President Muhammadu Buhari has explained why his administration is being careful in rescuing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok, Borno and Government Girls Science and Technical College, Daphi in Yobe State.
He told the United States of America Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, that he prefers to have the girls back alive, hence, government’s adoption of negotiation, rather than military option.
He said this at a closed-door meeting with Tillerson, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, yesterday.
This was even as Tillerson, described the abduction of the 110 schoolgirls from Daphi as “heartbreaking.”
President Buhari added that Nigeria is working in concert with international organisations and negotiators, to ensure that the girls are released.
“We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive,” the president reiterated.
He thanked America for assistance in the fight against insurgency, and noted that Nigerian forces are good, “but need assistance in the areas of training and equipment.”
President Buhari promised that his administration would continue to do its best to secure the country, and added that he would be in Yobe, later this week, “as part of my condolence and sympathy visits to areas where we have had unfortunate events.”
At the meeting, the president pledged free and fair polls in 2019, and recalled how Tillerson’s predecessor, John Kerry, visited Nigeria before the 2015 polls, “and he told the party in government then, and those of us in opposition, to behave ourselves, and we did.”
Tillerson commended Buhari on his strides in the anti-corruption war, to which the Nigerian leader responded that monies recovered are being invested in infrastructure.
He also disclosed that Nigeria is a very important country to the US.
“You have our support in your challenges. We will also support opportunities to expand the economy, commercial investments, and peaceful polls in 2019.”
Tillerson briefed State House Correspondents after his closed-door parley with Buhari, alongside the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
He said it was worrisome that just like the kidnapping of scores of schoolgirls in Chibok almost four years ago, all the girls were yet to be freed but regretted that America can do no more than provide required support and assistance since Nigeria remains a sovereign state.
Tillerson expressed America’s willingness to cooperate with Nigeria, to boost bilateral trade between both countries, and also, disclosed that later this year, they will witness the inauguration of Nigeria-America Trade Dialogue, to foster trade relations.
“First, we respect the responsibilities of the government of Nigeria and the territorial integrity of Nigeria. But, the way we support is in providing them capability capacity with equipment and also training of the personnel of special operations and sharing intelligence to ensure that they have all the information available to carry out the recovery effort.
“But, I think it is also important to put this in a broad regional context as well; Boko Haram is a threat to other regions and this has been the subject of my meetings elsewhere, and in Africa, as well.
“In my discussion with President Derby in Chad, we spoke about the threat of Boko Haram and I think it is important and it’s really been powerful, the collaboration between the joint task force which Nigeria is a part and Chad is a part, to respond to this threat of terrorism which Boko Haram is one of the organisations, there are other threats that the leadership of this country has to deal with.
“So the United States is ready to engage and coordinate efforts as well. But, we have been supporting, equipping, training and when we can provide information.
“I think that is the best way we have been helping the government of Nigeria secure the release of the girls, which we hope, will be done in a peaceful manner. We hope that something can be worked out and they can secure the release of these girls quickly.”
The secretary of state also repeated his warning to African nations to be cautious about accepting loans from China.
He suggested that needy African countries should exploit the opportunities offered by private foreign investors.
“I think it is important to clarify that we do not seek to stop Chinese investments from flowing to countries that need those investments. “But, what we are cautioning countries is to look carefully, that the implications of the level of debts, the terms of the debts, and whether the arrangements around the local financing are intact creating jobs, local capacity or the projects being carried out by foreign labour being brought to your country, is the structure of the financing such that you will always be in control of your infrastructure?
“Are there mechanism to deal with the faults so that you do not lose ownership of your own assets? These are national assets whether there are ports, railways, or major highways. We have seen this occur in other countries that were not so careful and they got themselves in situation where they awfully lost control of their infrastructure, lost the ownership, the operational relationship of it.
“And, that is the precaution that we talking about. That there are international rules and norms and financial structure to deal with unforeseen circumstances and I think we are just cautioning countries to look carefully.”
Also answering questions from reporters, Onyeama declared that while Boko Haram has been “completely degraded,” defeating them remains “work in progress” for now.
He explained that the group had been degraded because it no longer takes territories after dislodging Nigerian security forces, as happened before the Buhari government came into office in 2015.
The minister admitted that although the terrorists still inflict damage and take lives in attacks on soft targets, “a lot more intelligence is required.