The United States of America on Wednesday said it backed the Federal Government’s plan to grant amnesty to members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
The Political Counsellor at the Embassy of the USA, Gregory Lawless, said in Abuja that the American government would support amnesty for Boko Haram if it was the solution to ending violence in the north and other parts of the country.
“We think it is a positive development. We will work with Nigerian government as it develops its own policy approach as to counter violent extremism,” Lawless said in a response to a question about the US position on the amnesty the Nigerian government was planning to grant the Islamic sect at a teleconference on US-Nigerian Binational Commission.
He added, “Security concerns in Nigeria would be addressed through our regional security cooperation working group as part of the Bi-National Commission.
“We are looking at a holistic approach to address the unmet grievances of the population, especially in the north.
“Through that mechanism, we think by broadening the scope of response to violent extremism, we believe that we will be addressing some of those issues in a more fundamental way.”
However Lawless said the US had not changed its condemnation of the state pardon granted to former Bayelsa Governor, Dipreye Alamieyeseigha, by President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The situation has not changed,” he said.
Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, Victoria Nuland, at a daily press briefing in Washington had said, “We see this as a setback for the fight against corruption, and also for our ability to play the strong role we’ve played in supporting rule of law and legal institution-building in Nigeria, which is very important for the future of the country obviously.
“We have made clear to Nigerians that this puts a question mark on the kind of work that we’ve been trying to do with them.
“We haven’t yet taken the kinds of steps that you’re suggesting Matt (the reporter who asked the question), but we’re continuing to look at what’s appropriate.”
But Lawless said that whatever the disappointment was, the US had since moved on with its relationship with Nigeria.
“We have a very mature relationship. So we can recognise our differences and opinions on issues. We are moving on; we have a lot of things to do,” he said.
Counting the successes achieved so far by the bi-national commission, Lawless said the commission had successfully integrated civil society into the electoral process prior to the 2011 elections.
He said the commission had been able to sustain an elevated dialogue with energy sector officials on policy reforms to increase investment.
He said the two countries had also agreed to explore a partnership with the Nigerian Army to build its civil affairs capacity and to build trust between Nigeria’s citizens and the military.
The U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission is a high-level forum for advancing issues of mutual concern.
Inaugurated in April 2010 by the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed, the Commission’s five working groups meet regularly to focus and deepen engagement on issues concerning governance, energy, security, agriculture, and the Niger Delta.
The Working Groups include, Good Governance; Transparency and Integrity;
Regional Security Cooperation; Energy and Investment; Food Security and Agriculture, as well as the Niger Delta.
The working groups established benchmarks for transparent and inclusive elections, including registering voters, appointing electoral commission leaders, and allocating independent election funding.
On regional security cooperation, Lawless said, “We provided lessons learned from our post-September 11 experiences in an effort to strengthen Nigeria’s community engagement and strategic communications efforts. We offered to help Nigeria develop an intelligence fusion centre to improve their intelligence, analysis, and dissemination efforts, although Nigerian officials are still deciding their scope and mission requirements for such a centre.”
According to him, the Energy and Investment working group has focused primarily on reform of Nigeria’s power and hydrocarbon sectors.
Lawless explained, “We have been heartened by Nigeria’s ongoing progress on comprehensive power reform incentives and private investment in infrastructure to address massive power shortages.
“The United States is providing policy support to strengthen Nigeria’s domestic agricultural policies. The United States supports efforts to expand agricultural lending and otherwise improve private agriculture sector growth.”
He added, “We agreed to collaborate further to build on Nigeria’s amnesty programme by advancing economic development and environmental protection of the Delta. We also committed to partner with Nigeria to enhance regional maritime security and to reduce the inflow of small arms and light weapons”.