United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Nigeria is facing extra-ordinary security challenges, but has an ally in United States who is equally addressing the situation with her.
Blinken, who was at a virtual roundtable with some selected journalists from Nigeria and Kenya after an equally virtual visit to both countries were he spoke to the two presidents, Muhammadu Buhari and Uhuru Kenyatta, said he discussed the security situation of Nigeria with the Nigerian President and some other top government officials.
While answering a question from one of the Nigerian journalists, Blinken said: “I think it is fair to say that the challenges that Nigeria faces when it comes to security are quite extraordinary – and you referenced them – whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s banditry and criminality, whether it’s piracy. All of these are real challenges.
“The good news is this: One, we are in absolute solidarity between us in trying to address these challenges together. And the United States is committed to supporting Nigeria as it meets these challenges.
“And what that involves primarily is helping Nigeria continue to build its capacity through training, through resources, through information sharing, through equipment, and all of that done, very importantly, with full respect for human rights.”
He added that: “But it’s also important that we work together, as we are, to address some of the drivers or facilitators of violence and instability that we know those engaged in these activities can sometimes feed on. And that’s why you have to have a comprehensive approach to these challenges.
“It’s not – the security piece is vitally important, but it’s insufficient, and so economic development, progress, opportunity is hugely important.”
He revealed that they are also dealing with some of the other drivers that sometimes produce conflict, violence, and extremism, noting that one of the things that’s striking is the Lake Chad basin, which they have seen over the time to have be caused by the erosion of the basin, including because of climate change, which could have produced conflict over resources, new migratory patterns that put people in conflict, food insecurity, the more easy spread of disease, “all of which can produce an environment in which terrorism, criminality, other forms of violence are more likely.”
He added that it is vital that these should be addressed, “and it’s also why it was so important to have President Buhari as well as President Kenyatta from Kenya take part in the Climate Summit that President Biden convened last week, which was a very powerful manifestation of the broad international commitment to address the challenges posed by climate change, which in turn, as we do it, I think will address some of the drivers we’ve seen of conflict which in turn can feed extremism.”
He said: “So it’s a long way of saying I think we have to see the big picture, the comprehensive picture – obviously focus on the hard security collaboration that we have and strengthen that, but also not lose sight of some of the bigger pieces of this that we have to address together as well.”
On COVID-19 becoming both health and economic crises, Blinken said the world has witnessed massive health and economic crises with the pandemic, but “unless and until we find ways to support efforts of countries around the world and economies around the world to bounce back economically from COVID, we won’t have fully addressed the problem either.”
He said: “And by the way, that’s also in our interest, because we want strong trading partners, we want strong investment partners, and it makes sense to make sure that we are doing what we can to be helpful.
“And as we are looking at this, I think there are a number of things that are important. We have supported, for example, facilities to restructure debt, because as countries emerge from the economic crisis with debt obligations, that can be challenging in normal times. It’s incredibly more challenging if you are in the midst of or emerging from the economic downturn that was the result of COVID. So we are very strongly supportive of flexibility there, restructuring there. We are looking at a variety of other support programmes. And as well, I think being able to move forward with trade, with investment, with partnerships, that too is going to make difference.”
He said: “I also think we have to, as we are doing this, try to take advantage of the moment as well. There is a necessity, but there is also some real opportunity. President Biden talks about this in terms of building back better. How do we make – as we are making new investments in our economies, as we are working together, how do we do it in a way that promotes greater equity? How do we do it in a way that actually advances the effort to combat climate change? And there, there may be real opportunities in terms of, for example, green technology that can actually create and sustain good, strong jobs. All of these things are on the agenda and we are looking at them, I think, together very creatively both in our bilateral relationships but also multilaterally, including through the international financial institutions.”
He noted that the virtual visit to Kenya and Nigeria offered a chance to engage with leaders from government but also the private sector and civil society. “And we had a chance to talk about the many ways our countries are already working together, but also how that cooperation can be deepened. And it was a pretty broad and interesting cross-section of people that I had an opportunity to engage with.”
Michael Olugbode in Abuja