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Tobi Soniyi in Washington D.C.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday in Washington D.C. confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive report on Monday, when he said that he would critically review the 2016 Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly before assenting to it.
Speaking at a meeting with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, Buhari said that in view of the controversial alterations and padding of the budget proposal, he needed to review the Appropriation Bill to be certain that its contents tallied with the authentic budget proposal presented to the National Assembly.
“Some bureaucrats removed what we put in the proposal and replaced it with what they wanted. I have to look at the bill that has been passed by the National Assembly, ministry by ministry, to be sure that what has been brought back for me to sign is in line with our original submission,” the president said.
Before sources in the presidency revealed that only the highlights of the budget had been submitted to Buhari by the National Assembly, THISDAY had exclusively reported that the president had ordered that the comprehensive budget must be sent to all the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government to verify that what had been passed by the legislature was consistent with the spending plan of the executive this year.
Declaring that his administration would continue to vigorously prosecute its war against corruption, Buhari sought and received Kerry’s assurance that the United States government would facilitate the repatriation of all stolen Nigerian funds located within the American banking system.
“It will greatly help our country if you assist us to recover all our stolen funds which we can establish within your financial system,” the president told Kerry.
Responding, the US Secretary of State said that he had been told that the stolen Nigerian funds were in “billions of dollars”.
“It’s not easy to hide that amount of money and we are pretty good in tracing them,” Kerry assured Buhari, adding that the relevant US government officials will meet with the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, to discuss further cooperation in that regard.
Kerry also applauded the Buhari administration’s success in rolling back the Boko Haram insurgency, saying that the US would continue to give Nigeria all the possible support to ensure that the terror sect is finally eliminated as a threat to national and regional security.
The Secretary of State also praised Buhari’s clear order that the Nigerian Armed Forces must show greater regard for the human rights of persons in the theatre of operations against Boko Haram.
Acknowledging that the US had been of great help to his administration in the retraining and reequipping of the Nigerian Armed Forces that had resulted in the significant success already achieved against Boko Haram, Buhari said that the federal government was working very hard to restore full normalcy in the North-eastern states.
“Boko Haram no longer holds any local government area. We are reconstructing damaged facilities and preparing the police to take over and reassert civilian control over areas affected by the insurgency,” the president told Kerry.
Buhari and Kerry met on the sidelines of the ongoing Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C..
Before the meeting between Buhari and Kerry, the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC) meeting opened in Washington DC on Wednesday, with a pledge of more than $600 million investments by the US in Nigeria this year. Kerry announced this during the opening session of the meeting.
The Nigerian delegation was led by Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyema, who was supported by other officials including the Nigerian Charge d’Affaires, Hakeem Balogun.
Those with Kerry included leaders from the State Department, USAID, the Defence Department, Commerce Department, and other key agencies. The U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle also attended.
Kerry, who hailed Buhari’s actions in office in the area of security and the attempt to diversify the economy, said: “Our development assistance this year will top $600 million, and we are working closely with your leaders – the leaders of your health ministry – to halt the misery that is spread by HIV/AIDS, by malaria, and by TB.
“Our Power Africa Initiative is aimed at strengthening the energy sector, where shortage in electricity has frustrated the population and impeded growth.
“And our long-term food security programme, Feed the Future, is helping to create more efficient agriculture and to raise rural incomes in doing that.
“Our Young African Leaders Programme, in which many Nigerians participate, is preparing the next generation to take the reins of responsibility… and in education, we are working together to try to fight illiteracy, especially in the country’s north, where the lack of opportunity has been holding people back, and where the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, has murdered thousands and disrupted the lives of millions.”
Onyema expressed optimism on a successful outcome as the meeting went into a closed session.
At the end of the meeting, the US also reaffirmed its commitment to help Nigeria neutralise Boko Haram and pledged to increase its investments in Nigeria, but gave certain conditions that must be met. They are: an enhanced business climate, policy predictability, and transparency.
The Bi-National Commission established a working group on security cooperation and directed that it meets within six months to review progress on joint goals.
It was also agreed that the next meeting of the Bi-National Commission be held in Nigeria within one year at a date to be mutually agreed through diplomatic channels.
A joint communique issued at the end of the meeting said that both the US and Nigeria agreed to establish working groups within one month on how to achieve joint goals for each three agreed areas of focus, namely, Security Cooperation, Economic Growth and Development and Governance and Democracy.
During Buhari’s visit to Washington last July, the president and Secretary Kerry underscored the need to strengthen and revitalise the Bi-National Commission to advance both countries’ overall relationship and spur joint action on the three areas of focus.
This was followed by a meeting on November 13, 2015, between an inter-ministerial group led by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Ambassador to Nigeria. The two sides underscored the need to reinvigorate the Bi-National Commission as a forum for focused, high-level discussions.
On Wednesday, the commission reviewed a paper setting out the proposed joint goals for each agreed area of focus.
On security cooperation, the commission’s discussion was co-chaired by the Minister of Defence, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd.) and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The commission jointly determined to take further actions to advance US-Nigeria security cooperation to promote peace and security in Nigeria, especially in Northeastern Nigeria and the broader Lake Chad region.
Both sides recognised that this cooperation includes, but is not limited to, military cooperation.
The BNC noted the continued threat to peace and security posed by Boko Haram, which is now an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The United States reaffirmed its support for Nigeria and its neighbours in countering this threat.
The BNC noted that the governments’ bilateral security cooperation focuses both on immediate threats and medium and long term security and stabilisation objectives.
The BNC discussed the situation of refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and the region, and the governments decided to work together to create conditions for their safe and voluntary return.
The BNC also discussed measures to counter violent extremism and encourage defections from Boko Haram; the importance of protecting civilians and safeguarding human rights; the need for integrated planning for the restoration of full civilian authority, resettlement and reconstruction; the need to understand and eliminate sources of terrorist financing; and ways to expand intelligence sharing.
On economic growth and development, the BNC’s discussion on economic growth and development was co-chaired by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah and Antony Blinken.
The Nigerian side expressed appreciation for the efforts of the US government and the contributions of key stakeholders such as the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) and the US Chamber of Commerce towards the successful hosting of the Nigerian-United States business forum and reception dinner.
Both sides acknowledged the major outcomes of the business forum, which stressed the need for increased US investment in Nigeria through the provision of an enhanced business climate, policy predictability, and transparency.
The BNC noted the governments’ decision to take further actions to promote prosperity and growth, economic diversification, and job creation through policies that will improve the environment for doing business together.
In this respect, the BNC recognised that sound macroeconomic policies are important to managing the challenges of declining global oil prices.
The BNC noted the governments’ pledge to work together to ensure maximum utilisation of current programmes to promote trade and investment, including the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
The BNC recognised the importance of infrastructure development for Nigerian economic growth, noting particularly the importance of increasing access to electricity and improving efficiency to lower its cost.
The BNC also discussed ways to expand cooperation on renewable energy and integrated water resource management.
With respect to economic diversification, the BNC noted the potential for expanded agricultural investment and production, as well as the role played by extractive industries, including solid minerals, petroleum and natural gas.
The BNC established a Working Group on Economic Growth and Development and directed that it meets within six months to review progress on jointly set goals.
On governance and democracy, the BNC’s discussion on governance and democracy was co-chaired by Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and Antony Blinken.
The BNC noted the historical importance of Nigeria’s 2015 elections and the peaceful transition that ensued. The United States intends to support Nigerian efforts towards improving the quality of elections, and said it will look to Nigeria to support elections and democracy throughout Africa.
The BNC decided to strengthen their joint efforts in support of good governance, anti-corruption, and enhanced delivery of public services, including national institutional frameworks for peace building and conflict management to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy and promote inclusive prosperity.
The BNC recognised that the United States intends to continue its support for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-corruption agencies, as appropriate.
The BNC discussed the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Partnership on Illicit Finance (PIF). The United States noted the potential benefits to Nigeria of membership in these two initiatives.
The Nigerian side agreed to respond to the outstanding invitations to join these partnerships in due course.
The BNC noted the governments’ decision to intensify their work together to help Nigeria trace funds and assets stolen through corruption and other illicit activities and seek to recover the assets.
The BNC decided to expand people-to-people contacts between the two countries, including efforts such as the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
The BNC established a working group on governance and democracy and directed that it meets within six months to review progress on jointly set goals.
At its working lunch, the BNC discussed issues including climate change, strengthening ECOWAS to promote regional economic integration, and the potential provision of UN financial support for conflict prevention, and the financing of UN Security Council-approved African Union peacekeeping operations.
Despite a statement two days before the meeting of the BNC by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield that the US would push Nigeria to adopt a more flexible exchange rate regime in order to encourage investment, both sides were silent on the issue at Wednesday’s meeting.