Remarks at U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission "A Rising Partnership"

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Washington, DC
June 4, 2012

Date: 06/04/2012 Description: Deputy Secretary Burns with Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru at the U.S. Institute of Peace. - State Dept Image

Thank you, George, for that kind introduction. We appreciate USIP co-hosting this event with us in your beautiful building. I want to extend a warm welcome to Foreign Minister Ashiru, to the Nigerian state governors, Cabinet officials, and National Assembly members who have made the long journey to join us today.

As Ambassador Moose has already mentioned, we meet today against a sad and tragic backdrop. Let me extend once again our deepest and sincerest sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the terrible plane crash in Lagos yesterday.

Today’s gathering is both unique and historic, and I am honored to be a part of it. Never before have we brought such a diverse and senior group of Nigerian and U.S. officials together under the auspices of the Binational Commission. It is also a sign of our wide-ranging ambitions that we welcome such a diverse and distinguished group from the U.S. government, including representatives from the Department of Defense, USAID, Department of Energy and elsewhere.

The United States approaches this partnership from the fundamental premise that Nigeria is one of the most strategically important nations in sub-Saharan Africa. One out of every four Africans is Nigerian. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, home to its largest Muslim population, and its largest contributor of peacekeepers. Nigeria is also our largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with $35 billion in annual trade between our countries. A leader in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nigeria has led peacemaking efforts from Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire to Guinea-Bissau. On the UN Security Council, Nigeria has lent its voice to causes of conscience in Libya, Syria, and around the world.

We are invested in your success because we recognize Nigeria as a strategic center of gravity in its own right. But we also recognize a broader truth: across the continent, communities are struggling to find productive paths for growing youth populations; to defeat corruption; to turn a corner in improving governance, infrastructure and public health; to hold together different faiths and regions and to take on the drivers of extremism. In other words, Nigeria’s challenges are Africa’s challenges. And if we can help Nigeria chart a secure, prosperous and democratic course, then Nigeria’s successes can be Africa’s as well -- successes we can measure in improved lives, livelihoods, and leadership in the region.

That is what Secretary Clinton envisioned when she and then-Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mahmud Yayale Ahmed signed the framework for the Bi-National Commission in 2010. Two years later, we can proudly say that the BNC has grown into a forum for frank conversations to keep our bilateral relations on track; into a convening point for the many committed actors in both our governments; and into an expansive dialogue to turn common cause into creative thinking and coordinated action. And, as the four working groups that will meet over these two days reflect, our partnership is increasingly rooted in shared values, delivering results, and ready to take on the challenges ahead.

First, our working group on Good Governance, Transparency and Integrity (GTI) can already point to important successes. Last April’s elections were Nigeria’s most successful and credible since its return to democracy in 1999. This is due in no small part to our sustained engagement through the GTI working group and our shared commitment to a transparent and consultative preparation for the elections. The United States is proud to have supported the efforts of the Nigerian government and the Independent National Electoral Commission through a $31.3 million election assistance program in collaboration with the UK.

Today, we broaden our focus from elections to what comes after: in particular, transparent, effective governance. An old American newspaperman one said that “there is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.” Today we will discuss how freedom of information, accountability, and transparency can empower citizens to take on the difficult and deep-rooted challenge of corruption. We look forward to hearing your views on a challenge that is not unique to Nigeria and is a huge impediment to development and prosperity across the world.

Energy and investment -- the subject of our second working group -- is also critical to Nigeria’s economic present and future. Our economic ties are strong: the United States accounts for some $5.4 billion in foreign direct investment in Nigeria annually, and Nigeria is the fifth largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. Nigeria has taken significant steps on its “roadmap” to rehabilitate its energy infrastructure. Now we must work together to sustain progress and match it with increased international investment in Nigeria’s energy sector. In February, we sent a high-level U.S. energy trade mission, and several of the American participants have already made follow-up business trips to Nigeria -- laying the groundwork for future partnerships and growth. Today, we will discuss how we can advance these reform efforts that will increase private investment in power sector infrastructure, promote the use of clean energy sources and help Nigeria translate its tremendous natural riches into lasting and widespread prosperity for all of its people.

While oil currently provides more revenues, nearly seventy percent of Nigeria’s population is engaged in agriculture, which why the third working group, focused on Food Security and Agriculture, is so important. The United States is working to strengthen Nigeria’s agricultural sector through encouraging policy reforms, technology transfer, and strong private sector involvement. We are committed to help Nigeria meet its ambitious plans to invest in and improve its ability to feed its people and become a major agricultural exporter. We have done this through the integration of technical assistance programs like USAID’s “MARKETS” program which aims to add over $100 million in support through a twelve-year value chain-focused program to increase farmer yields through improved technology. We are also encouraging private investment, to help seal the promise of growth and opportunity for all Nigerians. For example, a recent agreement between Taraba State and Dominion Rice Integrated Farms will reduce Nigeria’s rice imports by 15% and create daily work for 15,000 Nigerians.

As we all know, economic prosperity alone does not create successful societies. Security is a prerequisite for successful development, for a successful Nigeria. We are all disturbed by the repeated scenes of violence in various parts of Nigeria that threaten to undercut the gains Nigeria has made. This is why discussions in the fourth working group -- on Regional Security Cooperation – are so critically important. Violent, extremist militants like those associated with Boko Haram offer no practical program to improve the lives of Nigerians. They depend on resentment and neglect. It is incumbent on the government of Nigeria – both at the Federal and state level – to provide not only basic services but a compelling narrative of constructive civic engagement that points Nigeria toward a better future.

To that end, we are ready to explore a potential partnership with the Nigerian army to build its civil affairs capacity which, in turn, will help Nigeria build trust between citizens and the security services charged with protecting them. In addition, building on our fruitful discussions last June, we are committed to helping Nigeria develop a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy -- one that includes citizen engagement and dialogue -- alongside more traditional security measures. The United States is determined to help Nigeria translate its comprehensive strategy into concrete action. We are also committed to help Nigeria coordinate its security responses through an intelligence fusion center.

As we address the complex issues that the BNC covers, we should expect no “silver bullet”, and no quick fixes. Meaningful reform is a difficult task for any government at any level. But you are not starting from scratch. A strong team of reformers and highly qualified ministers, many of whom are with us today, have already undertaken substantial reforms and mutually reinforcing initiatives.

To highlight just a few of your many success stories: Finance Minister Ngozi has pushed a strong reformist agenda, with support from Central Bank Governor Sanusi, Trade and Investment Minister Aganga, and Minister of Power Nnaji – all of whom have taken steps to promote sustained economic development, job creation, increased agricultural productivity and more foreign investment. Governors from states such as Kano, Rivers, Borno, and Taraba, who are with us today, have demonstrated that accountable and responsible leadership can achieve meaningful results.

When government commits itself to progress and meaningful reforms, the Nigerian people have shown time and time again that they are willing to rise to the occasion. When they see that the work of government at the national, state, and local levels is positively impacting their lives, I believe they will stand with those who have stood with them. And Nigeria will move forward.

In every region of the world, from Southeast Asia to South America, nations are solving the challenges of economic development and clean, accountable governance. They are spreading prosperity to once neglected regions and groups. They are bridging old divides between religions, ethnicities and tribes within their borders. These new nations are stepping forward, propelled by a rising middle class, to claim their place as economic powers and regional leaders in the century ahead.

Nigeria can and should be among them. When Secretary Clinton visited Nigeria in 2009, she said: “The capacity for good governance exists in Africa and it exists in Nigeria. We have seen it in many places, and we have seen it in Nigeria.”

The challenges before us are great, but so too is the promise of the Nigerian people. So let us make the most of this moment and build on the strong foundations of our partnership to secure a better future -- for Nigeria, for America, for Africa and for the world.

Thank you.