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Al-Qaeda can’t penetrate Nigeria, says former US ambassador

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Mr. John Campbell

A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, on Wednesday said Al-Qaeda was still finding it difficult to penetrate Nigeria.

His remarks came days after the US Government said it has dispatched FBI agents to Nigeria to assist in the investigation of bombing incidents in Jos and Abuja.

Speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria in New York, Campbell said there was no evidence yet of links between the outlawed Boko Haram sect and al-Qaeda.

He stated that the “lack of receptivity on the part of Nigerians to outsiders and lack of skill by al-Qaeda operatives” had made it difficult for the terrorist group to penetrate Nigeria.

“It is possible (a relationship between both organisations) but I have seen no evidence of it. It seems to me what Boko Haram is entirely indigenous to Northern Nigeria. There may be some sipping in of radical ideas from Pakistan or the Persian Gulf via the Internet, but I have not seen any evidence of links between organisations like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda.

“I recall that in 2003 (during his stint as US ambassador to Nigeria), al-Qaeda called for the overthrow of the Nigerian Government. Nigeria has been in the sights of al-Qaeda for a long time. But it is interesting that I have not seen any kind of evidence of Al-Qaeda enjoying any kind of success in penetrating Nigeria,” he said.

Campbell, a senior fellow for African Policy Studies at the Washington-based think tank, the Council of Foreign Relations, welcomed the recent pronouncements by President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle terrorism in the country.

He said, “The steps that have been taken to improve coordination among the various parts of the Nigerian Government involved in counter-terrorism like the appointment of a coordinator, I think is very positive. Violence and terrorism are more than simple criminal activities.

“In the Niger Delta, there are real and long standing grievances that have been recognised for a generation. The persistence of these grievances is one of the factors that encourages anti-government violence there.

“Concrete and practical steps to address those grievances also have to be taken as part of any campaign against terrorism; same with the North where the level of poverty is dramatically greater than there is in any part of the country.”

He said Nigeria had shown commitment in the fight against terrorism and recollected that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the first African leader to visit Washington and express support after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks in the US. He advised Nigeria to look beyond an anti-terrorism legislation, which is yet to be passed by the National Assembly, in its fight against terrorism.

He stated that the commitment to fighting terrorism was one aspect of the matter, noting that although it might make it easier to fight terrorism, it was not an essential element. He said Nigeria could fight terrorism without specific legislation, expressing the hope that the anti-terrorism legislation, when passed, would command the support of all Nigerians.

Campbell, who described the situation in the Niger Delta as an ‘insurrection,’ said the Federal Government should deal with the issue of militancy in the region ‘politically and not militarily.’

He added, “I do not think that MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) should be dealt with through primarily military means. My concern about the use of military force in the Niger Delta is that it is bound to generate significant number of civilian casualties.

“That carries the danger of further alienating the local population.”

He, however, noted that MEND’s true identity remains ‘largely unclear.’ He said it appeared to be ‘a coalition of very small groups,’ without a centralised organisation and ‘charismatic leader.’

He stated, “It’s much more diffused than that. I think MEND includes terrorists, it includes criminals and people who are responding to perceived injustices. One of the things that is really complicated about MEND is that an individual member of the organisation can sometimes fit into all these three categories.

“As long as the local population acquiesces to the continued existence of MEND, it indicates that the organisation is expressing grievances that are widely felt.

Campbell expressed confidence that the April elections would be ‘significantly better’ than the 2003 and 2007 polls. He, however, said the US had reasons to hope that this year’s elections would be ‘a reversal of the downward spiral.’

Campbell explained, “I recall that we (the US) received the same assurances of free, fair and credible elections before the elections of 2007. What is different now, I think, is that the chairman of INEC is a person who commands wide respect and has a very realistic view about what the challenges are.

“Chairman Attahiru Jega has said repeatedly that free, fair and credible elections are the responsibility of the whole country not just of INEC. Now, the challenges of holding national elections in Nigeria are formidable. For example, a new electoral law is required and the establishment of polling places in an enormous country with many places of under-developed infrastructure; that has to be done.

“There is indeed violence in the many places that you have made reference to. As someone who loves Nigeria, what I am looking for are elections, if not perfect, are significantly better than the elections of 2007 and 2003. So that if the elections of 2011 are significantly better than those of 2003 and 2007, then the elections of 2015 might be significantly better than those of 2011. That would be very positive from my perspective,’’ he said.

In reference to the recent bomb attacks in Jos and Abuja, he said US President Barack Obama had utilised some preventive options to forestall electoral violence in Nigeria such as denouncing brigandage in the country.

He stated that the American government had also provided support for various Nigerian civil organisations working for improved elections.

“The international community, including the US, cannot manage Nigeria’s elections. That is something that the Nigerians will have to do. We can help at the margins and we are doing so, but free, fair and non-violent elections are the responsibility of the Nigerians,” he added.


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