In this interview with the United Nation’s Correspondents Association in New York ahead of the General Assembly, Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, spoke of Nigeria Buhari’s handling of Boko Haram, corruption and the minister’s response to Mercy Abang’s questions on Nigerian Military labelling of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorists group as well as cases of human rights abuses in Nigeria .
On the health of President Buhari: Yes, he’s leading the Nigerian delegation to the General Assembly; yes he’s really back to what he was doing before. We had a very long cabinet meeting two days ago and he’s in excellent form and he’s back. We are delighted that he’s here, fired up and he’s ready to lead. He’s very very strong, he’s back to his very polishing shape, so he’s very fantastic.
Was Buhari’s statement re: crushing of Boko Haram premature?: When the President said that, it was in a context actually and believe it or not, Boko Haram capture territory and was holding territory. The Nigerian military at the time was in some disarray. The Bombing of the United Nations Premises in Abuja, very tragic bombing, really showed the capacity of Boko Haram at that time. So the degrading of Boko Haram, Mr President was absolutely right, their stronghold was the Sambisa Forest, we have taken that over.
What you have is isolated terrorists attack against soft targets, they’re using young girls as suicide bombers and that’s different kind of war. Now what you see are sporadic and asymmetric incidences so yeah, that’s really the situation
On Security Council position for Africa, what are the two countries likely to get the seat: The chair for the African Union is President Koroma of Sierra Leone, consultations are still ongoing and the AU itself has not finally taken a decision. No definite decision on the criteria. We are (Nigeria) making ourselves available of course, we are ready to serve and we always have the interest of the continent. It is part of our DNA as a country to step up where Africa is concerned.
We were considered a frontline state, during the fight against Apartheid, notwithstanding the fact that we are not geographically within that region and in the case of South Sudan.
And I think all the African Countries recognize Nigeria is really there for Africa.
Question: The Nigerian Military Labeled IPOB, a terrorist’s organization just a few hours ago, is that the appropriate label for an organization asking for self-determination?
Answer: Mercy Abang, asked about IPOB, I didn’t quite hear who you said labeled IPOB a terrorist organization.
Mercy: The Nigerian Military, a few hours ago.
Answer: Oh, the Nigerian Military, well, I think this will obviously come from their experience. They’re always on the frontline and so if that’s what they’re saying it must be because of an incidence they have had to deal with directly. So yeah, yeah. We believe in this government , the position is, yes for the large part of our nation as an independent nation, we’ve had military regimes and governance by coercion and by force. Nigerians really embraced democracy and of course campaigned for many years for the Military to go back to the barracks, and a lot of people say that a lot of the governance issues we are facing today can be traced back to those years of military rule.
So we have a constitution and the position of President Muhammadu Buhari is, let’s key to the constitution, let’s live by the constitution. We have a democratic framework, we have a legislature with a representation from all parts of Nigeria and whatever changes needs to be made, the mechanisms, the structures are there for all the changes.
You’ve been hearing a lot of talk about restructuring and so forth but mechanisms are there, the National Assembly represents the people.
So the position is, we haven’t had a long period of democratic rule when you consider the life of the country, don’t let – it’s still fragile. Let it mature, and become stronger. I think that’s really the position of government, if you look at the leader of IPOB, he was detained under the laws of the country for what we consider as statements that can be considered treasonable and he was allowed out on bail, the judge gave him bail, the military, nobody prevented it. There were conditions notwithstanding; almost every aspect of the bail conditions have not been respected, flagrantly violated but yet government is not enforcing the issue. I think the important thing we should be focusing on is nation building and institutionalizing democracy and just let the will of the people decide using the framework that is there and the structures that exists.
(Questions) On the crackdown of Shiites, IPOB and armless protesters that violates human right: The Federal Government it’s something that happened in a state, let it be investigated and leaving it for that process to play itself out. You know if you intervene like the military it will seem as if you’re becoming a judge and jury. So the state government and human right commission is involved with the investigations let that play itself.
On whether the Nigerian government will need help on the handling of IPOB and Boko Haram:
IPOB is, as of now, an internal threat and Nigeria does not need international assistance to resolve it. Boko Haram is not an internal threat; it is an international threat. When the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it became international threat.
The important thing we should be focusing on is nation building using the existing democratic structures. I think that Mr. President came and had an agenda for the country and you really just don’t want to be distracted from that agenda.
The economy, which was in a terrible state when this government came in, went into recession for the first time in decades and we’re just coming out of that recession.
We want to keep on that path and we believe that a lot of these issues and challenges in the country have their bases in the economics.
If we can provide a good living standard and quality of life for our people, all these issues (Biafra agitation) will fall by the way side.
That is why we must not be distracted from transforming the economy of our country. What I’m saying is that we want to focus on the economy.
We believe if we can get the economy right, a lot of the young people who feel that Nigeria as presently constituted is not addressing their problems, is not giving them the hope, will change their perspective.