By Harrison Arubu
The United States has announced an additional 40-million-dollar (N14 billion) aid to Nigeria to address the humanitarian crisis arising from decades of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Secretary of State, Mr Mike Pompeo, who made the announcement in Washington DC on Tuesday, said this was in addition to nearly 350 million dollars (N122.5 billion) in assistance provided by the U.S. last year.
Pompeo spoke during a joint media briefing with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, after the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission (BNC) meeting hosted by the Department of State.
“The foreign minister (Onyeama) and I also discussed today the massive humanitarian crisis that the conflict with Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa and other religious and ethnic violence.
“We know that these issues are hard. We know that they’re complicated.
“But I strongly encouraged the Nigerian government to do more to protect its civilians, including religious communities and the humanitarian organisations seeking to assist them.
“To aid in this effort, I’m pleased to announce today an additional 40 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to Nigeria, adding to the nearly 350 million dollars that we provided last year,’’ he said.
The BNC is a platform for the Nigerian and U.S. governments to expand cooperation and advance shared goals in the areas of trade and investment, development, good governance and security.
Pompeo said the two-day meeting also featured discussions on security cooperation between both countries, especially Nigeria’s “recent purchase’’ of 12 U.S.-made A-29 fighter planes worth 500 million dollars.
The sale of the aircraft, according to him, is in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision of building “a security force with the best training and modern weaponry.”
He said the U.S. would “hold Nigeria to the pledge’’ of ensuring that the country’s military operates with the highest standards of respect for human rights.
On his part, Onyeama described the security challenges facing the country as an existential threat, but was quick to note that they were being addressed with respect for human rights.
“Of course, we are faced with other security issues within Nigeria, and we know that some of them cause disquiet amongst our partners and we are addressing a number of those.
“And in addressing those internal challenges, and especially in the security area, we absolutely make it clear and strive to uphold human rights.
“We have the greatest interest in protecting and respecting the human rights of our population and we do that,’’ he said.
Find below transcript of the briefing:
Secretary Pompeo: Well, good morning, everyone. It’s my pleasure to welcome you, M Minister, and your entire Nigerian delegation to Washington, DC.
The foreign minister and I just completed a very productive conversation on how to continue to strengthen the economic and security ties between our two nations.
This is a real priority for us in the Trump administration in Africa, because Nigeria is Africa’s most populous democracy and its largest economy.
On that note, let me begin and talk about our economic cooperation. Nigeria is already America’s second-largest trading partner in Africa. U.S. companies from Google to Chevron to KPMG invested over a billion dollars in Nigeria in 2018 alone, creating over 18,000 jobs and indirectly supporting 3 million others.
It’s what American companies do. It’s what we do all over the world every day, and they do it in a spirit of transparency and partnerships with the host nations.
The foreign minister and I discussed how we can tighten our trade ties even further, including in infrastructure investment. Embracing free market policies that attract capital – private capital, ensuring consistent enforcement of the law, and doubling down on anti-corruption efforts are the surest way to grow prosperity in Nigeria and all across the region.
And we’re pleased, too, that President Buhari has prioritised that fight against corruption.
In support of that fight, I am announcing today that the United States and Nigeria have signed an agreement to return to the Nigerian people more than $308 million in assets stolen by a former dictator.
Now I’ll turn to our security cooperation, which has also been expanding.
Case in point: Nigeria’s recent $500 million purchase of 12 U.S.-made A-29 aircraft. This supports President Buhari’s recently stated goal of creating “a security force with the best training and modern weaponry.”
He also pledged that those forces “will be held to the highest standards of… respect for human rights.”
The United States will hold Nigeria to that pledge, and we’ll help you achieve it. The United States has already invested in the training of Nigeria’s military on human rights and the Law of Armed Conflict.
Nigeria was one of the first African nations to joint the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. America is now supporting the Nigerian fight against ISIS’s largest global affiliate, ISIS-West Africa – a dangerous threat to both of our countries.
In part due to this terrorism threat, on Friday, President Trump announced the suspension of immigrant visas for Nigerians because Nigeria has room to grow in sharing important national security information. I am optimistic that’s going to happen.
In the proclamation, President Trump highlighted Nigeria’s importance as a strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism and recognised the government’s commitment to improving information sharing with us.
The foreign minister and I also discussed today the massive humanitarian crisis that the conflict with Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa and other religious and ethnic violence.
We know that these issues are hard. We know that they’re complicated. But I strongly encouraged the Nigerian government to do more to protect its civilians, including religious communities and the humanitarian organizations seeking to assist them.
To aid in this effort, I’m pleased to announce today an additional $40 million in humanitarian assistance to Nigeria, adding to the nearly $350 million that we provided last year.
In closing, I want to thank you for being here with me today, for joining us with a big delegation to work to address all of these important opportunities that our two nations have between us.
Foreign Minister Onyeama: Thank you very much, Secretary.
Well, first of all, I’d like to say it’s been a great pleasure to be back in Washington to attend the Binational Commission between the United States and Nigeria.
This commission for us is a very important and valued framework for the cooperation between our two countries. And as the Secretary has said, we came with a large delegation. And of course, this showed the importance that we attach to our bilateral relations between our two countries.
And the themes of our Binational Commission really keys in to the vision of our president, President Muhammadu Buhari. And so for us, it’s extremely important to develop the roadmap of that vision within the framework of our bilateral cooperation.
We – the three thematic areas that we dealt with, which were also mentioned by the Secretary – of course, security. Security for us has become a major issue, an existential threat. But of course, we know that terrorism is a global threat, and we appreciate and value very much the cooperation that we’ve received from the United States Government.
As the Secretary mentioned, there are some fighter planes, A-29 Super Tucanos, that we hope to be able to procure to help us in this fight. But there are other areas – sharing of intelligence with our partners – that the United States has been supporting us in. We appreciate very much that support.
Of course, we are faced with other security issues within Nigeria, and we know that some of them causes disquiet amongst our partners, and we are addressing a number of those. And in addressing those internal challenges, and especially in the security area, we absolutely make it clear and strive to uphold human rights. We have the greatest interest in protecting the – and respecting the human rights of our population, and we do that.
Of course, the other area that we’ve discussed has been democracy and governance. And as the Secretary has mentioned – and we thank again the United States for it – the sums of money that was restituted to Nigeria with the Bailiwick, it’s called, of Jersey and the United States, $321 million, we appreciate the effort in – and steps that have been taken in accessing these stolen funds. And it’s an area that we prioritize in our country because huge resources have been siphoned out of our country.
And of course, in some of these cases it takes a bit longer than we would like to have these funds returned to our country, but we’re working very closely with the United States and we appreciate the support being provided in recovering and repatriating these illicit financial flow funds, and also, of course, as I said, the government of Jersey.
And corruption has been a real scourge for our country, and our president, President Muhammadu Buhari, has made the fight against corruption one of the real key areas and priorities of the government.
And it has not been easy, but it is one that we are determined to win. And it impacts all aspects of our countries, and also recovering stolen funds is another area that we absolutely prioritize.
Then a third area, of course, that we discussed and that is part of the partnership that we have with the United States is on economic development. We went through a recession in our country, and we have had what we would call a mono-economy, where we’ve essentially depended on one commodity, petroleum oil.
And as our president would say, once the price of oil came crashing, our economy went crashing with it. So diversification of our economy has been something that our president has prioritised, and in particular agriculture. And we’re trying to promote foreign direct investment and want much greater investments in our countries.
During the Binational Commission we looked at some of the statistics of the trade between the United States and Nigeria, and for two big countries it’s – it really is just too low. And we honestly believe that there’s just so much more we can and we should be doing together.
Of course, there have been maybe some disincentives. In the past, we have power challenges in our country, infrastructure, and of course, as I mentioned, governance has also been an issue. But working with the United States, we believe that there’s a lot that the U.S. can do in also promoting and encouraging U.S. businesses to come and invest in Nigeria. President Buhari has put in place measures to make Nigeria a more attractive place to invest in. We have an Enabling Business Environment Council that’s been set up under the vice president, and we have sort of striven to move Nigeria up the World Bank rating on ease of doing business.
And we are moving in the right direction, and we feel that we are ready for business and certainly hope that, again, with our partners in the U.S. that we will be able to attract more investment.
We also want to export a lot more, developing our manufacturing and industrial base. And I know, of course, the U.S. market is a very attractive market for us. And you also have the African Growth Opportunities Act. Again, we are very thankful for that mechanism and the facility that allows African countries to have some preferential access to the U.S. market.
And of course, there’s some challenges we face, and one of them is the phytosanitary challenges with regard – for our agricultural products. And we hope to really work with the U.S. to work through that so that we don’t face these market access issues.
And of course, on the way here or just before coming, we were somewhat blindsided with the announcement of the visa restrictions by the U.S. And of course, a lot of people back home in Nigeria understood it and put different interpretations and different spins on it. But it’s essentially very straightforward. It was very gratifying to come here, speaking to U.S. officials and to understand more clearly the reasoning behind this.
And essentially, there are security measures that were taken with regards to passports – electronic passports, lost and stolen passports, data being shared, criminal histories being made available and shared, known terrorists and suspected terrorist information also being made available. And we’ve identified all those requirements and we had actually started working on all of them. And we know – and the U.S. officials have also confirmed – that we have been able to tick most of those boxes.
With regards to lost and stolen passports, we’re putting in place the architecture that will now make that – the information and the data on that immediately available to the U.S. and all the member states, member countries of Interpol. And we hope to have that up and running very soon and no longer going through third parties. And hopefully once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.
But really have to say, Mr. Secretary, that we do appreciate very much and value very much the cooperation between our two countries in very important areas for us. And the Binational Commission, we’ve identified a very clear basis to move that on and progress, and we really look forward to seeing a lot of gains, win-wins, for our two countries.
And last but not the least, to thank you again, Mr. Secretary. We know you’ve just come back from a very long trip. But nevertheless, you’ve taken the time to be here with us and afford us the opportunity to listen very attentively – and very sympathetically, I might say – to the points that we had to make.
And we had a excellent meeting before coming out here, and we’re very, very optimistic that we’ll build on this friendship between our two countries. So thank you very much once again.
Secretary Pompeo: Thank you.
Foreign Minister Onyeama: Thank you.
Secretary Pompeo: Thanks, everybody.