SOME core allies of Nigeria, which have pledged not to abandon the country in its most trying times, are indeed keeping their promises.
One of such allies is the United States (U.S.), which yesterday agreed with the Federal Government to incorporate the security dimension in the North as a critical component of the Nigeria-U.S. Bi-National Commission (BNC).
To this end, both countries have re-arranged the BNC cooperation framework by splitting its Regional Security Cooperation and the Niger Delta component into an entirely separate working group, with emphasis on insecurity in the North.
At the inception of the Commission, its core mandates were basically protecting the Niger Delta, which then was the haven of militants, promotion of good governance, strengthening national institutions for better performance, among others.
But when officials of Nigeria and the U.S. began a two-day talk under the BNC in Abuja yesterday, there was a consensus among the participants that the terror in the North should be given prominence in its framework.
The security challenges facing Nigeria will also be the focus of top serving and retired senior officers of the country’s military, who will converge in Abuja from today for a two-day seminar on finding new ways of tackling terrorism and other crimes in the country. Anchored by the Alumni Association of the National Defence College (AANDEC) in partnership with the National Defence College Abuja, the forum has the theme: “Nation-building and national orientation – Imperatives for national security.”
At the inaugural meeting of the Regional Security Cooperation Working Group of the BNC yesterday in Abuja, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary, Mr. William Fitzgerald, said the security situation in the northern part of Nigeria had reached a significant dimension.
The move, according to officials, will enable a sharper focus on the terrorism onslaught emanating from Nigeria while the end of the same instrument takes care of the older Niger Delta problem.
Fitzgerald said although Niger Delta issues are ever pressing alongside with maritime security, there is a critical need for a more delineated approach to security in Nigeria.
The American military and intelligence officials held discussion with their Nigerian counterparts, who were led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhoimobhi, the National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd) as well as the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., Prof. Ade Adefuye.
The Commission was given a formal launch pad in April 2010 when its framework was signed with the convergence of four of the identified working groups – Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity; Energy and Investment; Niger Delta and Regional Security Cooperation; and Agriculture and Food Security.
Before the meeting went into a closed-door session, Fitzgerald said “security issues in the North have taken on new significance, so we have chosen to split the Regional Security Cooperation and the Niger Delta into its own working group. The regional security cooperation will have its own working group, which we will meet and discuss today (yesterday) and tomorrow (today).”
Conveying the American government’s condolences to the killings in Kano, Bauchi and other parts of the North, he said: “We deplore deeply the reign of terror that has existed in the North of this country for many months. And we stand with you to work together to find a way to bringing peace to the North.”
Discussions on the Niger Delta issue were the main thrust of exchanges at the BNC meeting in Washington in September last year. Fitzgerald noted in this regard that the U.S. is “very eager to help advance economic development and environmental protection in that vital region.
“We are very pleased with these ongoing strategic dialogues. We regard the BNC as a successful platform for visibly and consistently advancing shared U.S. and Nigerian interests in democracy, development, and security. Today marks the recognition of these gains and also a new beginning,” he added.
He disclosed further yesterday that last year’s discussions on “Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity” allowed American officials to get direct input from civil society groups, the private sector, as well as state governors about the extensive election preparations needed for the April 2011 election.
But in the coming year, the U.S. is looking to addressing good governance issues, in particular increasing its joint commitment to building the capacity of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies.
Early next month, the Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, will lead a trade mission to four countries in Africa, including Nigeria with private investors to discuss investment, foreign direct investment in Nigeria’s electrical distribution network as well as power generation.
On what Nigeria was bringing on board the new round of talks, Uhomoibhi said the meeting was based on mutual respect and understandings, allowing a closer cooperation through the BNC to help tackle general security issues.
“To us as Nigeria, we always consider it as the basis for developing very close relations based on the implementation of specific programmes in such areas as agriculture, food security, good governance, power, energy and general security issues.”