollars of desperately needed export earnings.

Before the blockade, Libya was producing around 1.2 million barrels per day compared to just over 100,000 barrels per day, according to Reuters.

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AU Backs Call For Mali Junta To Hand Over To Civilian

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The African Union (AU) has backed calls by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that the military junta in Mali appoint civilians to lead the country’s 18-months transition.

The military had overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali on August 18 in a bloodless coup, prompting sanctions from the 15-member regional bloc.

ECOWAS has insisted that the Colonel Assimi Goita-led National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) return Mali to civilian rule. The bloc also demanded that a civilian be named as head of the transition government.

The junta is yet to heed ECOWAS demand despite a deadline expiring on Tuesday. Instead, the junta, which had earlier proposed a two-year transition plan, released a charter reducing the transition period to 18 months.

Now the AU has urged the military junta in Mali to quickly appoint civilian leaders to manage an 18-month transition towards elections.

The AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui called for a return to constitutional order.

The AU announced the day after the coup that it was suspending Mali “until restoration of constitutional order”, and it is unclear what additional leverage it has.

Mali’s military rulers met West African leaders this week but the soldiers who seized power appear reluctant to let a civilian lead the transition.

A spokesman for the junta, Colonel Ismael Wague, said after this week’s talks in Ghana that Mali could face a “total embargo” from ECOWAS if it does not quickly appoint civilian leaders.

The sanctions could bite in the poor country already facing a severe economic downturn as well as a simmering jihadist insurgency and chronic inter-ethnic violence.

Wague nevertheless made clear the junta would prefer the transition be run by the military, and claimed that was also the preference of the majority of Malians.

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Libya Prime Minister’s Planned Resignation Upsets Turkey

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The planned resignation of Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister has upset Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, an ally to Turkey, had on Wednesday announced his intention to step down from office next month end.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan said a Turkish delegation will hold talks on the issue with the al-Sarraj-government in the coming weeks.

“A development like this, hearing such news, has been upsetting for us,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, adding: “with these meetings, God willing we will turn this issue towards the direction it needs to go.”

Sarraj is head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, while eastern Libya and much of the south is controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). His departure could lead to infighting among senior GNA figures.

The civil war has drawn in regional and international powers and Turkey supports the GNA, while the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia back the LNA.

Turkey helped the GNA turn back a 14-month LNA assault on Tripoli in June.

Sarraj’s had on August 21 announced a ceasefire in hostilities with the LNA.

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