The United States wants to help Nigeria fight the growing violence blamed on the Boko Haram sect, but the country cannot rely on military might alone, an official travelling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Mrs Clinton arrived on a one-day visit in Abuja yesterday, where she held a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan as well as security chiefs, offering to help fight the sect, which has waged a campaign of bombing and shooting in parts of the North for more than two years.
She arrived at the Presidential Villa at 3.57p.m., accompanied by officials of the U. S. Embassy in Nigeria and some diplomats, and was received by the Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru.
Her meeting with security chiefs lasted for more than two and half hours, focusing on security matters affecting Nigeria and other African countries, officials said. Those in attendance include all the service chiefs, the National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and the Inspector General of Police Muhammad Abubakar.
Security agencies have deployed massively in the Northern states plagued by violence but critics say the Federal Government relies too much on the military to defeat Boko Haram, rather than addressing northerners’ grievances, such as poverty and unemployment.
Reuters news agency reported that Mrs Clinton was expected to lean on President Jonathan at their meeting yesterday to address the underlying causes of the insurgency.
“A security strategy is not enough,” the senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton told Reuters.
Military crackdowns have had mixed results - reducing Boko Haram’s capabilities in some areas but generating anger because of their heavyhandedness.
Washington is offering to help Nigeria with things like forensics, tracking of suspects and ‘fusing’ disparate strands of police and military intelligence, the U.S. official said.
“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.
“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.
The U.S. is also concerned that the violence could disrupt regional peace, the official said.
“Northern Nigeria also borders Chad, it borders Cameroon, it borders Niger and we are concerned this radicalism could undermine the security of neighbouring states,” he added.
Speaking at the Presidential Villa yesterday, Mrs Clinton said the U.S. was supportive of Nigeria’s efforts to curb corruption but said the government needed to create better opportunities for citizens.
“We are 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,” she said.
“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 fulfill 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.”
She 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,” she added.
Earlier, President Jonathan praised the relationship between Nigeria and the US.
He said Mrs Clinton has raised the relations to a very high level “that we have never reached for quite some time by personally chairing the Bi-National Commission.”
“From the days I came in as Vice President especially that period as a nation we faced a lot of challenge when the late President was very ill and we passed through turbulence period.
“And they (U.S.) 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 we 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 it as quite free and fair,” he said.
Mrs Clinton later departed Nigeria for Ghana.