One year after the Nigerians succesfully cast their ballots, the United States today underlined that Nigeria remains a giant in Africa in terms of economy and is optimistic about its long term future.
On his remarks in DC, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson for Bureau of African Affairs has vouched for the enthusiasm that Nigerians demonstrated towards 2011 elections and their democratic rights.
The April 2011 elections were clearly another step forward in Nigeria’s continuing democratization process, but more remains to be done to improve Nigeria’s electoral procedures and more importantly to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and governance, Mr. Carson highlighted.
“We all need to see a strong, vibrant, and growing Nigeria – because what happens in Nigeria affects us all— the United States, Africa, and the global community.” -Mr. Carson
He stresses that Nigeria is probably the most strategically important country in sub-Saharan Africa.
At about 160 million people, Nigeria is home to over twenty percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population, he added.
Nigeria also is the largest oil producing state in Africa, it is the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, and the tenth largest global producer.
It is home to the sixth largest Muslim population in the world, and it’s by far the largest country in the world with approximately equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, Mr. Carson noted.
In the United Nations, Nigeria is the fifth largest peacekeeping contributing country in the world.
Mr. Carson stressed that as the most influential and militarily powerful member of the Economic Community of West African States, Nigeria has played a key role in helping to resolve every major political and security dispute in West Africa from the Liberian and Sierra Leonian crises in the 1990s to the recent political problems in Guinea, Niger, and the Cote d’Ivoire.
Nigeria is a dominant economic and financial force across West Africa as well, Mr. Carson cited.
“Nigeria is important and a lot depends on the Nigeria’s success.” -Mr. Carson
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton inaugurated the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission in 2010, providing the two countries with a high-level vehicle to work together on the most criticial issues we face.
The US government has supported Nigeria’s political and economic reforms and has tried to be a useful partner as it addresses its social, economic, and security challenges.
“Nigeria’s success is important to us; but we recognize that that success cannot be achieved unless Nigeria overcomes the challenges that have frustrated its progress.” -Mr. Carson
He notes that decades of poor governance have seriously degraded the country’s health, education, and transportation infrastructure.
Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue, Nigeria has virtually no functioning rail system and only half of its population has access to electricity, Mr. Carson cited.
He adds that the 80 million Nigerians who have electricity share intermittent access to the amount of power equivalent to what we have in the Washington, DC metro area.
Living standards for most Nigerians are the same today as they were in 1970, and nearly 100 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day, he added.
“Nigerians are hungry for progress and an improvement in their lives.” -Mr. Carson
However, the United States notes that Boko Haram has continued creating widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, increased tensions between various ethnic communities, interrupted development activities, frightened off investors, and generated concerns among Nigeria’s northern neighbors.
Mr. Carson says Boko Haram seeks to humiliate and undermine the government and to exploit religious differences in order to create chaos and to make Nigeria ungovernable.
Boko Haram has grown stronger and increasingly more sophisticated over the past three years, and eliminating the Boko Haram problem will require a broad-based strategy, he noted.
“Nigerian officials should focus on the political environment that makes Boko Haram so dangerous.” -Mr. Carson
To fix the Boko Haram problem, the government will have to develop a new social compact with its northern citizens. It will have to develop an economic recovery strategy that complements its security strategy, he stressed.
Despite the challenges that Nigeria faces with Boko Haram and other issues, Nigeria is simply too important to be defined by its problems, Mr. Carson stressed.
“Nigeria must be defined by its promise and its enormous potential, as well as the resourcefulness of its people.” -Mr. Carson
The United States commends the Nigerian Government also for taken a positive step in trying to address its long standing problem of corruption.
Mr. Carson stresses that the US government wants to elevate and expand our dialogue and are ready to work with Nigerian authorities at the national and state level and to expand our programs in states with high performing executives, particularly in northern Nigeria where the need is greatest.
“We are committed to helping Nigeria develop a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy and to improving collaboration among Nigeria’s intelligence services.” – Mr. Carson
The United States wants to support the Nigerian Government’s efforts, especially in the areas of agriculture, electrical power generation and transmission, and anti-corruption, Mr. Carson cited.
“I am bullish on Nigeria. There is no doubt that Nigeria’s challenges are serious, but we should not underestimate the skill and ability of the Nigerian people and leaders to address them.” -Mr. Carson
Mr. Carson believes the forces that are holding Nigeria together are stronger today than the forces that are pulling Nigeria apart.
Nigeria remains the giant in Africa, he added.
He stresses that by working with Nigeria, the United States can contribute to the country’s economic growth and political unity- two objectives that are important to the United States, Africa, and the global community.
“A strong, vibrant, politically stable, and economically prosperous Nigeria is in everyone’s interest.” -Mr. Carson
In January this year, a spiralling violence has escalated in Nigeria as Boko Haram group unleashed series of recent attacks.
Boko Haram is a local terrorist group professing allegiance to Al Qaeda. Boko Haram militants attacked several churches on Christmas Day, killing dozens of worshippers. The bombings occurred in Madala, on the outskirts of Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and in the north-eastern city of Jos.
Boko Haram, which aims to install strict Shariah, or Islamic, law across Nigeria, has vowed to keep killing Christians in the multiethnic country.