Closing Session of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
U.S. Institute of Peace
Washington, DC
June 5, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Permanent Secretary, for sharing your reflections on the BNC.

I would also like to recognize the hard work of the USIP staff, especially Ambassador George Moose and David Smock, and of my State Department colleagues, and of all our very talented Nigerian colleagues, in making this historic meeting of the Binational Commission such a success.

The robust engagement of local and federal government from both our countries over the past two days demonstrates the importance and depth of our partnership. I see enormous promise for Nigeria and for our relationship in the years to come.

But I have been at this for a long time, and so have many of you. We know that relationships like these do not grow themselves. They don’t maintain themselves, either. They demand commitment, patience and sustained effort. Managing big and important relationships like ours is a little like riding a bike; if you don’t keep pedaling forward, you’re likely to fall over.

Over the past two days, we’ve clearly been pedaling forward. Our delegations took the opportunity to review progress made in each of the working groups since the establishment of the Binational Commission in 2010 and to address a range of shared concerns. In particular:

The Governance, Transparency and Integrity Working Group looked toward the 2015 national elections – which mark another milestone in building on the most credible elections in Nigeria’s history last April. Together we identified electoral reforms and opportunities to improve the electoral process. We discussed the importance of interagency coordination and strategies to build capacity and public confidence in Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts.

The Energy and Investment Working Group sought to expand on Nigeria’s progress to date in reforming its power sector. We held constructive conversations on how Nigeria can attract international private investment, including ways to boost output and address energy deficits. We are committed to continuing to support Nigeria’s efforts to create a more effective regulatory environment. And given Nigeria’s important place in the global oil market, we discussed ways to ensure that the natural riches of Nigeria improve the lives of all of its people for many years to come.

The Agriculture and Food Security Working Group discussed Nigeria’s important role in regional food security, and examined areas for growth in Nigeria’s private agriculture sector. We will continue our support for reforms aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s role in regional food security, and we are looking to bolster agricultural lending in Nigeria. As I said, we want to help Nigeria become not just food secure but a breadbasket for the surrounding region.

The Regional Security Working Group discussed strategies to help educate the Nigerian public about the government’s efforts to secure its citizens and prevent the spread of violent extremism. We also had frank discussions about reports of extra-legal activity among Nigerian security forces and the importance of protecting human rights. We will continue to work with our Nigerian partners to improve the capacity of its military and police units, as a part of the government’s overall effort to respond to the needs of communities vulnerable to violent extremism.

We discussed all these issues and many more. But we also committed ourselves to keep turning talk into action. And I am proud to announce, together with the Permanent Secretary, that the United States and Nigeria have agreed to a joint communiqué outlining the next steps for each of these working groups. This communiqué affirms our shared understanding that accountable governance, economic growth, agricultural investment, and security sector professionalization are all important elements in an effective strategy to address the myriad of challenges facing Nigeria. We also committed to hold the working group on the Niger Delta this year, which time and space did not allow during this robust, two-day session.

As we opened this dialogue, I shared my belief that the stakes of our effort extend far beyond the progress of any one of its working groups. Nigeria’s challenges are Africa’s challenges. By the same token, its success will position it to continue to take a vital leadership role as the most populous African nation in a region full of “emerging-emerging powers.”

Six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria among them. In five years, the IMF predicts it will be seven of the top ten. The need to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of our people has never been greater. Neither has the depth of our dialogue or the momentum behind it.

Nigeria’s future, full of promise and risk, has no shortage of unknowns. But let me close with one certainty: that future will be brighter if we approach it together. Thank you for a successful dialogue and for your friendship with the United States.