President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into how an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader secured a valid Nigerian visa in Lebanon.
Imam Ahmed Al-Assir, who was sentenced to death in absentia and had been on the run since 2013, was arrested on Friday at the airport in Lebanon on his way to Nigeria through Egypt.
He was carrying a fake Palestinian passport with Nigerian visa.
Credible sources told disclosed that the presidency felt embarrassed and scandalised that a man on the international terror list had obtained a Nigerian visa and was on his way to the country. The sources said that it was even worrisome for the government that Al-Assir was trying to enter Nigeria at a time when the country is trying to put down the Boko Haram insurgency that has caused so much death and destruction.
The government had therefore directed the three agencies involved – the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Nigerian Immigration Service to immediately investigate the matter and report back soonest.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Bulus Lolo, said the Federal Government had begun investigations on a wanted terrorist granted a Nigerian visa in Lebanon to visit Nigeria.
Lolo said this while addressing newsmen in Abuja yesterday.
He explained that the Nigerian Charge d’Affairs in Lebanon had met with Lebanese authorities to look into the matter.
The NIA and the Nigeria Immigration have also commenced their own investigations into the matter.
A senior NIA official who spoke yesterday on the condition of anonymity said the agency responsible of Nigeria’s externally security is rattled and concerned about a wanted terrorist’s travel plans to Nigeria.
He said the issue is already being investigated and the organization will soon uncover how the terrorist who is on an international watch list obtained visa to travel to Nigeria.
Nigeria, he said has a full-fledged embassy in Lebanon, he explained that there are three categories of people who approve the issuance of visa at embassies namely staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria Immigration and the NIA.
The NIA official argued that procedurally and administratively NIA officials are more thorough in screening visa applications because of their security training and background.
However, he noted that the means through which Al-Assir subverted the normal procedure and obtained his visa to Nigeria must be investigated and those found culpable punished.
Explaining normal procedures, he said visa applicants wanting to come to Nigeria usually give reasons for their visit in visa application forms.
This, he said, would include contact names, addresses and, usually, a letter of invitation is required from an individual or organization.
He said these are the major things considered before visa is approved; also to be looked into is whether he used his real name and if he gave a normal passport of his original personality.
The NIA, he said, is concerned about the intended mission of the ISIS leader in Nigeria, noting that visa officers are supposed to call contacts and organizations stated by visa applicants to confirm authenticity. Also the telephone numbers and addresses stated as contacts in visa application must be verified.
He said despite the checks and procedures put in place to vet against the issuance of visas to bad elements, there is a subsisting order by the federal government on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for visa officers in all Nigeria diplomatic missions abroad.
The order, he said, mandates that before visas are issued to certain categories of persons, which include known religious leaders, politically exposed persons and journalists, the visa officer must contact the Ministry of Foreign affairs before such visa applications are approved.
While the NIA has commenced discreet investigation because of the international dimension of the matter, he said, by statutorily provisions, the State Security Services (SSS) will take over the domestic aspect of the investigation.
At the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), it is gathered that questions were being asked over how the ISIS chief got the Nigerian visa.
Sources there said President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issuance of Visa to the terrorist who has been on the wanted list of several governments for years.
A reliable source, who pleaded anonymity, said the president was worried about the development, adding that Buhari’s government will not watch while an agency in charge of Visa frustrate government efforts to stamp out terrorists from the country.
“The reported arrest of the wanted terrorist is a huge embarrassment to Nigeria and the President has directed that the matter should be investigated. The embassy in Lebanon has been directed to furnish the ministry of Interior with details of how the man got the visa,” the source said.
Efforts to get a confirmation from the PRO of the service, Chukwuemeka Obua, proved abortive as he neither answered calls nor replied text messages sent to him.