Is US hindering fight against Boko Haram?
By Zoë Gorman, Senior Writer
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari visited Washington DC July 20-24, the first since the historic election in the country that ensured his victory over an incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
During his trip, Buhari met with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to establish a rapport as the leader of Africa’s most influential nation. He used the opportunity of the visit to ask for increased aid to fight the Islamist Boko Haram, and boost credibility among members of the Lake Chad Basin Community (Cameroon, Chad and Niger). He also spoke to representatives from various government agencies and NGOs, including CMPI, at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
In opening remarks, Nancy Lindborg, president of USIP and Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the former assistant secretary of state for Africa, spoke glowingly about the unprecedented election and clean campaign that preceded the polls as well as former President Goodluck Jonathan’s gracious stepping down. Both diplomats expressed the hope that Nigeria’s example would serve as models for the democratic process in Africa. Term limit disputes often devolve into military coups, revolts, dictatorships, and political intrigue across the continent — a trend President Obama emphasized when meeting with African leaders in Kenya and Ethiopia during his recent trip to Africa. “Leading up to the election in Nigeria, very few in the media gave Nigeria as little as half a chance. Nigeria was not expected to make it,” Carson said. “The peaceful outcome attests to the fact that elections in Africa can be conducted in a free, fair and ethical matter just like in other parts of the world.”
As Africa’s most populous democracy, Nigeria also boasts its largest economy, and oil, telecommunications and banking industries. But it also faces continual challenges.
Buhari comes into office after three failed attempts to run for the presidency, including the 2007 election disputed for fraud and allowed to stand by a one-vote margin in the country’s Supreme Court, and faces security problems with the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram in the northeast, financial and budget challenges caused by declining oil prices, corruption in the oil sector and power shortages.
Buhari said he intends to improve innovative approaches to voter education while raising the cost of impunity and strengthening electoral norms. Striving for a more responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable government, he reiterated his zero-tolerance corruption policy and his commitment to creating jobs and managing natural resources.
“Buhari – President of everybody and nobody”
“We must win and sustain the trust of the people we govern,” Buhari said. “I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody.”
Political imbalance is not unique to Africa, he added; in the United States, the Republican Party effectively controls both houses of Congress.
Buhari recognized the threat of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram as a primary impediment to development and stability in Nigeria. Calling the material costs of insurgency to Nigeria “unacceptable,” Buhari asked for more substantial U.S. counterterrorism assistance with fewer restraints. He criticized the Obama administration for denying military aid and training to certain units because of human rights violations, which he dismissed as “unproven allegations.”
Video evidence from Amnesty International last year implicates members of the Nigeria military and state sponsored militias in heinous war crimes, including extrajudicial killings of war prisoners. The United States Law (often called Leahy law- named after veteran Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy) prohibits grants of weapon transfers and military training from specific military units that have incurred “gross human rights violations” — extrajudicial execution, forced disappearance, rape and torture — through the Leahy Law.
By not supplying weapons to Nigeria, a frustrated Buhari said in a way “the US government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorists in its extremist ideology and hate in raping women and girls and other heinous crimes. I know the American people cannot support this,” he said. “Our forces have remained impotent because they do not possess the appropriate technology and weapons which we could have had, had the so called human rights violations not been an obstacle.”
An Amnesty International report published Wednesdayreaffirms that human rights violations are taking place within the Nigerian military and criticizes President Buhari for lamenting a “blanket application” of the Leahy Law because it applies only to units against which human rights allegations have been leveled and not to the entire country.
In light of U.S. restrained aid and the “enormous challenge” posed by Boko Haram, Buhari said his administration is improving cooperation and coordination with neighbors and other international partners “to add depth and muscle to [an] overall counterterrorism strategy.”
A former general and head of state after a 1983 military coup, Buhari has been a longtime advocate of a strong set of armed forces. He played a leading role in the removal of Nigeria’s second republic president, Shehu Shagari, whose administration had become weighted down with corruption allegations, suspicions of electoral fraud, and a declining economy.
During his 20 months as head of state, Buhari was known for his modest lifestyle and commitment to anti-corruption. Human rights groups also criticized him for draconian executions and for silencing dissent by imprisoning government ministers and journalists after kangaroo trials.
When asked what lessons he would take from his military and government experiences, Buhari distanced himself from his previous career saying he did not think he could compare his installation as a military leader with his current position as a democratically elected president. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 made a deep impression on him though, he added. Seeing a 20th century empire dissolve, coupled with 25 years of military experience, has convinced him that a multiparty democratic system is the best form of government, he announced.
Ambassador Carson lauded Buhari for his persistence, his commitment to the democratic process and his service to his country.
“President Buhari never gave up on democracy and he never gave up on the electoral process. He never abandoned the deep social and ethical convictions that have guided him throughout his life and have motivated him to run for his country’s highest office,” Carson said.unemployment, Buhari faces some unanswered questions for how to optimally leverage Nigeria’s resources. In response to a question from Connie Newman, the former assistant to the Secretary of State for Africa, on how he plans to coordinate all of Nigeria’s offices to prevent them from operating at cross purposes, Buhari turned to jest.
“How can I come out of this major problem that I put myself in?” he said of becoming president and tackling the issue of inefficiency. “Baba, go slow!” He joked, then added, “All the same, I intend to sustain goodwill by performance. I will work very hard.”
Zoe Gorman is a staff writer with CMPImedia