The United States on Friday said the ideas that there are arms deal embargo on Nigeria are not true, insisting that no country is doing more to support Nigeria in its fight against terror than the American government.
There have been rumours that the United States had placed embargo on sales of arms to Nigeria and that it had prevented the oil rich nation from obtaining arms to prosecute a counter terrorism operation in the north-east a major terrorist enclave. The region has been under attack by a terrorist group Boko Haram for over five years now.
Relations between both countries are said to have witnessed setbacks as a result of the arms deal controversies, something that has also been linked with the abrupt termination of a training programme for Nigeria’s battalion few months ago.
But, on Channels Television on Friday, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, said that there was no arms embargo, describing the claims that the US had cut Nigeria off as ‘nonsense’.
“Ideas that there are arms embargo and that the US has cut Nigeria off is nonsense.
“No country is doing more to support Nigeria in its fight against terror right now. We can’t talk about the details in public but I can assure you that we are with you every step of the way.
“We have a number of discussions right now for various pieces of equipment in the air, on the ground and army personnel carriers. We share information everyday with your army that they can use operationally.
“The notion that we have cut you off is nonsense.
“When we transfer or consider transferring arms to any country, by US law, there is a process that we have to go through. We look at; does this make sense for the country and other human rights considerations. Sometimes the answer is no much more often the answer is yes,” Mr Entwistle explained.
“You were right about the Cobra Helicopter when the answer after careful deliberation was no.
“We have a number of other things in the pipeline. So that water under the bridge is focused on the present and the future and the cooperation is excellent,” Mr Entwistle said.
He did not give the details of why the US refused to grant Nigeria’s request for the helicopter, but the US government had earlier said that issues of human rights abuse were some of its considerations.
The US Ambassador further stressed that the relationship between both countries was still in good shape, explaining that the military training had stopped because of a strain in the training-agreement.
“We have good relations with the Air Force, Navy and Army at the working level. We are in touch everyday working together.
“Late last year, I told President Jonathan that the US wants Nigeria to win the war on terror and we stand ready to help in any and appropriate way.
“We have already started training, at the request of Nigerian government, to train one of its battalions up to a world class standard. We brought in the best military trainers in the world. But the agreement with the government was that we will provide the trainers in order to do this properly, the Nigerian army will provide the equipment needed to do this training. It is a partnership. We are doing this together. It is not something we are doing for you.
“Training started, but sadly it got to a point that we had to stop because the equipment was not available.
“And after several weeks of waiting, we could not keep the trainers here and the Nigerian government decided to end the training.
“I say this with great regret, it was a great opportunity to train a world class battalion but unfortunately it stopped at the request of your government. But his doesn’t have to derail our cooperation. Whatever reasons were for that, we continue to move forward. As I have said, could we do training again in the future, sure everything is possible.
“But we have to talk about the details very carefully from the beginning because we do not want to experience this again.
“I don’t think the US and Nigeria are experience strain relations. I think we are in good shape,” he stressed.
The US ambassador further listed other areas that Nigeria and the US had relationships – trade, investment, health, education.
“We have a broad-deep relationship, one of the best that I have ever been involved in.”
Strengthening Maritime Security
In an effort to strengthen the naval capacity of Nigeria, the US handed over a Naval ship to the Nigerian Navy, which it said was in the joint interest of both countries, as it would improve security in the gulf of Guinea which is important for Nigeria, neighbouring African States and the rest of the world which ships come from the sea lanes.
“We saw it as a tangible sign in this partnership that Nigeria and the US have enjoyed for so many years.
“I don’t think it is a choice between helping in the maritime security or helping in the north-east. Both are important and both of our countries can do both at the same time.
“The OKPABANA ship that we have just delivered to Nigeria should make it more difficult for people stealing oil to get it out to ship. It is a part of the package of strengthening maritime security, with amongst other things can strengthener the fight against oil bunkery.
“The OKPABANA has been in the works for several years. We didn’t just rush it out here. It is a deliberate decision several years ago because of the strength of our relationship,” he said.
‘Make Violence Unacceptable’
On the forthcoming Nigerian election, the US envoy said that the US would continue to provide support to Nigeria in its election process, emphasising that “in a democratic election there is no place for violence.
“Every time I call on a politician or a candidate in this country, I ask him or her if they will publicly take a non-violence pledge on camera. Commit themselves to not fomenting or condoning violence before, during or after the elections.
“I have been very happy to see that Nigerian civil society, Nigerian media and entertainers like 2Face with his ‘vote, not fight’ campaign has picked up this project.
“The accountability aspect of this is crucial.
“I believe in the democracy and I have observed elections around the world and there is no place for violence.
“One thing I have observed as a key benchmark in democratic rule in any country is when the loser comes out to accept results.
“We can make violence unacceptable in public arena,” he emphasised.
Mr Entwistle urged Nigerians to support the Independent National Electoral Commission, which he said was on a very tight timeline, but expressed optimism that the election would be credible.
“The US supports Nigerian people in the election. We support the process rather than any outcome of the process,” he said, stressing that the US government does not support a particular individual.
The US Ambassador also described as ridiculous, the assertions that Nigeria would break up in 2015.
“I can’t find any prediction by anyone in the US government that Nigeria will break up in 2015.
“It is a ridiculous assertion. Here we are sitting in Nigeria in 2015, do any of you see any signs of this country breaking up? I don’t. I see Nigeria in a challenging time, nonetheless gradually moving forward to a very bright future and the United States looks forward to working with you towards that bright future. When I spend time with young Nigerians, I can’t help but have a strong optimism about this country.
“Take this breakup in 2015 idea and throw it out the window,” he added.