President Jonathan(R) with US Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton
By Muhammad Bello
Security, especially the wave of terrorism unleashed on Nigerian by Boko Haram, and bilateral issues dominated discussions Thursday between United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and President Goodluck Jonathan, along with other top government officials.
Clinton, who was in Nigeria as part of her whistle-stop tour of 11 countries in Africa, during her discussions with Jonathan, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), and service chiefs, pledged to continue supporting Nigeria to tackle insecurity.
Clinton, who was briefed on efforts the Federal Government has been making in changing the nation’s security architecture to rise to the challenge of terrorism, renewed the US’ offer of assistance to enable the country secure its porous borders through which foreign insurgents, suspected to be affiliated to Boko Haram, enter Nigeria.
On her arrival at the State House, she met for about 20 minutes with Jonathan after which she held talks with key cabinet members, including Dasuki, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru; Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji; Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
THISDAY gathered that Clinton offered US assistance to help Nigeria develop forensic and investigative procedures that will strengthen the fight against terrorism.
Other sectors that will receive attention include how to help stimulate Nigeria’s economy, agriculture, health and anti-corruption campaign.
Clinton, wearing red top and black trousers, arrived at the State House at about 3.54pm and left at about 6:15 p.m. after holding a closed door meeting with Dasuki and the service chiefs.
Although details of the discussions with the various government officials were not disclosed, it was learnt that the US also offered to assist Nigeria to monitor the movement of goods, particularly weapons and explosive devices smuggled to the Islamic sect through the borders of Nigeria and Cameroon.
A State Department official, who craved anonymity, shed light on the details of the US offer to Nigeria, saying: "We can help them (Nigeria) develop mechanisms for tracking and determining individuals who are likely to be engaged in supporting Boko Haram actively.
"This is a problem for Nigeria, but also Northern Nigeria borders Cameroon, it borders Niger."
A source told THISDAY that Clinton at the meeting with the service chiefs expressed concern about the threat of the Boko Haram sect and how that could spread and undermine the security of neighbouring countries.
He said that was why Washington offered to help Nigeria develop an intelligence coordination centre that would assist the country in integrating information, adding that the US wants to encourage Nigeria to establish a "comprehensive programme in the North that combined a security strategy with a socio-economic plan”.
In June, the US designated suspected Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau and two other Nigerian militants "global terrorists", a move that would enable the US to freeze any asset they may have in America.
At a joint press briefing, Jonathan commended President Barack Obama and Clinton for their interest in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.
He said within the time Clinton had been Secretary of State, the relationship between Nigeria and America had reached a high level that "we have never reached for quite some time by personally chairing the bi-national and we have discussed various things— security, economy and so on and so forth. She has been very supportive.
"And of course, the President of America, President Obama administration is also quite passionate about Africa and Nigeria. He has always been very supportive of us for the past five years. From the days I came in as Vice-president, especially that period as a nation we faced a lot of challenge when the late President (Umaru Yar’Adua) was very ill and we passed through turbulent period,” the president added.
He described the support that the US has been giving the country as the reason for the stability in the Nigerian polity.
"And the support they gave us is one of the supports that stabilised this country. And when we insisted we must conduct an election that is free and fair and that is the only way we can stabilise democracy, they were very supportive. They gave us moral support, technical support to INEC and assisted us to make sure that we conducted elections that national and international observers declared as quite free and fair,” he explained.
Clinton, in her address at the joint press conference, said: "I appreciate that you know how committed United States and the Obama administration is to our partnership with your country. We consider it vital to our Bi-National Commission, which as you have mentioned has helped us to expand and deepen our cooperation on full range of issues.
"We are working on economic matters, the improvement of productivity in agriculture, education and health, security, diversification of your economy and so much more.
"We intend to remain very supportive on your reform efforts. We were also very supportive of anti-corruption reform efforts, more transparency in the work that you and your team are also championing because we really believe that the future for Nigeria is limitless but the most important task that you face, as you have said, is making sure that there are better opportunities for all Nigerians, South, East, West; every young boy and girl to have chance to fulfil his God-given potential.
"We want to work with you and we will be by your side as you make the reforms and take the tough decisions that are necessary."
Clinton has been on an African tour since July 31, having already visited Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa.
She is also expected to briefly visit Benin and will travel to Ghana Friday for the funeral of President John Atta-Mills, who died on July 24.