Good morning to you all. I am pleased to be with you today for the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission’s meeting of the Regional Security Working Group. Let me begin by thanking the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Martin Uhomoibhi for hosting us here today.
I am pleased to be joined here by U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle. My delegation includes colleagues from the White House, the Department of Defense, including the Africa Command, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and of course, fellow representatives from the Department of State. Many of us have traveled a great distance to be present here today because we are deeply committed to our bilateral relationship with Nigeria.
The Bi-National Commission provides the opportunity to have open, frank discussions and to ensure that our partnership is achieving maximum impact. In particular, today we look forward to discussing the security situation in the Northeast and how we can better work together to improve the effectiveness of your efforts.
Yesterday the United States participated in the Ministerial meeting on Boko Haram, organized and hosted by your government. The Ministerial’s conclusions underscore the importance of Nigerian leadership and more intensified cooperation among the countries of the Lake Chad basin to combat Boko Haram and return peace, stability, and economic development to the inhabitants of that region. As Foreign Minister Wali said yesterday, there is an urgent need to stabilize the security situation as a first step to restoring freedom of movement and livelihoods to the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who have been affected by Boko Haram.
Since we last met in August 2013, the frequency and scope of Boko Haram’s terror attacks have grown more acute and constitute a serious threat to this country’s overall security. Boko Haram has shown that it canoperate not only in the Northeast, but in Kano, in Abuja, and elsewhere. We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri, which would impose a tremendous toll on the civilian population. This is a sober reality check for all of us. We are past time for denial and pride.
Despite our collective efforts, the situation on the ground is worsening. The conflict has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in the Lake Chad region. Cameroon’s military is increasingly forced to fight Boko Haram within its borders and they flee back into Nigeria without fear. The Chibok schoolgirls and others remain hostages, enduring horrible and tragic suffering. Abubakar Shekau’s bold announcement that Boko Haram is now governing a “caliphate” only adds to the perception that the security situation is steadily worsening. All of these developments are deeply disturbing, and increasingly dangerous with each passing day.
In order to combat this trend, President Obama launched a major security initiative to support Nigeria and the region – the Security Governance Initiative – at our recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington. We are pleased that Nigeria will be at the cutting edge of this effort, which is designed to work with countries to help them improve the transparency, governance, and effectiveness of key elements of their security sector. This is partnership in which both sides work together to identify the problem and design the solution. The United States is close to announcing he launch of a major border security program under our Global Security Contingency Fund, which will include Nigeria and its neighbors Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
We continue to provide technical training to military and police forces engaged in the fight against Boko Haram. As an important part of this effort, we are pleased to provide advanced training to a Nigerian infantry battalion. We applaud the motivation of this unit and the progress it is making. It is critical that the investment in this unit be properlymaintained and utilized upon deployment, with clean supply chains andadequate supplies, a strong chain of command, and missions and values that address Nigeria’s counterterrorism threat and keep civilians safe. The reputation of Nigeria’s military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria’s and its children’s future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option.
Security is a multidisciplinary endeavor that requires engagement by all aspects of federal, state, and local governments, as well as civil society in a coordinated effort. Thus, I am very pleased that session two of our working group today will focus on Accountability and the Rule of Law. Noconversation about security is complete without addressing issues of accountability, whether we are talking about election security or counter-insurgency. The United States stands ready to support Nigeria and its security services as they fulfill those responsibilities with restraint and impartially.
Because we recognize that security solutions are only one part of this complex challenge, the U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, is establishing new programs aimed at education initiatives and improving livelihoods in the region. These programs offer broadened education programs to internally displaced persons and others living in these vulnerable regions.
In June of this year, the U.S. Government announced the “Let Girls Learn” campaign to provide the public with meaningful ways to help all girls to get a quality education. Studies have found one more year of education increases a woman’s income by up to 25 percent. USAID is currently launching a program to increase enrollment for at least 500,000 Nigerian children, including 250,000 girls in northern Nigeria, and to improve early-grade reading for 3,000,000 primary students in Northern Nigeria.
The United States is especially concerned about the more than 700,000 internally displaced persons and reports that those numbers continue to increase. We are deeply troubled by the risks to their personal security and their economic livelihoods as well as the implications on food security. We are concerned about their ability as citizens to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections. The fabric of too many communities is coming unwoven under the unrelenting pressure of this threat.
We are eager to hear from you today about your plans for how civilians can better be protected throughout Nigeria. Those plans are critically important as you move forward towards your national elections next February. In our last BNC meeting, we focused on the elections in great detail. We were encouraged by your commitment to meet or exceed international standards and deliver the election that the people of Nigeria deserve.
We know it is possible and we commend you for the successful and peaceful elections in Ekiti and Osun states. For those of you here, whose role in these elections is so critical, I can think of no goal more important than delivering the free, fair, and peaceful election that your citizens deserve.
It is true that this imperative places a heavy burden and responsibility on Nigeria’s security services. You must undertake a critical task: protect civilians and protect the process to enable citizens to determine who governs them. I cannot stress enough the importance of this responsibility and I urge you to hold each other accountable.
The United States and other friends of Nigeria including your neighbors are watching this election closely and have high expectations for the polling to be peaceful and credible. An inclusive and fairly conducted election is the best way to avoid electoral violence.
As I stressed to the group convened yesterday, in order to continue making progress in countering these threats to Nigeria’s security and the security of the entire region, we must focus on action. The United States is committed to continuing its support for Nigerian-led solutions to these pressing challenges. I know this is not easy. It is not easy for us and it is not easy for you. But it must be done.
Thank you and I look forward to our discussions here today.