WASHINGTON - The Government of Nigeria last fall hired a powerful Washington lobbying firm to press its case for intelligence on violent terror group Boko Haram and to persuade the Obama administration to donate non-lethal equipment in the hunt for extremists, according to documents filed with the U.S. government.
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Since nearly 300 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok were abducted nearly a month ago by a large force of Boko Haram militants, some officials in Washington have blamed the challenge of confronting the al Qaeda-aligned group formed in 2009 -- but designated only last November as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. – on Nigeria's resistance to accepting outside help.
The U.S. designation allows freezing of bank assets, adding Boko Haram members to no-fly lists and prioritizes law enforcement actions. ABC News and The Daily Beast reported Thursday that debates within the U.S. and Nigerian governments over how much of a threat was posed by the group delayed it being declared an FTO and a military Tier One Threat Group for two years.
Amid an international outcry over April's abductions by Boko Haram of the Chibok schoolgirls, some U.S. officials have insisted that Nigeria didn't want the FTO designation earlier than 2013 because it might elevate Boko Haram's global jihadi status.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks Monday echoed those who've said that the African nation's fierce pride also led it to shoo away offers of American and British counter-terrorism assistance, even after a United Nations office in Abuja was bombed three years ago.
"The [Nigerian] government had its own set of strategies, if you will, in the beginning," Kerry said at a press conference. "And you can offer and talk, but you can't do [anything] if a government has its own sense of how it's proceeding. I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort."
However, two months before Boko Haram was designated an FTO by the U.S. in November 2013, Nigeria's Office of the National Security Adviser signed a $3 million-a-year contract with K Street firm Patton Boggs to "provide comprehensive security advice, including the donation of excess military and law enforcement equipment," according to documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Patton Boggs' point man on the contract, retired Marine Col. John Garrett, recounted in an email communication filed under FARA that he had met with officials at the Pentagon's combatant command for the region, U.S. Africa Command, in Stuttgart, Germany in December.
On behalf of Nigerian National Security Adviser Muhammadu Sambo Dasuki, Garrett requested information on Boko Haram activities derived from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance overflights of northeastern Nigeria's Borno state. Patton Boggs also asked for non-lethal protective hardware to be donated to Nigeria such as mine-resistant armored personnel vehicles, night vision goggles and communications equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan stockpiles left over from U.S. withdrawals from those warzones.
Then, on April 28 Garrett wrote to a military attaché at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria to seek a meeting with Ambassador James Entwistle.
The Nigerian wish-list again included "protected ground mobility for security forces" and "current imagery, surveillance, reconnaissance (day/night) product and analysis, initially for the Sambisa Forest Region, Borno State, and for other designated areas of interest," as well as the communications and individual night vision equipment, according to Garrett's email to Army Major John Ringquist at the U.S. embassy.
But Garrett said today that no meetings have been scheduled with U.S. diplomats and claims little if any intelligence has been shared by the U.S., much less any surplus military gear.
"To date I have not received a decisive response to our requests, but we continue to work on these vital requirements for the office of the national security adviser of the government of Nigeria," Garrett told ABC News.
A State Department official would not comment specifically on the requests by Patton Boggs but said that the U.S. has been working to help counter Boko Haram for years.
"We are providing critical tools and support, like helping Nigeria professionalize its military to counter this threat. We are working on Nigerian law enforcement so that they can better investigate and assist in hostage situations. And we are helping provide economic assistance -- including job training and education -- that can help stem the causes of extremism," said the official.
"Unlike many African nations that are confronting challenging security threats, Nigeria does not lack funding for its security budget. And as we have said, it is Nigeria’s responsibility, first and foremost, to provide for the safety and security of its citizens," the official added.
Another major obstacle likely is the abysmal human rights record of Nigerian security forces related to counter-terrorism operations. Federal law prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign military units unless their troops have been vetted for human rights abuses.
“There is a desire to engage with the Nigerian government, but U.S. laws, such as the Leahy law which prohibits military assistance from going to militaries that have committed human rights abuses, have held them back. So there’s been frustration with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian military for not implementing reforms," Adotei Awkei of Amnesty International told ABC news.
The Obama administration's former top diplomat for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, told ABC News Thursday that the Nigerian record was one longstanding factor in rendering aid to them.
"We were concerned that it associated us very closely with what have proven to be unsuccessful Nigerian policies... like human rights violations by the Nigerian military," Carson said.