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We are not imposing same sex culture on Nigeria – US Envoy

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By Hugo Odiogor

Last week we published the first part of the media roundtable with the new US Ambassador, Mr. James Entwistle, in this concluding exerpt, the envoy clarifies his country’s position on Nigeria’s same sex Prohibition Act.

There is the military aspect; there is the economic system aspect; there is helping the civilian population; there is the aspect about having a policy of transparency in the detention of Boko Haram suspects. All of these things fit together into a successful counter-terrorism campaign and policy. I was very pleased the other week in Abuja when we heard a session where some of our counter-terrorism experts came in and this was done not in the spirit of arrogance but in the spirit of humility: ‘look we have had counter insurgency and terrorism challenges…’ Our experts came and sat with your experts sat and shared ideas and see if they will be helpful here. That is the kind of things we should be doing as partners and exactly the kind of things I will work to continue while the ambassador here.

What has happened to the reward for justice  on Shekau?

The reward for justice is a useful tool we use to fight terror around the world sometimes. I’m not aware Shekau is dead. It is very difficult to track him and figure out where he is, but, to my knowledge, he is still alive. Again, it is very difficult to know. The challenge of fighting terror is that you don’t lose your own soul when it comes to human rights and you must maintain the rule of law. .

Maintaining rule of law

When you apprehend Boko Haram  suspects, you should take them into detention and treat them fairly and find out: Were they in fact members of Boko Haram? Or just some guy who happened to walk down the street at the wrong time? Carefully sort them out and even when you have gotten the people you know are the bad guys, there is no need to brutalise them. It is much better to treat them fairly and walk them through the judicial system.

Yes, it is hard, but do it that way…Part of the challenge of counter-terrorism is that you are fighting an enemy who mixes with the population and I am a civilian; I am not a military guy, but I have to imagine that is one of the most difficult things for the military guys, to go into a mixed setting like that, figure out who is a terrorist and who are the innocent civilians. Carefully separating them is not easy. These are enormously difficult thing to do and that is why we are trying to help your government do better on this front as a friend, as a partner.

How much international collaboration do we need to win the war on terror?

Whether it is fighting terror or the war on drugs or any of these international problems that cut across borders, no one nation can do it by itself. To really get at Boko Haram, your government needs to continue working with Cameroun and Chad because these guys cross the borders. These are guys for whom international borders are largely meaningless. The only way to deal with these guys is to collaborate with your neigbours and relevant international organisations.

I think in my conversation with your government and military, I think there is a growing concern over finding an enemy who mixes with the civilian population.

Civilian population

So, that needs to be a focus. I think one needs to look at why did it start in the first place? What drew people to this organisation in the first place? Was it lack of employment opportunity? Was it education system? I am not sure what the reasons might be. Sometimes it is hard to do but we need to ask why is it happening in our country and what can we do better in our country to make sure that this type of thing does not happen again. But we know that it is hard to look at yourself like that, but sometimes in life you have to.

How has the US prepared for the feared break up of Nigeria?

If this country is going to break up in 2015, to me, I don’t see any sign of it. You have challenges in this country, but you are moving forward towards a bright future. There is no issue that the country might break up. Yes, your country had a devastating civil war just like my own country. It almost tore us into two. I think both of our countries have learnt how difficult it is to hold a country together and that has certainly been a big factor in my country. The idea that Nigeria is going to fall apart in the coming months, I am not sure where that idea is coming from.

What is your view on the issue of Oil theft in Nigeria and the allegation that the proceeds from this crime finds its way into the U.S.?

It is difficult to prove that (stolen crude oil find their way to the U.S.) because the international financial market is so amorphous. When you take oil and it goes out of the country, exactly where it ends up is very difficult to determine. But what is clear is that there is the issue of oil theft in this country…Reading about the Niger Delta before I came into this country, I had this idea that oil bunkering was a very clandestine, surreptitious activity…, but flying over the Delta in a helicopter and you can see huge (illegal) bunkering operations. Everyone knows where it is; everyone knows who is in it. It was quite an eye opener for me about how in the open it is.

Radar stations

Yesterday (Wednesday), I spent  the afternoon with your navy, looking at some trainings we are doing together and one of the observations we had was that your navy is quite capable. They have what they need. We have provided some over the years. They are well-trained. In addition, there are some stations onshore, radar stations and other sort of things that can help tell who is on the water.

I think physically in terms of having the tools that you need to prevent physical act, you are in pretty good shape.  But of course, the other issue is after a barrel of oil is pumped, where does the money go? That is a much more complicated equation. What we have said to your government is that we see this as a Nigerian problem, but one that has a very clear international element. If your investigation uncovers a money trail that it may head towards the United States, then please share that information with us and we will be delighted to have our law enforcement officers look into that.

But most times the stolen finds stashed abroad

If there is a clear evidence that stolen money finds its way into the United States, we want to know about it. Obviously, I cannot go into specific visa cases, but corruption is a factor and sometimes some Nigerians did not receive U.S. visa or had their U.S. visas revoked because of their involvement in corrupt activities.  I cannot go into details.

We have very strict privacy laws… Corruption begins to end, especially when the average guy who does the right thing; pay his tax and goes to work every day begin to say: ‘Wait a minute. I want to know what you are doing with the taxes we are paying’. That is what begins to make a difference. First it is up to your law enforcement agencies and when they see it they should point it in our direction so that we can investigate. Second, citizens like you should ask where all the money is going into. That kind of civil society effort. I think it is also about using effective watchdog, like your EFCC. Also, you have to do quite a lot in the public arena.

Same-sex prohibition law

We have tremendous respect for the sovereignty of other nations. Now, on the same-sex marriage bill, let me be very clear: same-sex marriage is  a controversial issue all over the world, including in my  country. I think it is now legal in 17 or 18 states; that means it is not legal in two-third of the country. May be someday a federal court will make it the law of the land, but for now it is not. So, we understand that same-sex marriage is a very controversial issue. Quite frankly, the issue of what defines a marriage in Nigeria should be  left to the Nigerian people. I think  even before this bill was passed the Marriage Act specified that a marriage is between a man and a woman.

That is a Nigerian issue, but as a friend of Nigeria, what worries us about this law is that, (I am not a lawyer) but when I read this law it looks to me that it puts restriction on freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression, which, I think, U.S. journalists will be particularly concerned about. I understand the issue of homosexuality is a hot topic here, but if you can no longer talk about it, if you can even meet to talk about it, it means to me it is a slippery slope. What is the next topic you will no longer be able to talk about or meet about?

I think in a hard-won democracy like yours, when you start limiting the freedoms, it is a very worrisome thing. Take the bill, take out the word gay, put in the word ‘journalist’, how do you feel about that? The other point I will make, we are very concerned as a huge HIV/AIDS partner. Since the inception of our PEPFAR programme, I think we have spent about three and a half billion dollars in this country on the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

We and many partners were concerned that…it might affect people coming for HIV/AIDS treatment and that kind of thing. I was very pleased the other day that NACA, I think the director came out to clarify that nothing in this bill should be misconstrued to mean people should not seek healthcare.

So, I was very glad to see that. I was very concerned. Finally, the other thing that concerns me is that sadly there have been incidences around this country where the bill has been used to justify violence against gays, breaking into their homes, things like these and I have to think that all well-meaning Nigerians, regardless of what you think of homosexual conduct, you  have to condemn this kind of thing, that kind of violence against any Nigerian.

Increasing length of visa time

Visas are huge issues here. The demand for visa has gone up by 45 per cent this year. But what I can guarantee the people is that whether they get the visa or not, they will be treated with courtesy and respect. On the issue of length of visas, those things are done on the basis of reciprocity. We extend to Nigeria what Nigerian government would extend to American citizens. Right now, it is two years multiple entry, If your government is willing to start discussion on increasing it, we will  welcome it.

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