U.S.-Nigeria Talks to Focus on Niger Delta, Regional Security
(Binational commission to convene third round of talks)
By Charles W. Corey
Washington — The U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission convenes its third full working group meeting September 13 in Washington for two days of talks that will focus on the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s role in regional security.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald sat down with America.gov September 7 to preview the talks.
Fitzgerald said Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, H. Odien Ajumogobia, told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton August 5 that he strongly supported the September 13–14 talks and that Nigeria agreed that this is an important issue of mutual interest.
The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations agreed to host the talks in Washington, Fitzgerald explained, because of the importance they place on the Niger Delta and because of the amount of work they have been doing there.
The opening segments of the meetings will be open to the press, and think tank and academic experts will attend the talks as well, he added. The sessions will be moderated by two senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, Paul B. Stares and former U.S. Ambassador Princeton N. Lyman. Lyman has had a long-abiding interest in Nigeria and served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa.
Fitzgerald said the United States sees the Niger Delta as a region of integral importance to Nigeria. “We have concerns about the Niger Delta because insecurity is rampant. It is a region where there is some 90 percent of Nigeria’s oil either off- or onshore, where local communities have not benefited from the petroleum wealth. … Dissident groups arose to either fight this injustice or to claim part of the spoils of the oil trade” in response to that situation, he said.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua — before he left for Saudi Arabia for medical treatment — offered an amnesty for those fighting in the delta, Fitzgerald recalled. “I think it is surprising to everyone that the amnesty has by-and-large worked. It has cut the fighting dramatically. We have seen in recent months sporadic instances of violence, but compared to previous years, the insecurity has diminished considerably. President [Goodluck] Jonathan promised to continue President Yar’Adua’s lead on the amnesty program when he assumed office.”
“Clearly, there is a great deal left to do in the Niger Delta,” Fitzgerald stressed. “What we need to see in the Niger Delta is a consolidation of the peace — a durable and lasting peace that enables the Nigerian government at the federal and local levels as well as the international community to promote development in the local communities.”
Five of the region’s state governors will be participating in the September 13 talks. Those governors, he said, will also participate in a program put together by Reta Jo Lewis, the State Department’s special representative for intergovernmental global affairs, which will allow the Nigerian governors to meet and discuss areas of mutual interest with U.S. state-level officials.
Following a day focused on the Niger Delta, talks will move on to a second-day focus on Nigeria’s regional security role. “Nigeria has always played a great role in the security and stability of West Africa,” Fitzgerald said.
Spelling out U.S. priorities for the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, Fitzgerald said the U.S. government wants to “strengthen, develop and deepen our relationship with Nigeria, which is one of our closest allies on the continent, one of our closest partners on the continent. It is very important that we take advantage of these working groups to debate and discuss openly Nigeria and Africa’s future, because Nigeria plays such an important role on the continent.”
Overall, U.S. policy seeks to improve elections, fight corruption and work with the Nigerians to boost the amount of electric power that they can generate, according to Fitzgerald. “Nigeria is a wealthy country that has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources — oil, natural gas, coal. However, their manufacturing sector, their industrial sector, has all but disappeared,” he said. Nigerians need to improve infrastructure and benefits to assist in the economic development of the whole country through power generation, medical services, schools and the like.
“This is long-term; you are not going to turn around the energy deficit overnight. This is the goal for the future,” he said.
The first U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission meeting convened in Abuja in May to discuss electoral reform and good governance. It was followed by a second meeting in Washington on energy and investment.
“The first two Binational Commission meetings were excellent and have shown precisely how well the United States and Nigeria can collaborate on key issues,” Fitzgerald said. “I have no doubt that this will be the case on the Niger Delta and regional security.”
On April 6, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nigerian Secretary to the Government of the Federation Yayale Ahmed inaugurated the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, a strategic dialogue designed to expand mutual cooperation across a broad range of shared interests. The commission is a collaborative forum to fortify partnerships between the United States and Nigeria.
Four working groups have been formed: Good Governance, Transparency and Integrity; Energy and Investment; the Niger Delta and Regional Security Cooperation; and Food Security and Agriculture.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)