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Inauguration of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission: Perspectives on Mutual Cooperation

FPC Briefing
Robin Renee Sanders
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
Adebowale Ibibapo Adefuye, Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S.
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 7, 2010


Date: 04/07/2010 Location: Washington, DC. Description: Robin Renee Sanders, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Adebowale Ibibapo Adefuye, Nigerian Ambassador to U.S. briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on the "Inauguration of the U.S. - Nigeria Binational Commission" - State Dept Image

Video

11:30 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, we have two ambassadors, which is wonderful. We have U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Robin Sanders and Nigerian Ambassador to the United States Mr. Adebowale Adefuye. They will be speaking about the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission.

So with no more to say, Ambassador Sanders, please.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: Thank you. Good morning. Welcome. It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning at the Foreign Press Center, and also to be here this morning with my colleague, Ambassador Adefuye. I was very happy to understand and hear today that he would be here participating in this press conference to talk about the Nigeria-U.S. Binational Commission.

Yesterday, as many of you know, Secretary Clinton and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria made history by launching the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission. This commission represents the valued and strategic relationship between our two great countries. I am confident that the work we do together in the commission will strengthen and deepen the partnership between the United States and Nigeria.

What will the commission do? There are a couple of strategic things I want to highlight this morning. First, the commission will address a range of issues of mutual concern to our two nations. It will serve as a forum to strengthen the democratic institutions necessary to hold free and fair elections in Nigeria in 2011, contribute to Nigeria’s energy insufficiencies and food security, and help with development in the Niger Delta. This new vehicle for cooperation grew out of a discussion that the Secretary of State had in Nigeria when she was there in August of last year.

To be more specific, the framework of the Binational Commission will include four joint working groups, and they are the following. The first working group, called Governance, Transparency, and Integrity, will focus on essential areas of building democracy and prosperity in Nigeria. All over the world, we have seen that sustainable economic development depends on responsibility of the governments that are speaking on behalf of their people. Bear in mind that the commission will focus on electoral reform and election preparations in order to achieve fair, free, and peaceful elections in 2011. And we will also support Nigeria’s efforts to strengthen its democracy, civil society, and fight corruption.

The commission will promote regional cooperation and also encourage development in key areas, particularly in the Niger Delta. Part of the cooperation will be to broaden collaboration on security and counterterrorism, and also to work on energy and investment.

The fourth group, which we are calling the Agriculture and Trade Policy Working Group, will help Nigeria support its people by ensuring that it has enough food security and agricultural development to do that.

These four areas that we’ve talked about this morning are mutually reinforcing, and it is especially important to highlight that the key goal is transparency in government and accountability in government. These working groups will meet in both countries. They will rotate with the first working group meeting in Nigeria sometime in the near future.

So I’ll stop there and turn it over to my colleague, but I want to close by saying that the Binational Commission underscores not only the strategic relationship, but really the friendship and the mutual shared values between the United States and Nigeria. And now, I’ll turn it over to my colleague and my counterpart, the new ambassador to the United States from Nigeria, Ambassador Adefuye. Please. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Thank you, Robin. Good morning, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It’s my pleasure and privilege to be able to address this audience within two weeks of my assumption of duty in United States of America. I am glad to be able to do this. I consider myself lucky to be a part of this event. I am also, in a sense, of the recent – recent events in (inaudible) of the United States of America.

I have no need to repeat all that Robin has said; suffice to say that I really want to support our declaration that the signing of the agreement yesterday is taking the relationship between Nigeria and the U.S. up to a very high strategic level. The four areas which will be addressed by the commission constitute the topics on issues that really agitate the minds of Nigerians and issues on which Nigerians – we want full, consistent, full-course and determined action.

I also want to state that these issues that have been picked by the Binational Commission are issues that are contained in the unoccupied, important places in Nigeria’s Vision 2020 in our drive to become one of the 20 most industrialized and advanced nations in the world by 2020. And these are – they are important elements.

I want to say that our Vision 2020 made provisions for substantial contribution from the international community, and this – endorsing this by signing BNC agreement, United States Government has demonstrated its genuine concern with aspirations of Nigerians at every level, both in the public and the private sector. And by the time fellow Nigerians will realize that, by the time we implement all these four objectives, if all these working groups could work successfully to achieve the objective, we will be well on our way in Nigeria towards building a Nigeria of our image, a Nigeria in which our children and our grandchildren will be very, very proud in the future.

We are leading a solid foundation for consistent, for sustainable development of our country, for political stability in our country, and for peace and tranquility not only in our country, but also in western (inaudible) and Africa subregion.

I also want to stress the fact that on all of these issues, there are in existence programs in Nigeria that are working, programs of progress that are working to achieve these objectives. But coming in the importance about the BNC signed – BNC agreement signed yesterday is that it’s taking the level of cooperation and showing a special interest with United States Government, as demonstrated in the security, stability, and progress of Nigeria to a level we have never seen before.

So on these, I am sure I have the support of the Nigerians present here and those who are not here to thank the United States Government, to thank Mrs. Clinton for what she did when she came visiting in August, and to thank Robin Sanders for having made tremendous impact in assuring that the event of yesterday came to light. A very (inaudible) government and people of United States of America, we are joined partners in the search for global peace and security.

We are proud in Nigeria of our contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts. We are proud of the fact that we are the largest black nation in the world, and the next place where you can find the next largest black community in the world is United States of America. So this is what we say by saying that this feels like natural, much more than those that divide us, and we are natural partners in the search for global peace and security.

And for this, we are determined on our own parts in Nigeria to ensure that the aims and objectives of BNC are realized in policy formulation which are clear, concise, and precise, in implementation which shall be persistent, which shall be consistent. We are determined to set the path on for a new Nigeria, and with the support of our friends in the international community, starting with the United States of America, we shall succeed.

God bless Nigeria. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Can I invite you to please join the podium? Thank you. We will open the floor to questions, please. Yes, Adam.

QUESTION: Madam, welcome back to Washington.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: So, Ambassador, welcome to Washington. Yeah, my name is Adam Ouologuem, I’m from Mali. You were talking about peace and that make me think of Jos in Nigeria. If you are willing to make peace in Africa and all over the world, can you do your best to make peace between brothers, mostly meant Christian and Jos? And what’s the President Yar’adua’s stature? Because if you were – got to remove the president, Acting President Jonathan did yesterday it’s – there is something, you know, saying that Yar’adua might not be, you know, coming back before the next year election. I need your input.

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Well, thank you very much. First, on Jos, the problem with Jos is neither ethnic or religious. We want to think that it has to do more with poverty, with the – in our (inaudible) of infrastructures, and problems of, generally, standard of living. Although people have started to read ethnicity and religious bias into it, no other elements of that in it. But I won’t say that that’s the whole purpose of it.

It’s part of the problems of development and every country has challenges. Trying to build a strong nation out of a multiplicity of people of diverse origin always has a problem. But I want to assure that Jos have been there for a long time ago and there are very many communities in all parts of Nigeria where people of diverse origin live and work together in peace. So, even if it’s a problem in Jos it doesn’t mean that we are failed as a nation. We are trying to address the problems, but then I’m sure we’ll succeed.

And what – the second question on what acting president did yesterday, it was a new cabinet, and you know the story of what happened and why that had to come to pass. And I think, as acting president, he had a full pass to choose the team to work with him to enable him to achieve his objectives. That’s what he has just done. We have been able to combine efficiency and performance history and competence with the need to ensure the stability of our country. The cabinet, as you can see, consists of people all over the country, represented by people of diverse origin, people of different state, different (inaudible), people of different religious background. And yet, people who are very competent are made in part in their own chosen profession. And I think with this, we are well on the route to having a very good country.

Thank you.

QUESTION: And is the president coming back sometime before the election?

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Well, I wouldn’t want to play God. I wouldn’t want to play God. If, by the grace of God, he gets well and is in a position to assume – to resume his duty, so be it.

QUESTION: Then is the acting president going to be candidate to the next election?

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: When we get to the river, we’ll cross – we know how to cross it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador.

MODERATOR: Yes, please. Can you wait for the microphone? Thank you.

QUESTION: My question is for Ambassador Sanders. I’m Peter Onwubuariri from the News Agency of Nigeria. You rightly said that under the Binational Commission agreement, the first working group will be a working group on good governance in lead of the general elections in the country sometime in the next year. And we will want to find out what is the new strategy now, what kind of new strategy would this commission involve in the light of recent statements by Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson calling for the sack of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria. One will be tempted to ask whether that sack is part of the new strategy to bring about electoral reforms and free and fair elections in the country. What is the position of the United States Government on that? And I’m really concerned about the new strategy, because I know that Nigeria has not (inaudible) various people and programs to run effective elections in the country.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: Clearly, the United States has been underscoring this viewpoint for quite some time that the Independent National Electoral Commission, we don’t feel is led in a way that can produce clear, credible elections in 2011. And we’d like to see an INEC, as you call it, that has a clear, dedicated leadership to ensure that you have transparent elections in 2011. We stated that position for over the last couple of years. It’s not new.

And so we will be working with Nigeria under the new Governance, Transparency, and Integrity working group to look at ways to shore up the election process to be supportive of clear changes that are going to work towards having credible elections in 2011. And that includes a number of things. It needs better leadership in INEC. It includes having a transparent voter registry. These are all things that Nigerians are saying as well; it’s not just us. Your international partners are making the same comments.

Certainly, if you look at the Anambra elections as an example, you can see the challenges that are still there to have credible elections. I think that what happened in Anambra show that the people’s will did prevail, but you saw challenges in the leadership of INEC there, you saw logistical challenges, you saw challenges in the voter registry. And if you can have that on a small scale and you multiply it by your other 35 states, then you have some real issues that have to be addressed so that you have a credible election that has good logistics, voter transparency, and a stronger leadership in INEC.

MODERATOR: Yes. David, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is John Layton from African Number 1 Radio. I have one question for the Ambassador Sanders. I know that the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission (inaudible) some – feel like corruption, lack of governance. I would like to know if – what you are going to do to solve the problem – to help Nigeria solve the problem of the Niger Delta – of Delta. Thanks.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: One of the key working groups is called the Niger Delta and Regional Security, and part of that strategic dialogue will be looking at a range of issues; not just within the Niger Delta, but certainly the Gulf of Guinea that is shared with Nigeria. I think that if you look at some of the current efforts there, certainly we want to underscore the importance of the amnesty that’s in place right now, even though we see some challenges to that amnesty that I know that the acting president is working on.

But the actual working group will look at several things. It will look at security, it will look at development, and it really will look at rehabilitation and reintegration. Because you need all of those elements in order to have a stable and secure and peaceful and enabling environment so that the people of the Niger Delta can not only benefit from the resources there, but also move forward and having an environment that is prosperous for them and their families. And so there will be a lot of discussion about how we can support some of the efforts that Nigeria’s already taken through the amnesty program and through some of the plans they’ve already discussed for rehabilitation and reintegration. It’ll also look at stepping up our own development assistance that we are doing in the delta already.

I know we don’t talk a lot about some of the development programs that we are doing in the delta, but we have agricultural development programs, we have health programs, we have a range of things that we will look at shoring up even more. A lot of that has to do with how we work together with the Nigerian Government to ensure that you have actual reintegration of some of the ex-militants that need training, that want to be educated, that want to have a new life for themselves and their families. So we’ll be looking at all of those issues in a more holistic, global fashion under the Binational Commission.

MODERATOR: Yes, please, here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, I’m Tokunbo Adedoja I write for THIS DAY newspaper. My first question goes to Ambassador Adefuye. The BNC – that is, the Nigerian-U.S. Binational Commission – one of the focal points is the fight against corruption. I want to know, in specific terms, what kind of assistance we are expecting – Nigeria is expecting from the U.S.? Is it in terms of capacity-building for the anticorruption agencies? Is it in terms of funding? Is it in terms of sharing information?

Then the second question goes to Ambassador Sanders.

MODERATOR: Why don’t we have the first question answered --

QUESTION: Okay.

MODERATOR: -- and then we go to the second question.

QUESTION: Okay.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Well, like I said early on, virtually all these items under the BNC are issues in which Nigerians are very much interested and we, the Nigerian Government, have been taking action. What we’re going to have with the BNC is an intensity of action on these issues, spinning them or fast-tracking them to achieve the desired results.

On the issue of corruption, yes, the emphasis is there. And there have been complaints by the international community since the change of leadership there that there’s a slow dynamics in activities (inaudible). I overheard the chairperson complaining that the structures – the structured institution, the facilities he has, equipments he has, the people who he have, they are not – he doesn’t have – she doesn’t have the best materials to work with.

So what we intend to do with the BNC – under the BNC, first is to mention all those things you mentioned. First, (inaudible), more better – a commission of better techniques and information gathering, and more – sometimes a review of these laws has to enhance effectiveness. And sometimes we expect from them some suggestions in terms of the concern of the country. As such, we has to make (inaudible) more effective.

So these are issues we would – these are issues we expect the BNC to do. The (inaudible) has been trying its best fighting corruption, but then we think they can do more. But with exposure to BNC, we think that the opportunity for improvement in its performance, a better performance will result. Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. Ambassador Sanders, we have a particular case of corruption involving some Americans and Nigerians; that is the Halliburton case. I know that the United States has gotten judicial pronouncement in respect of those involved here. And I know that Nigerian authorities said that they are not getting the necessary cooperation in terms of getting the names and necessary information that would allow them to unmask those involved in Nigeria and to ensure their prosecution. With this Binational Commission that has just been put in place, are we expecting better cooperation in respect of that case?

Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: Well, first of all, let me address the question of not having cooperation, because that aspect is actually incorrect. We have been cooperating fully with Nigerian authorities on all of those cases and I’ve been asked that question several times. And quite frankly, the Nigerian Government past ministers have that information and they have enough information to act on their own as there are other countries that are involved, and they have the same degree of access to those countries as we do. So really that information has been with the Nigerian Government for quite some time and with the previous ministers that have held that ministerial position, and so that information is there and is there for you to act on as your laws and your nation sees fit.

Certainly, globally, to answer the question on corruption, part of the global – the Governance, Transparency, and Integrity working group will focus on corruption not only in terms of technical assistance and dialogue, but certainly on capacity-building. You may be unaware of the things that we’re already doing and we look to expand those programs. We have a number of training programs that happen almost quarterly in Nigeria that pulls together all of the law enforcement entities in Nigeria for various training aspects, whether it’s on money laundering, whether it’s on suspicious transaction reports, whether it’s on how you handle forensic information and evidence. So we’ve been doing those programs for at least as long as I’ve been chief of mission there and we have continued those and we look to enhance those programs and also address other areas of technical assistance and needs that come up within the context of the Governance, Transparency, and Integrity working group – which I like to just call GTI. In terms of the GTI working group, we look to enhance all of those things and also have dialogues on other areas of cooperation in the anti-corruption area.

I’d like to take the opportunity really to talk about the banking reform and that we’re hoping that Nigeria still moves forward on the banking reforms that are there because they are part of your corruption framework or part of your anti-corruption framework. And certainly those individuals who took advantage of shareholders within the context of their positions, we hope that those individuals move forward to the rule of law process in Nigeria as part of your signal and commitment to anti-corruption efforts.

MODERATOR: Yes. Frederick, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Frederick Nnoma-Addison, AMIP News, and my question will go to Ambassador Adefuye.

African countries here in the States have very challenging reputations in the media. Oftentimes, it’s a mischaracterization, misrepresentation. And it is true that there are challenges back on the continent. Now, Nigeria has a very unique position. It’s the worst – unfortunately, you know, things like the 419 Niger Delta issues, and more recently, the attempted airplane bombing. African embassies in Washington tend to downplay the significance or the importance of holistic media campaigns here, and oftentimes the result is – the reason is money. We don’t have money to do that. As a new ambassador, I’m wondering if you have any plans, any thoughts of presenting a more holistic Nigeria to the American people, especially in light of some of the things that have taken place more recently. Thanks.

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Well, I will answer that question – there are two parts to that question. First, we know the African countries have a bad – very bad – some – not too positive media image here. Fine. But within that, part of that could be not very justifiable. Sometimes there’s too much exaggeration and – I mean, every country has its own challenges. Every nation has its own challenges. And you see those challenges manifesting themselves without (inaudible) abroad. And the law enforcement agencies all over the world, they have their own individual preferences and individual takes.

But then with respect to Nigeria, Nigeria is to Africa just as Jamaica is to the Caribbean and England is to Europe, which means that when an African commits an offense, what first suggests itself to any foreigner to – harassing them is to think that they are Nigerians when sometimes they are not. There have been cases of people of African origin – of some different African origins who are arrested and they are immediately described as Nigerians.

For the only two weeks that I’ve spent here, I’ve seen cases of people being arrested, and the immigration department sends notices to all of us in the mission that a national of your country has been arrested, and those names are clearly not Nigerian. So that’s understandable.

One out of every five African is a Nigerian. (Inaudible) people of the same ethnicity as I am – I am Benin – some (inaudible), some Fulanis are in Nigeria and are charged. You have some Ibos in Cameroon. So there are cases in which people are arrested and are mistaken to be Nigerians when they are not Nigerians. It’s easy for them to get through. So that’s part of the problem, and here, we must make a distinction between defending Africa and defending my own country of Nigeria. Fine. Where I take – that’s – we have not been apologetic on that, and I’m not making that a defense in this case.

I mean, every country has its own bad eggs and the country with 150 million people – a total number – if we take Nigeria and the rest of West Africa population combined, multiply it by two, they’re not even up to Nigeria. So you must allow us our own percentage of miscreants compared to others, so – but that doesn’t make – that doesn’t mean that that’s an excuse. But the point that I’m making is that quite oftentimes, people who are not Nigerians are classified as Nigerians. And the first impression of what people have when they are arrested in Africa is to think they are Nigerians. It happens to Jamaicans in the Caribbean. I was ambassador in Jamaica and I saw that. And I lived in England for 10 years and I know what happens.

So – but about the media, yes, the excuse is that we don’t have the funds. But I must – let me tell you that I am determined to make – to redeem Nigeria’s image, to restore our image. We are good people of a great nation. If the funds – if funds – that is the thing that’s hampering us, we shall look for the funding. The government we have now is determined to present a good image of Nigeria because we are good people. We are certainly good people. We are not terrorists.

What happened on December 25 is totally unbecoming of a Nigerian. It was (inaudible) to U.S. We’ve been there a long time ago. We differ on issues. We argue among ourselves. But at the same time, we love life. So that’s not typical of a Nigerian. And so we are determined to showcase the good aspects of our country and we have a government that is responsive – and responsible. We have made the case for effective financing of the many activities. And we’ll get there. And with the support of fellow Africans, we’ll be able to create a good image for Nigeria and for Africa. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SANDERS: Can I just add to that as a visitor to Nigeria over the last almost two and a half years? Certainly, in all of my travels and on the continent, I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Ambassador Adefuye and, in fact, I get asked that a lot, “How is it in Nigeria? We’re reading about Nigeria.” I get lots of questions like that and I say that Nigeria and Nigerians are certainly the most creative, dynamic, innovative, energetic, committed individuals I have ever met in my life and I’m proud to serve there not only for my country, but I’m proud to serve in such a dynamic environment. And it’s – you have 150 million people and, of course, you’re always going to have your share of challenges in terms of that issue.

But really, it’s up to ever single Nigerian that is not part of the part bad eggs, as he said, to really make sure that people know your country and know who you are because you have so much to offer the world and you’re already offering the world so much. And I’m proud to have gotten to know Nigerians and Nigerians in such an in depth way. And it’s a very personal experience, because I’ve traveled through all 36 of your states. I know Nigeria very well. I feel that I do. I’ve been in the villages and in the big cities. And what I see there and the resilience, I think, I would add, is one of the most endearing qualities that I’ve experienced in my time there as ambassador.

MODERATOR: That’s wonderful. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for being here today.

AMBASSADOR ADEFUYE: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you to our ambassadors.