Nigerian-U.S. RelationsGood morning. It was suggested by your distinguished Director that I share thoughts about relations between our two governments and perhaps project on how to further strengthen that generally positive state of affairs. I will try to briefly elaborate on some themes and priorities but particularly look forward to the ensuing discussion in which I hope to hear your views and reactions.
Two countries can enjoy warm relations when they have shared experiences, common values, and joint aspirations. A good relationship is based on a mutual understanding, agreement on short- and long-term goals, and respect for each country's positions. The relationship will prosper when both parties demonstrate a willingness to follow through on commitments and show an ability to have respectful dialogue on even difficult issues. The United States and Nigeria are long-standing allies and, I am pleased to observe, currently enjoy a warm relationship. Forging even closer ties with a stable, democratic and economically developing Nigeria remains an important objective for the United States for a variety of reasons.
--Nigerian stability, commitment to human rights and democracy, and economic progress affect the lives of its citizens, one out of every four Sub-Saharan Africans. Indeed, there is a significant multiplier effect as the impact of its actions is felt beyond its borders. Nigeria's democratic transition comes at a time when many other African countries are feeling their own way even while some others experience problems or even turmoil. In those places where other Africans are suffering from the ravages of conflict, the repression of military dictatorship, or the limitations of one-party rule, Nigeria's experience and example can be cause for hope and leadership to others seeking democracy.
--Nigeria supplies 8% of all oil imported into the U.S., making it our fifth largest supplier of petroleum. International energy companies operating in Nigeria spend approximately $2 billion annually in exploration, production, and new capital investments. Nigeria is the United States' largest trading partner on the continent of Africa. Total two-way trade exceeds $5 billion. The fact that U.S. exports to Nigeria were as high as $820 million demonstrates the potential of the Nigerian market for American goods. Already Nigeria is the second largest market for U.S. products in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 3,000 U.S. manufacturers and other businesses have local distribution arrangements, from steel to services, from heavy equipment, automobiles and auto parts to telecommunications, from electronics equipment to foodstuffs. The U.S. supplies 100% of the Nigerian market for imported wheat.
--Nigeria's role as a force for stability within the West African region and elsewhere on the continent means African countries now have a powerful ally in their quest to seek African solutions to African problems. As Under Secretary Pickering expressed in Abuja last week, Nigeria has been a "tower of strength" militarily and diplomatically in Liberia and Sierra Leone over the past decade. We recognize the sacrifices you have endured. We will continue to work to advance common interests in such situations.
--In a less wholesome point of convergence, Nigerian criminal and narcotics syndicates victimize thousands of U.S. citizens. Advance fee fraud and other financial crimes cost Americans hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Nigerian drug traffickers account for 50 percent of the heroin trafficked worldwide and into my country and they are responsible for a growing percentage of the global movement of cocaine. Inevitably, as a consequence, Nigeria has become a significant hub for money laundering, and other spin-off criminal activities.
--I bring up another issue that might at first appear unrelated, but indeed I think deserves the highest attention because it will directly affect Nigeria's domestic as well as regional development ambitions and the collective populations' well-being. Nigeria's HIV/AIDS rate, now thought to be over five percent, but possibly substantially more, is destined to skyrocket without significant intervention. I acknowledge the very important conference in Abuja earlier this week on malaria and want to in no way slight that excellent initiative to dominate what has for some time been the greatest health scourge in Africa and other tropical regions. But with HIV/AIDS, the loss of men and women at normally their most productive age will have most serious consequences for social stability in all its ramifications. Aggressive commitment by leaders in political, religious and community circles to AIDS education and resulting modification of high-risk behavior, has worked in other affected countries and should be emulated here.
A Look Back
The emergence of a democratic Nigeria in May 1999 ended years of corrupt military rule and strained relations with the United States. Over the past year, Nigeria has put in place an elected Executive and Legislature, probed questionable contracts, begun to fashion a structure to privatize the often inefficient or dysfunctional parastatals and taken initial steps to curb official corruption. Nigeria's human rights situation has improved dramatically.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recognized these accomplishments and the importance of bolstering your country's nascent democracy when last year she designated Nigeria as one of four priority countries, along with Colombia, Indonesia, and the Ukraine. She has pledged significant resources and attention to strengthen democracy in those countries. In support of that commitment to Nigeria, she herself has visited, as have the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, Commerce and Transportation in addition to numerous sub-Cabinet officials and technical teams. Of course, President Obasanjo last October was invited by President Clinton to the White House and he and his ministers and advisors had a full week of meetings with our President and other senior U.S. officials.
The Way Forward
Even though I firmly believe a closer relationship is attainable and in our mutual interests, we accept that there will be as many challenges as relatively easy satisfactions ahead. Given the bright spotlight on Nigeria and the fast approaching one-year anniversary of the transition to civilian rule, it is perhaps time to critically assess issues that have the potential to impede the full fruition of our bilateral relationship.
Democratization. A more democratic Nigeria will enable the U.S. to cement diplomatic ties and allow Nigeria to assume its natural role on issues of mutual interest in international fora. To this end, Nigeria must instill transparency in its political processes and decision-making and engender accountability in all aspects of governance. The conditions for a free and transparent electoral system must be created and nurtured to inspire domestic and international confidence in the legitimacy of Nigeria's leadership and new direction. Drastic actions must be taken to reduce the influence of money in elections in order to give the average Nigerian a stake in the new political order. (I recognize the irony of an American representative advocating reduction of the influence of money in the political process: something we have signally failed to achieve at home. Nonetheless, we should press for measures that reduce influence of those special, moneyed interests in both systems.)
Poverty alleviation and policies designed to improve the living standards of all Nigerians cannot wait or remain hostage to parochial politics. Nigeria's stability and unity depend on the reduction of societal conflict and the provision of mechanisms to resolve ethnic, communal, and religious disputes. The government must soon give substance to its rhetoric to improve all aspects of social services: education, health, security. A wide variety of non-governmental organizations, academic, and private sector actors qualified to formulate creative solutions to the country's daunting political, economic and infrastructure challenges should be enlisted in the effort. Finally, in law enforcement and the court system, there needs to be greater awareness of basic rights as well as responsibilities of citizens, and a predictable application of due process in promoting the consolidation of democracy and reduction of tensions.
We respect the need for Nigerian solutions to its distinct challenges. Nonetheless, the U.S. stands ready to suggest and perhaps help apply lessons learned from our own democratic experiences. A concrete sign of our commitment to Nigeria's democratic transition is the quadrupling of U.S. developmental and technical assistance this year over 1999.
--The U.S. is providing training and technical assistance to enhance the capacity of the Executive, National Assembly, and Judiciary to fulfill their constitutional roles. Our assistance is also designed to foster constructive relationships among the three branches and increase transparency and accountability in decision-making. The training has occurred at State and local government levels as well. In some ways it is there, closer to constituents, that one sees popular participant training taking hold.
--We are also funding the Independent National Electoral Commission's efforts to prepare a reliable voter register, design and implement codes of conduct for the political parties, train party poll agents, educate voters, and put in place other mechanisms for a free and fair election in 2003.
--USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives is providing assistance to the Ministry of Defense to improve civil-military relationships and restructure the military. This is a multiyear effort to help implement the constitutional role played by the Military in its service to the nation through strengthening institutional capabilities as well as the professionalism of its officers and troops.
--Various initiatives of the U.S. Government currently sponsor a wide range of visitor exchanges, training programs, and grants to encourage civil society to take on a more effective watchdog role over government, widen civic participation in governing, and to take a direct interest in managing societal conflict.
Economic Reform. The expansion and diversification of our bilateral trade and investment relationship, away from its traditional dependence on energy-based goods and services, depends on Nigeria's willingness to undertake difficult economic reforms. Nigeria must tackle its corruption problem head-on in order to encourage the levels of domestic and foreign investment needed to achieve growth rates required to revive the economy. If the government fails to curb corruption, its ability to deliver badly needed public services, reduce poverty, and attract investors will remain negligible.
The Anti-Corruption Bill is an important step toward combating corruption and defining acceptable behavior for public officials. As long as the bill languishes, domestic and international confidence in Nigeria's commitment will be tentative.
Other factors obviously affect the economic and regulatory climate. We recognize clearly that part of the corruption equation is adequate compensation for those serving the nation in all its functions. The public sector is the largest employer by far in Nigeria. Salaries, it seems to me, must rise, even as the ghosts on payrolls are exorcised. Lack of adherence to the sanctity of contracts will continue to discourage U.S. firms from making long-term commitments in Nigeria. At least two major U.S. investors with contracts signed by the Government of Nigeria have run into difficulties in recent months and, as a result, badly needed infrastructure improvements have been delayed.
The resolution of Nigeria's vexing debt problem is in its own hands. The implementation of fiscal reform, enhanced transparency in economic decision-making, lower barriers to domestic and foreign investment, efforts to revitalize Nigeria's deteriorating infrastructure, and the privatization of moribund parastatals will improve prospects for a serious discussion between donors and Nigeria about the country's $30 billion external debt. The simple reality is that donors will continue to question Nigeria's commitment to reform if the country fails to implement an International Monetary Fund staff-monitored program. That program is dependent on responsible budget priorities and appropriations, continued monetary prudence, as well as on debt servicing at credible levels. These steps are essential to persuade donors to consider negotiating a generous rescheduling of Nigeria's debt.
--As a sign of our commitment to Nigeria's economic recovery, we will be fielding a very high-level delegation at the next session of the Joint Economic Partnership Committee here in Nigeria. The JEPC, inaugurated last November in Washington, is a concrete manifestation of the desire of both Governments to forge a long-term economic partnership. It provides us with a unique forum in which to establish an honest dialogue and to advance mutual interests. JEPC's success, however, is premised on Nigeria's continued progress on economic reforms and an aggressive commitment to fight corruption.
--The U.S. mission is using $15 million in Economic Support Funds for technical assistance in the areas of aviation upgrades, roads, energy and power regulatory reforms, the privatization of parastatals, commercial law reforms, youth employment programs, and agriculture and micro-enterprise initiatives. These infrastructural activities are in addition to longer-range USAID commitments in the areas of health and education in concert with those Nigerian government priorities.
--The U.S. was able to lift travel restrictions on Murtala Muhammed International Airport in December 1999 as a result of Nigeria's sustained commitment to improve security and willingness to work with the Federal Aviation Administration. A senior Transportation Department delegation visited Lagos and Abuja last week to continue that aviation collaboration as well to discuss ports and surface transportation matters.
Regional Stability. Nigerian commitment to domestic reform also affects the country's ability to promote regional stability, prevent and mediate conflicts, undertake peacekeeping operations, and support democracy and human rights in Africa. The emergence of a constructive dialogue on Nigeria's regional objectives among the Executive branch and the Legislature is critical to achieving national consensus for Nigeria's military and diplomatic objectives abroad. Regional security and economic progress, I believe, will then be seen in the larger context of Nigeria's national interest. There is a reciprocal element to enhancement of stability elsewhere in West Africa that will allow Nigeria to focus on development at home.
--During their visits to Nigeria, both Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen stressed the importance of an inclusive foreign policy making process at home to sustain commitments abroad. Again, taking a leaf from the experience of my country, there needs to be a consensus between the Executive and Legislative branches to sustain foreign policy objectives. That consensus in turn must be undergirded by the understanding and acceptance of an informed public. For our part, the U.S. will continue to support Nigeria's presence in Sierra Leone under the recent U.N. Security Council mandate.
Fighting Crime. Nigerian criminal activity affects U.S. and Nigerian citizens and spills over into other countries creating political and economic problems throughout Africa and on other continents. Last week's headlines here referred to Nigerians' criminal activities in South Africa, Mozambique and Italy. Such publicity reflects serious concern by friendly governments, but also represents a major public relations liability. For no matter how we apportion the blame in advanced fee fraud, the biggest loser in 4-1-9 and the drug trade is Nigeria's international reputation and Nigeria's ability to develop normal economic relations with the rest of the world.
On Narcotics Certification, Nigeria's failure to meet the specific, technical performance standards, which are applied to all countries designated as major narcotics producers or transit centers, will remain an irritant in our bilateral relationship. We are awaiting the arrest or prosecution of major traffickers, the extradition of indicted suspects to the U.S., and the commitment of sufficient resources to allow Nigerian law enforcement to turn into reality Nigerian's comprehensive national Drug Control Program. Nigeria has received Washington's National Interest waiver on de-certification 2 years in a row because the U.S. recognized that the new government needed our support. However, we are disappointed that there has been little movement on the extradition of drug traffickers to the U.S. to stand trial, and other indicators of serious effort.
--Our objective is to work with Nigeria to secure certification for narcotics cooperation. We hope that closer engagement on law enforcement issues, characterized by demonstrable performance and goodwill on both sides, will accomplish this objective. Again, in demonstration of our continuing emphasis on this problem, next week our Assistant Secretary for Narcotics Affairs will come to Abuja to make a keynote address at an international conference on criminal matters.
There is no doubt that years of neglect under military regimes has hollowed out Nigeria's law enforcement agencies. With the withdrawal of the military to the barracks, the protection of the lives and property of Nigerian and foreign residents has become an issue of growing mutual concern. Endemic corruption in the police and security forces has a corrosive effect on innumerable aspects of daily life for Nigerian citizens and visitors. If Nigeria is serious about improving police performance, then the payment of a living wage to Nigerian law enforcement and judicial personnel is a critical first step. Then, reinstitution of standards, modern training, and commitment of resources should enable the police to assume its rightful role.
--The U.S. is currently looking at ways to help strengthen the performance of the Nigerian police and to provide expertise in the planned overhaul of the "Service". (It is not without significance that those at the very top of the Government are advocating the redesignation of the Police from a "Force" to a "Service.")
Health Issues. It is no secret that Nigeria's health care sector is in shambles. As a result, Nigeria has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world and a growing HIV/AIDS infection rate. The unabated continuation of these trends, combined with a high population growth rate, poses a direct threat to Nigeria's economic development and social stability.
--USAID is providing immunizations to children, improved reproductive health services, and HIV/AIDS prevention program. However, a high-level, sustained political commitment and willingness to address the difficult realities of the HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases is critical to stemming the impending epidemic.
I have not intended to dwell on negative aspects of the current scene but tried to set out an unvarnished presentation of the challenges as they cross my desk. They occur against a backdrop of great goodwill from my government and the very high priority Washington places on building a strong relationship with newly democratic Nigeria. I hastily add that goodwill is reciprocated by the Government of Nigeria and others. When two countries work closely together on a broad range of matters, there are bound to be differences over issues of heartfelt concern. The United States looks forward to continued cooperation in areas of mutual agreement and to candid dialogue to enable understanding and overcoming points of contention. The end result, an honest and dependable relationship, will foster many satisfactions and accomplishments.
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