Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects for Advancing Durable Peace

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
U.S. Institute of Peace
Washington, DC

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good morning. Thank you, President Lindborg, for the kind introduction. I am grateful to you and Ambassador Carson for the invitation to participate in this important symposium on Nigeria. It is great to be back at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where each day you bring together key policy makers to engage in open dialogue on today’s most pressing issues.

Our Africa Bureau produces incredible diplomats. We have one in Don Yamamoto here today. It’s a Bureau that really works at what I consider to be the cutting edge of American diplomacy and working in a part of the world that is in a remarkable and profound state of transition and has enormous lessons in terms of peacebuilding, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, building economies, and globalization, which are incredibly important for all of us. Some of us are going to have to relearn these lessons. Our engagement in Africa is a very, very important part of that.

I was here two weeks ago to discuss the burgeoning U.S.-African partnership, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to join you this morning to continue that conversation in the context of Nigeria – one of our most important partners in Africa.

I want to acknowledge the Senior Working Group, a distinguished cohort of Nigerian civic leaders, for your efforts and commitment as peacebuilders. Your work to defuse conflicts over a range of issues from elections to land use inspires us all.

When Nigeria’s northern governors came to this institution in late 2016, the clear consensus was that addressing the war and poverty plaguing northeast Nigeria required robust initiatives for education, reconciliation, and political inclusion. I am pleased the working group here today is bringing together your collective years of experience as spiritual leaders, military commanders, journalists, election officials, human rights advocates, and educators to develop strategies to address these enduring challenges. The United States is proud to be your partner in these vital efforts.

Our Strategic Partnership

The U.S.-Nigeria partnership is rooted in the deep connections between our people. It is also rooted in our shared interests in promoting mutually beneficial trade and investment, combatting the surge of terrorism, and responding to Nigeria’s development and governance challenges.

These priorities are being addressed every day through our robust bilateral partnership. As President Trump underscored during his recent working lunch with African leaders, we cannot have economic prosperity without peace, and we cannot have sustained peace without good governance.

On the economic front, Nigeria stands apart. It is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, and the United States’ second largest bilateral trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria’s vibrant and dynamic economy, full of innovation and entrepreneurship, has driven its economic growth. According to Global Entrepreneurship Watch, 35 percent of Nigerians are involved in some sort of entrepreneurial activity. However, Nigeria could unleash its potential further by pursuing growth through market-based policies, not state-centered ones. A market-based approach that minimizes barriers between buyers and sellers will encourage additional investment and trade, and lighten the regulatory load on its budding entrepreneurs and investors.

A related issue to increased economic growth and investment that should remain front and center is Nigeria’s youth bulge. Nigeria is expected to become the third most-populous country in the world by 2050. It will be essential that we consider the voice of Nigeria’s youth today to ensure their leadership and commitment tomorrow. We support this engagement through the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI, and through the more than ten thousand Nigerian students at institutions of higher learning in the United States.

On the political front, Nigeria is a recognized leader across the continent. Within West Africa, we are grateful for Nigeria’s leadership in the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, and particularly during the political transition in The Gambia in December 2016. We are also grateful for its robust peacekeeping presence on the continent from the DRC to Mali.

Nigeria’s peaceful, transparent elections in March 2015 showed the rest of Africa and the world that a complex, diverse society could conduct peaceful democratic transitions of leadership. Many of you here today played an important role during that period. As the country heads into state elections and the 2019 national elections, the United States is ready and willing to offer our technical assistance, as we have in the past.

On security issues, Nigeria is an important leader and partner in the Lake Chad Basin collaborating with its neighbors to defeat the scourge of Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. The United States supports this and other efforts to bring security and stability to citizens affected by violence. At the United Nations last week, the U.S. government announced $54 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the Lake Chad region, bringing the total to almost $700 million over the past two years. While humanitarian support is an immediate necessity, it cannot be a long-term solution.

My meeting with the Nigerian Foreign Minister last week was a great opportunity to learn more about what else the Nigerian government is trying to accomplish on the security front. It is clear to me that Nigeria is well aware that the fight against terrorism will be won not only by the military’s conduct on the battlefield, but also by its conduct off the field. Nigeria understands that human rights abuses and impunity tarnish its international reputation, undermine the trust of its citizens, impede counterterrorism efforts, and ultimately hinder our ability to fully partner with Nigeria.

A military response alone will not lead to sustained peace in the Northeast. A holistic response is required. One that sets the conditions for the safe return of refugees and displaced persons. One where the Nigerian government works with civic leaders like we have here today to create the social and political infrastructure needed for lasting peace.

So, thank you again for the opportunity to be here this morning and for your dedication and determination to create a more peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.