The United States, yesterday, offered to assist Nigeria fight Islamic sect, Boko Haram, which it sees as a growing regional menace, saying Nigeria cannot rely on military might alone. An official, travelling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disclosed this after holding a closed-door meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential villa.
Clinton, who arrived the Villa at 3.57 P.M., was accompanied by officials of the U. S. Embassy in Nigeria and some diplomats and were received by the Foreign Minister, Amb. Olugbenga Ashiru. Clinton also had another meeting with Security Chiefs including all the Service Chiefs, the National Security Adviser, retired Col. Sambo Dasuki and the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar.
According to the senior US official, the US is offering to help President Goodluck Jonathan fight Boko Haram, a militant sect that wants to establish a strict Islamic state in the northern part of the country. Boko Haram has launched bomb and gun attacks on churches this year that provoked Christians, leading to deadly reprisals against Muslims. Hundreds of people have died and Washington is concerned about insecurity spreading.
“Northern Nigeria also borders Chad, Cameroon, Niger and we are concerned this radicalism could undermine the security of neighbouring states. A security strategy is not enough. We know all too well from our own experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan what can happen if soldiers and police are not operating under appropriate authorities”, the senior U.S. official said.
“We will encourage them not to use excessive force and to look at this as a law enforcement operation designed to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he added.
Clinton who was in Nigeria as part of an 11-day, nine-nation African tour also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to boost the country’s intelligence capabilities to better combat growing extremist violence.
She proposed that Nigeria should create an “intelligence fusion cell” that would combine information from the military, spy services, police and other federal, state and local agencies. The cell would also coordinate counter-terrorism activities and serve as a contact for foreign intelligence services, said State Department officials.
The officials said US was ready to assist the cell with organizational expertise, training and equipment, including computers, and would offer the aid to President Jonathan and his new National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, on whom the U.S. has high hopes for, expanded intelligence cooperation.
The US has become increasingly concerned about the threat posed by militant groups in West Africa such as the Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria and cells of al-Qaeda-linked fighters in northern Mali.
The security situation in Nigeria has affected the movement of U.S. embassy workers.
American officials also expressed worry that Boko Haram’s rise might destabilize the broader region, particularly in Mali, where Islamist militants are taking advantage of a post-coup power vacuum to sow unrest in the north.
Other areas of assistantce
In addition to security matters, it was learnt that Clinton discussed good governance, rule of law and corruption with Nigerian officials.
The US offer of assistance is to include helping to develop Nigeria’s forensics and investigative procedures, according to the US official.
“We can help them develop mechanisms for tracking and determining individuals who are likely to be engaged in supporting Boko Haram actively,” the official said.
Some US lawmakers have been pushing President Barack Obama’s administration to label Boko Haram a terrorist group, but diplomats have resisted the designation, stressing it remains domestically focused.
In June, the United States labelled suspected Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and two other Nigerian militants “global terrorists,” allowing any US assets they may have to be blocked.
Shekau appeared in a video posted to YouTube last weekend dismissing the designation and criticising Jonathan.
A senior US official said, yesterday, that Washington wants to encourage Nigeria to set up a “comprehensive programme in the north” that combined a security strategy with a socio-economic plan.
After meeting members of the National Security Council, the US Secretary of State was also expected to meet with leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) before departing for Ghana later.
According to her: “We were also very supportive of anti corruption reform efforts, more transparency in the work that you and your team are also championing because we really believe that the future for Nigeria is limitless but the most important task that you face, as you have said, is making sure that there are better opportunities for all Nigerians, South, East, West, every young boy and girl to have chance to fulfil his God given potential. We want to work with you and we will be by your side as you make the reforms and take the tough decisions that are necessary.”
Mrs Clinton said the Obama administration was committed to its partnership with Nigeria especially the Bi-National Commission “which has helped us to expand and deepen our cooperation on full range of issues.
“We are working on economic matters, the improvement of productivity in agriculture, education and health, security, diversification of your economy and so much more.
“We intend to remain very supportive on your reform efforts.”
Earlier, President Jonathan had praised the existing relationship between Nigeria and the US especially the support his government has enjoyed from Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration.
He observed that the US Secretary of State has raised the relationship between Nigeria and America to a very high level “that we have never reached for quite some time by personally chairing the Bi-National.”
President Jonathan observed that President Obama administration has been passionate about Africa and Nigeria and has been supportive of Nigeria for the last five years.
According to him, “from the days I came in as Vice President especially that period as a nation we faced a lot of challenges when the late President was very ill and we passed through turbulence period.
“And they gave us the support that stabilised this country. And when we insisted we must conduct an election that is free and fair and that is the only thing that can stabilise democracy, they were very supportive.
“They gave us moral support, technical support to INEC and assisted us to make sure that we conducted elections that national and international observers declared as quite free and fair,” he said.
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