The United States yesterday said that the reputation of the Nigerian military is at stake and that the country's future and that of its children are in jeopardy because of the festering Boko Haram insurgency.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Africa Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said this in remarks at the opening of the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission Regional Working Group Meeting in Abuja yesterday.
She spoke in the wake of capturing of territory by Boko Haram in parts of Borno and Yobe states.
Insurgents have in recent weeks overrun at least seven towns, the latest being Bama, which is the second-largest town in Borno.
"Since our last meeting in August 2013, the frequency and scope of Boko Haram's terror attack have grown more acute and constitute a serious threat to this country's overall security," Thomas-Greenfield said.
"Boko Haram has shown that it can operate not only in the northeast but elsewhere in the country. We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri which would impose a tremendous toll on the civilian population. This is a sober reality check for all of us. We are past time for denial and pride."
She lamented that despite collective efforts, the situation on ground in parts of the North-East is worsening with thousands, if not millions, being affected, while the Chibok schoolgirls remain hostages, enduring horrible and tragic suffering.
"Abubakar Shekau's bold announcement that Boko Haram is now governing a caliphate only adds to the perception that the security situation is steadily worsening. All of these are disturbing and increasingly dangerous with each passing day," she added.
Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. is close to announcing the launch of a major border security programme under its global security contingency fund, which will include Nigeria and its neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
"This is partnership in which both sides work together to identify the problem and design the solution," she said.
"We continue to provide technical training to military and police forces engaged in the fight against Boko Haram. As an important part of this effort, we are pleased to provide advanced training to a Nigerian infantry battalion. We applaud the motivation of this unit and the progress it is making.
"It is critical that the investment in this unit be properly maintained and utilised upon deployment, with clean supply chains and adequate supplies, a strong chain of command, and missions and values that address Nigeria's counterterrorism threat and keep civilians safe. The reputation of Nigeria's military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria's and its children's future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option."
Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. is launching a programme to increase school enrollment for at least 500, 000 Nigerian children, including 250, 000 girls in the North, and to improve early-grade reading for 3 million primary school students in the region.
She said her country is concerned about the 700,000 internally displaced persons, and reports that those numbers continue to increase. "We are deeply troubled by the risks to their personal security and their economic livelihoods as well as the implications on food security. We are concerned about their ability as citizens to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections," she said.
Speaking earlier at the opening of the meeting, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, called on the U.S. not to pay attention to a section of the Nigerian media, which he said is opposed to President Jonathan's administration, regarding the reporting of excesses by the military.
"We call on the US not to pay attention to activities of a section of the Nigerian print and electronic media which is opposed to the present administration whom as a result put up exaggerated accounts of military violation of human rights in the process of arresting Boko Haram members which is far from the truth," he said.
He also urged the U.S. to quickly and timely share intelligence with Nigerian authorities.