Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Opening Statement: Testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs
Washington, DC
February 23, 2010

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As Prepared

Mr. Chairman, Ranking member Isakson, and members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today on Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa and a country of great significance to the United States. I have just returned from a five-day trip to Nigeria and I am pleased to share my insights on the evolving situation there as well as the U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relationship.

First, let me express our shared hope that President Yar’Adua, who has been receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for the past three months, will fully recover. His prolonged absence has generated political uncertainty and has challenged Nigeria’s young democratic institutions.

The National Assembly’s resolution that officially designated Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President demonstrated Nigeria’s resolve to find a peaceful solution to the country’s leadership problem, and we commend Nigeria’s top elected political officials for pursuing a transparent process – one that has adhered closely to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to support the Nigerian people as they work through their democratic institutions to resolve the challenges facing their great nation.

America’s bilateral relationship with Nigeria remains strong. And my recent visit to Nigeria underscored the continuing importance of Nigeria to the United States and the value of our bilateral relationship. It also provided me with an opportunity to discuss areas where the United States can engage with Nigeria on issues of importance to both countries.

In my meetings with a broad range of political, religious, and civil society leaders across Nigeria, I discussed the important role that elections play in democracy. I stressed that Nigeria’s next presidential and national assembly elections scheduled for April 2011 must be credible. They must be free, fair and transparent, and they must be a significant improvement over the country’s 2007 presidential elections -- which were deeply flawed. I urged Nigeria’s leaders to make electoral reform one of Nigeria’s highest priorities. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has performed poorly over the past decade and has not served the country well. INEC needs new and improved leadership if elections are to have real meaning in Nigeria.

A multinational team of election experts funded by USAID and the British Government completed a joint electoral assessment in Nigeria in January. The U.S. is prepared to provide technical assistance to Nigeria’s election commission provided they demonstrate a willingness to fulfill their primary role of strengthening election administration.

I also spoke to Nigerian leaders about economic development and the many challenges facing Nigeria’s oil dependent economy. The United States is one of Nigeria’s largest investors, and we seek to support economic development in Nigeria by advocating for an improved business climate, revitalization of the country’s infrastructure and increased power generation. Nigeria with a population of 150 million people and generates less power than the city of Brussels. The country has only one functioning power plant and over seventy percent of its power is produced through generators. We support President Yar’Adua’s commitment to increase power generation to 6000 megawatts by the end of the year and we encouraged Acting President Jonathan take on this pledge. We also welcome Nigeria’s efforts to reform its energy sector, but encourage it to do so in a manner that will make maximize the use of the country’s most precious resource, improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians and not drive foreign investors away.

I also discussed regional security issues with Nigerian leaders. Nigeria's record on and commitment to regional peace and security is outstanding. Nigeria is one of the world’s largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions and is the single largest troop contributors in Africa. It has fielded troops to trouble spots in West and Central Africa and to Darfur. Nigerian troops played a critical and central role in returning stability to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

We seek to enhance Nigeria’s role as a U.S. partner on regional security, but we also seek to bolster its ability to combat violent extremism within its borders. Nigeria is a partner in counterterrorism efforts, and it is in this context that Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with their inclusion on the Transportation Security Administration’s “Countries of Interest” list. Some Nigerians perceived this as collective punishment for the actions of one person, when in fact they shared our outrage at the attack and have been providing assistance to the ongoing investigation. Despite this, our friendship and relationship with Nigeria remains strong and continues to be based on a wide range of important bilateral issues.

I also discussed the situation in the Niger Delta with a variety of people. The Niger Delta area is experiencing a period of relative calm, largely as a result of an October 2009 amnesty agreement that the government negotiated with militant leaders. As a result, security has improved considerably in most areas of the Delta, but a resumption of violence can not be ruled out if the government does not follow through on the implementation of its rehabilitation and reintegration program. We commend the Government of Nigeria for initiating the amnesty process and we urged acting President Goodluck Jonathan to move forward on the implementation of the post-amnesty programs.

During her August 2009 visit to Abuja, Secretary Clinton agreed to establish a U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission that would allow the United States and Nigeria to engage on key bilateral concerns including regional security and counterterrorism threats, governance and transparency issues, the problems in the Niger Delta, and economic development. The Secretary intends to move ahead with the signing of that agreement in the next two months. The Secretary has also agreed to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Northern Nigeria in the next twelve to eighteen months. We currently have no diplomatic representation in Northern Nigeria.

Mr. Chairman, we are enhancing our bilateral engagement with Nigeria, despite the enormous challenges we face. We remain encouraged by the Nigerian people’s commitment to their country’s democratic foundation and Acting President Jonathan’s public and private commitments to reform. We will seize the opportunity to work with the Government of Nigeria in these efforts. Our goal is to help Nigeria fulfill its potential as a regional leader, but the Government of Nigeria has an obligation to address the need of its citizens.

Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss our bilateral relationship with Nigeria. I look forward to answering your questions.