By Tokunbo Adedoja
United States government has said it was interested in Nigeria’s success because it “recognises Nigeria as a strategic centre of gravity in its own right.”
Speaking at the opening session of a two-day meeting of the Nigeria-US Bi-national Commission in Washington DC, Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns, said that was why the Commission agreement was signed in 2010 as a vehicle for bilateral relations between both countries.
He said a broader truth about Africa was that across the continent, “communities are struggling to find productive paths for growing youth populations, to defeat corruption, to turn a corner in improving governance, infrastructure and public health, to hold together different faiths and regions, and to take on the drivers of extremism.”
He said US believed that, “Nigeria’s challenges are Africa’s challenges. And if we can help Nigeria chart a secure, prosperous and democratic course, then Nigeria’s successes can be Africa’s as well.” Burns, who spoke on,
“Enduring partnerships for a peaceful and prosperous
Nigeria”, said such successes could be measured in improved lives, livelihoods, and leadership in the region.
He said US approaches partnership with Nigeria from the fundamental premise that Nigeria is one of the most strategically important nation’s in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent’s largest oil producer, home to its largest Muslim population, its largest contributor of peacekeepers, and leader of peacemaking efforts from Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire to Guinea-Bissau.
Burns said with $35 billion in annual trade between both countries, Nigeria is US largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, and had also lent its voice to causes of conscience in Libya, Syria, and around the world in the United Nations Security Council.
While noting that US accounts for about $5.4 billion in foreign direct investment in Nigeria annually, the senior American official however said, “economic prosperity alone does not create successful societies. Security is a prerequisite for successful development, for a successful Nigeria.”
On the security challenges facing the country, Burns said: “We are all disturbed by the repeated scenes of violence in various parts of Nigeria that threaten to undercut the gains Nigeria has made.”
He said US was ready to explore a potential partnership with the Nigerian army to build its civil affairs capacity which, in turn, would help Nigeria build trust between citizens and the security services charged with the responsibility of protecting them.
Burns described the ongoing high-level meeting as “both unique and historic”, adding, “Never before have we brought such a diverse and senior group of Nigerian and US officials together under the auspices of the Binational Commission.”
In his own presentation on, “Advancing the US-Nigeria Strategic partnership”, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Olugbenga Ashiru, noted that relations between Nigeria and US were deep-rooted and cross-cutting, transcending all areas of human endeavours.
He said since the inauguration of the BNC two years ago, these relations had attained new heights and meaning characterised by mutual trust, respect and commitment.
Noting that it was gratifying that the US government had upgraded its chairmanship of each of its BNC Working Group, he said this underscored the importance attached to this partnership.
Ashiru said the presence of senior Nigerian officials at the meeting the recent visit of the National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoeye Azazi, and other intelligence chiefs to US further attest to the importance Nigerian government attached to the partnership with US.
Noting the various gains recorded by the BNC within a scope of two years, Ashiru said the meeting provided opportunity to take stock and make projections with a view to realising in full, the objections of the commission.
He also used the opportunity to seek for more US support and assistance in building permanent structures that would guarantee continous conduct of free, fair and credible elections and INEC prepares for 2015 polls.
“The only way to sustain Nigeria’s democracy is to build strong institutions that would continue to nurture the democratic process,” he said.
Some of the senior Nigerian officials at the meeting include Nigerian Ambassador to US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, Coordinator, Counter-Terrorism, Major-General Sarkin Bello, Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence, Air Vice Marshal Shehu, NNPC Group Managing Director, Austen Oniwon, Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, Taraba State Governor Danbaba Suntai, EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega.
Senior US officials at the meeting include Under Secretary of Defence for Policy, Jame Miller, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, Under Secretary Maria Otero, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCuley, among others.
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