Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, has expressed hope that President Donald Trump's administration might be able to lift visa restrictions placed on Nigeria if the country takes the steps needed to remove itself from U.S. visa restrictions.
During a meeting with Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama at the State Department in Washington, DC, Pompeo said Nigeria has room to grow in sharing important national security information and "I am optimistic that is going to happen".
Onyeama in turn said he is confident that his country will be removed soon because they are already "working on all" U.S. security concerns.
Onyeama says the Nigeria government was "somewhat blindsided" by the U.S. decision to add his country to the visa ban. "And of course, a lot of people back home in Nigeria understood it and put different interpretations and different spins on it.
But it's essentially very straightforward. It was very gratifying to come here, speaking to U.S. officials and to understand more clearly the reasoning behind this.
"We look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list," Onyeama said.
Nigeria is among six countries affected by the new restrictions. The others are Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says affected countries like Nigeria did not meet U.S. security standards and have failed to share adequate security intelligence.
The new travel ban takes effect on February 21. However, people from those countries will still be able to visit the U.S. as tourists.
Pompeo then moved on to economic ties with what he described as "America's second-largest trading partner in Africa". He announced that U.S.$40 million more was committed to fight the humanitarian crisis arising from decades of the Boko Haram insurgency. U.S.$350 million in assistance was provided by the U.S. in 2019, he said.
Nigeria is still battling a long insurgency by the Boko Haram militant group. The group has killed tens of thousands and displaced 2.3 million since 2009.
Pompeo also commended President Muhammadu Buhari's fight against corruption. "In support of that fight, I am announcing today that the United States and Nigeria have signed an agreement to return to the Nigerian people more than U.S.$308 million in assets stolen by a former dictator," he added.
Former military ruler General Sani Abacha, who ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998, reportedly looted state coffers of funds meant for the upliftment of the country and its people. Abacha placed the funds in safe havens that included the UK, U.S. and Switzerland. Nigeria has been working with governments around the world to help repatriate its stolen funds to boost its finances.
Onyeama thanked the U.S. for its support to Nigeria, adding that the country is ready to do business with the U.S. and attract more investments.
"But really have to say, Mr. Secretary, that we do appreciate very much and value very much the cooperation between our two countries in very important areas for us.
And the Binational Commission, we've identified a very clear basis to move that on and progress, and we really look forward to seeing a lot of gains, win-wins, for our two countries," Onyeama said.
"And we are moving in the right direction, and we feel that we are ready for business and certainly hope that, again, with our partners in the U.S. that we will be able to attract more investment."