• INEC must operate free from outside pressure, intimidation
• Ambassador Symington: We have no favoured candidate
• ISIS West Africa’s Hold, Membership in Nigeria Growing
With just seven days to the Nigerian Presidential and National Assembly elections, the United States Government yesterday fired a cautioning shot to all actors, warning that “those who interfere in the electoral process or incite violence must be held to account.”
This warning is coming on the heels of another caution by the US government that ISIS West Africa, a faction of Boko Haram, is growing its membership base, and is increasing the tempo of its terror war against Nigeria in the north-east region.
In a press statement by Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, released in Washington, DC and dated February 7, 2019, the US government said it was in support of a free, fair, transparent, and peaceful election that reflects the will of the Nigerian people.
The statement on the election caution by the US government reads: “It is critical that the Independent National Electoral Commission operates free from outside pressure and intimidation and in a totally objective manner. Nigerian security services must provide a safe and secure environment for the Nigerian people to exercise their rights. Those who interfere in the electoral process or incite violence must be held to account. The upcoming elections are an opportunity for Nigeria to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.”
ISIS West Africa’s Hold, Membership in Nigeria Growing
Meanwhile, the United States Government has warned that ISIS West Africa, a faction of Boko Haram, is growing its membership base, and is increasing the tempo of its terror war against Nigeria in the north-east region.
Commander of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), Gen. Thomas Waldhauser stated this yesterday at the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on AFRICOM and South Command (SOUTHCOM).
Also yesterday, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington, during a visit to the Governor of Nasarawa State, Umaru Almakura in Lafia, declared that the US did not have any favoured candidate in the oncoming general election in Nigeria.
At the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on AFRICOM and South Command (SOUTHCOM), Waldhauser declared: “Now, ISIS West Africa has grown. They go by different names every once in a while, but they have grown in numbers. They’re now in the neighborhood, probably in the neighborhood of around 3,000 to 4,000. That’s the best estimate that we have.
“They have been very aggressive over the summer into this year. They now have taken large pieces of real estate in northern Nigeria and I think, of the two right now, they’re the one that we have the most concern about because we are not sure what their intentions would be with regards to outside the region.”
Waldhauser also said the United States would review its anti-terrorism engagement or partnership with the winner of Nigeria’s February 16 presidential election, to amongst other things, identify how best to move forward with the country’s fight against Boko Haram.
Waldhauser’s submission to the US Senate Committee, however, is at variance with the federal government’s continued claim that Boko Haram and all its associates have largely been degraded and that their operations in the northeast were confined to soft targets.
In a transcript of the senate committee meeting, obtained by THISDAY in Abuja, Waldhauser also stated that the Nigerian government had made no progress with its expected rescue of the remaining Chibok school girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014.
President Muhammadu Buhari had stated that he was committed to the release of the remaining Chibok girls, as well as Leah Sharibu, who was also kidnapped by the terror group from Dapchi in Yobe state.
Asked by the committee if the AFRICOM was observing Nigeria’s presidential election, and its importance on its operations, Waldhauser said: “We’re very much aware of the elections on February 16, and from the military respect – perspective, we watch that from the standpoint of actions leading up to and what will happen afterwards.
“We hope it will be a peaceful election, but I think our sights are set on forward and not in the rearview mirror, meaning that whoever would win, that now okay, let’s sit down and talk about where we are and how we can best help, whether it be the displaced people and the issues with humanitarian issues in Northern Nigeria, whether it’s their army and their work against Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa.”
He further explained: “So, my answer to that question is let’s get the election over, and they’re watching this today, by the way. I mean, my comments are going to be watched in Nigeria, and it’s very important that I don’t sway either way. The bottom line is whoever wins, we want to sit down with them and now how do we move forward and improve this situation.”
Providing an update on Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa to the committee, he stated: “First of all, we do not have offensive strike capabilities or authorities in those countries, so we can’t strike. We can strike in Somalia, we can strike in Libya, but not in Nigeria, Chad and the likes. So, we don’t have authorities there.”
Asked to explain what he meant by AFRICOM not being able to strike, Waldhauser, said: “If we are accompanying, we have the inherent right of self-defense and collective self-defense. If we are not accompanying, which we have not done at all in Nigeria and we haven’t accompanied inside other places for quite some time, we do not have collective self-defense because I haven’t designated it and we don’t use it.”
On the remaining Chibok girls that are yet to be rescued, he stated: “I would just tell you that of the 276 girls who were kidnapped in April of 2014, I think a number of 163 have been recovered but the others – there’s 113 or thereabouts that still are unaccounted for. I could talk in more detail in the classified session but the bottom line is there has not been much progress from what I can see in terms of getting any of the remainder back.”
In Nasarawa, Symington told Almakura: “I am emphasising that Nigerians must strive hard to ensure that the oncoming elections are credible like that of 2015, Nigerians would be held responsible for what they say or do in the forthcoming general elections.”
The Ambassador added: “We don’t have a favoured candidate of party, but have one hope for the people of Nigeria to have a peaceful and credible election; we hope Nigerians come together and influence their neigbours and the World.
“Freedom and democracy should prevail and you have to work for it. I want all the candidates to say, practice and enhance a peaceful election. Peace is like freedom and like democracy, you have to grow it and everybody has to work for it and everybody has to be a part of it.
“Every Nigerian will be held responsible for what they say and whatever they do before God and for your conscience before the court of public opinion.
“Each of you should be guided by your hopes and dreams for a united Nigeria and we as your guest want the election to make you proud,” he said.
In his remark, Almakura said: “It is our testimony that Nasarawa State will adopt international best practice in the conduct of free and fair elections as the All Progressive Congress (APC) conducted its general congresses which produced our candidates by observing produced rule of law according to democratic tenets.
He cautioned against taking implementing illegal directives to manipulate the elections.
He said political leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the elections this year are free and fair.
“If anybody asks you to do something that is not right and says the boss wants you to do it, or the person at the top wants you to do it, don’t believe him; because the person at the top is saying, and I think honestly saying, they want to win a fair election. There is a reason not to believe them, because we all know that citizens are responsible for their own actions,” the envoy said.