What brought you and your team to Nigeria?
We started up in Lagos yesterday, where we did two events. We had a roundtable with some women technology entrepreneurs; very high energetic women, who are the future of Nigeria for sure. We also inaugurated, along with the US Center for Disease Control, a hub for training young people of 14 to 20 years, who are living with HIV. So, these young ones are learning skills like making ladies’ bags, doing hair, making snacks, among others. We also held another roundtable with Civil Society organisations, particularly pro-democracy activists who are watching this election and have seen Nigeria’s electoral evolution from the beginning. And then we went to see another project that we support that is sponsored by ‘Breakthrough Action Nigeria’ in a market. We have this ‘COVID Bus’ that you can go to different neighbourhoods, different markets and provide ‘COVID Shots’. So, it is not enough to get the vaccines; here you have to actually give it.
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We had a meeting with the vice president, Osinbajo, and a separate meeting with the Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, and National Security Adviser, Monguno. So, that was really good. And let me just say that we have been focusing on a number of issues here obviously, such as the aspirations that your next round of elections would be free and fair and peaceful.
We would be very pleased to see the elections and pleased to see a longer period for campaigning, and it’s fun to be here as the candidates start turning out, and we feel the energy, particularly the energy of young people. As we were driving through town, we found that a group of young people were lining up to register which was what they needed.
We are making a point that we would be supporting INEC as we always do. We will also be supporting the ability of the police to provide security for these elections because we know the anxiety about that. So, that is one set of issues and we also talked about security relations more broadly. But the high end is in terms of holistic approach to security. We have the Super Tucanos now which are in action; we are about to have a new delivery of helicopters as well. But we talked about the fact that security and our cooperation need to be about obviously countering terrorism at the high end, but it also needs ensuring that better governance and better opportunity of driving out the ability of terrorists to make inroads in communities come behind it. So, that is obviously really important.
The United States has spent $6 billion in Nigeria supporting health since 2004 but now focusing on COVID. We delivered 7.7 million doses of vaccines and we have another 12 million coming this summer.
And then, the last thing I will say is about the economy, trying to make the case that, we would love to see more investors here, but we need to make some improvements and the enabling environment for corruption being an obstacle and all these kinds of things. So, it is really a rich and diverse trip and an opportunity for us from Washington to see how much we value our relationship with Nigeria and how important the strength of your democracy is, not only for you, but for the security of the continent and for others.
What is the strategic interest of the United States especially as it relates to the issue of insecurity?
Why do we care about the largest democracy in Africa? It is a vibrant, rich country which has already given so much to the continent which plays a role model not only in their own security but in regional security in ECOWAS. You know, so, the way Nigeria goes is also the way the continent goes. So, if you can become increasingly stable and secure in power, in population, diversifying your economy and empowering the next generation, that is going to be a powerful engine not only for Nigeria but for the whole continent and the democratic world and of course having noticed we have a serious competition with the authoritarian model out there and so, we democracies have to stand together; we got what to do and we all have work to do and we have to do it together.
The two major political parties in Nigeria recently had their primary elections and a lot of issues were raised. Is that the way to go, or what do you think should be done to tame the use of money in politics?
This is an issue all around the world but it’s always been an issue here. And one of the things that we are feeling this time is that voters are demanding, particularly young people, are demanding a cleaner, more transparent election, and I think we will see even more of that as we go towards the big game and that is important. That is very important and it goes to the larger challenge that Nigeria has with corruption. We are not immune from this problem. In the United States we have deep regulatory and legal structures that make candidates have to show where their money comes from, show where their money goes. It is not a perfect system, but I am going to bet that this time voters are going to demand transparency from the candidates, and we should.
Now we have the Super Tucanos like you said we still see that the issue of insecurity gets bigger. What practical advice or lesson can Nigeria take from the US?
This is a challenge for all of us. It is a pernicious evil thing the way terrorists enter communities and destroy their fabric. But what we are trying to do now with the Super Tucanos; what Nigeria is trying to do is to really integrate the air, ground approach to security, but also then there is talk that Nigeria needs to address this in a holistic way. So, it’s one thing to root out terrorists from communities if you are not coming behind with sustainable police and community security. If you don’t come in behind with better services and governance, those guys are going to be back. So, that is what we have to do more together. We also talked a little bit about the fact that we need a regional approach to this problem because it ran across borders and to think about it like a balloon, if you squeeze it on one side, it is going to pop on another side. So, we all need to work.