By Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you so much, Nancy, for that introduction. Thank you as well to USIP for hosting us today, and for the fantastic work you are doing in Nigeria and around the world to advance peace.
In case anyone has any doubts on the extent of Nigeria’s importance in Africa and the world, let me share just a few statistics. Nigeria’s population is projected to reach 400 million by 2050, overtaking the United States and becoming the third most populous country in the world. The median age in Nigeria is 18. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and Africa’s largest oil producer. The country’s middle class of roughly 50 million people is expected to help grow the country into one of the top-ten global economies by 2050.
But despite Nigeria’s size and resources, the United Nations estimated in 2011 that 54 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. And 16 percent of Nigerian children die before reaching their fifth birthday, largely as a result of preventable diseases.
These statistics paint the picture of a country with enormous potential and opportunities ahead of it, yet daunting challenges it must tackle in order to succeed. There is cause for cautious optimism at this juncture, and the United States looks forward to doing everything we can to partner with Nigeria to seize the moment.
Why is it so important that we seize the moment? It’s simple: we need a strong, proactive Nigeria, because it’s in Nigeria’s interest, the region’s interest, and it is in the world’s interest. Importantly, it is in the United States’ interest, as well. And so the question in front of all of us today is: “What can we do to support a strong, proactive, and prosperous Nigeria?”
When Nigeria gained independence in 1960, its people had high hopes. The country had new universities, Africa’s first television station, and many natural resources. It had doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and many experienced and professional civil servants.
But ethnic tensions, a civil war, and a series of coups undermined that optimism. And despite progress in the past year, Nigeria still faces many significant challenges today.
Corruption results in billions of dollars of losses every year – the estimates are staggering, with many billions of dollars plundered in the last decade alone. Although much of this money that has been siphoned off will likely never be seen again, imagine the impact that this money could have had on Nigeria’s infrastructure and economy.
Despite boasting some strong universities, the overall education system is weak, and the literacy rate is estimated at only 61 percent.
Nigeria has also struggled to provide adequate and reliable power to its citizens despite its vast natural resources, with only 45 percent of its citizens currently having access to electricity.
Boko Haram, which now declares itself an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is having a devastating impact in the northeast, still killing dozens of civilians on a weekly basis.
Economic growth has slowed. Unemployment and lack of opportunity, especially in northern Nigeria, are undermining hope and playing into the narratives that extremists use to recruit.
But despite the challenges, the way I see it, Nigeria has incredible potential and opportunity. Its people are strong, resourceful, and resilient. It is blessed with natural resources, ranging from oil and gas to mighty rivers to highly productive agricultural land and people. It produces world-class intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Its music, literature, and Nollywood movies are appealing to an increasingly global audience.
Looking at the years ahead, if Nigeria implements sound policies, it has the potential to regain its role as a strong and effective global player, a leader on the African continent, and an engine of economic growth not just in Nigeria but throughout West Africa, and the continent.
We want to partner with Nigeria – its people and its government – to make that a reality, and we want to work with Nigeria on issues of global importance such as climate change, nuclear security, sustainable development, strengthening collaboration on global health priorities, and countering violent extremism.
While acknowledging the challenges ahead, I want to recognize what Nigeria accomplished last year. The election last spring was an historic moment for the country, the rest of the continent, and the world. The smooth transition from President Jonathan to President Buhari served as a model for Africa.
Why was the election such a success? Because the people of Nigeria were determined to get out and vote, because they were determined that their ballots be counted, because the electoral commission did an outstanding job, and because the candidates respected the results. Going forward, the world now looks to Nigeria as a powerful model and an exporter of democratic ideals.
In the aftermath of the election, Nigerians have newfound optimism and an opportunity to set their country on a path to capitalize on its nearly unlimited potential. The election was a first and major step toward Nigeria fundamentally altering its course – and the country today stands at a crossroads.
This is a moment we must work together to seize. President Buhari, who spoke here at USIP last summer following his election, enjoys the support of a majority of Nigerians and widespread international goodwill. This provides him the opportunity to push through key reforms. We fully support an ambitious reform agenda and will continue to do all we can to help Nigeria succeed.
President Buhari’s trip to Washington and meeting with President Obama and Secretary Kerry last July was an important moment and a boost to bilateral relations. We are very excited about hosting President Buhari again at the Nuclear Security Summit on Thursday and Friday and hosting Foreign Minister Onyeama and many of his colleagues for the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission on Wednesday.
Let me repeat, because a good message is worth repeating: Everybody wants to see Nigeria succeed. And our goals within the U.S. government are to do everything we can to partner with Nigeria for success. Those include three primary goals that align closely with President Buhari’s objectives: fighting corruption, creating jobs and opportunity, and defeating Boko Haram. Let me share some of the details on our collaboration with Nigeria in these areas.
First, we are very encouraged that President Buhari has staked out a strong position on combatting corruption. As President Obama said when he addressed the African Union in Ethiopia last year, “Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption.” And as President Buhari has said, corruption is the “biggest monster of all” threatening Nigeria.
President Buhari was elected on an anti-corruption platform, and already he is following through on some key promises: he and his vice president have declared their assets, and he has made clear that no one will be immune from prosecution – not officials from past administrations, not officials from his own. The government has also implemented a Treasury Single Account for improved management and transparency of the government’s finances, and has started to eliminate ghost workers bloating civil service payrolls.
U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria are complementing efforts like these and focusing on capacity building assistance to civil society watchdogs, journalists, law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary. These efforts will help prevent new corruption; expose, investigate, and prosecute acts of corruption; and will trace and to the extent possible recover plundered assets.
We are also supporting efforts by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the judiciary to investigate and prosecute complex corruption cases. We have engaged religious communities, who are a very powerful force in Nigeria, to join in the fight against corruption. Corruption will be fought not just through technical assistance, but through widespread social change.
We hope to see Nigeria join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Partnership on Illicit Finance (PIF) to further these anti-corruption efforts and join the growing global community that is using OGP and PIF to strengthen transparency, accountability, and good governance to deliver better government to citizens.
If Nigeria continues to build upon these initial anti-corruption steps, it has real potential to set a powerful example for the rest of the continent and the world. We all know how Nigeria’s image is sometimes closely associated with corruption, but imagine if Nigeria becomes synonymous with a vigorous fight against corruption – if Nigeria is able to tackle corruption, that would get global attention.
And within Nigeria, progress in combatting corruption will have huge benefits, including helping to ensure badly needed resources can flow to prosecuting the fight against Boko Haram, demonstrating a commitment to transparency and accountability, stimulating the economy, and improving Nigeria’s international appeal as an investment destination. It will concretely impact the daily lives of average Nigerian citizens.
More broadly, we are providing support for Nigeria to build strong, citizens’-rights-focused government institutions both in Abuja and at the subnational level. USAID is building capacity in key government agencies to strengthen fiscal responsibilities and improve transparency.
And Nigerian civil society organizations are becoming a force for democracy. We are working with these organizations, who are a critical arm of democracy, to strengthen their ability to engage with the government on issues of fiscal accountability, budget monitoring and transparency.
Civil society organizations are reviewing government expenditures and holding workshops on public information disclosure for government ministries. In a particularly positive example, an NGO’s efforts to set up an anonymous public tip line was adopted by the Nigerian police, and now the NGO and police are working together to ensure that the line is effective.
This support for strong government institutions and a powerful civil society is fundamental to achieving all of our goals in Nigeria — because as President Obama has said, “Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong institutions.” So our work together is not just about fighting corruption. It is about supporting Nigerian efforts to improve governance and service delivery at all levels of government by strengthening government institutions.
Fighting corruption is central to our efforts on a second shared goal: strengthening the Nigerian economy to support a dynamic private sector that can provide jobs for the Nigerian people. Fighting graft is critical to achieving this goal, but on its own it is not enough. Nigeria also needs sound macroeconomic policies and a clear commitment to private sector-led economic growth.
A very good place to start is Nigeria’s underdeveloped and low-yielding power and energy sectors. Here, Nigeria has already begun ambitious reforms, and it is important that those reforms succeed. A turnaround in the power sector is crucial for unlocking economic growth and creating jobs.
President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is playing a critical role in supporting Nigeria’s efforts to improve power supply, including by supporting efforts to increase the financial viability of Nigeria’s distribution companies, supporting the rehabilitation and expansion of Nigeria’s transmission infrastructure, and helping to unlock Nigeria’s electricity generation capacity.
Through Power Africa we are also supporting Nigeria’s ongoing efforts to liberalize and privatize its power sector and expand opportunities for private sector-led investment in converting natural gas to power and renewable energy and energy efficient technology.
Given ongoing grid generation and distribution constraints, Power Africa is also focusing on expanding electricity connections through off-grid energy solutions. While getting large-scale projects right is so important, small, off-grid projects that can easily be brought to scale are necessary, too.
In partnership with General Electric, for example, the U.S. African Development Foundation and USAID, Power Africa has awarded six $100,000 grants to entrepreneurs for innovative, off-grid energy projects in Nigeria.
In addition to power, countrywide connection to phone service and the Internet is essential for Nigeria’s economic success, and this is another one of our important areas of support to Nigeria. We have assisted the Nigerian government in the planning and implementation of investments in telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas, and we’re looking to continue this support.
Building on these initial successes, there are areas in which we stand ready to partner with Nigeria to help the government advance important goals, including increasing non-oil revenue, investing in road infrastructure, and further diversifying the economy.
To lay the groundwork for progress in all these areas, it is essential that Nigeria take steps to implement macroeconomic policies that benefit all Nigerians and create incentives for investment, including a level playing field for small and medium-size enterprises.
Right now, the difference between the official and the parallel exchange rates leads to higher inflation, and presents opportunities for rent-seeking and a misallocation of resources.
Also, capital controls that limit access to foreign exchange reward insiders and undermine the stated goal of trying to increase domestic production because – Nigerian and expat investors alike tell us – many businesses are unable to obtain capital to purchase badly-needed intermediate goods.
An overly rigid exchange rate, capital controls, and import bans benefit insiders, and could undermine the key economic pillars of the Buhari Administration, namely, the fight against corruption and the need to expand growth.
Improving Nigeria’s education system is also central to improving labor productivity, to economic development and to creating opportunities. USAID is working in Nigeria to improve the quality of teaching and learning, increase equitable access to education, and integrate peace building and safety into school communities. Our efforts to promote girls’ education and women’s entrepreneurship are key – when women are empowered, they empower their families, communities, and their country.
President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative is also having a major impact in Nigeria and throughout the continent. We have doubled the number of YALI Fellows this year to 1,000, with 100 from Nigeria, up from 40 last year. As we combed through the thousands of applications, we marveled at the high quality of Nigerian applicants – so many talented and enthusiastic young people poised to make a difference.
Let me quickly share a story about a YALI Fellow named Temitayo Etomi from Nigeria, who attended a business and entrepreneurship institute at Clark Atlanta University in 2014. Temitayo founded a nonprofit network of entrepreneurs and young professionals who are committed to reducing unemployment in Nigeria by at least 25 percent by building the skills of unemployed Nigerians. Upon returning home from the Fellowship, her nonprofit organization has employed and trained more than 100 Nigerians with the aim of creating 1.2 million jobs for Nigerian youth by 2020.
That’s the kind of dedication we need in order to accomplish our goals, and it’s the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity that Nigeria needs. We will continue to work with Nigeria to find new ways in which to tap into that potential to drive the kind of growth that we know Nigeria is capable of.
Effectively and sustainably combatting corruption and creating jobs and opportunity depends greatly on our third central goal of strengthening security throughout the country. Our security cooperation with Nigeria focuses both on the immediate Boko Haram threat and medium-term stabilization objectives. Our security partnership also relies on a mutual understanding that respect for human rights and protection of civilians is critical to winning the battle against Boko Haram.
Boko Haram continues to devastate local communities, and the conflict has created a major humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and beyond its borders. Let me be clear: Nigeria and its regional allies must lead the fight against Boko Haram.
For our part, we are committed to work with Nigeria, its neighbors and other nations of good will to help develop a comprehensive, Nigeria-led strategy to secure a lasting victory.
Through our counter Boko Haram Strategy, we are focused on assisting the efforts of Nigeria and its neighbors in the fight against Boko Haram by helping them weaken Boko Haram’s capacity, financing, and cohesion; counter and prevent the factors that can lead individuals to violent extremism; promote more inclusive and capable local governance to address the underlying drivers of insecurity; and respond to the humanitarian needs of civilians affected by Boko Haram.
We are providing a range of security assistance to Nigeria, and we have stepped up information-sharing efforts. One component of our strategy is providing support to the Multinational Joint Task Force, which includes soldiers from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Benin.
We are providing advisors, intelligence, training, logistical support, and equipment. This is part of a regional approach to a problem that transcends borders.
And as the second anniversary of the Chibok girls’ captivity approaches, we continue to actively support the efforts to locate these girls – none of us has given up on the fight to bring these girls home. We are equally concerned about the thousands of other victims of Boko Haram, which by some measures is the most deadly terrorist organization in the world today.
Through the Security Governance Initiative, which President Obama launched in 2014 with six African partners, including Nigeria, we are exploring ways to enhance the management of security and justice systems so the Government of Nigeria can provide these services, including in the northeast, more efficiently and effectively.
I also think there are important moves Nigeria must make in its efforts to defeat Boko Haram. First, it is critical that the foot soldiers of Boko Haram – especially those who may not have joined willfully – are able to leave the group and eventually be accepted back into their communities. The need for these pathways is one of the key lessons we’ve learned from conflicts across the globe. We are ready to help Nigeria support and encourage such defections and reintegration. This is difficult but necessary work.
Second, people who have been forcibly displaced by Boko Haram must not be asked to return to their homes before those communities are safe and the displaced feel ready to return. Premature returns put IDPs in undue harm and are inconsistent with international norms. This, too, is an area where we look forward to working with Nigerians and the United Nations system.
Third, Nigeria should invest more federal resources to meet the humanitarian needs of the victims of Boko Haram, while developing and implementing a long-term development strategy in collaboration with state governments and local authorities.
We’re optimistic about the commitment Nigeria is showing to improving its security, and we will continue pressing our Nigerian partners to respond to threats responsibly, professionally, and transparently.
While I’ve focused on three specific goals in the U.S.-Nigeria relationship, our cooperation of course runs much, much, deeper.
Take the health sector, for example. We cannot achieve our shared global health goals if we don’t partner with Nigeria. We are very pleased the Buhari administration is committed to picking up more of the costs of our joint health programming.
Since 1994, we have provided $4.2 billion to Nigeria in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care. Nigeria has had some great health accomplishments – the country’s quick and coordinated response to Ebola cases was critical to preventing a potential catastrophe in Lagos and elsewhere.
Similarly, thanks to coordinated efforts by all levels of the Nigerian government, civil society, religious leaders, and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers, Nigeria went from having the majority of the world’s polio cases to being declared polio free.
Many challenges remain, however, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and we will work closely with Nigeria going forward on these and other health-related issues.
Looking ahead, the Bi-National Commission on Wednesday is a fantastic opportunity for senior leaders from the United States and Nigeria to come together in one room to advance all of the priorities I just discussed, as well as those I haven’t had time for.
Let me turn back to that question I asked earlier: What can we do to support a strong, proactive, and prosperous Nigeria?
When I look out at all of you in the audience, I see a diverse group of individuals who can all play a positive role. I see members of the diaspora, who can promote investment and spur development in their communities of origin, as well as urge governments to adopt effective policies. I see academics and individuals from think tanks that can identify creative solutions to problems and advise governments on solutions.
I see folks from the business community who can help create more jobs in Nigeria. I see civil society representatives, who can hold government officials accountable and demand better governance and respect for human rights. And I see members of the media, who can raise awareness of Boko Haram’s despicable attacks, as well as report on Nigeria’s progress. And of course, I see members of the Diplomatic Corps, who represent their governments here in Washington and convey your views to their governments.
Again I’ll go back to opportunity, because I firmly believe that Nigeria has incredible potential for leadership in Africa, and this is a pivotal moment. The opportunity is right there in front of us, so together, let’s redouble our efforts to partner with Nigeria and seize the moment.
Thank you so much.
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