Harry and Meghan visiting Nigeria despite State Department’s advisory on travel there

Prince Harry reportedly wants to promote the Invictus Games in Nigeria, while Meghan Markle may enjoy the opportunity to connect with her self-declared 43% Nigerian ancestry.

But some security experts are scratching their heads at news that the couple plan to visit Nigeria this month. To the U.S. State Department, the African nation carries a “Level 3” advisory — the second highest risk level — because of concerns about crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping and armed gangs.

The State Department strongly advises Americans to “reconsider travel” to Nigeria, where the country’s military also has been fighting a deadly war against Islamic extremists in the country’s northeast since 2009, the Associated Press reported. 

The visit seems even more surprising, given Harry’s deep concerns about personal security. The California-based Duke of Sussex has sued U.K. government, headed by his father, King Charles III, over his belief that he, his American wife and his two children can’t be safe while visiting his home country unless he has access to taxpayer-funded protection.

“It’s strange that he personifies the risk factors here (in the U.K.) and is willing to go to one of the world’s most dangerous countries,” said Dai Davies, a former royal protection officer, told the Daily Express. “I would want to know the rationale for this visit to what is a very dangerous place.”

It’s probable arguable whether Nigeria is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, when Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Russia and war-ravaged Ukraine are among the countries that carry Level 4 advisories.

Still, the U.S. government, as well as the governments of the, U.K. Canada and Australia, discourage travel to Nigeria right now, saying that violent crime is “common” and kidnappings for ransom “occur frequently,” with criminals often preying on visitors “with perceived wealth.”

Both the U.S. and U.K. government say their citizens should avoid travel in many of the 36 states in the bigger-than-Texas-sized nation, with these places carrying Level 4 advisories. The Australian government says pretty forcefully that the security situation in Nigeria is “volatile,” with a high risk” of kidnappings and terrorist attacks across the country, including in the capital city of Abuja.

Terrorists usually attack with little or no warming in Nigeria, targeting places where crowds gather, the State Department said. The groups responsible for the terrorist attacks have included ISIS-West Africa and Boko Haram. The State Department also advises travelers to “keep a low profile,” which may not be possible for such a globally famous couple.

Harry and Meghan’s trip to Nigeria was revealed in a statement this week from the Nigerian defense ministry, AP reported. Defense spokesperson Brig. Gen. Tukur Gusau did not say exactly when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would arrive in Africa, but the visit is expected to take place after Harry travels to London next week to attend a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral to mark the 10th anniversary of the games.

“The Defense Headquarters has expressed its honor and delight for the acceptance of the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan, to visit Nigeria in May 2024,” the statement read, adding that the visit would include cultural activities to “consolidate Nigeria’s stronghold at the (games) and the possibility of hosting the event in later years.”

Harry founded the Invictus Games in 2014 to offer wounded veterans the challenge of competing in an international sporting event, similar to the Paralympics. Nigeria sent its first delegation to last year’s games in Düsseldorf, and competitors for the country won a gold medal in powerlifting and a bronze in table tennis, Vanity Fair reported.

During the games, the Sussexes were joined by the country’s defense minister, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Badaru, an oil and shipping billionaire who formerly was the governor of Jigawa state in northern Nigeria. Gusau said the defense minister expressed interest in hosting future games in Nigeria.

It’s not known if the cultural activities planned for Harry and Meghan’s visit will take place in Abuja, in central Nigeria. But the U.S and U.K. governments both list a number of regions of the country that should be limited to essential travel or avoided altogether because of security concerns.

Harry and Meghan would not be touring Nigeria as representatives of the British government, since they left royal duties in 2020, so they presumably have to rely on themselves or on the Nigerian defense ministry to keep them safe. Actually, as host, the Nigerian government probably would go out of its way to keep the famous couple safe from the aforementioned kidnappings and terrorist attacks. Maybe the Invictus Games Foundation also could pitch in for security.

During the Invictus Games opening ceremony in September, Harry seemed amenable to that idea of Nigeria hosting the games, Vanity Fair said. He also indicated that he’d root for Nigerian athletes.

“Now, I’m not saying we play favorites in our home,” Harry said. “But since my wife discovered that she’s of Nigerian descent, it’s likely to get a little bit competitive this year.” In a 2022 episode of her podcast Archetypes, Meghan told Nigerian-American comedian Ziwe Fumudoh that a DNA test had revealed that she was 43% Nigerian.

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