United States – Nigeria Binational Commission – Opening Remarks by U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield (

Greetings,

It is a pleasure to be here with you today and to be back in Nigeria for the third time since becoming Assistant Secretary of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  My frequent trips here are a sign of how much the United States values the friendship and partnership between our two countries.  We admire the Nigerian people and the drive, ambition, and entrepreneurship that you display, which have made your country’s economy the second largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa.  Nigeria has tremendous human potential and natural resources.  These things help make yours one of the most powerful and fastest-growing countries in the world.  The very strong relationship between the United States and Nigeria goes beyond government-to-government relations.  Our people-to-people relations are just as strong.  I look forward to continued trips to increase our dialogue on the many issues of mutual interest.

Nigeria plays a vital role on the world stage.  Yours is a vibrant democracy.  You are once again a member of the UN Security Council, where we enjoy a close working relationship on global security matters.  More than 1.5 million Nigerians live in the United States, and an estimated 31,000 U.S. citizens live in Nigeria.  Nigeria’s voice is important and influential in regional and multilateral fora.  Nigeria has demonstrated strong, principled leadership within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU).  International peace and security benefit from the soldiers you send to represent Nigeria as peace-keepers.  Nigeria is a major energy producer and we are working together to bring electricity and power generation to more Nigerians, including through Power Africa, President Obama’s initiative.   You are a key supplier of oil in the global market and, in 2012, the fifth leading supplier of oil to the United States.  At some $5 billion, Nigeria is the second largest destination for U.S. private investment in Africa.

These are among the reasons why it is so important for us to maintain a strong partnership with the Nigerian government and its people.  The Binational Commission reflects that partnership.  It is a forum in which we can speak frankly to each other and turn common cause into creative thinking and coordinated action.  One of the issues is LGBT rights – where we encourage Nigeria to reconsider a policy of discrimination, and criminalization of this community, which encourages violence.

Today we are convening the Binational Commission Working Group for Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity.  We will be discussing ways we can partner to make Nigeria’s upcoming 2015 elections the most peaceful, free, fair and credible in its history.  We will also exchange ideas on how we can arrest the malignancy of financial corruption that eats away at Nigeria’s democracy and economy.

In the run-up to Nigeria’s 2011 elections, the U.S. and the UK together made an unprecedented commitment to Nigeria’s elections—spending $31.3 million to, among many things, strengthen Nigeria’s electoral management bodies and support civil society observers.  We were proud to support the great electoral success you achieved as a nation and a people.  We continue to invest in support for Nigeria’s elections, through the Independent National Electoral Commission and other election stakeholders to help the Nigerian government, institutions, and people build an even stronger foundation for future elections.

Nigeria’s future is full of promise and opportunity and cannot afford to have elections or general governance slide back in terms of peacefulness, fairness, transparency, or credibility.  No matter how high the political stakes, we are dedicated to the proposition that the 2015 elections will be more transparent, more credible, and less violent than in 2011.  We stand with Nigerians who say loudly that they will not accept crooked tactics, electoral tampering, overly heated rhetoric, vote selling or buying, or violence.  I have heard my Nigerian friends say repeatedly that anyone who engages in such election chicanery should be held accountable.  They are right.  I encourage Nigeria’s National Assembly to pass legislation enacting an Electoral Offences Tribunal—legislation that President Jonathan himself proposed when he was Vice President.  We hope that our continued electoral assistance will give the utmost support to the Nigerian people because they deserve nothing less than elections that reflect their will.

We applaud the Nigerian security services for faithfully executing their complex operational orders on Election Day to ensure the protection of voters and poll workers in the November 16 Anambra State elections.  We have confidence that if the Nigerian police, military, and other security services are allowed to do their jobs as professionally as they did in Anambra, the elections can be held safely in Ekiti and Osun States and, in 2015, at every polling unit in Nigeria, including in the Delta, the Middle Belt, and the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.

Credible elections are the responsibility of every citizen, every voter.  Your right to vote is yours to watch over.  The choice is yours to decide not to sell your vote, not to intimidate others, and not to engage in violence around elections.  Selling your vote will put money in your pocket for only a day, but ultimately, you are selling your future and your children’s future right to freedom and prosperity. You must hold your politicians, your electoral commission, your judiciary, your media, your political parties, your security services, and each other accountable.  You must vote according to your conscience.  Anyone who witnesses fraud must peacefully report it to the INEC and the Nigerian judicial system for resolution.  Nothing justifies violence.  Most importantly, Nigerians should vote.  The ballot is your means to select your leaders and determine your futures.

A government’s legitimacy is not just won at the ballot box.  As we have learned in the United States in our 238-year old democratic experiment, credibility in governance is won every day in the work of elected leaders who deliver services equally to all citizens and refrain from using the trappings of power for personal enrichment.  We look forward over these two days to discussing corruption and how we can assist the Nigerian government in ensuring greater accountability across all sectors.  In fiscal year 2013, we provided $5 million in assistance for activities focused on good governance.  We provided training and mentoring for financial investigators and prosecutors from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and for several other Nigerian anti-corruption agencies.

We will continue to work with the Commission and all other anti-corruption partners.  At the request of your Minister of Petroleum, we sent a delegation in December to discuss oil-bunkering and revenue diversion with members of your government and all levels of society and to hear what Nigeria can do to fight these issues.  Our delegation came up with some ideas of what can be done.  We look forward to sharing them with you.  We are here to work with our partners in the Nigerian government to help find solutions, mindful that the Nigerian people themselves realize it is the job of every Nigerian to fight this battle.  You must know your rights and demand accountability of your government, of each other, and of yourselves.

Throughout these two days, I know that we will significantly further the dialogue between our countries on these issues, and I look forward to the exchange.  But the exchange of views we always look forward to most is that between a people and their government.  All Nigerians, the United States, and countries throughout the world will be watching to see what you, as Nigerians, do with the opportunities set before you.

Thank you.