(Senate - February 16, 2017)

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[Pages S1297-S1299]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  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 
  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 
  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

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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 
  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.