As the Boko Haram insurgency worsens, the United States has consistently maintained that Nigeria has to adopt a socioeconomic approach in tackling the terrorism. In this interview, the Information Officer at the US Embassy In Nigeria, Deborah Ann MacLean, tells EZRA IJIOMA that Nigerian government should step up efforts in tackling the root causes of Boko Haram and attendant insecurity across the country. Excerpt.
Is the US comfortable with Nigeria's counter-terrorism measures given that US Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, has said, during his recent teleconferencing with African journalists: "We see the solution to this problem as both a security and a socioeconomic issue"? Also, is the US comfortable with Nigeria's socioeconomic approach to the security challenge posed by Boko Haram?
This kind of insurgency requires a response by the security forces but it also requires a lot more, and we think the Nigerian government does understand that. As the Assistant Secretary stated, the US government believes the solution involves a broad-based strategy by addressing security as well as the questions of development and poverty which feed underlying grievances that can promote acts of violence. It is also our hope that the actions by the security forces will target extremists and perpetrators of violence in a way that does not inflict civilian casualties or damage properties and violate human rights.
In that case is the US comfortable with the way the Nigerian government is tackling the developmental issues that give rise to insecurity like the Boko Haram issue?
I think that is where there needs to be more done and that's what Assistant Secretary of State said when it comes to developmental issues not just in northern Nigeria but throughout the whole of Nigeria, the government needs to step up its pace. Do more particularly to reduce poverty, improve education, power and infrastructure. There is work that needs to be done there. And that's where we also see we can fit in, in terms of working with the development issues either through businesses coming in to work with the power grid in electricity and working to improve school curriculum through USAID [US Agency for International Development].
In late March this year, the US Embassy released a statement that gunshots were fired in the vicinity of the embassy and two persons were in the custody of Nigeria Police but they (Nigeria Police) denied any report of gunshots and of even making any arrest. What actually happened and how do we reconcile the two accounts?
I don't want to answer this question. I really prefer not talk about what happened in the past because it is a dead issue at this point.
Is President Obama's support for Gay Marriage the same as the United States Government's official position on Gay Marriage?
The President stated "For me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that-- I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." That was his personal viewpoint. That is not the official US position. And I want to be clear on this. As a matter of policy, the United States does not advocate for or against marriage for same-sex couples abroad. That is an issue for countries to decide.
Then what is the official US position on same-sex marriage?
There is no official position. Every state in the US is allowed to choose its position.
Also, why is the US government reluctant to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation given the many terrorist attacks in Nigeria which the group claims responsibility?
On the question of designating Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), we do not comment in advance on such decisions. We can assure you, however, that the Department is reviewing all options with regards to Boko Haram, including designation as an FTO. FTOs are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. This has legal criteria and carries legal ramifications and the US government is looking into it.
We've heard President Obama's recent food programme of improving global supplies as a keystone of US overseas development policy with a new initiative to improve nutrition for 50 million vulnerable people, primarily in Africa, over the next decade. How is Nigeria accommodated in this global plan?
While Nigeria isn't being included in the initial launching, the new alliance will expand rapidly to all African countries which will include Nigeria. We don't have a date at this point as to when Nigeria will be part of this programme though. The initial stage has chosen Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. I don't know the specifics why they were chosen over other countries in Africa. I don't know when Nigeria will be going into the programme because it has just being launched.
Is it that Nigeria has not done enough to be included in the first recipient nations?
I don't think that is the intent of this programme to single out countries that are doing more or less over other countries. I think that this purely a programme where they wanted to have some countries start to roll it and it will be done in phases. It just happened that those countries were chosen to be the first and not what Nigeria may be doing or not doing agriculturally. There are many opportunities that Nigeria can take in particular AGOA [Africa Growth Opportunity Act]
Is Nigeria taking advantage of AGOA?
No. Nigeria is not taking advantage of AGOA as it could and as we think it should. It is a great programme and one that is unlike any other in the world. It is basically free and a win-win situation for Nigeria. You get to export your agricultural products to the United States for free without any duties and quotas.
In March 2012, the United States said it has plans to establish a consulate in Kano in order to have a diplomatic presence in northern Nigeria, how far have the plans gone to become reality?
Planning for a new consulate in Kano has been underway for some time; US government officials have already met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Kano State officials to discuss the plans. We currently have teams looking into suitable locations and costs. As we said everything comes down to budget and money and we need to very sure that we have all the money especially in this economy. So I don't know when it will be opened but it is definitely in the forefront of our minds.