List allegedly showing names of Nigerians hit by US visa ban is a hoax

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When the US in May announced visa restrictions for Nigerians suspected of undermining recent polls in the West African nation, social media posts began circulating a list claiming to show the names of those allegedly subject to the ban. However, AFP Fact Check found that a US-based Nigerian diaspora group created the list. Moreover, the US State Department confirmed that it does not publicly release the names of individuals targeted by travel curbs.

"BRGIE @BiafraRGIE update! While we have nothing to do with Nigeria, however, If the US visa ban exempted @officialABAT, the list is a fraud! If all the people listed has been found wanting by the US, and yet they are hoping on Nigeria for anything, they are also part of the fraud (sic)," reads a tweet posted on May 15, 2023.

A screenshot of the false tweet, taken on May 22, 2023

The list also circulated widely on Facebook.

"BRGIE" refers to an organisation run by Simon Ekpa, a self-declared leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group pushing for independence in Nigeria’s southeast.

AFP Fact Check previously debunked statements by Ekpa who has a history of spreading misinformation.

The post with the list, retweeted more than 1,500 times, also refers to "@officialABAT", the Twitter handle (archived here) of President-elect Bola Tinubu who won the February 25 ballot (archived here).

It implies that Tinubu should feature on the purported ban list and accuses the US of endorsing his victory despite alleging that the electoral process had been undermined.

Allegations of widespread voting irregularities and rigging marred the election. Opposition candidates Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have openly contested the results.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) denied any illegal activity, although it did acknowledge technical problems (archived here) with the voting machines.

The US State Department announced (archived here) on May 15, 2023, that it would impose visa restrictions "on individuals involved in undermining the democratic process during Nigeria’s 2023 elections cycle".

"These actions are specific to certain individuals and are not directed at the Nigerian people or the Government of Nigeria as a whole," the statement reads.

However, AFP Fact Check found that the list circulating on social media was false.

Fabricated list

The screenshot in the misleading posts has the words "copyright @peterobiusa" splashed across it.

Using a Twitter search, AFP Fact Check found the same list was shared on May 15, 2023, from a social media account that describes itself as "Nigerians in America Diaspora support for Peter Obi Presidential Bid in 2023".

"This are the list of names submitted by Nigerian American Coalition for Justice and Democracy (NACJD) to the State Department during the April 3rd 2-23, White House and US Congress Protest in Washington DC (sic)", the tweet claims.

A screenshot of the tweet and highlighted caption, taken on May 22, 2023

The pro-Obi group created the list of alleged "election riggers" as part of a US-based protest over Tinubu’s election. This context was missing from Ekpa’s tweet and other posts on Facebook.

Several news articles reported that a Nigerian diaspora group obtained a permit (archived here) to protest the election results in front of the White House on April 3, 2023.

State Department policy

AFP Fact Check contacted the US State Department to verify the list’s authenticity.

Without confirming or denying the names, a State Department spokesperson said that "individual visa records are confidential" under US law (archived here).

However, they confirmed that the US has "not publicly announced the names of any individuals subject to visa restrictions for undermining democracy in Nigeria".

Additionally, individuals are only informed they are ineligible when they apply for a US visa, not before.

IPOB disinformation

Calls for a separate state of Biafra remain alive in Nigeria more than half a century after secessionist leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu declared the independence of the country’s southeast in 1967. The move unleashed a brutal 30-month civil war.

Though the breakaway state has since rejoined the rest of the country, members of IPOB and those sympathetic to its cause still refer to themselves as Biafrans.

AFP Fact Check has repeatedly debunked IPOB statements.