United States (U.S.)Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle has said there is no sign Nigeria will disintegrate this year. He denied knowledge of any American government report predicting the country’s collapse.
The ambassador, who condemned the gun attacks on All Progressives Congress (APC) supporters in Rivers State, spoke in Lagos yesterday.
He said: “I have been plagued by that question ever since I got this job. I have gone back and looked, I can’t find any government report that said we thought Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015, may be some think-tank or somebody outside the government said it, I don’t know. But, in my opinion as U.S. Ambassador to this country, I am not worried in the least that Nigeria is going to disintegrate in 2015. Do you face big challenges now? Of course you do. So does my country. But, I see a Nigeria that if you can do what needs to be done in the coming years on security, on corruption and all of those things, I think the future for Nigeria is very bright. Whenever I travel around this country, I always try to go to the universities and have big sessions to give talks to students and have questions and answers and whenever I do that, I leave with incredible sense of optimism about Nigeria when I get to know your best and brightest. So, are there challenges for Nigeria under the horizon? Sure, but I have no doubt that Nigeria will muscle them, will move on. Will it be easy? Of course not. Nothing is easy in this life… We are now here in 2015, I don’t know what you see but I can’t see those signs that Nigeria will disintegrate. I see signs of growth and I say that not to minimise the challenges that you have.”
He also described as ‘nonsense’ the allegation that his country has imposed arms embargo on Nigeria.
Entwistle told reporters that no country has assisted Nigeria in its war against terror more than the U.S., adding that the insistence on the respect for human rights should not be interpreted to mean arms embargo. He also faulted the claim that U.S. has refused to sell Cobra helicopters to Nigeria to aid the war against terror.
He said: “In terms of what is happening in the Northeast and military relationship, we have all seen in recent months a lot of stuff about the U.S. imposing an arms embargo, I am here to tell you as President Obama’s personal representative to this country that that is nonsense; that is not true.
“We have given this ship, NNS Okpabana; we have a number of discussions on the way right now. A good portion of the assistance we give every day on the war against terror are things I can’t talk about that much, but I can assure you that no partner is doing more to assist Nigeria in its fight against terror now than the United States of America. We have seen the most unfortunate incident in Baga and that underlines to me the importance of continuing this fight.”
Speaking on the Nigerian Army’s abrupt termination of a training arrangement with the U.S. Army, Entwistle said it was painful to the U.S. that it was called off despite the resources his country had put into it.
He added that the army was supposed to provide the equipment for the training but failed to before it called it off.
Entwistle said: “We are still talking about a number of equipment, different kinds of helicopters that can be more appropriate to that kind of thing. But, what are our human rights considerations? When I got here about two years ago, there were discussions about the conduct of the Nigerian Army in the Northeast about the treatment of the civilian population. It was reported in your media. This is not something we came up with. Nigerians themselves were focusing on it. So, we have had a lot of discussions with the Nigerian Army about the need to, as you fight terror, you also have to protect the civilian population and keep them on your side. We have learnt the hard way in our own counter terrorism that if you lose the trust and support of the civilian population, you’ve lost everything. So, we have had that conversation. Indeed, much of the trainings that we’ve done with your army in the U.S. has focused on that kind of thing, effective leadership and how do you operate against an enemy that is hard to identify? That mixes into the civilian population, how do you fight that kind of enemy while at the same time respecting the civilian population? I am not a military man but it strikes me that this is a very difficult thing to do.”
On the terminated training programme, he explained: “We had at Nigeria’s request agreed to train some battalion, in my opinion, some of the best trainers in the world. The agreement was that we would provide the trainers and the Nigerian Army would provide the equipment we need to properly conduct the training and that was agreed well ahead of time as part of our partnership. This was not something we were going to do for Nigeria; it was something we were going to do together as partners. We were able to do a bit of this and it got to a point where we were waiting for these equipment to be provided for us to finish the training, but the decision by the Nigerian government, as I understand it, was ‘no that is enough; we don’t want to finish this training’. Frankly, that was a disappointment to us given that we had provided that symbol of our commitment. As to what motivated your government, as to the reason, I don’t know. I will encourage you to put that question to them.”
He condemned the violence in Rivers, saying: “The incident in Rivers was very sad. I condemned it, but that underlines to me why our campaign against violence is so important.
“The U.S.’s position on the election is quite clear. For the past years, I have been talking about the importance of non-violence in the elections. I have been doing that and I have seen that the civil society and the Nigerian media have taken this up too. I even went to one or two of Tuface’s hip-hop concert ‘Vote, not fight’ campaign. So, that is the message the United States will continue to preach, especially to urge all candidates to probably commit themselves that they will not support or engage in violence before, during and after the elections. I think that is key in any democracy.
“It has been interesting and I am talking about politicians on both sides, the big parties, sometimes when I bring this up, their response is: ‘I won’t initiate violence myself. I abhor violence but if the other guy starts it or if I am not happy with the results, then may be.’ But, my answer to them is: ‘I’m sorry that is not a non-violence pledge.’ A non-violence pledge means you won’t do it no matter what.”
On small arms proliferation, he said: “I think small arms proliferation is something that is difficult to control because the arms are small. They are easy to smuggle. We think that in providing NNS Thunder and Okpabana, they can gradually help against that. But they can also help against the broader issue of security in the Gulf of Guinea, which is a trans-national issue. It affects all the countries of this region. It also affects foreign investments. Oil companies want to get forward, like deep water. Security is paramount. We think it can also help Nigeria’s struggle against oil theft and (illegal) oil bunkering. It is an array of issues in relations to our broad issue of security with Nigeria.”
He said the U.S. is helping through trainings and intelligence to find the Chibok girls, adding that kidnappings in the Northeast have continued almost daily.
“We will stand with Nigeria to fight this terror,” he said. -TheNation