How to resolve the Boko Haram insurgency, by Amb. Jonnie Carson

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This is an abridged version of a recorded exchange during a Sub-committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in America,  which took place mid-last mopnth, with leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in attendance.  It is revealing. Chairman of the sub-committee is Hon. Christopher H. Smith, NJ.

(Mr. Christopher Smith NJ)

Today’s hearing will examine USA policy and policy options for managing relations with Nigeria.  The light of concerns are on terrorism and social and political unrests. The stability of the Nigerian government is a credit to regional continent and global interest, Nigeria is usually important on many fronts.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil and its largest democracy, is one of the United States Government’s key strategic partners on the continent. It is Africa’s most populous country with more than one hundred and fifty five million people, roughly half Muslim and half Christian and it’s the second largest economy. Nigeria supplies nearly three times the level of oil imports to the United States as Angola the second leading US import supplier.

The United States receives nearly 20% of our petroleum export from Nigeria. Consequently, Nigeria’s stability is of critical interest for the US economy and American policy interest. Attacks by the Nigerian Islamic group Boko Haram on Christians including attacks launched this past weekend are absolutely unprovoked and they are unconscionable.

People of all faiths and people of goodwill must demand immediate action against the terrorist organization. According to the catholic news agency, I quote, Archbishop Ignitious A. Kegama who says he’s “concerned about the ever seemingly endless violence against Christians that claimed at least 58 lives this past weekend and hundreds of others injured in recent weeks. It is our prayers that something befitting will be done to stop this situation that is inhuman”.

Boko haram as we all know, reportedly, is in league with Al Qaeda In The Magreb and is involved at some level with some rebels in northern Mali, in Somalia and possibly even Karndaha in Afghanistan. In addition to this well publicised attacks on Christians in Nigeria, Boko Haram has been involved in murdering those they consider moderate Muslims or Muslims collaborating with the central government with the West including several Muslim clerics, the leader of the All Nigerian Peoples Party and the brother of the Sheu of Borno, a northern Muslim religious leader.

*Christopher H. Smith

There are reports of some other Nigerians maybe supporting Boko Haram in some way as leverage against the government that they oppose. US policy towards Nigeria must also take into account, ethnic, religious and political challenges that the Nigerian government faces outside the Boko Haram dynamic. Furthermore development deficits to Nigeria have had unequal impacts on various minority groups such as those in the Niger Delta region.

This lack of attention has led to violent uprising that do not appear to be resolved in any part of the country certainly not in the Niger Delta.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has been considered to be the personification of his name, a politician of fortune who has been in the right place at the right time to enable him enjoy meteoric rise of politics with no perceived political base or political distinction in his relatively great career.

He was an obscure government employee before he entered politics 1998, and a year later he was elected the deputy governor of Bayelsa State.  He served until he became the governor of Bayelsa State after his predecessor was impeached on corruption charges in 2005.

Outgoing President Obasanjo selected the then Governor Jonathan to be the Peoples Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate with Umaru Musa Yar’Adua a presidential candidate for the north in the 2007 elections. Yar’adua was ill for much of his time in office and Jonathan was called on to exercise presidential authority from November 2009 when Yar’Adua was unable to do so and Nigerian power brokers accepted Jonathan as official acting president
in February 2010.

Jonathan did surprise people (because they thought he would not do this) when he announced in September 2010, that he would actually run for president. President Jonathan did win the election convincingly but his PDP lost seats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.  The PDP now holds four fewer governorship seats down to 23 of 36.

Amb. Johnnie Carson has been frequent witness for the sub-committee, served as the assistant secretary of state, the Bureau of African affairs, a position he has held since May 2009. Amb. Carson has a long and distinguished career in public service including 37 years in reforms service, including one time ambassador to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Amb. Carson has also served as the staff director of this subcommittee and as a peace core volunteer in Tanzania. He is making his appearance before the subcommittee although he has been before other committees so it is nice to see him again.

The Jonathan administration faces significant forces arrayed against it.

Mr. Ambassador, in what ways can we help Nigeria remain Africa’s essential nation?

Ambassador Carson

Thank you very much Chairman Smith, ranking members, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you this afternoon about Nigeria.

Since my service in Nigeria as a young Foreign Service Officer at the beginning of my career, I have followed closely the country’s political and economic development. Nigeria is a country of significance and it is one of our most important strategic partners in sub Saharan Africa.

Let me mention, just a few facts that will illustrate this point. With a hundred and sixty million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. It is home to one of every five sub Saharan African. It has the sixth largest Muslim population in the world and over the next decade will also surpass Egypt as one of the largest Muslim states.

On the global stage Nigeria is the largest African contributor to international peace keeping operations, and the fifth largest in the world. Nigeria is also serving a two year term as a non permanent member of the United Nation Security Council. Nigeria is also a dominant economic force in Africa and our largest trading partner on the continent.

It is the second largest recipient of American direct private sector investment; it is the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States and our largest export market. Underscoring this economic influence, Nigeria has the largest economy in West Africa contributing over 50% of West Africa’s GDP.

A stable and prosperous Nigeria is in the interest of the United States in the interest of West Africa and Africa and in the interest of the global community. A stable and prosperous Nigeria can also be a powerful force for promoting peace, prosperity and stability across Africa.

Nigeria, however, is not without its challenges.  Decades of poor governance seriously degraded the country’s health, education and transportation infrastructure. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars and oil revenue, Nigeria has virtually no functioning rail system and only half of the population has any access to electricity.

Nearly one hundred million Nigerians’ live on less than one dollar a day and nearly one million children in that country die each year before their fifth birthday.  Public opinion polls and news reports suggest that there is a strong sentiment throughout Nigeria that Nigeria’s poverty is as a result of government neglect, government corruption and government abuse.

This brings us to the subject of today’s hearing. The inability of the government to address the needs of the people, to grow the economy, and to create jobs, generated a sense of hopelessness among many.  It also helped fill a popular negative that the government simply does not care.

Boko Haram capitalises on popular frustration with the  nation’s leader, its poor government, its ineffective service delivery and dismal living condition of many northerners.

Over the past years, Boko Haram has created wide spread insecurity across northern Nigeria, influencing tensions between various communities, disrupting development activities and frightened off investors.

Boko Haram is responsible for most of the instability and violence that has been occurring across the northern Nigeria.

Although our understanding of Boko Haram is limited, we believe it is composed of at least two organisations – a larger organisation focuses primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government and the smaller mundane of this group is increasingly sophisticated (and deadly) in its objectives and tactics.

The smaller group has links with AQIM and has a broader agenda. This group has claimed responsibilities for the kidnapping of westerners and for the attacks on the United Nations building in Abuja. They also bombed churches to aggravate ethnic and religious tensions in an attempt to sow chaos and increase their public profile.

To help expose and isolate the most dangerous elements of Boko Haram, the United States recently designated three individuals, global terrorists; those individuals are Abubakar Shekau, Kaleed Abdulbanawi and Abubakar Adam Kambal. Shekau is the most visible leader of Boko Haram, while Abdulbanawi and Kambal have ties to Boko Haram and also have close ties and links with Al Qaeda In The Islamic Magreb, AQIM.  These designations demonstrated our resolve to diminish the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks.

Boko Haram has grown stronger and increasingly more sophisticated over the past three years and defeating Boko Haram would require a sophisticated and comprehensive domestic response that has both a security strategy and a social economic strategic component for addressing the social and economic conditions of the northern Nigeria.

Security efforts aimed at containing Boko Haram’s violence must avoid excessive violence and human right abuses and make better use of police and intelligence services to identify, to arrest and to prosecute those responsible for Boko Haram violent acts. Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the north that the government must find a way of addressing.

A coordinated government effort to provide responsible, accountable government for Nigeria while creating opportunities for economic growth will diminish the political space in which Boko Haram operates.

We must also remember ongoing dangers in the Southern parts of the of country as well, particularly the Niger Delta, which is witnessing alarming rate of oil bunkring causing the government almost 20% in potential government revenue and also an area of the country where environmental damage, because of oil spills and oil leakages, have caused enormous economic hardship.

US engagement with the Nigerian government is based on mutual respect, mutual responsibility and partnership and it is consistent with the new US strategy towards sub-saharan Africa. The platform for our engagement with Nigeria is the US Nigeria binational commission, the various working groups of the BNC with which we’ve met over ten times and since March and April 2010, have provided us with a very valuable mechanism to conduct frank exchanges with senior Nigerian officials on issues of governance, energy, agriculture, regional security corporation and the Niger Delta.

We believe the bi-national commission is an effective way of strengthening our partnership with Nigeria including our efforts to assist Nigeria in the security arena.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, Nigeria faces significant challenges but it is not going to collapse, implode or go away.

I believe that the forces holding Nigeria together are much stronger than those that might seek to pull it apart. Nigeria and Nigerians are up to the task and the opportunities for economic growth in the country are boundless. We should remember that Nigeria has a very large and talented professional class and abundant  natural resources and a strategic location along the West African coast.

Nigeria is committed to democratic rule and there are committed reformers in the economic sectors and solid leaders in the judiciary, in the EFCC and the electoral commission of the country. They are committed to leading their country forward and to fighting corruption and extending opportunity for all.

Nigeria’s future is in the hands of its leaders, but we here in Washington are committed to working with them in partnership to advance their goals of democracy, development, the respect for human right, stability, peace and greater opportunities for all their country’s citizens.

Thank you Mr. Chairman again for this opportunity to speak with you this afternoon, I welcome any questions that you have.

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