As Nigeria prepares for its Presidential election, come 14th February 2015, many countries across the globe continue to express their positions.
The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador James Entwistle, while explaining the merits of transparent leadership, gave the US position in respect of the up-coming Nigerian election. He said that the US is ever willing and ready to support Nigerian government, stressing that no other country has done more than the US is doing for Nigeria.
Entwistle also stated that the US government is working very hard to ensuring a non-violent election in Nigeria.
In this exclusive interview with Vera Samuel Anyagafu and Victor Gotevbe, Ambassador Entwistle, in addition to campaigning for non-violent elections in Nigeria, made clear the reason US government turned down the request to sell arms to Nigeria, the mission of Okpabana, and many more.
What is your assessment of the political development in Nigeria?
I think it is quite a tremendously exciting time in the Nigeria democratic rule. One of the things that our two governments have in common is big, huge democracies, and it is a wonderful thing.
As we head towards your general election in February, 14, one of the things that the US is working very hard down here is to talk about the importance of non violent elections.
I have been talking about this for over a year. Our Consul General, Jeffery Hawkins and others have been delivering the same massage.
But I think it is clearly important to make that case and I would be very impressed to see that Nigerian media and civil society and Nigerian entertainment stars, like Tu-face Idibia and so on, are campaigning and picking this up.
Now,I meet with a lot of Nigerian politicians, I meet a lot of candidates, and whenever I talk to them, I always emphasise the importance of non-violent elections. And then I ask them if they would publicly take a non-violence pledge in front of cameras, making clear that they would not condone any fomented or organised thuggery or form of violence. The response I use to get, we are talking about both sides of the parties here, I usually get a response, something along the line as well, that “myself, I swore non-violence. I would never do that, but if the other man starts it, or if I am not happy with the results, maybe I will have no choice.”
And I always responded by saying that is not enough non-violence pledge. Non-violence pledge is that I would not do it no matter what. And f I see it starting I will do everything I can to stop it, than to start it.
That is what I mean by non-violent pledge. That is the campaign that I will continue. That is the campaign that if as we get closer and during elections, there is violence and is clear who is behind it, my government will not hesitated to speak up. But I think it is even more powerful, when it comes to individual Nigerians. When that man comes and he wants your vote, make clear what you expect of him.
I think sometimes our countries settle for too little from the politicians. In all our democracies, we should be tougher and be of higher expectations.
Also in terms of US approach to trying to help INEC a bit, we are doing great with civil society, especially to help to organize and support Nigerian elections observers, which I think is much more important than international observers.
To summarise know the US is incredible excited to support our most important partners in Africa, as it is getting ready to have a huge democratic experience and I think is great.
We know the US govt. has made some level of intervention. You have been able to support us with some light military equipment and intelligence. Nigerians would want to know why the turn down on the request for you to sell arms to us to support the fight against terrorism?
Take it from me, as President Obama’s representative to this country. No one is doing more than the United States to support Nigeria. We cannot always talk about the details in public, but I know the corporation continues.
Transfers of equipment are under consideration. Information sharing continues. We continue to train your officers and so on.
Very often, that training focuses on our experience to countering insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And what we have learnt this is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. How do you find an enemy that has mixed itself in the civilian population? Could not care less how many civilians were killed. How do you combat someone like that? That is really hard.
So we are bringing people who have had such experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and sharing that experiences we think can help.
On the equipment issue, you know the US transfers military equipment to a number of countries around the world.
By law, we have to consider it very carefully in each case, we have to look at it in terms of what that country needs. Is it appropriate, we look at the country’s human rights and its records and so on.
I am not just talking about Nigeria, I mean any country in the world that require this. Sometimes, the answers is yes, sometimes the answer is no.
But it is important to note that regardless of what is happening in this case, or in previous case.
Our bilateral relationship is still strong. The notion that we have cut you off or imposed arms embargo to be undiplomatic is complete nonsense.
In may 2013, when I had the privilege of presenting my credentials to your President and we had a conversation afterwards.
The first thing I said to him is Mr. President, please let me be clear here, the US wants you to win your war on terror and assist you with equipment. That is as true today as it was when I said that to him.
Without disclosing any military strategy and issues of national interest to both Nigeria and US, would you educate Nigerians on the mission of Okpbana?
I will say a few things here, and then Naval Commander Rene Laverde will be glad to tell you more in details.
We have had a good relationship with the Nigerian Navy for a long time.
This is the second one that we have transferred. The first one arrived couple of years ago. Basically we see it in our mutual interests to help build the Navy capability to operate effectively in the Gulf of Guinea against piracy, arms trafficking and oil theft.
So it is part of that relationship, that we have recorded we know what we needed, so we can look at transfers.
It is important to note that in spite of the transfer agreement your sailors went to the US, supervised and refurbished all that was needed and then sent it all the way here.
So when it came into the harbor last Friday, it was your Navy that was proudly sailing it. I wasn’t there to see, but Commander Laverde was there and he said it was a beautiful experience, and he can add some expertise I don’t have.
US Naval Commander, Rene Laverde
The Okpabana transferred to the Nigerian Navy is fully focused on blue water operations.
It is provided to the Nigerian Navy to assist in countering piracy operations, countering bunkering, and it is ultimately up to the Nigerian navy to how best they want to operate it in addition to other vessels that they have in countering levels of piracy operations, illegal arms, illegal fishing, trade and so on
The partnership is going to be a long time partnership.
We do not need to determine to Nigeria. Nigerians know and Africans know as well, what matters in terms of security.
So we are looking at individually, in regard to this ship’s spare parts, and other special trainings. We have coming up in end of March, 2015. We are looking at over a dozen countries, basically operating to Ghana, all the way to Cameroun and extending forth.
This is the next piece and we are encouraging and supporting Nigeria more in regional maritime security.
We are not just securing the maritime areas of Nigeria, but also Zone-E.
Do you think Nigeria needs a Marshal plan for its energy and agricultural sectors?
When you use that term, it implies that your country has nothing and needed other country to come in. I do not think that is a proper scenario, especially in this scenario.
Nigeria has smart men who can come up with solution.
If you walk around this country, you know is a rich country with great future. You do not need that plan, because Nigerians know what to do.
Are you not discouraged by the level of corrupting in Nigeria?
Discouraged? This is something that Nigeria would have to address. You see in any country, including my own country, I think sometimes you get the government that you are willing to settle for. If an individual citizen believes I work hard, I pay my tax, so why do I have to put up with this stuff. But yes, corruption is a problem. In my country, it is a situation that we take seriously and sometimes, it is included in our discussions here.
It is a huge issue all over the world and again, I do not think it is something outsiders could fix for you.
An individual citizen can get angry, and say, ‘no, enough is enough okay’.
Talking about the recent oil glut, don’t you think it’s necessary for the US to increase its oil reserves to avoid global recession?
Perhaps it is another way of asking why we no longer buy oil from Nigeria. Well, there is no US policy decision we would no longer buy oil from Nigeria. That was as a result of market forces. Our own domestic production is becoming significant.
We are buying less oil all over the world and this is not something that is directed to Nigeria.
Although, I am no an economist, I know the world market is changing fast. Where some countries are 10 years ago, you never would have expected them there today, and thanks to technology. And countries that have been oil producers for years, suddenly happens realized the game is changing. But I think the whole oil came down with other countries coming online and the world price I understand is down below $50.
These are game changing things, but I think we they have finance and petroleum ministers all over the world scrambling to react.