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Buhari: loose talk about weapons of war at the Institute of Peace

Buhari, Leahy Law and leaky mouth

You really have to wonder about the sort of people that advise and work for President Muhammadu Buhari.

It has been quite clear in recent times that the president struggles to think on his feet. Any question and answer session or whenever he has to speak without notes has become like an accident waiting to happen.

But no one ever expected that the president would be courting disaster with scripted speeches and articles written on his behalf.

One such article was in the New York Times in which he claimed Nigeria did not have a “governance framework” and asked for help from the Obama adminstration and US business in coming up with “governance initiatives. This downward spiral continued with a speech to the US Institute of Peace in Washington in which the president claimed that the US’s implementation of the “Leahy Law” amounted to “aiding and abetting” Boko Haram. The law denies armies involved in human rights violations arms deals with the US.

Watch the president’s comments here:

This comment drew a sharp rebuke from the law’s sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy: “It is well documented by the State Department and by respected human rights organizations that Nigerian army personnel have, for many years, engaged in a pattern and practice of gross violations of human rights against the Nigerian people and others, including summary executions of prisoners, indiscriminate attacks against civilians, torture, forced disappearances and rape.

Rarely have the perpetrators been prosecuted or punished.

This abusive conduct not only violates the laws of war, it creates fear and loathing among the Nigerian people whose support is necessary to defeat a terrorist group like Boko Haram.

President Buhari ignores the undisputed fact that most Nigerian army units have been approved, under the Leahy Law, for U.S. training and equipment. Only those particular units against which there is credible evidence of the most heinous crimes are ineligible for U.S. aid. And even those units can again become eligible if the Nigerian Government takes effective steps to bring the responsible individuals to justice.

I strongly agree with President Buhari about the need to defeat Boko Haram, and I have supported tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Nigeria for that purpose. But rather than suggest that the United States is at fault for not funding murderers and rapists in the Nigerian military, he should face up to his own responsibility to effectively counter Boko Haram. He should direct his attention to the Nigerian military, and the Nigerian courts, and clean up the units implicated in such atrocities.”

Senator Leahy had strong words for Buhari
Senator Leahy had strong words for Buhari

Those were pretty strong words against the president, asking him to get his house in order before pointing the finger at the US.

Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina was forced to react, possibly trying to prevent this escalating into a diplomatic incident. He issued a statement saying: “The regrets expressed by President Buhari at USIP about the impact of the application of the Leahy Law on Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram and terrorism cannot be construed as an indictment of President Barack Obama and the United States Government who have publicly and privately declared their preparedness to give the Buhari Administration the fullest possible support and assistance.

Within the context in which they were made, President Buhari’s comments on the adverse effect of the Leahy Law on Nigeria’s efforts to contain Boko Haram’s atrocious acts of terrorism should only be taken as a passionate appeal for even greater understanding and support from a very powerful and longstanding ally.”

All this could have been easily avoided by the president having competent speechwriters. Nobody, in their right mind, would argue against a law that prohibits arms sales to those that commit human rights violations. Competent speechwriters and advisers, surely, should have known that words such as “aiding and abetting” terrorists were inflammatory and highly inappropriate in the context. The right thing to do is to investigate and punish those guilty of human rights abuses, rather than complain about the law that frowns against such abuses.

If you must continue to commit human rights violations, then take your business to countries that have no qualms about selling weapons to people with dodgy human rights records. There is no law that states your arms supply must come from the US, and it is demeaning that the president of Nigeria should be going cap in hand begging for weapons that Nigeria would have to pay for anyway.

As if this were not enough, by moaning about the Leahy Law in his speech, Buhari only succeeded in bringing to the fore more negative news about Nigeria in terms of the army’s well-documented human rights violations.

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