The United States President, Donald Trump, on Monday described the killing of Christians in Nigeria as a serious problem, saying the US would not accept it.
Trump also condemned the burning of churches and urged the Federal Government to ensure security in the affected communities.
He said the government of the US and that of Nigeria would work hard to resolve the problem.
Trump said this shortly before he entered into a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Oval Office in the White House, Washington DC.
“We have met before, we have a great relationship. I look forward to our discussion today again, especially as it relates to terrorism. Terrorism all over the world is a hotbed and we are going to be stopping it.
“We have had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria; We are going to be working on that problem very, very hard because we cannot allow that to happen,” he said.
Trump who said his government had decimated the ISIS over the last 12 months, said Boko Haram had been terrible.
He asked Buhari how he was handling the issue of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi girls.
Buhari said his administration had not given up on the remaining Dapchi girl and the Chibok girls.
“The Chibok girls kidnap was before we came; we rescued some of them. The Dapchi girls were 106, we rescued 100, four died, and one is still in captivity. We are very grateful to the United Nations Organisation that is acting as a go-between and is helping out. We have not given up on the last Dapchi girl,” he said.
The President insisted that Libya crisis and Muammar Ghaddafi were responsible for herdsmen killings.
He said, “The problem of cattle herders is a very long historical problem. Before now, Nigerian herders were known to carry sticks and machetes and cut follies for their animals, but these ones are carrying AK-47.
“So I don’t think we should underrate Libya. During the 43 years of Gaddafi, people were recruited from Sahel and trained to shoot and kill. With the demise of Ghaddafi, they (recruited persons) moved from their country and their region with their training and their weapons and that is what aggravated the situation.
“We are doing our best to stop the cross border movement, but it will take time.
“We are happy with the effort of the United States to see the end of ISIS. This has helped us a lot because the Boko Haram in Nigeria had one time made a statement that they belong to ISIS.
“Now that ISIS is virtually gone, we are very happy. We are stabilising the situation in Nigeria.”
Nigeria, US to repatriate $500m looted fund –Buhari
Later, at a joint press conference with Trump after a meeting of the two leaders at the White House, Buhari said the US and Nigeria were collaborating to repatriate over $500m stolen from Nigeria.
He said the funds were stashed away in banks across the world.
He said, “Our two governments have put the machinery in place for our respective Attorneys-General to collaborate in ensuring the return to Nigeria of over $500m looted funds stashed away in banks around the world.
“In this connection, we congratulate the US government on launching a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative which was spearheaded by the US Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering.
“We hope that we could continue to count on the US support in this area.”
Buhari said his team and that of Trump discussed issues relating to security, trade, governance, human rights and humanitarian crises.
He said they congratulated the leaders of North and South Korea on their historic summit and the positive commitment they have made towards the ‘de-nuclearisation’ of the Korean peninsula.
He said Trump deserved credit for his role in transforming “so dramatically the course of events in that region.”
He said, “We also recognised the strong US support in our fight against terrorism and appreciated very much the US’ agreement to sell 12 Super Tucano A-29 war planes and weapons to Nigeria to fight terrorism.
“We are even more grateful for the physical presence of the United States military who are training in our institutions.
“We have the firsthand experience of the commitment of the United States to get rid of terrorism across the world and we are very grateful for it.
“To contain insurgency in Nigeria, the Federal Government has adopted a multi-sectoral approach involving relevant government agencies to address the socio-economic and political dimensions, while the Armed Forces of Nigeria would assist the civil authority to provide security and maintain law and order.
“As part of efforts to address emerging cases of insurgency in the country, the Nigerian Military adopted a non-kinetic counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency approach code-named, Operation Safe Corridor, to deradicalise, re-habilitate, and re-integrate willingly surrendered Boko Haram members into the society.
“This programme is currently embarking on a number of projects including skill acquisition centres and integrated farms, comprising poultry, fish pond and greenhouse farming.
“A number of international partners, including the International Organisation for Migration, have contributed to the success of Operation Safe Corridor. We indicated that we would appreciate whatever support we could also get from the US.
“We expressed gratitude for the US support in the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the North-East of Nigeria, as well as humanitarian assistance to the Internally Displaced Persons, through agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development and other partners.
“The USA has been to date the biggest contributor to the humanitarian response and last year gave approximately $500m in cash and in-kind contributions through the United Nations and other inter-governmental organisations.
“We are doing all we can to secure the release of the remaining abducted schoolgirls from Dapchi and Chibok. In this context, we will continue to welcome the US collaboration in intelligence gathering, hostage negotiations and information-sharing.”
On herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, Buhari said the Federal Government was taking necessary steps to promote peaceful co-existence by focusing on boosting security and enforcing legislation that would guarantee herders and farmers access to land.
“We are committed to ensuring that all documented cases of human rights abuses are investigated and those responsible for violations held accountable for their actions,” he added.
On trade and investment, Buhari said his government’s aim was to diversify the country’s economy by focusing on agriculture and food security; power and infrastructure.
“We have cut the importation of rice by about 90 per cent, thereby saving a significant amount of money. We welcome increased US investment in the Nigerian economy, especially in the non-oil sector.
“Economic relations between Nigeria and the United States are anchored on three major instruments namely: the Bi-National Commission, Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.
“The Bi-National Commission comprising bilateral political, economic, developmental and humanitarian partnership. It is a basic economic framework for engagement between our two countries.
“Nigeria’s trade volume with the United States stood at $6.07bn according to 2016 statistics and comprised $4.176 bn worth of Nigerian exports to the US and $1.894bn US exports to Nigeria. We urge greater effort to increase these figures substantially,” he said.
‘Corruption in Nigeria massive’
Trump said corruption in Nigeria was massive.
He, however, acknowledged that Buhari was cutting down on the menace.
Trump said he discussed the need to repatriate illicit funds back to Nigeria, cut down on funding for terrorism and reduce illegal immigration from Nigeria to the US.
“In terms of corruption, Nigeria has a reputation for very massive corruption. The President has been able to cut that down very substantially. We talked about it; he is working on it and they have made a lot of progress and I think they will continue to make a lot of progress.
“We have a lot of people in this country that invest in Nigeria. So cutting down that corruption element is very important and the President will be able to do that,” he said.
The US President also confirmed the sale of 12 fighter aircraft to Nigeria.
He said, “We are helping Nigeria by facilitating intelligence cooperation and providing training and military equipment to Nigerian forces. For example, we recently sold 12 US 829 Super Catarna war aircraft. This new aircraft will improve Nigeria ability to target terrorists and protect civilians.
“Also, we are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches and killing and persecution of Christians. It’s a horrible story. We encourage Nigeria; the federal, state and local leaders; to do everything to secure the affected communities and protect civilians, including Muslims and Christians. The United States is committed to working alongside Nigeria as we seek a future of strength, prosperity and peace for both of our countries.”
Killings: Protesting Christians shut down Benue
Commercial activities were paralysed on Monday in Benue State as a large number of residents commenced the seven-day praying and fasting declared by the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
The state chairman of CAN, Rev. Akpen Leva, expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance, saying the association had ordered a sit-at-home protest for all private organisations, including artisans, market women, commercial drivers and others, except civil servants, as the seven-day praying and fasting commenced on Monday.
Reports across the state showed that Gboko, Otukpo, Katsina Ala and other communities in the state observed the sit-at-home order.
“I am happy that the sit-at-home order we gave today (Monday) as we commence the seven days praying and fasting was effective.”
The cleric said that the organisation excluded civil servants because CAN had no power to order civil servants to stay at home.
“The order did not affect civil servants,” he added.
However, most of the state offices were shut as schools, shops and markets were closed down. While some banks opened for customers, others carried out skeletal services.
One of our correspondents who visited some areas in the capital city of Makurdi between 7am and 11am reported that the town was deserted as commercial vehicles abandoned roads, leaving a few commercial motorcycles operators to ply roads.
The empty offices forced Governor Samuel Ortom to issue a statement that there was no public holiday in the state.
The statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Terver Akase, read in part, “The praying and fasting jointly organised by the state government and CAN does not affect work and markets. Public and civil servants should return to work immediately.”
In a related development, the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria has said the killing of two reverend fathers in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen is a deliberate assault on the Christian faith and an open invitation to a religious war.
The organisation also said the killing of the two priests and other worshipers during morning mass had confirmed its fears that the herdsmen “wreaking havoc in Benue and other states of Nigeria” were terrorists.
Rev. Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha and several other parishioners of the St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom, in the Gwer Local Government Area of Benue State, were killed on April 24, 2018 by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The CLCN in a statement by its President, Thomas Folu Adekoya; and Secretary-General, Henry Yunkwap, said it supported the position of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria on the current state of the nation with particular reference to “the gruesome and mindless murdering of two Catholic priests with some of their parishioners.”
The statement read in part, “The killing of any Nigerian in circumstance such as this is bad enough, but the killing of two reverend fathers in one fell swoop inside a church during Mass is most sacrilegious, provocative, a deliberate assault on the Christian Faith and an open invitation to a religious war from which we pray merciful God to deliver Nigeria.
“While we call on all Catholic faithful and Christians generally to remain prayerful and steadfast in the face of these provocations for the sake of peace in our country, we also call on the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari to take every step to ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians are protected from foreign invaders who defile our places of worship and lay their murderous hands on the Lord’s anointed.
“We demand that the killers of Rev Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha and the other worshipers be fished out without delay and be made to pay for their heinous crime. We also demand that everything possible be done to ensure that this will be the last of this kind of killing in Nigeria so that Nigerians of all creeds will enjoy the secularity enshrined in our country’s constitution.”