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Before Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991, there was a U.S. consulate in Kaduna, the political and social capital of the former Northern Region during the colonial period. The city retained its status as the informal political center of the northern Nigeria even after the regions were abolished and were replaced by states. The consulate was the center of U.S. outreach toward the predominately Muslim part of Nigeria, including exchanges, promotion of commercial opportunities, and it was the center of a lively public diplomacy outreach.
However, largely as a short-sighted cost-cutting measure, when the new embassy in Abuja became operational, the consulate in Kaduna was closed. An argument was that the relative proximity of Abuja and Kaduna made the consulate redundant. However, the consular function in Kaduna ended before the consular operation in Abuja started. The embassy in Abuja began offering visa services over a decade later. That meant that Nigerians living in the North had to travel for several hundred miles to Lagos in the south for visa services. The journey from Kano to Lagos takes fourteen hours. The journey from Kaduna to Abuja takes three hours.
This added to the popular perception that the United States was somehow prejudiced against Muslims, especially after 9/11. Further, Abuja is a new creation with a national focus. Its location is in the Middle Belt, not the “core North,” the states that had adopted Islamic law (Sharia). By contrast, Kaduna had a specifically northern focus. In effect, by closing the consulate in Kaduna, the United States ended its diplomatic presence in the North.
American friends of Nigeria have long wanted the reopening of a consulate in the North. During the first Obama administration, the Department of State approved the opening of a consulate in Kano, by far the largest city in northern Nigeria and the cultural and religious center of the region. However, the Islamist insurgency labeled “Boko Harm” caused the opening to be repeatedly postponed. On July 31, the embassy in Abuja announced that it was suspending any plans to open a consular office in Kano.
Though understandable from the perspective of security–especially in the aftermath of Benghazi–suspending the opening of a consular facility in the North deprives the United States of an on-the-ground presence in a critical part of the Islamic world and at the very time that the Sahel (of which northern Nigeria is a part) is of increasingly strategic importance. As such, it is a setback to long-term U.S. interests.