Mary Beth Leonard: Reflections on 61 years of US-Nigerian engagement

As Nigeria celebrates its national day, we celebrate our enduring bilateral partnership with the continent’s regional, political, and economic powerhouse. We appreciate Nigeria’s leadership in the region, standing up for the integrity of democratic nations in West Africa. Nigeria was among the first to condemn the recent coup in Guinea, regularly recognizes the need for presidential term limits, and supports its best and brightest to serve in the highest ranks of international organizations – most recently demonstrated by Chikwe Ihekweazu’s recent appointment to Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us all that global challenges require global solutions. Our mission team partnered with Nigeria to tackle COVID-19 to save lives, promote economic recovery, and develop resilience as our experts worked side-by-side with the Presidential Task Force, Ministry of Health, and Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. We provided more than four million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria and contributed more than $84.2 million in COVID-related equipment and technical assistance including a mobile field hospital, 200 ventilators, and personal protective equipment.

Additional vaccine donations are in the works. We conducted epidemiological COVID detection surveys, provided rapid response teams, trained over 200,000 military and civilian personnel on COVID-19 control measures, and transferred technology for virtual training. Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), supporting Nigeria since 2004, the U.S. government now is providing lifesaving treatment to over 1.5 million of Nigeria’s estimated 1.8 million people living with HIV and remains committed to closing the gap to reaching HIV epidemic control by 2023.

We also recognize that security and economic concerns weigh on the minds of all Nigerians. We work in solidarity with the Nigerian government to address those challenges together. Diplomacy, development, public health, and defense have long been pillars that provide the foundation for promoting and protecting U.S. national security interests abroad. Our bilateral relationship is strong and based on such mutual interests. We share the Nigerian government’s recognition that, indeed, military aid will not be the exclusive tool to end insecurity in the country.

A “whole of government” approach is required to protect citizens and stabilize the country. And indeed, all Nigerians have a role to play in improving security. We have a long-standing partnership with the Nigerian military and the Nigerian police that consists of advising, training, exercises, education, and military systems and equipment, all of which are encompassed in the historic A-29 Super Tucano sale. These engagements emphasize the skills and processes that are critical to shaping effective militaries.

The United States supports 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, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the Foreign Commercial Service. 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. The U.S. is looking forward to expanding on these economic relationships in the future.

We commend Nigeria on its efforts to encourage dialogue and transparency at all levels of governance and continue to partner with Nigeria on efforts to improve its governing capacity. We are focused on strengthening Nigeria’s democratic processes and institutions and encouraging freedom of information, including efforts to enforce accountability through credible and transparent elections. USAID’s partnerships with the federal and state governments, 200 civil society organizations, and the private sector are fulfilling these goals – by improving the electoral process, strengthening civil society advocacy for a more transparent government, reinforcing the role of local peace committees to resolve conflict, and supporting transparency and service delivery improvements.

The Mission takes pride in its extensive people-to-people engagement fostering bridges between our two nations. Last year the Migration Policy Institute noted that Nigerians in the U.S. are the most highly educated immigrant population in the United States, with 61 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31 percent of the total foreign-born population. Further, more than half of Nigerian immigrants (54 percent) occupy management positions, compared with 32 percent of the total foreign-born population and 39 percent of the U.S.-born population. In addition, ties are deepening in the art, film, fashion, and music spaces.

Nigeria’s potential is enormous. With Nigeria’s vibrant and innovative youth, we know that the best is yet to come for this great nation. As proud partners, we will continue to stand by Nigeria and work towards a more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Nigeria.

Mary Beth Leonard is U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria

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