Thank you for your warm welcome, Foreign Minister Onyeama.
It is a pleasure to be here in Nigeria and an honor to lead the U.S. delegation to this year’s U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission.
I am joined by colleagues from the State Department, USAID, the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and our Trade Representative. As the interagency makeup of our delegation makes clear, the U.S.-Nigerian relationship is broad and deep. The United States is committed to expanding our cooperation as we look to the future.
Through this Bi-national Commission, we hope to build on a foundation of cooperation and find new areas of collaboration — that we will further discuss – particularly in the areas of security cooperation; economic growth and development; and democracy and governance.
These three issues – security, development, and governance – are interconnected. We cannot afford to consider them in a vacuum – they each affect the other.
Recently, on the International Day of the Girl, I had the honor of meeting a very impressive 17-year-old Nigerian – Maryam Ahmed – a Girl Champion for the NGO Save the Children.
Maryam was born in Kano State, and she told me how proud she is to be a girl from Northern Nigeria – and in particular, to still be in school when only four percent of girls in that region finish secondary school. Maryam seized the opportunity to invest in her future through education. Today, she is in law school right here in Abuja.
As a fellow lawyer, I was immediately impressed with her positive outlook and her ambition to make Nigeria’s future even brighter.
People like Maryam ensure Nigeria’s prosperity for tomorrow. Broadening access to quality education for more students is a down payment for the community, the nation, and ultimately, the world we all live in.
The role of education takes on outsized importance when one considers that girls who have access to education are less likely to face violence, sexual abuse, child labor, and child marriage.
Maryam understands this, and she is making it her life’s work, as an advocate for the rights and empowerment of girls, including those brutally kidnapped by Boko Haram over three years ago.
Maryam’s story reminds all of us about the destruction Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa have wrought on the Nigerian people – and their disastrous impact on the more than two million displaced people across the region.
An entire generation of boys and girls have had their education, and their futures, disrupted by violence.
But Maryam’s story also reminds us that we must consider security alongside other important issues – like development and good governance – to create growing and sustainable prosperity for the Nigerian people.
As we consider the deadly enemies facing the Nigerian people – including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa – I want to emphasize today that the United States is Nigeria’s partner in this fight. We are committed to helping the Nigerian people provide their own security.
Since the last BNC, we have made tremendous progress.
For example, the A-29 Super Tucano Foreign Military Sales package is one element of our broader security cooperation in support of the modernization of the Nigerian military.
But a military response alone in the Northeast cannot lead to sustained peace.
Nigeria’s success does not just depend on its military effectiveness on the battlefield – it requires improvements to the economy and governance off the battlefield as well. In other words, a comprehensive response is necessary to build a better future in the Northeast.
Nigeria cannot simply restore the Northeast to what it was before the destruction brought about by Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. The Nigerian government, with civic leaders and a wide range of community leaders, must work together to create a durable social, economic, and political infrastructure to support lasting peace and development for decades to come.
That must include transparent and credible investigations of human rights violations and mechanisms to hold those found guilty accountable for their actions. This is essential to deepening the people’s trust of the government, strengthening security efforts in the Northeast, and improving the United States’ ability to partner with Nigeria.
This comprehensive response must also set conditions for the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of the more than two million individuals who have been displaced. We are encouraged by Nigeria’s recent steps to establish a Northeast Development Commission, which could enable many of those displaced by conflict to restart their lives.
The United States wants to continue to partner with you in this critical phase.
Today, I am proud to announce that the United States, through USAID, will contribute an additional $45.5 million to support stabilization and early recovery efforts to help those who have been affected by violence in the Northeast begin to rebuild their lives.
Recently, Nigeria was named a target country in our Feed the Future Initiative — this means that the United States will continue to support food security and nutrition programming in Nigeria including development programming focused on the Northeastern states.
We will continue to partner with Nigeria to help harness the power of agriculture to jumpstart the economy and provide more opportunity.
We recognize that peace, economic growth, and good governance must extend well beyond the Northeast to cultivate prosperity across Nigeria from the Northeast, to the Middle Belt, to the Southeast, and the Niger Delta.
We continue to encourage dialogue and tangible improvements in standards of living – from creating jobs, to protecting the environment, to providing services to fight corruption in the Niger Delta – a region with a major impact on the nation’s economic prosperity.
The U.S. government will continue to support your efforts; however, lasting solutions and a path forward will come from the Nigerian people.
Security is necessary, but it is not sufficient to enable prosperity. Inclusive economic growth and development are essential components for Nigeria to prosper.
Experience has shown that predictable economic policies and a transparent justice system create a positive environment for growth to attract businesses and investment.
Since the last BNC, Nigeria has taken steps to do just that, including through the implementation of a more flexible currency system and the launch of an Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. However, additional progress is needed to reduce protectionist barriers and to ensure a predictable and transparent regulatory environment.
Similar to security, the more Nigeria’s economy grows, the better it is for both Nigerian and American businesses. We want to be partners in your economic success as well.
That is why the U.S. government will soon launch a Commercial and Investment Dialogue. Led by our Department of Commerce, the Dialogue will help to develop stronger business networks between our countries and help frame subsequent discussions under our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, to be led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
As we consider more conversations about growing trade between our countries, we hope to work together to ensure better protection for intellectual property rights – which is just one tangible way to encourage greater trade between Nigeria and the United States.
Another key aspect to our shared prosperity is having the energy resources that are needed to fuel growth. Through the U.S. government’s Power Africa Initiative, we will help the Nigerian government serve the majority of Nigerians who currently lack access to electricity.
I am pleased to announce a $1.3 million project to address the shortage of gas available for gas-fired power plants under the Power Africa Initiative through the Department of State’s Power Sector Program.
The United States looks forward to continuing to partner with Nigeria to support other critical development programs that foster progress in the education and health sectors, including improved service delivery.
Through each of these programs and initiatives, I hope the message is clear: the United States wants to support Nigeria as it continues to find new avenues of economic growth and development.
Finally, in addition to supporting the security and economic growth of Nigeria, the United States recognizes that good governance is necessary to sustain both over the long-term.
The free and fair election in 2015 was a turning point in America’s relationship with Nigeria. Because of that step forward, and our ability to work closely on security, economic, and governance priorities, our partnership with Nigeria continues to deepen.
We encourage Nigeria to build on this momentum as the country heads into several state elections, and then to the 2019 election season. Free, fair, and peaceful 2019 elections – at both the federal and state levels – are fundamental to our continued partnership.
U.S. government assistance has helped the Independent National Electoral Commission develop a four-year strategic plan for the 2019 elections, and has supported civil society to monitor the off-cycle gubernatorial elections, similar to the one just a few days ago in Anambra State. The United States is committed to furthering this technical assistance and support as the Nigerian people build their own capacity in this vibrant democracy.
As President Buhari has said so many times, Nigeria’s future depends on its ability to end the scourge of corruption. Since the last BNC, Nigeria has begun implementation of the 14 ambitious commitments in its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. The U.S. government is supporting civil society organizations in their efforts with national-level implementation, and in helping state governments to create their own Action Plans.
We will continue to work closely with the Government of Nigeria on repatriating stolen assets to the people of Nigeria, and as such, we are pleased to co-host the Global Forum on Asset Recovery in December.
These efforts, of fighting corruption and ensuring free and fair elections, will make the Government of Nigeria more accountable to its people and better equipped to secure its citizens and keep its economy growing. Good governance is essential to sustaining greater stability in the future.
Today we have the opportunity, to look ahead at those areas where we can encourage mutual prosperity for Americans and Nigerians.
As one Nigerian proverb explains: “He who does not look ahead, always remains behind.”
At this Bi-National Commission, we must take that proverb to heart.
We have a tremendous opportunity to grow our cooperation to reach our shared security, development, and governance goals. We are eager to look toward the future with our Nigerian friends, at the tremendous potential of our partnership.