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Nigeria 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Abuja

Africa > Nigeria; Africa > Nigeria > Abuja

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 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 webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

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 others fall to the responsibility of Consulate General Lagos.

Crime Threats

Criminal elements pose a serious risk throughout the country. Criminals are prone to use wanton violence, and resistance by a victim is often met with deadly force. Residents have experienced armed robberies, assaults, burglaries, carjackings, rapes, kidnappings, and extortion. Nigerians and expatriates were victims of armed robberies at banks, retail stores, and on airport roads at all hours. Home invasions remain a threat with armed robbers targeting guarded compounds by scaling perimeter walls, following residents/visitors, or subduing guards to gain entry. There have been notable increases in kidnappings for ransom targeting Westerners and carjackings in the Abuja Consular District.

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. There has been a trend of pirates stealing fishing boats/engines to conduct piracy operations. The Nigerian Navy has limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea. The government of Nigeria continues to pressure private maritime security companies out of the market. 

The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens in Nigeria to consider their own personal security and to keep personal safety in the forefront of their planning.

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 religious facilities, Nigerian government installations, and public markets. Modes of attack vary widely between individual PBIEDs to coordinated bombings and armed raids.

The State Department’s Travel Warning for Nigeria warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria and recommends avoiding all travel to Adamawa (north of the Benue River), Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, and Yobe states because the security situation in northeast Nigeria remains fluid and unpredictable. Due to the risk of kidnappings, robberies, and other armed attacks, U.S. citizens should avoid all but necessary travel to: Adamawa (south of the Benue River), Bayelsa, Delta, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, and Zamfara.

Travel to the Gulf of Guinea should also be avoided because of the threat of piracy.

Borno State continues to be of particular concern. Although the Nigerian military seems to have Boko Haram confined largely to the Sambisa Forest, suicide attacks occur on a semi-regular basis throughout the state but are primarily around population and commercial centers (Maiduguri). Commercial enterprises have re-established operations there, and NGOs have been streaming back into Maiduguri in response to the severe humanitarian crisis created by 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Personnel from U.S. Embassy Abuja do not travel there without a dedicated security detail and remain in Maiduguri for a very limited time. The Embassy recommends that only essential travel to Maiduguri be considered. For those who do, the Embassy urges extreme caution, enhanced personal security, and the diligent exercise of personal security measures, particularly if traveling outside city limits.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving is a major safety concern, particularly outside of Abuja and Lagos. Most roads are below U.S. standards, and motorists typically do not yield the right-of-way or give consideration to other vehicles or pedestrians. Excessive speed and reckless driving habits can be expected. Most vehicles lack basic maintenance and safety equipment.

Although traffic laws exist, enforcement is virtually non-existent. Authorities do not require safety inspections of vehicles. Accidents involving passenger buses, taxis, and personally-owned vehicles are frequent and often involve serious injury or death. Accidents may also draw large crowds that may become confrontational. Traffic accidents are common, and while no official statistics exist, it is common to find abandoned totaled/burnt vehicles.

Residents and visitors should schedule travel, particularly outside major cities, during daylight hours only. Driving at night is strongly discouraged.

Always slow down and follow directions of police/military at checkpoints. Police are authorized to shoot at suspected stolen vehicles and will do so if you do not stop. It is generally a good practice to hide any valuables when approaching checkpoints.

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

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation generally is considered unsafe.

  • Motorcycle taxis (okadas) are of particular concern. These mostly-unlicensed taxis present a significant nuisance to other motorists due to their unpredictable driving habits and disregard of basic road rules and traffic safety. Okada drivers, often along with their passengers, have been confrontational and violent when involved in accidents with other vehicles. Okada drivers are also known to engage in criminal activity, acting as lookouts or as means of escape for criminals.
  • It is also wise to avoid public taxis, as there is a high frequency of muggings that occur in taxis by organized groups (One Chance).


Public transportation hubs have been targeted by Islamist groups.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Airport security protocols are generally inferior to U.S. standards, and airport amenities are virtually non-existent. A number of regional airlines are avoided by numerous Western and international organization due to 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.

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), one of the deadliest extremist groups based in northeast Nigeria and designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State, has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks. Its members have killed/wounded thousands of people. BH has targeted churches, schools, mosques, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa, Plateau, Taraba, the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, and Yobe states. Markets remain especially vulnerable. Thousands of Nigerians have been displaced as a result of violence in the north. BH carries out numerous suicide bombings, suing suicide vests and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Suicide bombings remain a mainstay of BH’s strikes against soft targets, though car bombs no longer play a significant role. The insurrection garnered international media attention in April 2014 with the kidnapping of an indeterminate number (suspected to be around 270) of Christian schoolgirls from Chibok. However, this kidnapping fits a long established pattern by BH of attacking educational institutions and capturing women while slaughtering men. These activities fit into a larger context of violence that includes raids on military/police installations, robberies of banks/businesses, and wholesale pillaging of northeastern towns. At its apogee, BH controlled a swath of territory across Borno and northern Adamawa. However, due to progress made by the Nigerian Army, BH-controlled territory has shrunk to the mountainous Sambisa Forest area.

Military bases in areas of active insurrection are known to be under constant threat, and soldiers are under-equipped. Frustrations boiled over in late 2014 with a mutiny in Nigeria’s 7th Division when a cabal of soldiers attempted the assassination of a general who was later replaced. Military installations outside Maiduguri continue to be targets for BH, and there are no indications, either from Nigerian military progress or ancillary counter-insurgency agencies, that the violence will abate. 

Islamic State West Africa, a distinct group from BH, has a presence in Nigeria, including in Abuja and other major population centers. ISIS remains intent on attacking locations frequented by Westerners.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

While conflicts emanate from issues that do not involve Western institutions, Westerners are susceptible to kidnappings or injury by not avoiding locations with characteristics that conform to the target pattern of BH attacks and other combatant groups.

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.

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. Protests conducted without the permission of the government generally face overzealous reactions from crowd control elements of the security forces.

Since national elections in 2015, state elections (Kogi and Delta) have generally been non-violent, and any protests were peaceful and relatively small.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Ethnic violence is endemic, particularly in the so-called Middle Belt states (Plateau, Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, Nassawara). With over 40 ethno-linguistic groups in Plateau state alone, clashes are common, but the 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. Perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, and there is a common belief that some of the violence is politically-motivated.

Additional instability derives from skirmishes between indigenous farming communities closer to the geographic middle of the country and nomadic cattle herders looking for grazing land. Reprisal attacks are common and lead to a perpetual cycle of violence in the Middle Belt region. Foreigners are not typically targeted by this intercommunal violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

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

Economic Concerns

Locally-produced knock-off luxury goods are common. Markets are also havens for criminal activity.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping is a serious security concern, and foreigners remain a target of kidnapping for ransom and ideology. Criminals/militants have abducted foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, from offshore and land-based oil facilities, residential compounds, and public roadways.

  • In 2016, there were five kidnapping for ransom cases that involved U.S. citizens. All eight were resolved successfully by authorities.

Since then, there has been a significant increase in kidnappings for ransom across the Middle Belt, specifically targeting Westerners or Nigerians perceived to have a Western affiliation. Private companies remain especially vulnerable, as a trend toward paying a ransom to secure a release has inflated the value of hostages thought to be part of major institutions. Missionaries have also been targeted, including in communities where they have lived long-term and were thought to have local popular support.

Police Response

Police response to any crime incident is virtually non-existent and is severely impacted by a lack of basic resources (communications equipment, vehicles, skilled leadership, training). The local population, including crime victims, generally prefers to forego police involvement for fear of extortion. Requests for assistance by the diplomatic and expatriate communities are typically met with good intentions, but it is often necessary to provide transportation/fuel for a response.

The police force, while often well-intentioned, lacks the training and resources to conduct effective investigations. Local police or neighborhood associations generally do not deter/disrupt burglaries and other crimes, and they seldom apprehend/detain suspects. Police personnel do not patrol residential neighborhoods, and numerous officers assigned to private security details routinely ignore requests for assistance not directly associated with their paid assignments. Consequently, most Nigerians do not perceive the police force as an effective law enforcement body. Criminal groups do not fear arrest/prosecution. Mob justice is common, and crowds are known to attack/kill whoever they perceive to be involved in a criminal act.

Never photograph public buildings, monuments, or airports. Some Nigerians may object to having their pictures taken; always ask permission first. 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 experienced 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. Police will typically respond strongly to any aggressive behavior, regardless of nationality or appearance.

Authorities do not adequately feed people in custody, and detainees must rely on family members/friends for meals. Detained U.S. citizens should contact the American Citizen Services Unit (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General for assistance.

Crime Victim Assistance

Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all to crime incidents and provide little/no investigative support to victims. There is no reliable national emergency communication number. 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 companies offer varying quality of service. As law prohibits the arming of private security personnel, police often supplement guard forces. These arrangements can be made by your local guard company or with the local police station.

Medical Emergencies

Emergency medical care at Western standards is not readily available in Abuja or surrounding states. 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. The clinics listed below import some of their medications. Although local pharmacies are abundant, counterfeit products, including medications, have affected many Nigerians. Visitors should consider bringing a sufficient supply of needed medication. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

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. Hospitals may detain patients who have not paid in full or deny services, even during exigent circumstances.

Healthcare workers, especially those involved in polio vaccination efforts in northern Nigeria, were a target in 2015. A number of U.S. government-affiliated NGOs had curtailed their activities by 2015 due to the threat of extremist violence. Additionally, 2015 saw multiple bombings at Nigerian schools dedicated to medical and hygienic disciplines.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

The Embassy maintains a list of medical assistance providers on the website. 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

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 currently meets monthly and has approximately 20 members. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.  

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

Duty Officer: (234) 803-408-6000

Regional Security Office: (234) 9-461-4175

American Citizen Services: (234) 9-461-4000

Website: http://nigeria.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Lagos: http://nigeria.usembassy.gov/general_consul.html

Embassy Guidance

It is recommended that any traveler register on STEP with the U.S. Department of State.

Additional Resources

Nigeria Country Information Sheet