The United States of America, USA, has expressed concern at the rate crime is spreading in Nigeria.
The American government lamented the worsening crime rate in coastal areas and the free movement of Islamic extremists between Mali and Nigeria.
The US ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, and his Consul-General,Mr Jeffrey Hawkins, spoke at different fora.
The US ambassador said Islamic extremists have continued to move freely between Nigeria and northern Mali, despite the ongoing French military operation there against them.
The Consul-General on his part said his government was concerned with the growing incidence of criminal activities off Nigeria’s coast. Hawkins, who said this at the closing ceremony of the 2013 Nigeria Maritime Expo, NIMAREX 2013, yesterday, in Lagos, said there seemed to be ineffectual security response to the growing criminal activities.
The ambassador, speaking in Abuja, said as extremists’ shootings, bombings and kidnappings of foreigners continued unstopped across northern Nigeria, halting the violence remained a top priority of the Washington government.
He, however, declined to answer questions about alleged US plans to operate a drone base in neighbouring Niger.
“Officials have seen reports for years” about fighters from the radical Islamic extremist network, Boko Haram, travelling to Mali to receive training there, said McCulley, speaking to journalists on a telephone conference call.
Boko Haram, the main force behind the continuing guerrilla attacks against the Federal Government, is believed by analysts and officials to have ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in Mali, and likely received training and weapons from them.
Nigeria needed to attack the group on multiple fronts
“Nigerians feel that there is a link between extremist activity in the Sahel and their internal extremist insurgency,” McCulley said. The ambassador said Nigeria needed to attack the group on multiple fronts, both militarily and by alleviating northern Nigeria’s crushing poverty and lack of opportunities for its growing, young population.
Respect for human rights
McCulley also said Nigeria needed to “respect human rights” while fighting extremists. Human rights officials have long accused the country security forces of illegally detaining people for months without charges, using torture and even summarily killing suspects.
French troops, with the help of Malian soldiers, have been fighting Islamic extremists who took over the main towns in northern Mali in the weeks after a coup toppled the nation’s government last year. Despite their efforts, it appears extremists continueto be able to simply disappear into local populations and move freely across the region, where desert borders remain loosely patrolled.
Plan by Obama to establish military base in Niger
In his bid to stop that flow, US President Barack Obama announced plans in February to establish a military base in neighbouring Niger to stage drone flights across the Sahel region. While US plans initially called for the drones to be used to gather information about Islamic extremists in Mali, the drones could be used elsewhere in the region.
In the northern states, there has been growing concern and suspicion about the US intentions in the region, despite the ongoing violence.
When asked about the drones, McCulley largely declined to comment, though he said Nigeria’s government had not posed any questions to the US regarding the drone programme.
Crime situation is worsening — US Consul-General
US Consul-General said “both the available data and the anecdotal evidence suggest that the crime situation is only worsening.
“We have difficulty seeing how it is going to get better in the near-term without major improvements in institutional collaboration and a marked increase in political will,” Hawkins said.
The Consul-General said that the bodies expected to protect and defend the maritime commerce were instead perceived to be undermining it. Hawkins said that indeed it could be agreed that there was a huge problem. He said Nigeria had a lot of potential, but the challenge was realising the potential.
He said more than anything else there must be an increase in the political will to effect substantial and sustainable positive change in Nigeria’s maritime environment.
Impetus to do things transparentlyhas been lacking
“Many interlocutors have asserted to us that this is the biggest hurdle. The impetus to do things differently, transparently, effectively and in line with global best practices has been lacking,” he said.
Hawkins said Nigeria should emulate other countries that had the same problem in the past and had successfully tackled it.