The US Embassy shut down its consular operations in Abuja because it received a Nigerian passport that strangely contained an unusual amount of white powder, SaharaReporters can authoritatively report.
The embassy announced the shutdown in a statement on its website on Tuesday — a day after one of its staff opened a passport for processing and discovered a sizeable portion of powder in it. The development sparked huge concerns about the potential damage to the staff member who opened the substance, and to others who may have been exposed to the substance.
A highly placed diplomatic source who confirmed the story to SaharaReporters said the embassy shut down the section to test the powder and to quarantine staff of the section.
The staff of the section were not allowed to leave work with their gadgets on that day, SaharaReporters understands.
Attempts to confirm the report from staff of the embassy proved abortive, as two staff contacted by SaharaReporters both declined to comment, saying all staff had been vehemently warned not to utter a word on it. Even the Public Relations Department of the embassy would make no comment on it as well, we were told.
“This is such a strange occurrence,” the source said. “If I wasn’t educated, I would doubt this ever happened. What on earth would you sprinkle power on the inside pages of your passport. Nigeria already has a high US visa rejection rate; I suspect it is about to get even worse.”
In 2017, more than 130,000 Nigerians, representing 44 per cent of the total number of applications, were denied visa.
SaharaReporters was told the quarantining period will be over very soon and the consular section will be reopened sometime next week, “likely anytime from Tuesday August 21”.
In the statement announcing the temporary shutdown, the embassy had said “American citizens in northern Nigeria with urgent travel needs who are travelling before Tuesday and who are willing to re-schedule their travel through Lagos should contact the ACS office at Consulate Lagos ( 01460 3400 and [email protected]) to discuss their options”.
This, according to the source, “is one hint that Tuesday is the target for resumption of operations”.
SaharaReporters refrained from formally contacting the embassy for an official reaction, for fear it would offer the embassy a slim chance of tracking down the source, seeing one of the staff who declined to talk had said: “The embassy is extremely determined to keep this under wraps; if I talk to you, I am 90% sure I would be found out and that means I lose my job.”
The US is one of the most coveted countries by Nigerians. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 163,000 immigrant and non-immigrant visas were issued to Nigerians between March 2017 and January 2018.