Mary Beth Leonard, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, has said the United States (U.S.) stands with Nigeria at this time when there is a lot of uncertainty in the security space, as well as challenges in diversifying the economy.
In this interview in Abuja, the former United States representative to the African Union and permanent representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) also said, while the challenges may seem insurmountable, she does not think they actually are.
Nigerians are already warming up for the 2023 general election. What is the expectation of the U.S. as the country prepares for another round of elections? How does the U.S. feel about the promises of the ruling party to halt insecurity, corruption and improve the economy?
We are proud to stand with this leadership on principled advocacy for democracy. We appreciated President Buhari’s regional leadership when he stated in his UN General Assembly message that, “In West Africa, especially, our democratic gains of the past decades are now being eroded. The recent trend of unconstitutional takeover of power, sometimes in reaction to unilateral changes of constitutions by some leaders, must not be tolerated by the international community.”
At the first Summit on Democracy in December, President Biden called democracy “an ongoing struggle to live up to our higher ideals,” and recognized that, to advance democracy, “we have to renew it with each generation,” because democracy is “the best way to unleash human potential and defend human dignity and solve big problems.”
With all humility, we recognize that by encouraging inclusive dialogue, transparency, and accountability, the will of the people will prevail.
The United States stands with Nigeria at this time when there is a lot of uncertainty in the security space, as well as challenges in diversifying the economy. While those challenges may seem insurmountable, I don’t think they actually are.
Diplomacy, development and defense have long been the three pillars that provide the foundation for promoting and protecting U.S. national security interests abroad. We welcome the Nigerian government’s recognition that, indeed, military aid will not be the exclusive tool to end insecurity in the country. As President Buhari has noted, Nigeria’s insecurity is not a problem that can be solved by the military alone. A “whole of government” approach is required to protect citizens and stabilize the country, and promote prosperity. I wouldd like to highlight three elements of our U.S. partnership that support those principles.
Military and police assistance: We have a long-standing partnership with the Nigerian military that consists of advising, training, exercises, education, and military systems and equipment, all of which are encompassed in the A-29 Super Tucano delivery. These engagements, rather than the technology transfers, are most important to the soft skills that make militaries effective. We are very proud to partner with the Nigerian services in all of these areas and are looking for relationship expansion opportunities.
Economic security: Challenges to security are more than just about a military or police response. While there may be many different reasons for insecurity in Nigeria, I think we would all agree that lack of opportunity underpins many of them. The United States is unrivalled by the breadth and depth of its proactive economic and commercial engagement, as well as its work fostering democratic development and educational exchanges. We support Nigeria’s economic growth and its mutually beneficial trade with the U.S. through both private sector engagement and government-supported initiatives such as the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Prosper Africa, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
The U.S. is proud to be the largest humanitarian donor in Nigeria, providing $1.45 billion since 2015 and supporting an estimated two million conflict-affected households in the North.
We make tremendous investments in the health of the people of Nigeria: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) treats over 1.2 million HIV patients, allowing them to lead active, productive lives free from stigma, and is potentially two years away from HIV epidemic control and now with the COVID – 19 pandemic, the U.S. has contributed more than $130 million in COVID – 19 related equipment and technical assistance.
Insecurity is on the increase in Nigeria, with bandits and terrorists on the prowl. The coming of the Super Tucanos into the country from the U.S. was greeted with excitement. But since their arrival, Nigerians are still being fed with news of exploits by bandits and terrorists almost on a daily basis. What is going on? Some have said the conditions given by the government of the U.S. is hampering the effectiveness of the Super Tucanos, vis-a-vis the war against insecurity in the country. Are the conditions not amenable?
The transfer of the A-29 Super Tucanos furnished by the United States are governed by the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, and other applicable statutes. The AECA applies to sales to all of our allies and partners. As such, the A-29 Super Tucanos provided by the U.S. government are not to be used to encroach on the traditional roles of law enforcement or the judiciary, must guard against the creation of civilian casualties and must conform with international norms as articulated in the United Nations Charter.
What further assistance is the U.S. ready to offer Nigeria in order to end banditry and ensure the issue of terrorism becomes a thing of the past?
We work in solidarity with the Nigerian government to address security challenges. Our long-standing partnership with the Nigerian military and the Nigerian police includes advising, training, joint exercises, education, and military systems and equipment, including the recently delivered A-29 attack aircraft. Our training places an emphasis on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law and we regularly engage with the Nigerian government, military and police to promote transparent accountability for those who commit human rights violations and abuses. The United States stands ready to provide appropriate support to the Nigerian government, and to help further develop the capabilities of the Nigerian security services to respond to internal threats.
United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during his recent visit to Nigeria, said countries like Nigeria are not just global leaders, they are increasingly prominent around the world beyond this region, and they’re deserving of a prominent seat wherever the most consequential issues are discussed. Is this a sign that the United States will back Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council?
The United States values working with Nigeria at the United Nations. A reformed Security Council that is representative, effective, and relevant is in the best interest of the United States and of all UN member states. The United States supports building a consensus for a modest enlargement of the Security Council for both permanent and non-permanent members, provided it does not diminish its effectiveness or its efficiency, and does not alter or expand the veto.
Blinken also said the United States firmly believes that it is time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics – and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become. What necessitated this remark?
The Secretary’s words speak for themselves. We are reinvigorating and modernizing U.S. partnerships across the continent – building substantive, reciprocal partnerships with African governments, institutions and public’s.
The relationship between the United States and other countries, particularly Nigeria, is usually criticized for the absence of a win-win situation. Going forward, what type of partnership is the U.S. building with Nigeria?
We would dispute your characterization, as we believe most Nigerians recognise the value of the depth and breadth of the U.S.-Nigerian partnership. Our bilateral relationship is based on advancing shared interests in security cooperation, global health security, development and humanitarian response, inclusive economic growth and democracy.
The ban on Twitter, which the U.S. criticised, has not been conclusively resolved. Is the U.S. satisfied with negotiations between the government of Nigeria and Twitter?
We understand that negotiations are ongoing. We remain hopeful that the parties will be able to resolve their differences in order to restore this means of communication and business tool to the people of Nigeria.
Why was the Drop Box system scrapped in Nigeria and when would it resume? Also, why has the U.S. not implemented issuance of five-year visas to Nigerians?
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