A top U.S. State Department official says Nigeria is important to stability and progress worldwide as well in Africa, and he emphasized the closeness of U.S.-Nigeria ties.
“Nigeria is very important,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa William Fitzgerald told America.gov April 15. “On the continent, it is the most populous nation, the largest contributor of peacekeepers, the largest producer of oil, and the largest recipient of direct investment by the American private sector.
“Whether providing critical leadership in ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], engagement in West Africa, or, from the perspective of its current seat on the U.N. Security Council, Nigeria plays a role far beyond its own borders,” the U.S. official added.
Fitzgerald made his comments the day after Nigeria’s acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, left Washington following his participation in the two-day Nuclear Security Summit during which he met with President Obama.
Reiterating commitments made by both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to partnering with Nigerians on political and economic progress, Fitzgerald said, “We want to see a strong, democratic, prosperous Nigeria and will support Nigeria’s efforts to achieve its great potential.”
Key to that achievement, the U.S. diplomat said, was “implementing robust reform in areas such as respecting constitutional processes, building the capacity and commitment to fight corruption, respecting human rights, promoting economic development, resolving internal conflict and achieving free and fair elections.”
Fitzgerald added, “We look forward to working with Nigeria through the mechanism of our recently signed U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission as the basis for our mutual efforts in these areas.”
Before returning to Nigeria, Jonathan spoke at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy-oriented nongovernmental organization that also celebrated the launch of its Ansari Africa Center headed by Nancy Walker, a former Defense Department official and founding director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Jonathan spoke of the need for “entrenching accountability in my country” and freeing Nigeria from “the shackles of poverty.” Declaring, “We have no time to waste,” he said, “We have the opportunity and obligation” to make a better life for all Nigerians free of corruption and poor governance. Nigeria stands firm for democratic elections, “not only in Nigeria, but on the rest of the continent.”
Commenting on Nigeria’s history of peacekeeping in West Africa and Darfur, the Nigerian leader pledged that Nigeria would maintain that role and remain “a strong actor for peace.”
Asked about recent sectarian violence in Plateau state, the acting president said “economic exclusion is central to the crisis not religion.” As to ongoing violence in the Delta region where militants have attacked oil and gas production facilities, he said it was driven by “a festering culture of discontent,” but he added that the government should be held accountable for “the protection of life.”
Addressing the corruption issue, Jonathan said, “We pay dearly for it,” and added that “the government has plans to prepare a [new] generation to take over” that will govern more responsibly and transparently than in the past. Asked if he would push for more women in government, he said, “I think my Cabinet will have more [women] than in the past.”
Princeton Lyman, a U.S. ambassador to Nigeria in the 1980s who attended at the Atlantic Council discussion, said that “the future stability of Nigeria impacts all of Africa. It is a major player in Africa-wide institutions like the African Union, ECOWAS, and is a major contributor to peacekeeping operations in Darfur and the West Africa area.”
Nigeria’s reform process is critically important to future stability, Lyman said, adding, however, “I think President Jonathan has a very small window [of opportunity] because his term runs out in early 2011, if he remains as acting president, and so he’s got to concentrate on just a few key items and electoral reform is certainly one of the big ones.”