Buhari: We Won’t Use Force Against N’Delta Militants, Unless…

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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has said that government will not resort to the use of force to stop the militancy in the Niger Delta, except it is forced to do so.

A statement issued in Abuja on Tiesday by his media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari made the promise when he received the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, at the State House, Abuja.

Buhari said though militancy in the Niger Delta had impacted negatively on the economy and affected the positive intentions of international and local investors, government was showing restraint not to use real force, “except when constrained to do so”.

The president also pledged to make sure that the anti-corruption crusade outlives him.
Buhari said that war against corruption would be deepened and institutionalised to last beyond the life of the current administration.

He said: “We will insist on the standards we’re establishing. We are laying down administrative and financial instructions in the public service that must be obeyed. Any breach will no longer be acceptable.

“We will retrain our staff, so that they understand the new orientation. And those who run foul of these rules will be prosecuted no matter who is involved. But we will be fair, just and act according to the rule of law.
“Anyone accused of corruption is innocent till we can prove it. We will work very hard to establish documentation for successful prosecution, and those in positions of trust will sit up.”

Buhari expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for the role it played before the 2015 polls, saying: “America did not do it because of what it stands to benefit from us. You did it for the Nigerian people. It says so much of what the U.S. stands for in the world.”

On the Boko Haram insurgency, Buhari thanked the U.S. for both hard and soft military assistance.
He said: “The training and intelligence that we could not muster ourselves, we received. The training has made Boko Haram less of a threat to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region, while the military hardware has given our troops added confidence.”

On the economy, the president assured Kerry that the focus of his administration was on the diversification of the economy “having learnt our lessons from years of over dependence on oil”.

In his remarks, Kerry commended the courage of Buhari in fighting corruption, saying: “We applaud what you are doing. Corruption creates a ready-made playing field for recruiting extremists. You inherited a big problem, and we will support you in any way we can.

“We will work with you very closely. We don’t want to interfere, but will offer opportunities as you require.”

The U.S. Secretary of State also pledged to assist in tackling the humanitarian challenges in the North-east, adding that his country would get the United Kingdom, France, and others “to augment the support”.

“Nigeria is a priority for us. We won’t miss the opportunity to work together, because you are making significant progress,” Kerry said.

After meeting with the president, Kerry also met with some state governors, namely, Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Abdulfatai Ahmed (Kwara), Kashim Shettima (Borno) and Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi).

Briefing journalists after the meeting, the Borno State governor said during their meeting with Kerry, they discussed the insurgency in the North-east and the challenges it poses to the development of the region, among other issues.

He said: “We had very fruitful, cross-pollination of ideas with the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. The issues we dwelt on included enhancing the well being of our people and ensuring stability in the Nigerian nation.

“We discussed the insurgency and other security challenges in all sub-regions of northern Nigeria. But fundamentally, we made him realise that underneath the mayhem by Boko Haram lies the real cause, which is poverty. And we called on him to come in with America’s support in the areas of job creation largely in the areas of agriculture and mining.

“We spoke on education which is essential for any society because the whole world is becoming knowledge driven. We requested support in the area of girl-child education and gender empowerment. And of course we sought for support in strengthening our health care facilities and health insurance that will really enhance the values of the lives of our people, because most of our problems are issues that can be attended to at the primary health care level.”

Shettima said electricity generation through renewable energy was also discussed, adding that no society could grow without adequate power supply.

“So we requested support in the area of renewable energy, be it through solar or wind,” he added.
He explained that in spite of the advancement in science, nothing could replace personal contact in diplomacy.
He said: “We were quite pleased by the warm reception and deep commitment to Nigeria by the Secretary of State and we are happy with the outcome.”

Shettima said that by May 29 next year, all internally displaced persons (IDPs) would have been returned to their original homes.

“On the issue of resettlement, the bulk of IDPs are from Borno State; the population of Maiduguri has swollen from two million to three million now. But where there is a will there is always a way.
“Believe me by May 29th next year, we want our people to go back to their homes. We are going to marshal whatever resources, with or without international support, to see that we have restored the dignity of our people.

“We cannot wait for an eternity for manner from heaven or from the international community to develop our communities. The biggest IDP camp is in Kenya, but the Kenyan government has finally summoned the political courage to close down that camp.

“In most of the camps, there are challenges of early marriages, child prostitution, drug abuse, gangsterism, etc. The sooner we close them down the better. In any case, no matter how good life is in the IDP camp there is no place like home. So we want to restore their dignity, so we will commence the rebuilding of Bama.

“By May 29th next year, believe me, you will hear very little about IDP camps. However, we will adhere to the Kampala Convention, we will not compel anyone in IDP camps to go back to their communities.
“But you know our people, they carry their poverty with dignity and they are willing to go back home,” the governor said.

He thanked Buhari for saving Maiduguri, saying: ”We have to give credit to the president, because a year and a half ago, Maiduguri was on the verge of falling into the hands of Boko Haram, 20 local governments were under their control. But now most of our communities have been liberated and once full peace is restored, we see nothing that will stop us from moving our people back to their communities.”

Answering questions from journalists, Shettima said a holistic approach would be employed to resolve the crisis created by Boko Haram.

He said: “Well, unless we want to engage in an endless war of attrition, security is just one way of pursuing peace in the North-east and Nigeria as a whole.

“We are on the same page with the federal government. We are adopting a holistic approach encompassing the political, economic, as well as the security elements in securing peace in the country.

“Because the Boko Haram sect is not a uniform outfit with a shared ideology and focus, their perspective differs a lot. It’s like the Bermuda triangle, on the one hand, you have the economically induced Boko Haram which is amenable to dialogue and can lay down its tools and be part of the reintegration, deradicalisation, rehabilitation and resettlement process.

“And then we have the die-hard Boko Haram that has been called the nihilist, people who are hell-bent on a suicidal journey and there is very little you can do, and you cannot even talk to them from a position of weakness.

“Now, we can talk to them because we are in the position of strength and we are amenable to dialogue. I can assure you that the federal government is equally amenable to dialogue but the dialogue has to be conducted with the credible leadership of Boko Haram.”

Also speaking on the meeting, the Kwara State governor said one area that was emphasised was how to take the meeting beyond being a talk shop.

He said that there was a need for the governors to see it driven under an actionable plan that would translate to the expected goods and services for the people and truly strengthen the synergy for improved service delivery.
In his remarks, the Sokoto State governor said Kerry made commitments specifically on education, with a particular emphasis on girl-child education, commitment on health care and renewable energy.

He said: “On renewable energy, we talked on the programme of President Barak Obama and on Power Africa and overseas private investment operations, interventions in funding renewable energy projects across the north in particular, namely, solar energy and wind energy.”

When the governors were asked whether they discussed the humanitarian crisis in the North-east with Kerry, the Borno governor explained that the issue of the humanitarian crisis was dear to the U.S. and that a chunk of the World Food Programme (WFP) was being funded by USAID.

“The most important thing is that for us as a nation, the most fundamental thing is for us to recognise that nobody can solve our problems. We have to take charge of our destiny and do what is right to take care of the needs of our people,” he noted.

He said governors did not discuss security with Kerry because “it belongs to the Exclusive List in our constitution and is not something we have the authority to discuss with a visiting foreign delegation.”
Meanwhile, during Kerry’s stopover in Sokoto State earlier yesterday, he commended Nigeria, saying its fight against corruption has become a model for others on the African continent.

He said corruption was not only criminal, but must be tamed to ensure meaningful development.
Kerry made the remarks in a speech he delivered at the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III.

The U.S. Secretary of State noted that the proceeds of corruption, when properly applied, could improve the living standards and provide decent livelihoods for Nigerians.
Kerry acknowledged the efforts of Buhari to holistically fight corruption, adding: “President Muhammadu Buhari has understood this, as he was elected on the platform of a clean government.

“Nigeria is already a regional leader in the fight against corruption. Nigeria is also a role model in the ongoing global efforts to fight corruption,” he said.
Kerry further acknowledged the ongoing efforts by Buhari to entrench morality, transparency, honesty and good governance.

He noted that Buhari was also making commendable efforts to recover all stolen funds.
Kerry stressed the need for the support of the military, other security agencies and the judiciary, among others, to ensure the success of the anti-corruption campaign.

“The U.S. is also fully committed to fighting corruption and the entrenchment of good governance globally. One of Nigeria’s strength is its diversity of culture and religious tolerance. The former leaders of the defunct Sokoto Caliphate and others like the late Sir Ahmadu Bello had stood by the virtues of peace, unity and tolerance,” he said.

Kerry also acknowledged the efforts of Buhari in fighting the insurgency and other crimes across the country.
The U.S. Secretary of State further said: “Boko Haram boasts no agenda more than to burn schools. They also kill and maim people, especially teachers, and it is the opposite of any religion.”
He expressed the commitment of the U.S. to work with its partners like Nigeria, to be able to build counter-terrorism capacities.

Kerry further disclosed that the U.S. had worked out counter-terrorism strategies for implementation globally.
He commended the Sultan for his relentless efforts to entrench peace, unity and prosperity in Nigeria and beyond.

He also lauded the plan by the Sultanate Council to establish an all-female medical university.
He said girls, women, children and other vulnerable groups must be educated, given jobs and opportunities to explore their potential.

Responding, Tambuwal hailed the special relationship between the U.S. and Nigeria, and described Kerry’s visit to Sokoto as historic, saying the people of the state share common values with their American counterparts.
The Sultan also commended Kerry for the visit and his “inspiring speech”.

Abubakar said: “This will encourage us to redouble our efforts for a stronger, united and prosperous Nigeria.”
The visit, which was held under tight security, was witnessed by religious, traditional and community leaders, as well as students and other youth groups in the state.