In what seems to be a clear case of double standard, the United States has threatened that Nigeria risks arms embargo for alleged violations of the laws on armed conflicts in the fight against banditry, terrorism, and other forms of violence in different parts of the federation.
Speaking in an interview with CNN International released on Saturday by the US Department of State, the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, threatened that his country would apply the Leahy Laws against Nigeria if the allegations of rights violations were found to be credible.
The threat came just as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) faulted the removal of Nigeria from the US 2021 list of religious violators, insisting that Christians are still being persecuted by terrorist groups and other Islamic associations in the country.
According to reports, the United States was said to have vetoed over 50 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions critical of Israel since 1972.
During the last escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the US had reportedly stuck to that playbook, blocking a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Several resolutions condemning violence against Palestine protesters, and the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, were also reportedly thwarted by the US.
The UN resolutions had also stated that East Jerusalem should not be considered Israeli territory, but the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
In contrast to Washington’s blanket support for Israel, concerns have heightened that the US wants to tie Nigeria’s hand behind her back in the face of attacks by terrorists, and bandits by threatening arms embargo against the country in the fight against insurgent groups.
But Blinken, in a surprise move, said his country would apply the Leahy Laws against Nigeria.
The Leahy Laws prohibit the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.
Blinken said: “Of course, we also have laws in place – the Leahy laws, for example. That makes sure that if there are units that have committed abuses; we are not going to provide equipment to those units.”
Asked whether the US would invoke the Leahy Laws against Nigeria, the secretary of state promised: “Well, we look in any instance if there are credible allegations that prove out or that we believe meet the standard of the law, of course, we will apply the law.
“If there is genuine transparency, accountability, and change that follows from these incidents and these abuses, I think that is very important, not only to our administration. It is also important to the US Congress in making judgments about continuing to assist the security forces,” Blinken explained.
The secretary of state, however, explained the nature of military assistance the US had been giving Nigeria, noting that it was not all about the sale of military hardware alone, but also about the software.
According to Blinken, “the military assistance itself is not just the hardware that we might provide – airplanes or helicopters. It is also the software as well as the human software”.
He said: “Because one of the things that we are doing is making sure that as we are providing equipment to deal with profound security challenges that are faced here in Nigeria – terrorism, criminal activity, other violence, those who will be using the equipment are trained.
“Security forces must be trained in a way that makes sure that they are doing it to avoid hurting the good guys, even as they are going after the bad guys, to make sure that the laws of armed conflict are fully in mind. If they make mistakes, they are corrected and they are brought to light immediately,” Blinken explained.
Reacting to the report on the Lekki Tollgate incident, Blinken admitted that the report of the Lekki Incident had brought transparency to what happened on the night of October 20, 2020.
He said: “I think the first of all, the fact of the report, of the panel’s work is usually important because it is bringing vital transparency to what happened, to the violence that took place around the #EndSARS protests and the allegations of abuses by the security forces.
“I have not seen the published report yet. I think it will hopefully be coming out very, very soon. But a couple of things are really important,” Blinken added.
He explained that the report was important to make sure that such an incident would not happen again.
He argued that reforms “are necessary to build and rebuild trust between the citizens and the security services, between citizens and the state. That is an obligation of both the state government and the federal government.”
Blinken insisted that officers of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police, who played one role or the other in the Lekki Incident should be made to account for their roles.
He said: “If there are individuals that – as it emerges from this report – who are responsible for committing abuses, there has to be accountability in terms of those individuals. That too is vital to rebuilding trust between citizens and the state and the security services.”
The panel’s report had recommended that all officers deployed to the tollgate should face appropriate disciplinary action. Except for Commander, 81 Division Garrison, Brig. Gen. Francis Omata, the panel demanded that all military officers involved in the operations should be stripped of their status and dismissed on the ground that they “are not fit and proper to serve in any public or security service of the nation.”
The panel equally recommended that the Divisional Police Officer, Maroko Police Division, Mr. Raji Ganiyu, and all police officers deployed for operation between October 20 and 21, 2020 should be prosecuted for arbitrary and indiscriminate shooting and killing of the #EndSARS protesters.
On the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, Blinken disclosed that the US “is acting in close coordination with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, supporting his efforts, and other leaders on the continent including Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta to end the conflict.”
He emphasised the African-led solutions to end the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, noting that the African Union with Obasanjo “is doing exactly that. It is a very important approach and it is something that we will support.”
In another development, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Saturday faulted the removal of Nigeria from the US 2021 list of religious violators, insisting that Christians are still being persecuted by terrorist groups and other Islamic associations in the country.
The apex Christian organisation said that it was at a loss on the data or statistics used by the US government in arriving at delisting Nigeria from the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ on the issue of freedom of religion.
US Secretary of State, Blinken, had in a statement on Wednesday, blacklisted Russia, China, and eight other countries as religious violators, leaving out Nigeria which was placed on the same list in 2020.
Speaking in Nigeria during a two-day official visit that ended on Friday, Blinken had disclosed that the delisting of Nigeria was based on facts.
But CAN in a statement Saturday condemned the decision, saying that Christians were still being ferociously attacked and that nothing has changed between 2020 and 2021 to warrant the removal of Nigeria from the list of religious violators.
The statement signed by CAN President, Rev Samson Ayokunle, read in part: “The US government did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the countries of ‘Particular Concern’ on religious freedom, neither did they seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list. If they had done, we would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria.
“Whatever may be the data they used, our prayer is that Nigeria would be a country where no religious group is discriminated against or persecuted and that our government would see to it that all religiously biased policies are discontinued.
“Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic Group till today as before. These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the North down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South. That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today and Nigerians are living witnesses.
“The bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers, and kidnapping for ransom. The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the North-central part of the country and the northeast.
“Though the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed, and kidnapped, this is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money! If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now!”
The Christian association also said discrimination against Christians, especially in Northern Nigeria has not stopped.
“Up till today, our government is still funding the membership of Nigeria in all the International Islamic organisations like OIC and its allies without being part of any international Christian organisation.”
Gboyega Akinsanmi in Lagos, Kingsley Nwezeh and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja