Proceedings, Debates of the U.S. Congress
SECURITY AND HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN NORTHEASTERN NIGERIA; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 28
(Senate - February 16, 2017)
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[Pages S1297-S1299] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] SECURITY AND HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN NORTHEASTERN NIGERIA Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, today I wish to shine a spotlight on the dire security and humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin, precipitated by Boko Haram, and to urge the new administration to organize quickly to address it. Nigeria has been referred to as one of the anchor states of sub-Saharan Africa and our bilateral relationship is one of our most important on the continent. It is the most populous country on the continent. It has the biggest economy. It has contributed troops to regional and U.N. peacekeeping missions for decades and is a major oil-producing country. Nigeria's population is forecast to grow to 400 million by 2050, overtaking the United States and becoming the world's third most populous country. Nigeria's political and economic influence in the region is difficult to overstate, and it will only increase as the population and economy grow. That is why I joined Senator Corker in writing to President Obama urging high-level engagement with Nigeria in the wake of the 2015 elections, elections which, while perhaps not perfect, turned out to be a positive story of respect for democracy in the region. For the first time in the nation's history, there was a peaceful transition of power between opposing political parties. Though people feared the worst, Nigerians proved they can be leaders on the continent and in the world. However, for Nigeria to fully realize its enormous promise, it must deal with a range of challenges from rampant corruption, to insecurity and intercommunal violence in the Niger Delta and the Middle Belt, tensions in the southeast, and most immediately the continuing threat Boko Haram poses in northeastern Nigeria and other countries in the Lake Chad basin. It is critical that we help with these efforts. Since 2010, Boko Haram has devastated northeastern Nigeria. According to the 2016 Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram has the chilling distinction of being among the deadliest terrorist groups in history, with the second highest death toll from attacks out of all terrorist groups since 2000. In recent years, its attacks have spread to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The group, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015 and now calls itself the Islamic State West Africa Province, has killed almost 16,000 people. Thousands of others have died as a result of clashes between the military and Boko Haram. The terrorist group has kidnapped thousands, including nearly 300 girls from Chibok in April 2014. The whereabouts of almost 200 of the girls remains unknown. Countries in the Lake Chad basin are experiencing what U.N. officials and aid workers have called a forgotten crisis as a result of the terrorist group's activities. Nearly 2 million people have been displaced in Nigeria alone. Two hundred thousand Nigerians have fled across borders as refugees. Eight-and-a-half million people in northeast Nigeria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 2 million people are estimated to be at risk for starvation. Continued insecurity has prevented aid workers from reaching some areas, so the actual needs may be even greater. Last November, Doctors Without Borders expressed fears that malnutrition could wipe out the under-5 population in parts of Nigeria's Borno state. In his 2015 inaugural address, President Muhammadu Buhari cited Boko [[Page S1298]] Haram as the most pressing issue facing his administration, and to his credit, he has taken some action. The command center for counter Boko Haram operations has been relocated to Maiduguri, and Nigerians are coordinating military action with other countries in the Lake Chad basin. However, despite the Nigerian Government's claims, Boko Haram has not been largely defeated, and attacks continue. Just last month, the Nigerian military warned of a horrifying new tactic: women suicide bombers carrying babies in order to evade detection. The reports of continued attacks are profoundly disturbing. As tempting as it is to focus on a military solution, we must be very wary of falling into the trap of thinking that the scourge of Boko Haram can be overcome through military means alone. It is critical that we continue to encourage and support the Nigerian Government's use of all of all available tools to counter violent extremism in the northeast. The Obama administration engaged former President Goodluck Jonathan on the need to develop a holistic civilian-security focused counterterrorism strategy, one that addresses legitimate political and economic grievances in affected communities, but that approach was never fully embraced. There has been movement towards a countering violent extremism approach under President Buhari's leadership, and we should continue to encourage Nigerians to do more. One of the most important ways to engender the trust of the population is to provide access to justice for human rights abuses by security forces. After nearly 2 years in office, Buhari has yet to keep commitments to do so. The government created a human rights desk for the national army last year, which I welcome, but the establishment of the desk in and of itself is not enough. The military has made very serious mistakes for which it must be held accountable. In mid-2015, Amnesty International released a report alleging that the deaths of 8,000 civilians are attributable to the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria. The report calls for the investigation of specific military commanders who are alleged to have had knowledge of torture, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions in overcrowded facilities that lead to thousands of deaths. Buhari said he would launch an investigation. However, we have yet to see any one prosecuted, tried, or convicted. The results of a commission of judicial inquiry into the massacre of more than 300 people in the northern city of Zaria in December 2015 were made public last year. The inquiry found that the deaths were a result of excessive force on the part of the Nigerian army. To date, there has been no action on the part of the federal government to hold abusive security forces accountable. Impunity for human rights abuses serves to undermine all of the work we are doing to counter violent extremism. In addition to widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings, there are accusations that the military has stolen humanitarian supplies and sexually exploited and abused those living in camps for internally displaced. And many of those freed from Boko Haram have been kept in internment camps for indefinite amounts of time, subject to a screening process that appears inconsistent and is not transparent. Internally displaced persons have reported that the military and local militia take men and boys seeking refuge in camps for screening and they are never seen again. All of these actions have a deleterious effect on efforts to win the hearts and minds of the communities of the northeast, a critical objective to any strategy to defeat Boko Haram. Military impunity is why I remain leery of the proposed sale of Super Tucano fighter aircraft to Nigeria. Now is not the time for the United States to focus on the provision of aircraft and heavy munitions, especially in the wake of the Nigerian Airforce's bombing of a camp for IDPs last month that may have killed up to 200 innocent people and injured many more. Make no mistake. I support security assistance provided in compliance with the Leahy laws. But I support assistance that will have an actual impact on the Nigerian military's effectiveness. Lack of airpower or munitions are not its problem. The real impediments to success include poor command and control, insufficient air to ground coordination, impunity for human rights abuses, and little to no experience working with local communities and humanitarian partners. Addressing those issues could have an enormous impact on the ground. To help Nigeria respond to the challenges in the northeast, I urge the new administration to take three steps immediately. First, increase our overall humanitarian assistance budget. The administration should ensure that the President's budget request for fiscal year 2018 provides increased baseline funding for all foreign assistance programs. Such funding is currently 30 percent lower than it was in fiscal year 2010, and it is critical that we return baseline funding to a normal and sustainable level following several years of inadequate requests. An approach that erodes baseline funding while temporarily substituting emergency funds is not workable if the United States wants to continue to set an example in the world. An increase in the budget will enable us to make a significant pledge at the February 24 donors conference in Oslo. We have been generous, but the scale of the emergency demands that we--and our partners--do more. The United States has always led the international response to emergencies such as these, and we must continue to do so. But we can't get blood from a rock. There is no way we can provide adequate money to help the traumatized people in Nigeria and other countries of the Lake Chad basin unless we ensure that the budget for humanitarian assistance is robust without relying on transient funding like OCO. I encourage the administration to continue to inform Congress of the status of the humanitarian response, so that we can work as a unified government to help the people of Nigeria overcome the destruction left in the wake of Boko Haram. Nor can we afford a draconian cut to our contributions to international organizations. The World Food Program, WFP, is just beginning to scale up its operations in northeastern Nigeria. But it is under enormous strain. In December, the organization was forced to cut the amount of food it is providing to people in the Central African Republic due to insufficient resources. In fact, funding for CAR is so scarce that in 2016 it was able to give aid to less than a third the number of people it aimed to support. A new drought in Ethiopia has left 5.6 million people in urgent need of assistance according to authorities. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, warned earlier this month that, without a massive scale up in assistance, parts of Somalia may face famine. Needs in South Sudan continue to rise, with warnings of famine on the horizon. Slashing funding to WFP would be incredibly unwise, as would deep cuts to UNFPA. Women have suffered enormously in this conflict. UNFPA is on the ground supporting mechanisms to both prevent and respond to gender-based violence and care for pregnant women and newborns. We cannot let the specific needs of women and girls go unmet. Second, the new administration must work with career experts to surge our capacity on the ground. The administration needs to make clear that the current hiring freeze will not affect lifesaving efforts here or abroad, and Embassy Abuja should approve USAID's request to station additional humanitarian experts at post as quickly as possible. We need experienced people working with the Nigerian Government and the international community to coordinate more effective aid delivery. I applaud the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, for dispatching a disaster assistance response team, DART, to Nigeria in November to support government of Nigeria-led efforts to reduce food insecurity in the Boko Haram-affected regions of the country's northeast. The country has not faced a humanitarian emergency like this in a generation. National and state emergency management agencies are overtaxed, have little familiarity with providing a large-scale aid response, and are not accustomed to working with the U.N. in this manner. Our aid professionals can help. Let me be clear; Nigeria must continue to do its part. It is imperative that [[Page S1299]] President Buhari set a positive cooperative tone with the international community. However, there is no question that we must continue our robust humanitarian response. Finally, we must get smart about our security assistance. Agreeing to sell planes with more sophisticated targeting systems that will not be on the ground for 2 more years will not fix what is broken with respect to the Nigerian military's response in the north. Right now--today--we and our international partners should redouble our efforts to work with the Nigerians to develop a list of short-term interventions and a long- term plan to address issues related to military professionalism, accountability, improved command and control, more effective communication between and within services, strategic planning, logistics, and auditing. The strategic governance initiative is a step in the right direction, but we must take action that will translate into results in the field as quickly as possible. The situation in Nigeria is urgent. Few Americans are aware of the importance of Nigeria to the United States or the degree of suffering in northeastern Nigeria, but those of us who are policymakers cannot afford to drop the ball on our support of Nigeria's fight against Boko Haram or for those suffering in the Lake Chad basin. I recognize that it seems to some people that we are being called on to do more now internationally than ever. But we can do this. We are the Nation that conceived the Marshall Plan, worked with allies to execute the Berlin Airlift, and more recently, developed and implemented PEPFAR. We are up to the task. And we are not alone. Where America leads, our partners will follow. And I strongly encourage them to do so. Failure to redouble our efforts in these areas could mean that ISIS will gain a foothold in West Africa for a generation. I thank my colleagues. ____________________