Secretary Blinken Remarks at the Signing Ceremony for $2.1 Billion Development Assistance Agreement with Nigerian VP Osinbajo and Foreign Min. Onyeama

MR IPAYE:  (In progress) the U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken, Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Honorable Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, Your Excellency the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard, distinguished members of the visiting delegation, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:  It’s my pleasure to welcome you to this engagement between the U.S. Secretary of State and His Excellency the vice president.

This will be a short meeting which will begin with the welcome remarks of the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by the comments of the U.S. Secretary of State.  And then His Excellency the Vice President will make his comments.  This will be followed by photographs on this side of the hall, following which the Honorable Minister and the Secretary of State will move to the table at the center to sign a joint statement while His Excellency the Vice President just stays on to witness that.  I am informed that following the signing we will close the ceremony in here, and then the Secretary of State and the Honorable Minister will go on to address a press conference.

So having said that, may I ask the members of the U.S. delegation to just please quickly introduce themselves.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  Good afternoon.  My name is Molly Phee, and I am the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs.  It’s an honor to be here.

MS BANKS:  Good afternoon, Excellencies.  I’m Dana Banks.  I’m the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council.  A pleasure to be here.

MS GEORGE:  Good afternoon.  Suzy George, chief of staff at the State Department.

MR SULLIVAN:  Good afternoon.  Tom Sullivan, deputy chief of staff at the State Department.

MS FITZGIBBON:  Kathleen FitzGibbon, deputy chief of mission, U.S. Mission Nigeria.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I think you know who I am.  (Laughter.)

MR IPAYE:  You’re welcome.  So we’ll go on then to the first item, which is the welcome remarks of the honorable minister of foreign affairs.  May I request that following the welcome remarks, the press will please leave the hall?  And then after the tete-à-tete between His Excellency and the Secretary of State, you will come back to cover the signing.

Foreign Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER ONYEAMA:  Your Excellency the Vice President; Your Excellency the Secretary of State of the United States; Your Excellency the Honorable Minister of State for Industry, Trade, and Investment; Your Excellency the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria; Your Excellency the assistant secretary of state, and the U.S. delegation here present:  It gives me great pleasure, Your Excellency Secretary, to welcome you once again to Nigeria.

And you have in your personal, and I would say also official capacity, shown your great solidarity with Nigeria.  You’ve been coming here for a number of years, and also when you were the deputy secretary of State, and it’s wonderful for us to have you here again.  You visited not so long ago in a virtual capacity, and so we’re happy to see you here for the first time physically as – in your role as the Secretary of State of the United States.  We just – we would like to thank you for what you have been doing in your new capacity in supporting Nigeria and sharing your friendship and solidarity towards Nigeria.

And Your Excellency, the vice president, the United States has been very supportive in the health area with vaccines for the COVID, and we’re hoping that they might support us to develop capacity – manufacturing capacity for vaccines, helping with technology transfer and intellectual property agreements with the various pharmaceutical companies.

We – they’ve also been very supportive in the security area, provided a Super Tucano aircraft.  We have a slight issue with some attack helicopters, but that’s more on the legislative side and not on the executive side.  And also, trade is increasing, but we are hoping to have increased market access for our agricultural products in the framework of AGOA, the African Growth Opportunities Act mechanism that is in place to help to promote African access to U.S. markets for African countries.

And also, very recently in Glasgow, our president met with President Biden and some other leaders, and we’re discussing cooperation in the area of infrastructure.  And that’s also an area that we’re hoping to get some support from the U.S., as infrastructure is very much a priority for this government.

We’re hoping also, Your Excellency, that – to see some easing of the bottlenecks with regards to visas for Nigerians to the U.S.  We had a mechanism, a drop box mechanism, that was in existence for many, many years, and unfortunately that has now been – we hope it’s suspended and it will be reinstated.  But there are issues there, and we hope that the Secretary would also help to ease the visa challenges that Nigerians wishing to enter the U.S. have.

We appreciate very much the support in the humanitarian area that has been extended to us, especially with internally displaced persons, and – that we have in the northern part of the country.

So the relationship has been extremely good, and very soon there will be a summit the president has been invited for being hosted by the U.S. President on democracy, and – democracies – and of course, we recognize the shared values, the shared similar political and governance systems and shared democracy and hope to engage with them in that.

So with those few words, Secretary, thank you so much, Antony, for taking time off your very, very busy schedule to visit us here.  And Your Excellency has a program also tomorrow where he will be making a big, major statement on U.S. policy with regards to Africa, and he’s chosen Nigeria as the country in which to make this very important statement on U.S. foreign policy.

So thank you very much indeed for coming and thank you for all you are doing to strengthen relations between our two countries.  Thank you.

MR IPAYE:  Thank you very much, Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs.  So gentlemen of the press will please take their leave now temporarily.  We will call you back presently as soon as it’s time for to sign the document.

(Break.)

MR IPAYE:  All right, then.  So we go on to the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken.  Please, go ahead.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you very much, and I don’t want to take too much time other than to say how wonderful it is to be here, to be back in Nigeria.  Mr. Vice President, it’s very good to be with you, and always good to see my friend and colleague Geoffrey, the foreign minister.  You’re right; one of the very first things that I was able to do as Secretary of State was a virtual visit to Nigeria, which we very much appreciated.  But to your point, Geoffrey, nothing is a substitute for being here in person – and as I like to say, if not face to face, at least mask to mask.

And I think you’ve covered the agenda that we have so very well, and it’s really reflective of the fact that the work that our countries are doing together is both incredibly broad in the things that we’re doing, and also increasingly deep, and we welcome that.  We welcome working in ever closer ways, because one of the things that we feel very strongly is that the big challenges all of our citizens face simply can’t be addressed by any one of us acting alone.  There’s a greater premium than there’s ever been on working together, finding ways to cooperate.  We’re all feeling that very strongly when it comes to COVID-19, and we’re grateful for the work we’ve been able to do together on that.

And I think looking to the future, developing capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Africa is going to be critical, especially in dealing with, unfortunately, the next pandemic, because there almost certainly will be one.  We know from the work that we’re doing together on climate that we have to be doing this together, and we very much appreciate what Nigeria has done, including at COP26 and including with regard to dealing with methane emissions.

We know that there is much that we can do together to build our economies back even stronger after the pandemic, and much of that goes to the right kinds of investment in infrastructure, in green economies, in making sure that the investments we’re making together are really a race to the top for our people in terms of the standards that we bring to these projects.  So I know we’ll be spending some time and looking at that.

We very much appreciate as well the security cooperation that we’re developing and making sure that we do it in a comprehensive way that puts our concerns about people first and foremost in what we’re doing.

And there’s much more to be discussed, and again, I don’t want to belabor it because we’ll have an opportunity to talk to our colleagues in the press very shortly and go into in more detail.  But for now, let me simply say to all of our colleagues it’s wonderful to be with you.  We’re so pleased for the hospitality, but especially pleased for the good work that our countries are doing together.  Thank you.

MR IPAYE:  Thank you very much.  Your Excellency.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO:  Thank you very much, Your Excellency Secretary of State, Your Excellency Ambassador, and all our friends and colleagues on the delegation of His Excellency the Secretary of State:  Thank you very much again for making the time to visit.  And again, just as our minister of foreign affairs has said, we are pleased that we are getting this much attention, first virtual and now, to use your expression, mask to mask at least.

And again, just to – with most of what you have said, especially about the importance of the cooperation and the importance of working together, and it’s absolutely – is absolutely critical.  It’s been shown, especially in the response to COVID-19.  And I think that this is probably a providential way of showing just how interconnected the whole world is, and there is no real solution without everyone being protected from this pandemic and the possibility of others.

And I would also like to thank you again through – thank the Government of the U.S. for the cooperation on security, which has been very important to us.  The Super Tucanos have been delivered, and of course, we’re looking forward to the helicopters as well.  But also, I think more importantly, a lot of the infrastructure support and the intelligence support that we’ve gotten from the U.S. on the security issues in the northeast and the Sahel, because the challenges continue to – they seem to increase, especially the Sahel today, and most of what we are seeing in the Lake Chad region with ISWAP and all of that.

And I think that going forward, we of course, as we talked about, we are looking forward to greater collaboration, greater cooperation, because the challenge of terrorism, especially of the sort we have seen with ISWAP and Boko Haram and ISIS is that it can – itwill fester, and it can really take on the kinds of dimensions that may – that may be – may turn out to be much more grave than we ever thought.  So I think that we need to do – the working together, again, a lot in that particular respect.

Climate change and climate action, again, to your point, absolutely important.  Again, collaboration is the key.  And of course, some of the concerns that we had our president –  President Buhari had mentioned at COP26, especially around the whole issue of gas as a transition fuel given the fact that some countries, especially developing countries, are fossil fuel-rich, and no industrialized nation has yet been able to prove that it was able to industrialize using renewable energy alone.  And so if developing countries are called upon to rely on renewable energy, especially for industrialization, obviously that will be calling for a sea change in the way that this has been done and historically shown to be possible.

So we expect that – and this point has been made – that there will be – for adaptation and mitigation measures  –  there will be the kind of support that have been promised since Paris, and I think that we should really look at how to ensure that there is – public investment goes on, especially for gas, because really it remains the way by which we can improve access to electricity, which is a problem that developing countries have – that whole question of access.  I mean, and again, it’s so closely tied to poverty and extreme poverty and all of that.  So we think that these are issues that, again, working collaboratively, we can really solve.

Again, to just say that we’re very pleased with the work that USAID has done in Nigeria, and I mentioned earlier that this is work that they have somehow mastered the way of being able to ensure that there is a bottom-up approach, there is participation of those who will be beneficiaries in developing the programs, which has been very helpful indeed.  And I think that accounts for a lot of the success that we are seeing in a good number of those programs, so we really would want to thank the USAID for that and to thank you also.

So just to say welcome again to Nigeria, and we hope to see you very soon again.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Maybe really face to face.  (Laughter.)

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO:  Yes, face to face this time.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

MR IPAYE:  Thank you very much, Your Excellency.  Recently – that is, on the 31st of August 2021 – the 2021-2026 Development Objectives Assistance Agreement was executed between the United States, acting through the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  A joint statement has been prepared as a means of making formal communication of the agreement and will be executed by the Secretary of State and the honorable minister of foreign affairs.  But before the move to the center to execute it, we just have photographs from this side of the hall, and then they will go to the center.  Thank you.

His Excellency – first will be Secretary of State.  Honorable minister of foreign affairs will join and his excellency the ambassador.  Thank you very much.

So the foreign minister and the Secretary of State will proceed to endorse the agreement, the joint statement.

(The agreement was signed.)

Your Excellency, that brings this session to a close.