FROM MADU ONUORAH (ABUJA BUREAU CHIEF)
THE scope of United States (U.S.) military assistance to Nigeria and the U.S. new policy of using regional bloc leadership in solving crisis in Africa may be part of the reasons why the May 2, 2013 policy announced to civil rights activities in Abuja by U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Terence P. McCulley on withdrawal of military cooperation with Nigeria was shelved.
The Guardian investigations revealed that the Nigerian military was spared of the suspension for ‚Äúalleged mass killings of civilians and destruction of property by security forces in Baga and Bama, Borno State‚Äù because such policy for now would be ‚Äúcounter-productive for U.S. security and strategic efforts in the sub-region as Nigeria is the regional leader and a major player in implementing U.S. security interests in the West African sub-region.‚Äù
Instead of pursuing the option of suspension of military ties, officials of the U.S. State Department, through the U.S. Embassy Abuja are pressuring the Nigerian government and military to make the protection of civilians a cardinal policy of its anti-terror Internal Security Operations.
In a statement dated May 9, 2013, the U.S., ‚Äúin the strongest terms‚Äù, condemned Boko Haram‚Äôs campaign of terror in Nigeria. But the Embassy equally said it is ‚Äúdeeply saddened by ongoing reports of excessive use of force by Nigerian security forces in the name of combating Boko Haram, including extrajudicial killings, prolonged detention and disappearances. We are concerned that such an indiscriminate, force-based approach to counterterrorism is increasing extremism and decreasing confidence in the Federal Government. These tactics tarnish Nigeria‚Äôs reputation as an emerging leader and a stable democratic government. The tragedy at Baga underscores the need for the government of Nigeria to put civilian protection at the forefront of its counter-insurgency campaign.‚Äù
On May 2, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Terence P. McCulley had met with about 10 members of the human rights community in Nigeria to gauge their stand on the continuing violence in Northern Nigeria especially the alleged massacre of civilians by Nigerian military personnel. He informed them of a change in the U.S. policy towards the Nigerian military as the U.S. Congress had previously passed a law that bars his country from rendering military assistance to any government that violates basic rights of citizens. He added that based on the Baga massacre and other human rights violations in Nigeria, President Barack Obama‚Äôs administration has ceased to assist Nigeria militarily, in obedience to the law.
The news of the meeting and suspension of military cooperation immediately went online. But efforts to specifically confirm the story from the U.S. Embassy, Abuja failed. Some of the activists at the meeting including Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko of the Human Rights Writers‚Äô Association of Nigeria; Kole Shettima of the MacArthur Foundation and Auwal Rafsanjani of the Executive Director at Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) privately confirmed the statement of the U.S. ambassador on suspension of military assistance.
In Nigerian military circles, the news of the suspension was initially greeted with ‚Äúwait and see‚Äù posture. A senior officer hinted ‚Äúif this is true, this is like killing a fly with a sledge hammer or throwing the baby away with the bad water.‚Äù But privately, they wondered how the U.S. could successfully implement such policy on Nigeria without harming its own interests in the West African region. Some wanted to know if such suspension of cooperation would affect U.S. assistance for Nigerian regional and continental peace keeping programmes.
And to further douse the media reports, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru dismissed it as ‚Äúspeculations.‚Äù According to a statement by Ashiru, ‚ÄúStory about U.S. stopping military assistance to Nigeria is false. I have just concluded a visit to the U.S. and met with Senator John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State on April 25, 2013. He (Kerry) stressed that Nigeria remains a strategic partner to the U.S.‚Äù Ashiru reiterated that Kerry vowed that U.S.-Nigeria relations would be further strengthened in all areas of political, security, defence and economic cooperation under the Bi-National Commission. He added, ‚Äúexactly the same message was repeated at a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr. John Baird on May 2, in Ottawa.‚Äù
Still there was no official confirmation. But by evening, a tweet from @USEmbassyAbuja denied the story. It stated: ‚ÄúThe U.S. has not suspended security assistance to Nigeria. We continue to emphasize importance of security forces respect for human rights.‚Äù
For long, Nigeria and United States have shared strong partnership in security cooperation except for period during the regime of late General Sani Abacha when the ties were strained. But what is the scope and nature of such cooperation? Truth is, the United States has started implementing a new foreign policy focus in which putting its forces on ground especially in Africa is off the books. It is now relying on regional powers like Nigeria to help it implement its foreign policy and security objectives in Africa.
In Africa, the U.S. has opted to building the capacity of African nations to bring solutions to African problems. It has embraced the policy of organising and equipping African militaries, granting ‚Äúeligible countries‚Äù its excess defence equipment, supporting training and exercises, provision of logistics and training of troops on peacekeeping and peace enforcement.
A top U.S. State Department official told The Guardian in Stuttgart, Germany last February that ‚Äúthe American government has resolved that for the problems of Africa, regional bloc leadership is key to solving them. We don‚Äôt want to impose a resolution. But as much as we have now opted for an African-led solution, we are not shirking our international obligations to confront Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates. It is our policy to stop trans-national terrorism and its ability to reach outside and expand their global reach. We will help defeat terrorism, build capacity and support African countries through building partnerships. But we will have no more put booths on the ground.
‚ÄúAnd in accomplishing this, the U.S. views Nigeria as one of the most important countries in Africa for achieving this. It is a major energy provider, fourth largest troop contributing country to the United Nations peace efforts, has a large population that is now confronted with growing internal concerns of terrorism. There is also the issue of illicit trafficking in human resources and smuggling. And in solving this in the country and other countries in West Africa, Nigeria is key.‚Äù
This is essentially what has been driving U.S. policy in Nigeria. The move started in 1997 when President Bill Clinton established the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), the first of a whole array of new military programmes created to provide increasing amounts of U.S. security assistance to African regimes and to expand U.S. military activities on the continent.
But in 2004 when ACRI was expanded and renamed the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA), U.S. military involvement in Africa especially Nigeria expanded rapidly. This increase was initially justified as a means to ensure that the United States continues to have access to the oil resources of the Niger Delta. For example, in the Financial Year 2006, the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations notes Nigeria‚Äôs ‚Äúimportance as a leading supplier of petroleum to the U.S.‚Äù and the fact that ‚ÄúNigeria is the fifth largest source of U.S. oil imports.‚Äù Therefore, according to the Budget Justification, ‚Äúdisruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to the oil security strategy of the U.S.‚Äù
And with the advent of the terror attacks by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, the U.S. upped its defence and security assistance programmes. Immediate past Commander of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham confirmed last January in Stuttgart, Germany that the U.S. had deployed its intelligence machinery to support Nigeria in fighting the threat posed by Boko Haram. Ham also added that the U.S. had been collaborating with the Nigerian military to stem the growing trend of maritime crimes like piracy, illegal bunkering and oil theft.
Such U.S. military and security assistance have been varied and enduring. In Fiscal Year 2012, security cooperation events include Nigerian Quick Response Force visit with the U.S. 435th Contingency Response Group and Nigerian Chief of Air Staff visit at Ramstein Air Force base, Germany. For fiscal year 2013, the security cooperation events include Search and Rescue Training, which held in Lagos (February 4-8, 2013), Aircraft Crash and Fire Training (Lagos ‚Äì March 18-22, 2013 and Search and Rescue Familiarisation visit with California National Guard (Moffet Field, California ‚Äì March 25-29, 2013). Others due for execution include Supply Chain Management Assessment (Lagos ‚Äì May 27-31, 2013) and Flight Surgeon Skills Training (Lagos ‚Äì June 17-21, 2013).
Other U.S. assistance to Nigeria includes the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) funded by the U.S. Department of State but executed by the Department of Defence. Under this, the U.S. government provides military education, training and professional development to various cadres of Nigerian military personnel.
Under this policy, Nigeria is receiving $1 million for foreign military grant for maintenance and sustainment of equipment and another $1 million for training, education and professional development of Nigerian military personnel this year.
The Nigerian military is also benefitting from the Excess Defence Articles (EDA) policy, which allows eligible countries to receive Excess Defence Articles at a fraction of the original cost.
Already, the Nigerian Navy has procured two ‚ÄòCat class‚Äô combat vessels under this arrangement in 2004. Also, the Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutter of the United States Coast Guard was decommissioned on March 29, 2011 and transferred to the Nigerian Navy as an excess defence article under the Foreign Assistance Act as NNS Thunder (F90).
This year, the Nigerian Navy is expected to visit the United States to inspect a new naval vessel which will be transferred to it on paying ‚Äúa fraction of the original cost‚Äù on ‚Äúas it is, where is‚Äù, meaning that the Navy must pay for the cost of its transportation and refurbishment.
Also, Nigeria is also benefitting from the U.S. Department of Defence funded Combating Terrorism Fellowship Programme (CTFP) which provides counter terrorism-focused education, training and professional development for African military, security and law enforcement personnel. In addition, Nigerian battalions benefit from the U.S. Department of State managed Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance for African battalions deploying for peacekeeping operations.
Nigeria is also a major part of the U.S. Department of State‚Äôs Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) aimed at strengthening regional counter terrorism capabilities, enhance and institutionalise cooperation among the region‚Äôs security forces, counter terrorist ideology, reinforce bilateral military ties with the U.S. and promote democratic governance. It is also part of the Operation Enduring Freedom ‚Äì Trans Sahara, the U.S. Department of Defence initiative for supporting the TSCTP. These military based activities foster regionally focused collaboration and communication among the sub-region‚Äôs security forces and develop and strengthen counter terrorism and border security capacities.
And towards enhancing sub regional security, Nigeria is benefitting from the U.S. initiatives on military information sharing, communications system interoperability, joint, combines and multi-national exercises enhancing cooperation, airlift and logistical support for troops and military services and provision of ground and aviation training and maintenance support.
Apart from the implementation of the U.S. President‚Äôs Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief, there are also contact visits and exchanges of legal, medical chaplain personnel of the two militaries. Nigeria also participates in joint exercises between the U.S. and other African militaries including the sea-based Obangame Express. It was held this year in Cameroon. Apart from helping to promote counter-terrorism capability, it helps in improving maritime domain awareness and maritime interdiction operations.
Nigeria has received U.S. security assistance through the Anti-Terrorism Assistance programme and the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programme. In the year 2009, a total of $720,000 was provided for assistance through the INCLE programme while in the year 2010, the Obama administration requested for $2 million INCLE funding for Nigeria.
A top Nigerian defence official told The Guardian, that ‚Äúbased on the scope of the military cooperation, any thought that it would be negatively affected by some unavoidable mistakes in the war against the Boko Haram alone is misplaced. Such thoughts fly against the norm. Remember, though the Nigerian military is fighting the war against terror, against groups linked to Al Qaeda here in Nigeria; they are actually helping the U.S. to fight its enemy. Yes, mistakes may have been made here and there in Nigeria‚Äôs fight against the Boko Haram sect and other criminal activities. But they do not yet warrant such suspension of cooperation. It may take a major deliberate threat by the Nigerian military against U.S. interests for such a weighty decision to be quickly taken.‚Äù