Background Briefing By a Senior State Department Official En Route Abuja, Nigeria

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route Abuja, Nigeria
August 10, 2012

MODERATOR: (In progress) -- on to Ghana for the Mills funeral, and then on to Benin. So here to walk through those three stops is [Senior State Department Official], hereafter Senior State Department Official. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks very much. Let me talk a little bit about Nigeria, our first stop, and let me talk a little bit about the context and the importance of this place.

Nigeria is one of the two most important countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It ranks right up there with South Africa in terms of its relationship and the importance of its relationship to the United States. Besides being the most populous country in Africa at 170 million people, its importance can be measured in political and economic terms as well as regional and global terms. It has by far the largest economy in West Africa and it dominates trade along the West African coast with its telephone services and its banking networks.

But it’s also important globally as well. Nigeria is one of the top 10 oil-producing countries in the world. It is our fifth largest supplier of petroleum. It ranks right there with Saudi Arabia in terns of what it provides us every day of the year in the United States. And it is the largest supplier of low-sulfur crude oil to the United States of any other country.

It is our largest trading partner in Africa, and it is the source of our second largest overseas investment on the continent after South Africa. South Africa is our second largest trading partner. Most of that trade, of course, is in oil. The country produces approximately 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, and American companies are dominant players in the exploration area.

Nigeria is also critically important as well in the political arena. It is the headquarters of ECOWAS, the Economic Community for West Africa. It is one of the top 10 peacekeeping-contributing countries in the world, and virtually every major peacekeeping effort in West Africa over the last two decades has been led by Nigerians forces, including in the stabilization of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nigerian diplomats and soldiers are key leaders in diplomacy for the UN, leading the Darfur peace mission and also leading the military and security operations in Liberia today.

So across the board, this country is a significant player politically and economically, regionally and globally, on both sides. And it’s one of the three countries in Africa, along with South Africa and Angola, where we have a strategic partnership.

Despite its importance, Nigeria has very serious political, security, and economic challenges. The Secretary will use her time (inaudible) to discuss with the Nigerians some of the challenges that they face in the security arena. She certainly will talk to the government about how to develop an effective, comprehensive strategy to deal with the issue of Boko Haram. We believe firmly that a security strategy is not enough and that it must be married to a social and economic strategy that addresses the deep poverty and (inaudible) which is characterized by the north, and also must address the issue of political marginalization.

The Secretary will also talk to Nigerian officials about issues of corruption. Nigeria has had a long history of corruption. Corruption is a hidden tax. It is a cancer which undermines development and siphons off much-needed funds away from key development projects into wasted spending. So it will also be an issue of concern.

The Secretary is also likely to raise the petroleum industries bill. It is now before the legislature of Nigeria. She will encourage that that bill take into account not only the needs of Nigeria but also take into account what oil companies will need to be incentivized to stay in the production business in Nigeria.

Let me stop on Nigeria and say a little bit about the second stop this evening. The Secretary will be going to Ghana, which is one of our most important democratic and development partners in Africa. She will be attending the funeral tomorrow of the late John Atta Mills. President Mills was recently in the United States to attend the G-8 meeting at Camp David, and five weeks before that he was in the United States on a state visit to meet with President Obama. You will all recall that on July 11th of 2009, President Obama traveled to Ghana on his trip to Africa and made his famous speech outlining our policy, in which he said we wanted partnership and not patronage, we wanted a mutual respectful and responsible relationship between the United States and Africa, and where he urged Africa to strengthen its democratic institutions, famously saying Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.

Ghana has been a democracy, a multiparty democracy, since 1992. It has had some of the best elections in Africa. There have been changes not only of presidency but also of the political party in power. It probably has one of the best democracies on the continent, and it certainly has one of the most well-known and respected election commissioners on the continent.

Ghana has had a smooth transition since the death of John Atta Mills. The Vice President was sworn in very quickly without any political upheaval or turmoil. The country will have presidential elections in December. We think those elections will be like the last ones, hotly contested between the two leading parties. But we expect those elections will be free, fair, and transparent, and that they will also be peaceful and internationally monitored.

The Secretary will have an opportunity to meet with the new President, President Mahama, at his residence shortly after we arrive in Accra this evening. It’s out of respect and appreciation for the close relationship that President Mahama is doing this. We regard him as a friend of the United States. He is a Muslim in predominantly a Christian country, but the religious relationships between Muslims and Christians across Ghana is very, very good (inaudible).

The Secretary will probably have an opportunity at the funeral to meet with some of the other African heads of state and foreign ministers who are there. We expect at least some dozen or more heads of state from around Africa to attend, and a lot larger number of foreign ministers. It will be a very large occasion.

A quick word, back to Ghana and its economics. They’re one of our leading development partners. They have had a $500 million MCC compact which they’ve completed successfully, focusing on agriculture, water, energy, and infrastructure. And it’s been very well executed. They’re a partner in child survival and health programs which are also running very well. We have a large CDC contingent there working on issues related to HIV and AIDS, and Ghana is a country where the HIV/AIDS level has gone progressively down over the last five years. They’re also one of only two countries in Africa that are participating in a new Partnership for Growth Program.

So they are a key partner. Mills was a very important figure (inaudible). We expect to have an equally strong relationship with his successor, and we look forward to working with whoever is elected in the December elections. Their elections are approximately one month, almost to the day, after ours in the United States.

The last stop on the trip will be Benin. Benin has been a model democracy since 1991. Like Ghana, they have had a number of presidents, a number of free, fair, and transparent elections where both presidents have changed and where also parties, political parties, have also changed. They have also been a very strong development partner. They’ve had and just completed a $350 million MCC program. They are eagerly trying to pull together an application for another program.

We’re also going for political reasons. President Yayi is the current president of the African Union. It’s a rotating position. It’s not the chair position, that is a five-year job that Dr. Zuma is taking over; but every year there is a new president of the African Union, and the current president is President Yayi. He is an important intermediary when it comes to working with the African Union on the resolution of issues related to Somalia, Sudan, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau. The relationship there is very good, and they have been very good partners and interlocutors and very good utilizers of our development assistance.

I’ll stop there.

MODERATOR: Questions?

QUESTION: I have a question on – two questions on Nigeria. First of all, are you concerned at all about the faltering amnesty program, and will that be at all in discussion? And then also, Nigerian security forces – are you going to raise that issue with Jonathan or (inaudible) say the issue that the security forces are seen as part of the problem in the north? And then when we talk about this comprehensive strategy, looking at the behavior of the security forces towards the civilians in the north, and their methods and trying to round up (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me respond to the last part first. We are going to encourage, as we have been doing, President Goodluck Jonathan to put in place a comprehensive program to address the problems of northern Nigeria and of Boko Haram. We believe that this requires a security strategy as well as a social-economic development plan and strategy.

In that first regard, dealing with the security, we will encourage the government to make better use of its various police and security services. We will encourage them to work together more effectively to break down the barriers and the stovepipes that exist between the national security advisor, between the security services that are equivalent to our FBI, which are called SSS, State Security Services, and also the military intelligence and police intelligence services. We believe that they need to harmonize their activities.

Equally on the security side, we will encourage them not to engage in human rights abuses or human rights excesses. We know all too well from our own experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan what can happen if the soldiers and police are not under and acting under appropriate authorities and orders. We will encourage them to not use excessive force and to look at this as a intelligence, police, and law enforcement operation designed to catch perpetrators, bring them to justice before courts of law. So we are encouraging them to do all of these things on the security side, and we are prepared to help them.

On the economic and social side of the ledger, we’re going to say that Boko Haram does not – does not – enjoy the support of the largest portion of the Muslim population there. They are just as much targets of Boko Haram as others are; in fact, more so. However, there is an environment created for them because in the north there is a sense of political marginalization. Even more critically, there is a sense that they are not getting the same kinds of social and economic benefits and services as other parts of the country. We believe that it is critical that there be a social and economic development program that helps to substantially improve education and health care and infrastructure in the north. It has to be a comprehensive program that has a security element as well as a social and economic element. This is – these are issues that we consider important. They are issues that are married together, and in order to address this problem, (inaudible) comprehensive program (inaudible).

Your other question, I think, relates to the security situation in the Niger Delta. And we think that the government has made substantial progress in improving the situation in the Niger Delta, but it must continue to move forward in carrying out all of the elements of the program that have been outlined in the past. I might note that in dealing with the Niger Delta, Nigeria did, in fact, create a Minister for Niger Delta Affairs and they also created a Niger Delta Development Commission to help address some of the problems that existed there as well. So there are correlations here.

This is – these are only two of the security problems. They have a security problem in the Jos Plateau as well, where they’re dealing with agricultural issues, which are sometimes portrayed as religious. They are not religious issues. They are issues related to land and land ownership there. It is another challenge for them.


QUESTION: Could you talk us a little bit through, give us a little bit more detail on the President’s message on the – I’m sorry, the Secretary’s message on the petroleum industries bill? Is this the highest level that the U.S. has sort of lobbied them, and is she going in with a specific ask on what the oil companies need?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’s not going in with a specific ask. But let me just say that we have talked to the Nigerian authorities about the petroleum industries bill for the last two-plus years. I, myself, talk to Nigerian officials about it. (Inaudible) Ambassador Carlos Pascual, was here in Nigeria about four months ago. The bill had not yet been presented to the legislature, but he also has spoken to the Nigerians about it. And it is one of the things that we continue to discuss with them, and we’re urging them to move the bill forward. It has not moved forward in some three years.

And we encourage them to have a bill which would, in effect, meet the needs of Nigeria but also remain an incentive for American and other international companies to remain interested in investing new money and new resources into Nigeria. So we are looking for them to have a bill that will also incentivize international companies to continue to operate there, to carry on new exploration, and to develop new production. If a bill comes out which appears to undermine the interests of companies, they won’t invest. And we think that it is important for new investment to go into the Nigerian petroleum industry, and we want to see new investment in there. The best way to create that opportunity is with legislation which helps to incentivize it.

QUESTION: Can I just have a quick follow-up? Because I don’t understand – I just don’t know about the bill. When you say incentivize, what does that mean? Tax breaks? Legal immunity?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, it just – no, it doesn’t mean tax breaks. It means just a fair operating environment.

QUESTION: Predictable operating environment.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Predictable. Yeah. Predictable, fair.

QUESTION: On the security side, a lot of that sounds like arguments you’ve been making to (inaudible) Goodluck for a year at least. And is the Goodluck Jonathan government really listening to that argument, and how will her making it make a difference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We think that the voice of the Secretary is always strategically important in advancing any critical issue that we have across the continent. And her addressing this and entering into a dialogue with President Goodluck Jonathan and his senior security advisors can help to encourage them to create the kind of comprehensive program that is required.

The Secretary will also be renewing our offers of assistance and help to the Nigerians. It is in our interest as well to see Nigeria get a handle on this problem. This is a problem for Nigeria, but northern Nigeria also borders Chad, it borders Cameroon, it borders Niger, and we are concerned that this kind of radicalism could, in effect, go across the borders and undermine the security of neighboring states.

MODERATOR: Anybody else have a quick question?

QUESTION: How does the Secretary of State get to the heart of corruption in countries where they’re experiencing that (inaudible) relations? How do you really (inaudible) get them to behave or really do their thing and do it right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the Secretary brings up the issues directly. These are issues which undermine the economic viability of states. The Secretary is not reluctant to address these issues, because these issues are frequently in the public arena in the countries in which she is talking about. Nigeria has, again, regrettably, a long, long history of corruption. And that corruption, quite honestly, has undermined the image of the country. It’s undermined the integrity of some of its economic operations. It has diverted much-needed revenue and funds away from infrastructure, social and education and health projects, into the pockets of separate individuals.

And all of this has contributed to a waste, a cancerous waste which has not been helpful to Nigeria’s economic growth. So I think that it is easy. I think it – for the Secretary to do. It is in the public arena. It is something that we grapple with in our own country, and we say that there should be put in place standards of conduct and ethics both in government service and in business that will help reduce this. Nigeria does have a new chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and that person is doing a much better job than his predecessor. The Secretary will encourage that the Economic Financial Crimes Commission continue to move forward identifying individuals and organizations engaged in corruption, prosecuting them, and bringing them to justice.

MODERATOR: We’ll do one last one because the crew is eager to get on with the service.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. You mentioned that the Secretary will offer assistance and help to Nigeria. What kind of assistance is it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we can do a number of things in the police and investigative services. We have a FBI legal attaché office at our Embassy. But we can help them develop their investigation procedures, help them to do forensics, help them to do post-blast inspections, help them to identify components for IEDs. And we can help them develop mechanisms for tracking and determining individuals who are likely to be engaged in supporting Boko Haram activities.

And should they decide to establish an intelligence fusion cell, we would be happy to work with them to develop that cell so that they can better integrate the information that their various intelligence services are collecting so that it can be used to more effectively prevent and track individuals engaged in terrorist operations. So there are a number of things we can do, and we’re prepared to do them. As I say, it’s Nigeria’s problem, but it is in the interest of the international community and its neighboring states to help them address it effectively.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick – (inaudible). Just wondering if you’re (inaudible) to go ahead and set up an intelligence agency (inaudible).


QUESTION: (Inaudible) offered to help with more (inaudible).

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ve suggested it before, but there is a new (inaudible) National Security Advisor – former National Security Advisor with whom the Secretary met on February 23 in London has been replaced. This will give the Secretary a first opportunity to meet with Mr. Sambo Dasuki who is the new National Security Advisor. We expect that he will be a part of the meetings that the Secretary has and will be an opportunity for her to meet him and to make recommendations and to offer assistance.

MODERATOR: Thank you [Senior State Department Official].

PRN: 2012/ T69-26