Calling Nigeria “one of our most important strategic partners,” senior U.S. officials met with Nigeria’s foreign minister, Olegbenga Ashiru, and other Nigerian officials June 4-5 for the seventh gathering of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission (BNC).
The meeting was dedicated to evaluating past cooperative efforts and ideas for future coordination by the BNC’s working groups in governance, regional security, energy and agriculture.
Launched in April 2010, the BNC encourages greater U.S.-Nigerian cooperation through working groups that focus on areas of mutual interest.
After the talks, the United States said it planned to work with the Nigerian Army to help it combat the threat of the Islamist group Boko Haram, but Washington has still not decided whether to put the group on a blacklist of terrorist organizations. “This is an issue of ongoing internal deliberations within the United States government,” assistant secretary of African affairs Johnnie Carson said.
Carson said US experience in conflict areas could help Nigeria. “We have some degree of knowledge of experience or expertise as a result of the concerns that we have faced over the past decade in both Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with symmetrical warfare, dealing with IEDs, dealing with assassination, dealing with urban conflict and dealing with groups that have broken down into small cells,” he said. “And we are prepared to share with the government some of the lessons that we have learned in our own experience.”
At the June 4-5 meeting in Washington, the Governance, Transparency and Integrity Working Group identified electoral reforms and strategies to improve electoral procedure in preparation for the 2015 national elections as issues, as well as strategies to improve the Nigerian public’s confidence in anti-corruption measures. In his opening remarks, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns recognized the working group’s success in promoting the transparency of the 2011 Nigerian presidential election.
The United States contributed to a US$31.3 million election assistance program for the Nigerian government and the Independent National Electoral Commission, resulting in an election that was widely considered free and fair.
“The United States is invested in Nigeria’s success because Nigeria’s challenges are Africa’s challenges,” Burns said. “And if we can help Nigeria chart a secure, prosperous and democratic course, then Nigeria’s successes can be Africa’s as well.”
Nigeria is also the United States’ largest sub-Saharan trading partner.
The Regional Security Working Group reviewed reports of extra-legal activity by Nigerian security forces, considered ways to inform the public of governmental efforts to prevent violent extremism, and affirmed the continuation of cooperative efforts to improve Nigerian military and police units. Methods for the attraction of private investment and the distribution of the benefits from Nigeria’s natural wealth to its people were the focus of discussion by the Energy and Investment Working Group, while the Agriculture and Food Security Working Group examined opportunities for growth in the private agricultural sector and ways to increase agricultural lending in Nigeria.
The two countries concluded the BNC meeting with an agreement for a joint communique that will outline future assignments for the working groups and affirmed the United States’ commitment to holding a working group on the Niger Delta later this year.
“The robust engagement of local and federal government from both our countries over the past two days demonstrates the importance and depth of our partnership,” Burns said in closing remarks for the BNC at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on June 5.
“I see enormous promise for Nigeria and for our relationship in the years to come,” he added.