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Nigeria 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Abuja

Africa > Nigeria > Abuja


According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Nigeria has been assessed as a “Level 3: Reconsider travel” country due to crime, terrorism, and piracy.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Abuja does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abuja as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Nigeria-specific page for original OSAC reporting, travel alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

U.S. Embassy Abuja has security responsibilities for the following states: Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). All other states fall under the responsibility of Consulate General Lagos.

Crime Threats

Criminal activities pose a serious risk throughout the country. Criminals are prone to use violence, and resistance by a victim is often met with deadly force. Home invasions remain a threat, and armed robbers have specifically targeted guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls, following residents/visitors, or subduing guards to gain entry. There have been notable increases in carjackings and kidnappings-for-ransom targeting Westerners in the Abuja Consular District. Markets are havens for a variety of criminal activity.

Economic fraud involving credit card fraud, skimming, and identity theft is widespread. Scams are prevalent and include offers of fake business opportunities and romance schemes. For more information on scams in Nigeria and available resources, see the U.S. Embassy’s webpage on scams. For more information, also see OSAC’s Report on ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

Increasingly, cybercrime has become a concern and is becoming more sophisticated.

Other Areas of Concern

U.S. Embassy personnel are subject to restrictions when traveling in Nigeria, with the exception of areas of Abuja and Lagos, and may be subject to other constraints as security conditions warrant. U.S. citizens should be aware that extremists have expanded their operations outside of northern Nigeria and are credited with several attacks against places of worship, Nigerian government installations, and public markets.

Travelers face heightened risks when traveling to Adamawa (north of the Benue River), Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, and Yobe states as the security situation in northeast Nigeria remains fluid and unpredictable. Criminal elements, ethnic and communal militia, and terrorist groups are all extremely active in these areas. Kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks are especially prevalent.

Personnel from U.S. Embassy Abuja do not travel to Borno state without a dedicated security detail and remain in Maiduguri for a very limited period. The Embassy recommends that only essential travel to Borno state, particularly to Maiduguri and surrounding areas, be considered due to terrorist activity. For those who do travel to Borno state including Maiduguri, the Embassy urges extreme caution, enhanced personal awareness, and the diligent exercise of personal security measures, especially if traveling outside city limits.

Travelers should avoid the Gulf of Guinea due to the threat of piracy. Pirate attacks and kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent years, and armed gangs board commercial/private vessels to rob/kidnap passengers and crews. The Nigerian Navy and Coast Guard have limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving is a major safety concern, particularly outside of major cities like Abuja and Lagos. Most roads are in poor condition and are not illuminated; conditions deteriorate outside of major urban areas. Motorists typically do not yield the right-of-way or give consideration to other vehicles or pedestrians; excessive speed and reckless driving habits should be expected. Most vehicles lack basic maintenance and safety equipment.

Although traffic laws exist, enforcement is virtually non-existent. Accidents involving passenger buses, taxis, and personally-owned vehicles are frequent and often result in serious injury or death. Accidents may also draw large crowds that may become confrontational, particularly toward the suspected guilty party.

Travel should be scheduled during daylight hours only, particularly outside major cities. Driving at night is strongly discouraged, due to increased likelihood of accident and crime. Criminal elements, ethnic and communal defense groups, and terrorists commonly target travelers along roads for armed banditry and kidnapping. Increasingly, travelers along major transit arteries, such as the Abuja-Kaduna highway, have been targeted especially at natural bottlenecks and around heavily congested areas or when changes in traffic patterns occur. Reports of armed banditry and kidnapping have increased in 2017, partially coinciding with upticks in intercommunal violence in northern and middle belt states between herders and farmer/settler groups.

Travelers should always slow down and follow directions of police/military at checkpoints. Police and military manning checkpoints may shoot at vehicles that appear to be a threat. At night, when approaching such a checkpoint, it is advisable to hide any valuables, turn off headlights (leaving your driving lights on), turn on the interior dome light so the policemen/soldiers can see how many people are in the vehicle, and remain stationary in the vehicle with hands kept in plain sight.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices or Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

Travelers should avoid taxis, which are generally unsafe and unreliable – particularly unlicensed “gypsy cabs.” This advice applies especially to travel from the airport to the city upon arrival, where criminals posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators have lured foreigners into cars purportedly to take them to their hotels. However, the driver takes the passenger(s) to a secluded destination and robs them.

Trains tend to be a slow but relatively safe form of transportation, however, travelers need to consider their ground transportation options once they arrive at their destination.

Transportation should be pre-arranged when traveling throughout the country, when at all possible.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport has an excellent safety record; the Aviation Safety Network shows only six accidents in their database. None of the incidents involve error of the flight controllers or ground crews, and the most recent incident occurred in 2013. However, airport security protocols are generally inferior to U.S. standards, and airport amenities are virtually non-existent. Several regional airlines are avoided by numerous Western and international organizations due to lax safety standards. Many airports in the north cannot support nighttime landings. Regional flights are routinely delayed, and little information on flight status is available either online or at airports.

At the airport, U.S. citizens should not leave with anyone who does not show proper identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler's name. Transportation to and from the airport should be pre-arranged, when at all possible.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abuja as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Efforts to combat regional terrorism continued to prove challenging for authorities. Regional terrorism remains a significant threat. Boko Haram (BH) is based in northeast Nigeria and designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State; BH has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks in Nigeria and neighboring parts of Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. Its members have killed/wounded thousands of people, making it one of the deadliest extremist groups globally. In 2015, BH pledged allegiance to ISIS. However, in 2016, ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) emerged in northeastern Nigeria as a distinct splinter group of BH. This split likely occurred due to leadership differences between BH and ISIS over tactics, which often targeted civilian populations indiscriminately. However, BH and ISIS-WA have both attacked hard and soft targets, including churches, schools and educational institutions, mosques, entertainment venues, government installations, and security forces in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa, Plateau, Taraba, the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, and Yobe states. Markets remain especially vulnerable. Both groups have carried out numerous suicide bombings using suicide vests, and they have the capability to manufacture and employ vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). BH garnered international media attention in April 2014 with the kidnapping of a number of schoolgirls from Chibok. BH has carried out high-profile attacks in/near Abuja.

The Nigerian military has expanded its presence in parts of northeastern Nigeria to provide strategic command and control of military operations. However, the northeast remains an active zone of combat, and insurgents from BH and ISIS-WA continue to carry out attacks. While the Nigerian military continues to engage remaining insurgent strongholds, the Nigerian military’s logistical weaknesses and manpower shortages -- coupled with an increasing IED threat -- have slowed its progress. Moreover, as the main state actor in the region, the Nigerian military is called upon to assume an oversized – and often, less than ideal – role in counterterrorism response and protection, to include providing armed escorts for humanitarian actors and managing internally displaced person (IDP) sites. Their overstretched resources mean that the military struggles to provide constant security in areas outside local government capitals.

Borno state continues to be of particular concern. Although the Nigerian military seems to have BH confined largely to the Sambisa Forest, suicide attacks occur on a regular basis throughout the state but are primarily around population and commercial centers (Maiduguri). Commercial enterprises have re-established operations there, and NGOs have returned to Maiduguri in response to the severe humanitarian crisis created by 2.2 million IDPs. Notably, there were a number of suicide attacks targeting IDP camps in 2017, and BH has used women and children as suicide bombers.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

While most conflicts in Nigeria emanate from issues that do not involve Westerners or Western interests, Westerners are susceptible to kidnappings due to perceived affluence. Westerners are also at risk of wrong-place wrong-time violence, including at target locations or in areas at risk of attacks by BH and/or ISIS-WA. Increasingly, there is a risk of wrong-place/wrong-time violence in areas affected by intercommunal clashes.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Abuja as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

National elections and 2015 and state elections in 2017 were non-violent, and protests were peaceful and relatively small. However, there is an elevated risk of demonstration and political violence as Nigeria prepares for February 2019 presidential elections.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations can become violent and are often closely monitored. Visitors and residents are advised to avoid large gatherings and to be aware of their surroundings, as even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to confrontation. Protests conducted without the permission of the government or which stray outside of agreed-upon boundaries, generally face aggressive crowd control actions by security forces—usually involving the use of tear gas. Notable instances have occurred at Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) protests in Abuja; the IMN is a Shi’a group whose leader is in custody and awaiting trial. Political rallies by one group may prompt a counter rally by another group, increasing the potential for escalation.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Ethnic violence is endemic, particularly in the Middle Belt states (Plateau, Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, Nassawara). With over 40 ethno-linguistic groups in Plateau state alone, clashes are common, but violence is largely localized. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom estimates that approximately 14,000 Nigerians have died from sectarian violence since 1999. However, estimates on casualty counts are largely speculative and uncorroborated.

Herder-settler-related instability is derived from skirmishes between indigenous farming communities and nomadic cattle herders looking for grazing land. These herder-farmer clashes typically involve members of the Fulani ethnic group, which is predominantly Muslim, and other ethnic groups of various faiths; as a result, such violence has taken on a religious dimension. Reprisal attacks are common and contribute to the cycle of violence in the Middle Belt region. There have been upticks in herder-farmer violence, including incidents in southern Nigeria. Foreigners are not typically targeted by this intercommunal violence, but there may be a risk of wrong-place/wrong-time violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Frequent flooding occurs during the wet seasons (March-August and September-October).

Economic Concerns

Locally-produced knock-off luxury goods are common.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping is a serious security concern, and foreigners remain a target of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR). Criminals/militants have abducted foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, from offshore and land-based oil facilities, residential compounds, and public roadways. KFR is generally a non-violent businesslike transactional crime (although abductees are taken and held at gunpoint), whereas if the abductors have a terrorist ideology rather than a criminal intent, then the likelihood of an unfortunate ending greatly increases. Travelers should seriously consider kidnapping insurance. Suspected kidnappings should be reported immediately to the Consulate or Embassy. For more information, please review OSAC’s report Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Police response to a crime is severely hampered by a lack of basic resources (communications equipment, vehicles, skilled leadership, training). Requests for assistance by the diplomatic and expatriate communities typically require the provision of transportation/fuel to facilitate police response. Similarly, police investigators, while often well-intentioned, lack the training and resources to conduct effective investigations. As a result, criminals feel emboldened.

Never photograph public buildings, monuments, or airports. For more information, please review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens, Nigerians, and expatriates have reported harassment and extortion at vehicle checkpoints and in other encounters with law enforcement officials. It is recommended that any interactions with security personnel be conducted in a composed, polite, and courteous manner.

U.S. citizens detained or harassed by Nigerian government personnel should contact the American Citizen Services Unit (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General for assistance.

Crime Victim Assistance

The American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy Abuja (234) 9-461-4000 or U.S. Consulate General Lagos (234) 1-460-3717 should be the first point of contact for assistance to U.S. citizens.

Police/Security Agencies

Most businesses and wealthy residents employ guard services at work and home. Many guard companies offer varying quality of service. As law prohibits the arming of private security personnel, police often supplement guard forces. Such arrangements can be made by the contracted local guard company or with the local police station.

Medical Emergencies

Emergency medical care at Western standards is not readily available in Nigeria. There are several hospitals and clinics in larger cities, but none meet U.S. standards. Poor training, a lack of equipment, and poor sterilization remain concerns for patients at most hospitals and clinics.

The availability of dependable and safe over-the-counter and prescription medications is a concern. Counterfeit medical products, including medications, are common. Visitors should consider bringing a sufficient supply of needed medication. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page. Resources for individual states can be located toward the bottom of the page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Data on air ambulance services is also on the website.

Insurance Guidance

All private hospitals and clinics require cash payments before receiving care. Prices can be quite high, and it is often difficult to withdraw the required amount of money in a single bank transaction.

It is recommended that travelers maintain insurance for a variety of contingencies, to include property, medical, and kidnapping.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Nigeria.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Abuja Country Council meets monthly. Interested representatives of U.S. private-sector organizations should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Abuja

Plot 1075 Diplomatic Drive

Central District Area, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: (234) 9-461-4000

Marine Security Guard at Post One: (234) 9-461-4200


Nearby Posts

Consulate Lagos:

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling in Nigeria are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Nigeria Country Information Sheet