***Adds: Ransom payment illegal in US, Nigeria
***Security forces unwilling to accept international military cooperation – Matthew T. Page
***Hold political leaders accountable for security, justice – Bukola Saraki
***Illiteracy, large ungoverned spaces responsible for rise in mass abduction – Atanda Ashiru, US Air Force veteran
By Luminous Jannamike – Abuja
Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr John Campbell, has said if the Federal Government does not address the problem of human rights abuses by the security forces, Nigeria may never receive from the United States and its allies both technical and financial assistance in its fight against insecurity.
According to him, US laws prohibit the American government from providing technical expertise to security forces accused of human rights violations.
He, therefore, charged the Nigerian government to restore public confidence in the security forces, especially the police.
The ex-US envoy spoke on Friday during the maiden edition of ‘Grow Nigeria Conversation’ with the theme, ‘Reversing the Flourishing Economy of Kidnapping and Banditry: Immediate & long-term solutions’, which held in Abuja.
Campbell, who joined the event virtually, said, “The Nigerian government has to do its best to restore public confidence in the security forces, especially the police.
“Outside friends of Nigeria can provide technical expertise to the country in its fight against insecurity.
”However, under US law, we are prohibited from providing any technical expertise for security forces accused of human rights abuses.
“Human rights abuses are a huge barrier to a more cordial relationship between the US and the Nigerian security forces. And we know that addressing this barrier is a complex issue.
“There could be financial support to help build up the security forces; there could also be a transfer of technologies. If human rights abuses were to go away, the possibility of a deeper relationship is possible.”
Continuing, Campbell argued against the payment of ransom to bandits as a solution to the problem of kidnapping, describing it as illegal both in the US and Nigeria.
“Payment of ransom is illegal in the United States, but it could be extremely unpopular, particularly to those close to the victims of kidnapping. It is also illegal in Nigeria but common in the country,” he added.
In his remarks, a US Africa policy expert, Matthew T. Page, said the unwillingness of the Nigeria military to accept international military cooperation was another major hindrance to Nigeria accessing help, in the fight against insecurity, from the outside world.
He, however, noted that seeking international assistance was not the way out for Nigeria but that ending impunity and holding security forces accountable would achieve more gains for the country.
Page said, “Ending impunity and holding security forces accountable for gross human rights violations could actually achieve more gains in the long run than any international assistance we could provide, because it would restore the trust of the local communities, end the radicalisation of the local population and rebuild the legitimacy of the state.
“Moreover, ending human rights abuses alone cannot improve military-to-military bilateral relationship with Nigeria. That relationship has always been challenging. It is about a cultural issue within the Nigerian military.
“There is a general reluctance of Nigeria to engage closely with foreign military partners, in terms of allowing them access in a sort of close relationship required to have a sustained and meaningful training of troops over time.
“We saw that in 2001 with ‘Operation Focus Relief’ where the late chief of army staff, General Victor Malu, viewed American training of Nigerian peacekeepers as a sort of infringement on Nigeria’s sovereignty and potential espionage.”
Speaking also, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, noted that while kidnapping was not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, the current scale was.
He called for greater accountability for security on the part of political leaders and a reform of the nation’s justice system.
“We need, as a people, to hold leaders accountable to have the will power to do whatever is necessary and important for security in Nigeria, and also reform the justice system.
“If people have to wait for two or three years to obtain justice and criminals believe they can do wrong and get away with it, then we should be worried,” he said.
On her part, Tanwa Ashiru, a US Air Force Veteran, blamed lack of education, poor government presence in local communities and large ungoverned spaces for the rise of systemic abductions in the country, especially in the Northwest region.
Other speakers at the event include Kabir Adamu, the Managing Director of Beacon Consulting Limited; Cheta Nwanze, the lead partner at SBM Intelligence, Nnamdi Obasi of Crisis Group, amongst others.