Stable Nigeria, Asset to America

By Ade Adefuye

Nigeria and the United States, US, have come a long way. Our relationship has its roots in the strong historical and cultural connections between our two peoples, a connection reinforced by existing economic and geo-political realities. Nigeria with 170 million people has the largest concentration of black people anywhere in the world. The US has a large concentration of black people. There are one million Nigerian-Americans and twice that number is present in the US pursuing various professions and contributing constructively to the economic and social lives of the country.

Relations between Nigeria and the US have, within the past four years, been on a very high pedestal. A Bi-national Commission Agreement signed in 2010 has been the framework of the relationship between our two countries. The major components of the Agreement have been in four key areas, namely:

(i)        Transparency, good governance, and Integrity

(ii)       Niger Delta and Regional Security,

(iii)      Energy and Investment, and

(iv)       Food, Security and Agriculture.

The cooperation agreement under these subheadings has been actively implemented; thus leading to frequent contacts between Nigerians and Americans both in the public and private sectors. Nigeria is America’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. A two-way trade between both countries in 2013 was valued at $18.2 billon. The United States is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, with a stock of foreign direct investment in Nigeria worth $8.2 billion in 2012 concentrated largely in the petroleum, mining and wholesale trade sectors. Since March 2009, Nigeria and the United States have been meeting under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, TIFA, to discuss improvements in Nigeria’s trade policies and market access. We also discuss cooperation in the world trade organisation, export diversification, making use of Africa Growth Opportunities Act, AGOA, provisions, intellectual property protection, trade capacity building, and technical assistance.

Nigeria is still a middle income, mixed economy; an emerging market with expanding financial services, communications, technology and entertainment sectors. It is the largest economy in Africa with Gross Domestic Product, GDP, of 500 billion range. It is ranked 26th in the world in terms of GDP and is on track to become one of the 20 largest economies of the world by 2020. Investment opportunities are many in Nigeria with incentives provided by the government in the oil sector, particularly oil and gas, mining, food and agriculture services, and tourism.

The incentives provided by government for foreigners to invest in Nigeria have been sufficiently well communicated to the American private sector by this Embassy through investment fora on Agriculture 2010, Power 2012, and Infrastructure 2012. This has led to the massive presence of American investors in key areas of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria was a major participant in the August 2014 US–Africa summit. We are the first country on Obama Power Africa programme and both countries discuss actively the reauthorisation of AGOA. At the end of the summit, the US Chambers of Commerce combined with the Corporate Council on Africa to host a reception for President Goodluck Jonathan in Washington. It was attended by over 500 business moguls. Our President was the only one so honoured.

The cultural and economic links between Nigeria and the US are reinforced by the convergence and mutuality of our strategic global objectives. Nigeria currently operates an American-style presidential system with a directly elected executive. Our two countries believe and work towards a world that is based on democracy, respect for human rights, equality of all citizens and rule of law; a world that features more of consultation than confrontation, a world that is free of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and one that seeks to achieve sustainable development. This convergence explains why Nigeria and the US have, for the past four years, voted along the same lines at the United Nations – be it on Iran and the nuclear issue, Mali and Libya, sometimes even when it involves disagreement with our African brothers as it was in the case of Libya.

Relations between our two countries are in good health, but there is room for improvement. In the recent past, we have had cause to complain, and are still complaining about the style, nature and manner of the implementation of some US policies with particular reference to terrorism in our country.

The whole world has been struck with the nature and scope of terrorist activities in certain parts of the world, including the north-eastern part of our country. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s equivalent of ISIS. The group has up till today killed thousands of our people and rendered many homeless. At first, we thought that Boko Haram was a local group pressing for local demands. But it later became clear to us that the group was the West African branch of the worldwide Al-Qaida movement with connections with Al’shabb in Somalia and AQIM in Mali. We appealed for international support and the US was the first and has remained a major pillar of support in our struggle against the terrorists.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council on Foreign Relations, I am sad to inform you that the Nigerian leadership – military and political, and even the general populace – is not satisfied with the scope, nature and content of the US support for us in our struggle against terrorists. We find it difficult to understand how and why in spite of the US presence in Nigeria with their sophisticated military technology, Boko Haram should be expanding and becoming more deadly. At first, we had problems with the manner in which intelligence was being shared. The US government claims that the problem has been addressed, but it is still there. The US government has up till today refused to grant Nigeria’s request to purchase lethal equipment that would have brought down the terrorists within a short time on the basis of the allegations that Nigeria’s defence forces have been violating human rights of Boko Haram suspects when captured or arrested. This is based largely on reports submitted by human rights groups and sections of the Nigerian media that have sympathy for the opposition parties and are prepared to use whatever means possible to embarrass the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. The Americans claim that Leahy Law forbids the sale of lethal equipment to governments that violate human rights.

We have made it clear to our Americans friends that the allegations of human rights violation cannot be substantiated by facts:

Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the three Boko Haram affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. But the democratic structures were left in place. The parliament, judiciary, and the civilian executives continue to function as in normal times. What is more, Nigeria did not establish an extra-judicial body to try Boko Haram suspects. All those who were arrested on suspicion of collusion with Boko Haram are being tried in the civilian courts; some of them are currently out on bail.

I say with all sense of responsibility that allegations of human rights violation are based on rumours, hearsay and exaggerated accounts of clashes between the Nigerian forces and Boko Haram fighters. There was a case of an incident in Baga in 2013 when human rights groups and the opposition press said that, based on pictures taken from satellite, over 1,600 houses were destroyed in a village that has fewer than 600 houses.

There have been video reports of human rights violations involving attacks on women and children purported to have been carried out by Nigerian soldiers in Boko Haram affected areas. We pointed out to our American friends that those activities were carried out by Boko Haram members wearing stolen Nigerian army uniforms. Disguise and subterfuge are standard practices of insurgent groups. The Chibok abduction of our schoolgirls by Boko Haram succeeded because the girls thought that they were being carried to safety by soldiers of the Nigerian army.

With the approach of general elections in 2015, the Boko Haram issue is becoming heavily politicised. Opposition media provide half-truths, exaggerated accounts which are then aired by the foreign media, forming the basis of reports sent to the capital cities of Western nations. We have implored our colleagues in the embassies of Western nations based in Nigeria to check and re-check the facts, and not use half-truths and rumours as the basis of their reports and recommendations to their capitals. A famous philosopher said that “facts are sacred; opinion is free.” I hereby assert as a fact that opinions on human rights violations by Nigerian defence forces are biased, and were not subjected to the necessary verification.

This unfortunately is the basis of America’s refusal to sell to Nigeria the necessary lethal equipment to use in the fight against Boko Haram which would have by now been wiped out. We implore the Council on Foreign Affairs to put pressure on the State Department and the Department of Defence to re-examine the basis of their refusal to sell the equipment to Nigeria. Our people are not very happy with the content of America’s support in the struggle against Boko Haram. The terrorists threaten our corporate existence and territorial integrity. There is no use giving us the type of support that enables us to deliver light jabs to the terrorists when what we need to give them is the killer punch. A friend in need is a friend indeed. The true test of friendship is in the times of adversity.

A stable and secure Nigeria is an invaluable asset to America. The democratically elected, stable and secure Nigeria, under President Goodluck Jonathan, ensured the triumph of democracy in Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, and has prevented the collapse of Guinea Bissau. Even in spite of our present challenges, President Jonathan is taking the lead in ensuring a quick return to democracy in Burkina Faso. America’s strategic global objective aims for a stable and secure Africa as an integral part of a peaceful and stable world. A peaceful, stable and secure Nigeria, free from the ravages of Boko Haram, is a necessary pre-requisite.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are hereby conveying our feelings on the Boko Haram issue to your council. Now that the mid-term elections are over, we will carry our case to Capitol Hill, seek support from other think-tanks, and the American public. We are of course aware that the ultimate responsibility for ending the scourge of Boko Haram rests on us. We are therefore prepared to exercise our rights as a sovereign nation and use whatever means available to assure the security and territorial integrity of our country.

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