The United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, arrived Abuja, Nigeria's capital Monday, where he pledged the support of the U.S. in securing the quick release of the Dapchi and remaining Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists and expressed hope that a deal for their release would be struck soon.
Tillerson, who made the pledge while responding to questions from journalists at the State House, Abuja, after holding a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, said the U.S. would be involved in efforts for the release of the Dapchi girls the same way it had been part of the negotiations for the release of some of the Chibok girls.
The U.S. Secretary of State had arrived the Nigerian capital Monday on the final leg of his tour of select African countries.
He was initially slated to spend the night in the Nigerian capital but his visit was cut short, owing to what his spokesman said were pressing engagements in Washington D.C.
Tillerson, however, expressed concern that the threat posed by Boko Haram terrorists had gone beyond the shores of Nigeria and West Africa, saying the terrorists now constitute a threat to other regions.
According to him, while the U.S. acknowledges Nigeria as a country with its own territorial integrity, it has continued to support the West African country in the provision of equipment and training of its personnel for special operations.
In reference to other security threats plaguing Nigeria, especially the violence being perpetrated by suspected herders of cattle, Tillerson added that beyond the menace of Boko Haram terrorism, the leadership of Nigeria has other security threats to deal with, pledging that the U.S. would assist in engaging and coordinating efforts for the release of Dapchi and the remaining Chibok girls.
"First, we respect the responsibilities of the government of Nigeria and the territorial integrity of Nigeria. But the way we support it is in providing them capability with equipment and also training of the personnel for 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 of Chad earlier today, we spoke about the threat of Boko Haram and I think it is important and it's really been powerful, the collaboration between the Multinational Joint Task Force which Nigeria is a part of and Chad is a part of, to respond to this threat of terrorism by Boko Haram is one of the issues. 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," he said.
Also responding to a question on why he cautioned African countries against obtaining loans from China, Tillerson said he was only cautioning African nations to look before they leap.
According to him, he was cautioning them to be circumspect in obtaining such loans by critically examining their implications, the terms of obtaining the loans, and the overall impact such loans could have on their local economies.
He added that his note of caution came against the background of the negative consequences such loans had had on some countries which took them in the past, saying such countries found themselves in trouble, which should serve as lessons for others.
He insisted that there were other options for financing infrastructure projects that could be explored.
"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, to understand the implications of the level of debt, the terms of the debt, and whether the arrangements around the local financing are intact, creating jobs, local capacity, or the projects being carried out by foreign labour.
"Is the structure of the financing such that you will always be in control of your infrastructure? Are there mechanisms to deal with a default so that you do not lose ownership of your own assets? These are national assets, whether they are ports, railways, or major highways.
"We have seen this occur in other countries that were not so careful and the result was that they got themselves in a situation where they lawfully lost control of their infrastructure, lost the ownership, the operational relationship of it.
"And that is the precaution that we are talking about, that there are international rules and norms and financial structures to deal with unforeseen circumstances, and I think we are just cautioning countries to look carefully.
"There are other alternative financing mechanisms that are available and I think, in particular, governments have to create the right conditions around these infrastructure investments.
"There is also great potential for public-private sector co-investing in the infrastructure. And we are developing mechanisms that will also create alternative opportunities financing offers. We have seen many around the world that did not work out so well and we are just saying as friends, be careful," he said.
In his closed-door meeting with Buhari, the president told Tillerson that the government had adopted the option of negotiating for the release of both the Chibok and Dapchi girls as against the military option because it prefers to get the schoolgirls back alive.
In a statement, his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari added that Nigeria was working in collaboration with international organisations and negotiators for the safe release of the girls.
"We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive," the president was quoted to have informed his guest.
Adesina said the president thanked the U.S. for its assistance in the fight against the insurgency, acknowledging that the Nigerian forces were good "but need assistance in the areas of training and equipment".
The statement added: "President Buhari promised that his administration would continue to do its best to secure the country, adding that he would be in Yobe State, from where the Dapchi schoolgirls were abducted, later this week as part of his condolence and sympathy visits to areas where there had been unfortunate events.
"The president pledged free and fair polls in 2019, recalling that the former U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, had 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'.
"The visiting Secretary of State commended President Buhari on his strides in the anti-corruption war, to which the Nigerian leader responded that the monies recovered were being invested in infrastructure.
"Mr. Tillerson said Nigeria was a very important country to the U.S., stressing, 'you have our support in your challenges. We will also support opportunities to expand the economy, commercial investments, and peaceful polls in 2019'."
Borno Schools Closed
Tillerson's visit came on the heels of the statement Monday by the Borno State Government that it had closed all boarding schools in the state, except for those located in Maiduguri and Biu metropolises.
Speaking to the press on the modalities being put in place by the state to prevent the abduction of more students from its schools, the state government said the security of students could only be completely guaranteed when peace and orderliness return to the North-east with the defeat of Boko Haram.
Four years ago, 276 students of Government Girls' Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists. Of the 276 girls who were kidnapped, 113 remain in captivity.
The state Commissioner for Education, Hon. Inuwa Kubo, who spoke on the closure of the schools, said all female and male boarding schools, except for those in the Maiduguri and Biu metropolitan areas had been closed.
This implies that boarding schools have been closed in 25 out of 27 local government areas of the state.
He said: "We have decided to relocate all our girls in boarding schools to within the metropolises of Maiduguri or Biu because we do not want a recurrence of the Chibok case.
"If the entire security situation is not addressed, one cannot be sure that it won't happen again. If people start seeing that over time there are no more attacks, they will know that peace has returned.
"But in a situation where you cannot move to some parts of the state without escorts and you are hearing that in some cases, the military is being ambushed, you cannot deceive yourself and say everything is okay.
"If we have a situation where our military is still being ambushed, we cannot leave our girls in boarding schools and even the boys' boarding schools.
"We cannot allow them to continue in boarding schools where the security is porous. We have to relocate the girls to boarding schools within the metropolises and we equally took proactive steps with the male boarding schools, because they cannot be said to be interested in girls alone.
"It is just that they (Boko Haram insurgents) have received more attention by abducting girls; there is more to gain by the insurgents when they carry girls because of the concerns of the people and government more for the womenfolk."
Kubo revealed that the state government had collapsed all the girls' boarding schools into Biu and Maiduguri, adding: "There are some other communities that operate girls' schools but are not boarding schools, they have day schools, with the girls going back to their homes to sleep."
The commissioner, who also commended the police for deploying their men in schools in the state, expressed hope that the deployment was sustained and not an action dictated by the emotions brought about by the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls.
He said measures had been taken to get all the schools in the troubled state, the birthplace of Boko Haram, shielded from any further attacks by the terrorists.
Kubo said: "It is a security measure and not meant for public consumption, but I can assure you that all the necessary machinery and apparatus have been put in place to safeguard our children."
He also revealed that members of the vigilante group, known as the Civilian JTF, and local hunters had been deployed to keep schools safe in the state.
He, however, lamented that even with the arrangements put in place to secure the schools, no one was certain that there would be no more attacks by Boko Haram.
"What is most important and paramount is this, whatever arrangements you have is dependent on local security. What I am trying to say is that if a community is infested with insecurity, no matter the arrangements, it cannot stand the test of time.
"Like what happened in Chibok and like my issues with the former president (Goodluck Jonathan), he asked as to why we allowed these girls to be abducted in Chibok.
"He knew very well that the North-east is infested with insecurity, if there was no insecurity, no one would come into a school and pick up girls.
"So, whenever the security situation improves in the area, apprehension within schools and communities would naturally wane. But as long as insecurity is not totally addressed in the communities, whatever measures you put in place cannot succeed.
"This means that the federal government should continue in its determination to make sure that peace is restored.
"And people too have roles to play because the federal government can only act on information given to them by the members of the community. I believe much has been achieved, but more can be achieved if having recorded some success, the security agencies do not relax.
"When the security agencies relax sometimes, this has given the insurgents the opportunity to continue with their nefarious activities," he added.