Showing posts with label POTUS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label POTUS. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Transcript of Ambassador Robin R. Sanders on NTA ‘One On One’ Interview

Wednesday April 21, 2010 from 13:30-14:30

Presenter: The true recognition of the independence of each country… the relations between Nigeria and the United States have seen some bumpy patches and very interesting times. From the sanction ridden posture era during the Abacha regime to the friendlier times of General Abubakar and its still getting friendlier still today. An estimated one million Nigerians live, study and work in the United States while over twenty-five thousand Americans live and work in Nigeria. Commerce and Human development are definitely central to our relations. And to discuss this in greater details is my guest today. My guest … you’ll meet my guest if you don’t go away.

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Presenter: My guest is no stranger to the politics and governance issues in Africa, having served as director for Africa at the National Security council at the White House, a former director for Public Diplomacy for Africa for the State Department and a former US Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Please welcome Robin Renee Sanders (RRS), the United States Ambassador to Nigeria. Madam a very warm welcome to you.

RRS: Thank you.

Presenter: Err… Madam, diplomacy is all about jostling, isn’t it? Err, we must recollect that Nigeria was a former British colony and the Unites States was not in the picture all of that time but these days we seem to feel a greater pull by the United States than we do from Great Britain. Is that a true portrayal of the situation?

RRS: I’m not sure of what you mean by “pull” but I do know that the United States and Nigeria share a lot of common values, a common vision of the future and I think that there is such a strong connection between the people of Nigeria and the people of the United States. And so you have mainly those linkages have made us really not only close friends but certainly close partners on the global stage.

Presenter: But Madam, when we talk about friends and partners, are we dealing with each other as equals?

RRS: It depends on what you mean by equals. I think that each nation sees the other with respect ,I also think that we have shared values that range from democracy and good governance, we have shared cultural connections as well, and so u know as far from where I seat, my time here, I think that there is a strong partnership and friendship. And you know friendships have different phases as well. Maybe that’s what you are alluding to but I think that the best intentions are always made on our part and I certainly know they are always made on the Nigerian part.

Presenter: Well, sometime ago when the Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton visited Nigeria, she spoke at a number of fora and some Nigerians believe that some of her remarks were every scathing. Okay, it may be the truth from the American stand point, but it was put in a manner that made us seem an appendage of the United States. Is that cynical ? Is that a cynical interpretation by some of the way she spoke?

RRS: Yes, I may think so. I think that any friendship has an ability to build in a number of ways and I think what the secretary did here; she reached out to as many Nigerians as possible. What she said basically is really… she repeated what she’s heard from Nigerians and so I think that if it’s taken in good faith, then that was her intention of course and that she was only sharing what she had heard from Nigerians and throughout the whole day. In fact I believe you are referring to that town hall meeting which was at the last part of her trip here. And she wanted to do it that way so that she has heard from a range of Nigerians all through the day so her whole statement really reflective of what she heard through the course of her time here.

Presenter: But usually when you have people from the United States, particularly, the high echelon of the administration visiting Nigeria, do you have something like a brief in the Embassy here in Nigeria to those dignitaries, to give them a picture because it’s not sufficient to hear they took all by what the man on the street says and feels.

RRS: Well of course, I think every Embassy does that for an esteemed official that is visiting a host country but in terms of the sectors she interacted with when she was here, I think it wasn’t sort of the man on the street only. She met with civil society, she met with the press, she met with former government officials, she met with former heads of states, she met with sitting government officials and she really had a cross section of interaction that gave her a very good foundation of what Nigerians want for Nigeria.

Presenter: Ok Madam there is this talk now, it seems to be a front burner; the Bi-National Commission (BNC). Is it an agreement between Nigeria and the United States? What exactly does it say or what does it intend to do?

RRS: Right. It is a bilateral agreement between the United States and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The agreement was signed April 6th. In fact I attended that signing ceremony between the Secretaries of the United States and that of Nigeria. Basically we wanted to raise our strategic dialogue on a number of issues. There are four working groups that are being proposed. This is a partnership agreement so we are still discussing the framework of the working groups… we are looking at…

Presenter: (cuts in) So the agreement is not yet effective?

RRS: No it is effective. It was effective as of the day of the signatures. But it’s sort of a strategic dialogue. As you know dialogues have different frameworks as they develop. We‘ll like to start with four working groups, and they are; Governance, Transparency, Integrity. We have one on Energy and Investment, the Niger Delta Regional Security and the Agricultural Development and Food Security. The idea is these talks about… between the two governments… as areas of mutual interest and mutual understanding and areas that we thought that we could build a stronger partnership. So the working groups were discussed so the theme and the titles of those working groups are based on a number of conversations between our two governments. Since the secretary is visiting she announced along with the Nigerian Government that they will be building this dialogue together.

Presenter: Let’s talk about the Niger Delta. It’s an area that is dear to all of our hearts, the heartbeat of oil production. In what ways are you intending to dialogue with Nigeria in regard to… in relation to the Niger Delta?

RRS: Well, we’re hoping that … we’ll talk about... building on the amnesty that is being put in place by the Nigerian Government. You know it was very important to hear what the acting president got to say when he visited Washington. We talked a lot about trying to move forward along with the Niger Delta, rehabilitation, reconstruction and re-integration. So we will be supportive of those areas. The strategic dialogue is also to really hear the government perspective on how it wants to move forward with this and we will find a way to support… our partnership will support those efforts. So, in regards to the Niger Delta, those are the three area of focus for the Nigerian Government, so we will supportive of those efforts. I think that everybody wants to see the best for the Niger Delta; they really want the region to be a peaceful area for the sustainable future. We also know that there are legitimate economic and developmental issues in the delta so all of all these are on the table for discussion and for finding a way to be supportive of the vision that the acting president outlined for… what he plans to do in the Niger Delta?

Presenter: Madam, when does interest tend to appear like interference? Isn’t there a very thin line, you know, sovereign government set up to priotise what they do for people and I’m saying this because when you talk about the Niger Delta in this matter, some people will say ‘what’s the interest? What’s the real interest of the United States? Is it... is it because that area produces oil? Do you want to secure the area so that at one point you can use it to your advantage? Is that... Is that what it’s all about?

RRS: Of course not. I get that question quite often and I remember the Secretary also got the question too. As I started out saying, the Bi-National Commission which we referred to as the BNC, using the initials of the commission, the BNC. These were areas that are worked out over several months between the two governments so we didn’t impose this. We are working with the Nigerian Government. We wanted to have a strategic dialogue; we talked about things that are important to Nigeria, where they’ll like to see our support, our help on, our partnership on. Those were the areas so we didn’t choose those areas in a singular manner. That been said, the vision that the acting president has as I pointed out, are being highlighted we plan to be supportive on those areas so it’s a Nigerian vision for the Niger Delta so we plan to be supportive of those areas. As I already outlined, its development, its education, it is making those things sustainable in the Niger Delta; the real concerns of the Niger delta people can be addressed. And I really do think that with the acting president mentioned in the US; re-integration, rehabilitation and restructuring in terms of infrastructures development are really important and we will like to be supportive of that.

Presenter: Food security is very important also because a nation who is not secure in its food production has its flanks wide open. How exactly do you intend to assist Nigeria?

RRS: We’ve already been working extensively on the food security area. Let me just expand the definition because we use a very broad definition for food security. It includes working with agro-business and agro development. Working with farmer cooperatives, working with development of hybrid seeds that are drought resistant, helping with transport issues from farming area to city area for marketing regional integration. So we use a broad definition for food security. And we do a lot of… many many years, the President of the United States has a signature initiative under food security of which Nigeria is getting 25million dollars to really support your agricultural sector…

Presenter: ( cuts in) Have you really identify what sector, from the huge agricultural sector you want to support…

RRS: As I noted before, transportation, getting products from the farms to the market, it is also agro-business development, it includes hybrid seeds to make you have a better crop resistance where that is a challenge, it includes developing markets within the region so that Nigerian products can be sold more widely. It also includes those linkages for export to the Unites States. So we’ve always done quite a bit in food security and no we are going to build on that more. We have a market program here, we’ve had three seminal events… we will have the third one in June, but we’ve had two seminal events, since I have been here called the Portico, which is a range of…

Presenter: (cuts in) Called what?

RRS: PORTICO… and it’s a range of practical workshops and seminars for financing for agriculture. This year’s event will look at agricultural infrastructure development. So we’ve always done things on food security and this way there will be more emphasis on finding ways to further develop not only business based here. I have been to two or more factories we’ve been working with over the years and its really incredible to see, you know two thousand or more farmers come together in cooperative manner so they can not only make more money for themselves, for their families but they are now part of an export platform because they are producing more as a group. They’ve been able to export within the region, within Nigeria and hopefully export outside of Nigeria

Presenter: You’ve talked about cooperation, food security and what you are doing for farmers and all of that, and I remember that a few years back there was this other agreement called AGOA, emerging economies in Nigeria were supposed to go... benefit… to have benefited from. Did we really take advantage of it?

RRS: AGOA isn’t an agreement. AGOA was a trade facility for 36 nations in Africa. And what that facility, does do still today is to provide duty free exports to the United States of some 6800 products of which a good bit of those products are agricultural products. What PORTICO has done and what some of our other programs have done is to really try to enhance those areas that your government has identified they want to take advantage of for AGOA. You have a number of products that your Ministry of Agriculture has focused on for AGOA export and we work with the agro-businesses and farmers who are working in those areas and they range from Shea butter to ginger to legal good … they a range of agricultural products...

Presenter: Madam, in all of these, is there an initiative for private entrepreneurs? You made it seem like it’s a government to government thing.

RRS: No I said agro-business and agro-business is not government to government and I have talked of factories that I have gone to visit to see how our food security program is doing... in fact the last time I was here I was actually at an agribusiness in Lagos and it’s the only one of its kind in the whole of West Africa and it changes cassava to glucose and glucose as so many people know is used for so many things from soft drinks to enhancing agricultural products. And that is part of our program here, to take something that is nascent, to try and support it to become a big agro-business. This was a tremendous example of a success story. Not only it’s the only one in Nigeria, it’s the only one in West Africa and they are now doing exports to other areas in West Africa.

Presenter: Sometimes what we hear over the airwaves can rather be misleading because you talk about BNC, Bi-National Commission; I thought you would have mentioned joint security. The impression that we got in some quarters that this was also a kind of security arrangement because there have been talks about an African High Command in which the United States will make troops available or send military high commands from the United States to train in areas of Africa for rapid intervention, is that on the…

RRS: I think err…let me just start with the base of your question and correct some of the facts there. First of all, African Command…the headquarters of African command is in Stuttgart. I remember dealing with this issue when I first arrived Nigeria; I am still surprised that there is still an issue with that. African Command is like any other entity in the US Government. It supports what we do here on the ground in a number of areas including humanitarian assistance and training, all kinds of things so the four working groups that I outline to you already on the BNC is what we agree to as two nations. We already do trainings, we already supports the efforts of the Nigerian military in so many areas with regard to training, now I should probably be saying more capacity building and we will continue to do that and we can certainly look to expand those programs under the BNC.

Presenter: So before the BNC came into being there was bilateral relations between Nigeria and the United States on what grounds? What were the … what where the high points?

RRS: Well you know, what the BNC does is really… err... it’s not a departure from our existing bilateral relations, it’s an enhancement to our bilateral relations where we can have strategic framework to expand and further discuss a range of issues. So I wouldn’t say that is a departure in anyway, I think we have always have bilateral relationship and all these things have always been part of our bilateral relationship, they are not new to our bilateral relationship in any way. We had a number of things from healthcare… we have a tremendous PEPFAR program here which is our program for HIV/AIDS, we have 400 million dollar project here which is the largest we have in Africa … we have …

Presenter: (cuts in) What determines that?

RRS: I beg your pardon?

Presenter: What determines that? That you pour in so much money into particular programs in Nigeria as opposed to other African nations?

RRS: Well, because Nigeria is an important country to the United States and we want to be helpful in just about every sector we are asked to be helpful. We want to be helpful in the health sector, in the education sector, in the food security sector, we are asked to be helpful in democratic programs ranging from support and training to civil societies. We feel and we hope that it seen in the partnership framework because we always respond to what we are asked to be supportive of. We feel like our bilateral relationship is a multi-focused framework where we are very supportive of every framework in the society and that society in this case is Nigeria.

Presenter: But talking about being supportive ma’am, you… as I said earlier on, there seems to be a very thin line between support and interference and when we’re talking about democracy, as President Obama said “each country practice its own democracy must build democratic values, must build that practice in relation to the culture and needs of their people.” Now does anybody have a right? Yes you have … you should assist and support … does anybody have a right to say, we are to model our democracy, pattern it against what goes on in the United States or elsewhere?

RRS: I don’t know if anybody has said that. It’s certainly not on our side. And I will like to sort of really address the interference question because I think that’s really an unfair comment for a number of reasons. I think I stated in the beginning of our interview really highlighting that we responded to what we’ve been asked, either by the government or by a particular sector, whether it’s the agricultural sector, by the health and education sector or certainly whether its by an area of development that we have resources to be able to support that on request. We really try to do that for Nigeria because we care about Nigeria. A lot about Nigeria... we think our shared values are the same and certainly I don’t see anything that we are doing be considered interference…. (Presenter tries to cut in)… Let me finish……we are responding to what was been asked either from any of those sectors including the government sector.

Presenter: Yeah, but when we have it in record, I don’t know if it’s on good record, that the views of... it could be the views of the Embassy, maybe the view of the American Government that the [Independent] National Electoral Commission (INEC) leadership should be changed. Isn’t that interference?

RRS: I think in any kind of democratic society and democratic friendship, you should be able to say what you feel... that’s what democracy is about.

Presenter: Is that how you feel?

RRS: I think that we do feel very very strongly that …, let me just prefix that by also saying this is what we hear from Nigerians that INEC needs to have a stronger leadership so that your next election can be elections that all Nigerians could be proud of.

Presenter: When you say ‘stronger leadership”, what exactly do you mean?

RRS: I mean the entire leadership of the INEC needs to be stronger so that ….

Presenter: In terms of what?

RRS: Well, really I mean in terms of ability to conduct elections that is credible, in terms of ability to conduct elections that will be transparent, in terms of ability to have a transparent voter’s registration so that you can have credible elections. And clearly, whatever I am saying you can you know, turn to a particular page of the Uwais report and see exactly what I am saying to you today. You know we try to meet with as many stakeholders as possible and so what we articulate is what we have heard Nigerians say for themselves. And you can actually... if you really go back to, even this past immediate trip of the acting president; those were those things that your delegates said through your acting president while he was there.

Presenter: Why do the next elections, the general elections in 2011, that’s about less than a year from now seem to mean so much to you?

RRS: I think simply we care about Nigeria and would love to see Nigeria hold elections that Nigerians will be proud of and we want to be supportive of that interest. It’s been interesting for me to travel throughout the country to have visited all of the States; it’s the one thing that I hear the most. That we want to have credible elections. You are a vibrant democracy, you are 150 million people strong, you have even the most creative, dynamic environment that I have ever had the pleasure of being a guest in .I think it is important to you as a leader and beacon in Africa to be able to have elections that your people will be proud of.

Presenter: And you think just getting the elections right will give us… change potentials you have enumerated into kinetics?

RRS: Well of course, we all know in a society there is no magic wand, they are building blocks. And certainly having a credible election is a key building block and it’s a platform for anything you want to discuss. If you don’t have that then how does everything else go forward? Because it is about transparent leadership, it’s about good leadership, it’s about capable leadership and the path of getting there starts with a credible lection…

Presenter: Yes Ma’am, there are those who will respond by saying that, even in the United States, after over 200 years of democracy, what happened during the election between Bush and Al Gore… wasn’t a model of democracy, was it?

RRS: I know what I am saying... there is a model out there I didn’t say that. I truly believe that the framework for democracy is fluid, it’s never static. Even if you really read our constitution, particularly the preamble, it says ”striving to be a more perfect union”, in fact my national day speech when we do our national day in February was just that theme; striving to be a more perfect union because democracy is our preference, the key is to strive to be that way and there are some fundamental ingredients there and the elections is part of those fundamentals.

Presenter: What if some people argue, saying that we are striving and that a child has to first of all crawl before the walk. Pushing us a little too far afield and too hard, is that a fair comment? Would that be a fair comment?

RRS: I don’t think so. Why wouldn’t we want to push our friends to do better? You are an extra ordinary friend of the United States and we are an extra-ordinary friend of yours and one thing about friendship is that you should be able to have a dialogue, an honest dialogue that “okay friend, you might need to work on this a bit”... And I think that our best intention. And certainly as I said before, it’s what we’ve heard Nigerians say and what they’ve asked us to be helpful on.

Presenter: Well, you know the… one thing about the United States, I am not trying to compare the United States with Nigeria, is the homogeneity of language so to speak. Here we have, as you must have found out in the course of your travel all over, we have different people and different culture and that are lines of thinking personalities. It can be used in a positive way for political growth but it also has its negatives. Have you seen the negatives in the course of your travels in Nigeria?

RRS: Actually, I come from a point of view that diversity is strength and the strength of any nation is based on its diversity. And I think that is one of the strengths of Nigeria to have such a diverse population. And… but I also truly believe that democracy is about trying to find a way so that diversity is used in the best manner possible. And you know, in the history of any country, even ours, when I look at the history of the United States, we’ve had to stumble and fall and been able to walk through in a lot of ways… and as I said democracy is not perfect, there is no one saying there is a mode out there… but you just must continue to strive in the right direction.

Presenter: You have spoken also about energy and investment and the BNC commencing… particularly, how are you going to help us grow our energy distribution and production?

RRS: Well you know, one of the things I really do want to make clear is that even though we are framing this under the BNC, we have been doing a lot of these things all along. And certainly in the energy sector we have done a lot of technical assistance. We have a number of US Government agencies that are very active in the energy area. Mostly, recently I would say are into … being supportive of independent power project, that can help generate additional mega wattage and we have been helpful in technical assistance in gas pipeline. We’ve been helpful in technical assistance in finding alternative energy sources from solar to bio-fuels. So all these things we’ve been doing all along and we look to enhance those under the BNC.

Presenter: Madam you spoke about food security a while ago and it wasn’t quite… you spoke about it succinctly and I’d like you to be more specific in how you intend to help us manage our structure in such a way that within the near future we can really boast and beat our chest that food security wise, we are up there?

RRS: Well I think there are some fundamentals on food security that I have already outline them so I will just cut right to the chase. I think if you have strong transportation … to move your products, if you have all the proper custom systems so that not only the fundamentals of building agricultural sector can come in with the right export regime… you as Nigeria will really opening up the ECOWAS fixed tariff so that you have a more balanced import regime or base product that are needed for agriculture. Expanding your agro-businesses so that not only would they do production sufficient enough to help Nigeria feed itself but they do production sufficient enough particularly for crops, to export not only within Nigeria but certainly within the region and I think there is also some fundamentals of capacity building and financing for agriculture that we help with. We have EXIM bank which is another US Government entity that has 14 banks that it is working with here to provide agricultural facility for farmers. We have Food and Agricultural Services, which is part of our Department of Agriculture that also, have a similar credit facility. We help with base import for a lot of products. It is interesting that you asked that question because Nigeria just became one of the biggest importers of US wheat to be able to make enough bread for your population. You just surpassed…You were number 2 in the world last year; you just surpassed to be number 1.

Presenter: (cuts in) Is that a good thing?

RRS: I think it’s a… it’s a…

Presenter: (cuts in) Because we talked a while ago about import substitution, we tried to grow wheat here sometime ago but it wasn’t conducive...

RRS: Right. I think it’s a good thing because the processing is done here so it provide jobs, it provides an ability for you to be… to provide enough wheat for the amount of bread and flour that you need right here… rice, pasta and everything. I have been to several of the factories here and they are using US wheat and they have really been able to expand because of that. It provides jobs. The other part of the food security question is the job aspect of it. Because when you have agro-businesses develop, when you have farmers working together in large cooperatives, you are helping in also creating jobs.

Presenter: Madam, I‘ll take a break now, my producers are asking me to. Well viewers, thank you for spending part of your time with us, this is One on One for this day with Robin Sanders, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria. We’ll take your text messages, phone calls and e messages to make the program more collaborative, please don’t go away.

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Presenter:
Thank you very much for spending part of your time with us, this is One on One for this day with Robin Renee Sanders, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria. Madam, let me begin by taking a number of text messages, the first is from Musa Iloh from Abuja. He says “why is America interested in good governance in Africa particularly in Nigeria? How is it beneficial?”

RRS: It’s not a question of us benefiting; it’s a question of benefiting Nigeria. I know we talked earlier about good elections sort of forming the base of any democracy so it really benefits Nigeria. Because we care about Nigeria we want to be supportive of that interest.

Presenter: Madam, after 9/11 in 2002, the whole security landscape around the world changed and the United States kind of became extremely watchful and then sometimes towards the end of last year we had an incident involving a Nigerian that… then made you put Nigeria on a watch list. Has all that been resolved in such a manner that the thing is now different from what it was some few months back?

RRS: I think you are probably aware that on April 2nd the United States Government issued a new policy framework for how we will go forward after December 25th 2009. Basically, passengers from international flights will be subjected to the same kind of security enhancement in terms of search and questioning. And I think that the short and long of it is a worldwide policy and not country specific policy, not a nationality specific policy…

Presenter:
In other words, Nigeria is not being targeted by the United States for punishment…

RRS: I think that is probably too strong of an analysis. Even if you look at the country of interest list, between December 25th and April 2nd, there was never a nationality designation but it’s a country of origin designation. I know people will be surprised to hear this that means I went through the same search and scrutiny, my staff did and I don’t think that part was appreciative that it was not a nationality designation. And I think that no country is immune from the footholds of international terrorism and Nigeria is not an exception to that and so we need to work together to address those issues. I think we are already doing that. We have had a lot of positive interactions since December 25th on how we worked together on global aviation security. The Secretary of Homeland Security was just here about a week and half ago, prior to that, co-deputy was also here. We signed the Air Marshal Agreement with Nigeria and we are working on a number of other strategic aviation security issues together so I think it’s an important way forward.

Presenter: The next text message is from Nwalama in Abia. He says, ”how is the United States tackling the global credit crunch crisis? How can you assist Nigeria come out of the woods?”

RRS: Well, I mean... I think that each country has to look at its background economy framework and make adjustments accordingly and we are doing that considering the United States in this environment. I also know that your new finance minister, your new Central Bank governor are also looking at your macroeconomic finance….your macro economic framework back here in Nigeria I think that that question is better placed with them but I would say that we have looked at some of the banking reforms that have been put in place, we think that they are definitely on the right path, the right direction, I think it’s a good signal for Nigeria that you’ve had these banking reforms. It shows that there is a commitment to reforms; it shows commitment to anti corruption efforts as well. So we see those things as very very positive. I know that when you look at the economic framework here, I was just looking at your first quarter 2010 numbers; you virtually had a very good first quarter, about 6% and ….

Presenter: 6% of growth?

RRS: Yeah. You inflation is not to bad and you still have quite a bit of reserves so you weathered the storm, everybody had the storm but I Nigeria weathered the storm better that many countries... I think your financial leadership in this country, your new Finance Minister and your Central Bank Governor are doing the right thing and planning the right vision for Nigeria on the macro-economic front.

Presenter: Very recently, it’s like yesterday, its fresh on our minds, the acting president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan visited the United States. I understand that you were the moving spirit behind whole arrangement. What is really the essence or what was the essence? Oh yes, bilateral relations and you know friendship, but what… what is the underlying factor?

RRS: Really, any visit like that is connected to a lot of individuals not me. It’s really sort of the interest of the US Government at large and the acting President was invited to a landmark historic global forum led by the President of the United States. And part of that visit, he also had a private bilateral meeting with the President of the United States which I had the opportunity to be part of. And I would say though, overall, the acting President did something very similar to what good leaders do, he reached out to every sector in the United States. He had meetings across the board with a cross-section of individuals from the private sector, to civil society, to members of our US congress. He was a very very…

Presenter: (cuts in) Sorry to jump in, but does that meeting significantly improve the relations between Nigeria and the US?

RRS: I guess you would have to start with the premise that the relations were good before and I wouldn’t stop there at all. I think we’ve always had a good relationship. I will say that the acting President visit was really a landmark visit in a number of ways because of Nigeria, not because of us, you’ve had a couple of difficult months I think on the political front. I think that worldwide, I would include the US in that; there were concerns about where Nigeria was headed for a couple of months then. You had an ailing president who I respect immensely and who really hasn’t been seen, still haven’t been seen in public since November. You had a situation in which people were unsure of where Nigeria was going, and so I think it was an important event for Nigeria and we wanted to be on the receiving end of that visit because we care about Nigeria a lot. I think that the acting president did a tremendous job, he has his vision for the next couple of months, the next 12 months or so, between now and the election, I think that [people were relieved and pleased in so many ways because we have a tremendous interest about Nigeria in the United States. I remember at one of the business forum, it was a leading businessman who stood up who said, ”you know Mr. acting President, you’ve done more to really ease concerns about Nigeria in the last two days of your visit than…

Presenter: (cuts in): Okay madam, let me move from there to the fact that a lot of things seem to be happening in the States with President Obama. I hear that the International Summit on Entrepreneurship is coming on, is Nigeria invited? Any Nigerian attending this summit?

RRS: It is another initiative, signature initiative by President Obama and it s a global initiative and of course Nigeria is included in that. In fact there are three Nigerians that are participating, a young woman from Lagos state; I have actually been to her project mid-summer last year. And really it is to signal out that entrepreneurship in the first step to development in a democracy. And I think that the initiative that the president of the United States is doing is to highlight just how important entrepreneurship is in developing a democracy because that kind of talent also produces jobs for the rest of the society and I think he wanted to really hail that kind of effort and he want to single out very talented and creative people that are doing different things in the entrepreneurial sector. We are really proud to have three Nigerians as part of them.

Presenter: Madam, I don’t know if this will rub you up the wrong way but… you say Nigeria and America, they enjoy beautiful relations, Nigerians and Americans are friends. There are so many Nigerians who believe that they are qualified to visit, to study and [what] have you in the United States and had such a hard time. They don’t believe that that is justified. Are you… are you doing any serious work to review the whole process? As a matter of fact, sometimes, they say that the procedures that they are subjected to are kind of undignified.

RRS: Well you know I have heard that quite a bit and I take that... I do take that personally that I know that my team and I have worked very very hard to ensure that your people are treated honestly and fairly and with respect when they go through the visa processes. I think it’s also something that has to be cleared up in terms of the visa process. It is a worldwide process; no one is singling out Nigeria. It is a process that we follow in every single Embassy in the world and I also think there is a tendency to connect mot getting a visa to being treated unfairly and those are two separate things. There are strict immigration laws we have just like Nigeria has and I have a number of Americans too that come to me to complain about Nigeria…

Presenter: That when they want to come to Nigeria, they get a hard time…

RRS: Yeah, they get a hard time like even people that are on my staff that have their children or their spouse coming in, even people that are coming for training, they haven’t been able to get their visas and I just take that on board saying, this is the... these are the laws of Nigeria and if you don’t meet them, you don’t meet them. And so the same has to be viewed from our perspective as well. These are immigration laws and there is a threshold that has to be met in order to be qualified. So I think there s a definite distinction between people perceiving that they if they don’t get the visa, they’ve been mistreated. But I have taken a personal interest since I have been here to ensure that your people are treated fairly, treated with respect on the line and that is quite different then connecting it to I didn’t get a visa so I have been mistreated. That been said I know that probably won’t ring through with every Nigerian out there, they’re probably listening to me saying, oh my goodness, is she kidding me? But I will stake my personal reputation on that because I’ve got...

Presenter: (cuts in) You say things are going to get better… you are going to assure us, give us the assurance you are going to work on, not easing… yes as you said, if you don’t meet the requirements that’s one thing… but at least to be treated fairly and with dignity with a certain amount of respect, everybody deserves that, don’t we?

RRS: And I think we do that, I will disagree with the premise that we don’t do that. But I do think there is a view point that if you don’t get a visa then you haven’t been treated with dignity and respect and I think those two things are very very different.

Presenter: Olalude from Awe says, “the United States Embassy in Nigeria is not doing anything to promote sports.” Sports like basketball, rugby and American football. Why are you not showing interests in this area?

RRS: We do a lot in sports. We’ve had sports envoys here since I’ve been here we’ve had a number of Sports Envoys that have done Sports Programs throughout Nigeria. In fact, yesterday I was in Jos doing a number of things, but we had... we support a Basketball for Peace program actually in Jos. We had one also in Bayelsa and a few other States, so we do have as part of our core programs not only the Sports Envoys who come out to do basketball clinic. We don’t do rugby; rugby is not a US sport.

Presenter: American football?

RRS: American football, we have it, but we’ve mostly done soccer camps, we’ve done basketball camp and our Sports Envoys have really focused on those two areas. We do… Sports Programs is part of our sports development.

Presenter: Babatunde Osikelu from Ibadan says… “would like to know; will President Barrack Obama make a U-turn to visit Nigeria? Since the acting President has made the first move in the spirit of the new mutual understanding between the two countries?”

RRS: I can’t predict what the President of the United States is going to do but certainly I think that the fact that the two leaders have had a very very positive meeting last week, is an indication of just how important we think Nigeria is.

Presenter: Victoria from Benin says, “how can the United States of America help Nigeria with the energy crisis vis-a-vis constant power supply as a result of bilateral relations?”

RRS: I know we talked about that a bit earlier, as I said we’re doing… we have a number of public-private partnerships in the electricity area, gas flaring area, independent power project area; so we are quite active in being supportive of efforts by Nigeria to address its power issues and having this BNC focus on energy and investment will enhance that relationship and that partnership development program.

Presenter: Ikechukwu Ani from Enugu is saying that “there is so much hue and cry about AFRICOM, what is it about really? Does it have anything to do about setting up a military base in Nigeria or in Africa?”

RRS : No. AFRICOM is an entity within the US Government and that falls within the US department of defense and it provides assistance and support and training just like any other entity within the United States Government and its unfortunate that even three years down the line, there is still confusion on what AFRICOM does. I rely on AFRICOM to be responsive to request that I might give for instance, if I give request on humanitarian assistance, then AFRICOM is the entity in the United States Government that I will go to say, okay, I need training or capacity building or workshop/seminars on this particular area on humanitarian assistance or if I am travelling with my team and we are at a school or clinic that needs a borehole or waste incinerator, then AFRICOM is the entity that I say, okay can you send me the team that can help me do this? If we have been asked by the Nigerian military to be supportive in efforts in whether it’s peacekeeping, whether it’s in furthering their professional development that it would be very strong and very well respected, AFRICOM is where I go to go get their training.

Presenter: Madam, you know, we have spoken about a lot of seemingly serious issues. Let’s talk about entertainment, music and dance and America, particularly black Americans are very well known for that but we haven’t seen a lot of interaction since you have been here. Why is that so? Interaction between groups from over there and groups here, organizing teams from here, groups from here visiting the United States… to further collaborate and strengthen ties that exists between…

RRS: Why can’t I put you on our mailing list because you seem to be missing something. We just had a dance motion group people that did a number of programs.

Presenter: Oh really?

RRS: Yeah, maybe 3 , 4 weeks ago, maybe a little less , they did a number of, in fact they did a number of workshop at Terra Culture, they were at the National Theatre, they did at the Muson Center, you know.

Presenter: I am not on the same page.

RRS: No you are not on our page, we’ve had award winning artist here, we’ve done a number of cultural exchange programs in everything you can think of so make sure you get on our newsletter so that you‘ll know what we are doing.

Presenter: Etuk from Abuja says, “considering that the Nigerian housing isn’t right and 90% of Nigerians are poor and in the low income bracket. How is the United States handling the social housing scheme and how can you help us achieve that?”

RRS: We have something called a development credit authority, it’s a loan guarantee for housing only, that’s exactly what it’s for. And we have worked with a number of banks, I don’t remember but there six or seven banks that have the development credit authority loan guarantee. And it is strictly for low income housing, to help with low income housing so we are doing that as well.

Presenter: You have it in the books but what is the evidence that it really works and it helps people with social housing needs?

RRS: We don’t have it on our books, it’s a program the banks have and I have to relay go and look at the numbers but I know that it’s been used her in Lagos for we guarantee the mortgage or the long guarantee to get the mortgage so it is a facility that is available to Nigerians and I believe it’s a facility with six of the banks here.

Presenter: Monica Okwudili from Ibadan is saying, “what’s your take on Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat on the security council of the United Nations?”

RRS: That’s a global issue, I mean its more than just the United States but we do want to congratulate Nigeria for the fact that you will be on the UN Security Council in fact I think you will be chairing I think in July I believe is when you take the chair and so we see that as really positive step forward for Nigeria and a wonderful opportunity for Nigeria.

Presenter: Very quickly ma’am, the program is about to round up. You seem as a person, as the American Ambassador to Nigeria, in your personal slant, you seem to support advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations. Is that a total US posture or that comes from who you are?

RRS: Well certainly anything that I do here as a representative of the United States Government. So certainly, we take a tremendous interest in being supportive of civil society and I talked earlier about the pillars of democracy. So civil society is a key pillar in America too and then, we’ve brought extensively and I have even travelled with them too, on a number of civil society programs, because we really think they have a tremendous role to play in a democratic society.

Presenter: Madam Ambassador, thank you very much for coming on the program, we wish you the very best in all your endeavors.

RRS: thank you.

Presenter: Well viewers, that’s how much we can take today, my name is Bayo Adewusi. Thank you for your time and my guest has been Robin Renee Sanders, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria. Today has been nice, today has been fun, and tomorrow is another day.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Key Leaders Discuss President's Cairo Speech

June 4 – I was able to host today a substantive roundtable with key leaders at the U.S. Mission to Nigeria on President Obama's first major policy speech on the African Continent from Cairo, Egypt. We watched the speech together and had a lively discussion – Situation Room Style – following the speech, with a variety of views and takeaways as to the messages in the speech. The universal take away by many not only highlighted the President's "extraordinary delivery" of the speech but the content of the speech and its seven key points, not only were for the "Muslim world, but for the whole world," many said, adding that "what he said was applicable to Nigeria and that it was important for us all to work together to achieve these goals as brothers and sisters in humankind.” They all applauded the desire of America to have a "new beginning" with Islam and the global community. One participant noted that the President's speech "will go down as a defining moment in policy speeches and possibly one of the greatest speeches in history." I agree.

Related Story: Ambassador Sanders Takes Reactions on President Obama's Speech in Cairo