The Way Forward in the U.S.-Nigerian Bilateral Relationship
U.S. Ambassador Robin Renée Sanders' U.S. Foreign Policy Address to The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, Alumni Association, Nigeria
November 19, 2009 – Lagos, Nigeria
It is indeed an honor and a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. I look out before me and see first so many friends, as well as Nigerian leaders of industry, civil society, academia and government, and of course it is my pleasure to share the high table with His Excellency and my dear friend -- Governor Babatunde Fashola. Governor, I want to take this public opportunity to recognize you and your team for all the wonderful work that you are doing in Lagos City and Lagos State. With every visit I make to the state, I see the incredible growth and changes. I also want to thank you for working with my team on a number of issues from investment, to development and trade.
This brings me to the alumni of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, one of our most prestigious educational training programs that has helped build the capacity of Nigerians working in fields as far ranging as banking and legal services, to environment and e-government. I appreciate being invited here to speak on the U.S.-Nigerian bilateral relationship and the way forward as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of this unique program – the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program -- named after one of our foremost leading senators and vice-presidents who believed strongly in the pillars of democracy from good governance, and transparency in election processes, to education and training. Thus, he created this wonderful program to build leaders – such as yourselves -- who hold the future of their country in their hands. As global citizens, today more than ever before, Africa is a fundamental part of our interconnected world. You know that and I know that. The U.S. Government has recognized this, which is why President Obama has highlighted that Africa is at the center of our foreign policy. And within that framework, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson further added that Nigeria is the single most important country within that framework.
I am here today to underscore these two key points to you– that Africa is key in our U.S. foreign policy and that Nigeria is the single most important country therein. That is why I want to talk to you today about not only what we are doing and have done, but where we are going in the bilateral relationship between our two great nations, particularly after the August 2009 visit to Nigeria of Secretary of State Clinton where it was announced that our two governments would form a Binational Commission (BNC). So let me begin with -- What We Are Doing and Where We Are Going:
If you remember, in his speech to Africa in Accra, and I brought commemorative copies of the President’s speech with me today President Obama focused on four critical areas regarding our future relationship with the Continent. These four areas are building: democratic institutions and health systems; resolution of conflicts; and supporting governments that are transparent and fight corruption. These themes are the four pillars at the core of the U.S.-Nigeria Framework for Partnership and define our bilateral relationship with Nigeria where want to see a more democratic, transparent, prosperous and secure Nigeria. Our current engagement extends across the length and breadth of this nation -- particularly in rural areas -- with programs in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Let me share just a few examples with you. What exactly is the U.S. policy in Nigeria and with Nigerians?First and foremost it is promoting democracy, at all levels of government. Paramount in this is encouraging good governance, transparency and integrity, including fighting corruption, holding transparent elections and working with civil society and a free, unencumbered press.
How do we go about doing these things?
On good governance, with government, civil society and press partners, we are:
- Assisting in building national, state and local government capacity focusing on transparency in fiscal budgets and public procurement;
- Working with and supporting the recent efforts on transparency particularly of the CBN, FIRS, SEC, ICPC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau and others on fighting corruption.
- Holding capacity building workshops on best practices on election reform, including training for the National Assembly, political parties, the disabled, and women.
- Working with civil society and the press to help them expand their capacity to monitor elections, and be the voice for the voiceless, and supporting their efforts to publish the Electoral Reform, or Uwais, Committee’s report.
Economic development is another important anchor in a democracy. Thus, we are providing training and technical assistance in agriculture, entrepreneurship, vocational training, and other income-generating skills. For example, under the Ambassador’s self-help program, we are supporting a great project, The Foundation for Skills Development, right here in Lagos State that provides a variety of vocational training classes.
Given that more than 95 per cent of the Nigerian population is involved in agriculture, the President has launched a Food Security initiative with $25 million this year alone for Nigeria. This key initiative will provide jobs, build capacity, and increase yields in the agricultural sector. For example, in 22 states, under our agriculture and food security program, we are helping small farmers double their productivity and increase income. I have been to all of these states to see our programs in places from Benue and Bauchi, to Anambra , Ondo , and Jigawa. President Obama’s Food Security initiative in Nigeria will:
- Increase the sales of agricultural products by $220 million for 750,000 farmers, processors, and shippers, of which 300,000 are women.
- Bring in the private sector , increase credit to farmers , and improve rural-to-urban roads (e.g. Lagos-Maradi/Lagos-Cotonou routes);
- Create 50,000 new jobs in the sector; and,
- Increase agriculture and yields of key grains 50-75 per cent.
Without enough food, adults struggle to work and children struggle to learn. According to the World Bank, for every one percent growth in agriculture, poverty declines by as much as two percent.
Another key aspect of economic development is trade. We are expanding our efforts to promote the export of Nigerian non-oil products to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act or AGOA program. As part of our continuing efforts on AGOA, the U.S. and Bank of Industry opened an AGOA Resource Center last summer on Lagos Island. Please take advantage of the resources at this Center. It was requested by you and we have responded. [AGOA has not achieved its full potential here, but we have reached out broadly to the Nigerian business community to expand its understanding of the opportunities available under AGOA. We are willing to roll up our sleeves and work with you so that you can reap the full benefits of AGOA here in Nigeria.]
We have held two major nation-wide capacity building training workshops , called POTICO , right here in Lagos on both agriculture and AGOA with BOI, representatives from USG agencies including EXIM, USTDA, OPIC, and our Agricultural and Commercial Services, FAS, and USCS. We are also launching a new Nigeria Expanded Export Program or NEEP, which will connect Nigerian exporters with partners in the US and we are also maintaining our trade mission under USCS and FAS. We all know that the most important resource in this country is its people. You know that and we know that. This is why, as President Obama has said, our programs must invest in the people of Nigeria particularly in education and health:
On education, under the President’s $600 million African Education Initiative, we are providing scholarships to over 2,200 students in 316 schools in 13 states around Nigeria. I have spoken with children and parents first-hand from Borno to Port Harcourt about how these scholarships have changed their lives. We have also provided teacher training to some 40,000 teachers, helped develop curricula and expanded educational training opportunities through our 12 American Corners around the country. Our newest corner is the Barack Obama American Corner in Lagos on Victoria Island.
On health , and as we approach World AIDS Day on December 1 , I want to note our contributions through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief , more commonly known as PEPFAR , which helps millions of Nigerians living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
In addition, as part of our people-to-people efforts, particularly at the grassroots level, we are working to refurbish health clinics, build boreholes, renovate schools, and construct vocational training centers.
On energy, America has placed a new emphasis, under President Obama’s leadership, on addressing climate change, through programs like the gas-to-liquids technology project in the Niger Delta; and power projects through the Michigan State Public Service Commission. We are also encouraging a constructive Petroleum Industry Bill on fiscal, investment, and tax issues that will help Nigeria.
Turning to one other very important subject area -- peace and the amnesty. First, we want to commend the people of the Niger Delta and the Government for finding a way out of the conflict. We hope the country continues to build on these efforts and we encourage further and quick movement to identify appropriate reintegration and rehabilitation programs. Here, we also want to be partners, and look to find ways to be helpful with programs ranging from IT , education , agriculture , health and maritime security.
These four pillars are the “Elements of Democracy”. And, Democracies cannot move forward without these things: good governance, particularly a corruption-free environment and transparent election processes; economic development; strong educational and health systems; and a peaceful enabling environment.
We are here as friends and partners and the “Elements of Democracy” I have highlighted above reflect both the opportunities and challenges for Nigeria. So as your friend and your partner where do we go from here and what is next?
You know the challenges well. You confront them every day. Overcoming these challenges is essential if Nigeria is to realize its tremendous potential. As friends and partners, let's examine these challenges facing Nigeria that we have heard you, as Nigerians, talk about in such forums as government, civil society, and the vibrant press.
From what we have heard from you as Nigerians; there seems to be broad agreement on the need for electoral reforms prior to the April 2011 elections. Although the unpublished recommendations of the Electoral Reform Commission (ERC) were to be a starting point, many are concerned that reforms will not be in place in time for the upcoming elections. We understand through civil society, academics, legal expert, and members of the ERC (or Uwais committee) and others that key elements of the election reform agenda should be adopted, with the goal of having them fully implemented in time for 2011 elections. We understand these reforms include a transparent voter registration, logistics planning, and better electoral administration, to name a few.
The upcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra State will be a key indicator of the country's ability to conduct credible elections in 2011. Much of the international community will be observing how this election unfolds.
Civil society is an important partner in electoral reform and plays a critical role in election monitoring. [In several CSO coalition meetings, there have been calls for free and open domestic and international electoral monitoring in 2011 , including freedom of movement, accreditation of observers , and access to polling and counting stations.]
The second critical challenge is to contain corruption. Widespread, systemic corruption can undermine governance at all levels. I know you saw, like I did, yesterday’s Transparency International’s report where Nigeria moved up the list not down to 130 from 121. While no country can claim to be free of corruption, experience across many countries and many cultures shows that persistent, systemic corruption will be eliminated where there is strong political will to oppose it.
Corruption is the enemy of progress. It translates into high costs for poor quality services to the average Nigerian, siphons funds from important projects, cripples government performance and accountability, discourages the payment of taxes, is a disincentive to investment, and undermines democracy.
The fourth critical challenge is to achieve effective reform of the power generation and hydrocarbon sectors to improve transparency, administration, performance, and have reliable and affordable energy.
The final challenge we have heard Nigerians talk about, is the need to ensure long-term food security for all Nigerians. You are a vast and rich country of nearly 150 million people. I have seen this first hand visiting 35 of your 36 states. Food security reduces hunger and cannot be accomplished by short-term interventions Key efforts toward mechanized farming and credit to farmers is vital. We have several credit programs through FAS and EXIM Bank that help do this.
So, as your friend and your partner: Where do we go from here and what is next?
There is much we can do together, and we are hoping to address both the opportunities and challenges with you under the Binational Commission, or BNC, mentioned earlier and announced during Secretary Clinton’s visit. Already, our two governments are working hard to establish this commission.
We are hoping that the BNC will raise the level of engagement between our two nations on the key areas of governance, election reform, transparency, to fight corruption in these areas, development and security, to support efforts in the Niger Delta, energy, and agriculture. Through ongoing working groups that we hope will be established under the BNC, we can work together to address these challenges. I have already highlighted to you what we are doing and what we can do to support these “Elements of Democracy”.
Thus, together we can:
- Achieve free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria in 2011 and beyond.
- We can fight corruption through credible institutional reform and sustained and effective prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution efforts;
- We can provide tangible development, economic and educational opportunities, and training to the people of the Niger Delta to promote lasting peace from today forward;
- We can improve transparency, administration, and performance of the power generation and hydrocarbon sectors; and
- We can ensure long-term food security for all Nigerians.
The road ahead for any democracy is not easy. We too, in America, have seen our nation transform over our history. And today, we are still a nation transforming but built on and committed to these “Elements of Democracy”. I have always marveled at the incredible talent in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country filled with leaders like you; the students I have had the privilege to meet and talk with at universities, primary and secondary schools in states like Benin , Lagos , Oyo , Born, Gombe, and Sokoto; the strong and dynamic women in this country; the entrepreneurs; and members of the private sector all working hard day in and day out to realize the tremendous potential of this great nation. The people of the United States of America and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are one and the same, with democratic values, love of country and respect for their friends. We look forward to working with Nigeria under the BNC as we walk forward together as partners.