Bisa Williams is United States Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs. She is responsible for West African and African economic policy issues.
Wiliams, who visited Nigeria, disclosed the US government’s position concerning Nigeria’s 2015 elections and the need for the authorities to ensure fair and non-violent polls.
She stressed, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, the importance of diversifying the Nigerian economy.
Excerpts:US position on Nigerian elections?
Nigeria is a very fascinating and dynamic country and there are enormous interests and attractions from the international community, particularly the US, concerning your up coming elections.
Our government has said several times that we are looking forward to the elections being credible, fair, transparent and non-violent.
And that is the key, because Nigeria is such a model for the young democracies in the continent, so it is important to us that the elections are conducted credibly.
United States government and those in the private sector have very great interests in Nigeria, and, during my visit here, I have met with your government, civil society leaders and business people to discuss better ways to progressive elections in your country and also ways that Nigeria can attract new investments, and curb oil theft.
Curbing oil theft in the Niger-Delta.
As a matter of fact, I was part of the delegation that came to Nigeria last December at President Jonathan’s request to assess what is happening in the Niger-Delta concerning oil theft.
We met with the oil companies, and the Nigerian authorities who are responsible for securing the water ways.
We also held a meeting in Abuja with the governments of the region and we returned to Washington DC with reports to your government on what they could do to stop oil theft that is going on in the Niger-Delta region.
Interestingly, most of our assessment actually coincided with what your own analysts came up with, so the problem and ways to approach the issue is well known.
Your government should really insist on application rule, accountability, rule of law and transparency in receipts and documentation.
These are honest steps to addressing the issue and your government should take that decision.
Concerning our elections, what level of support are we expecting from the US government?
The level of support the US government would give to Nigeria to ensure they operate fair and transparent elections would come in many ways.
Although, Nigeria is one of the wealthiest countries in the African continent and they are quite capable of handling their elections, I am sure that the US will not relent in supporting INEC to conducting transparent elections.
We will definitely have observers. We have been meeting with all segments of your society to talk about how important we consider these elections to be for Nigerians, and how important it is for all Nigerians of voting age to be able to execute their rights, and how important it is for the elections to be peaceful.
Your government has not necessarily indicated a need for support, but when we had discussions with your government, your civil society and politicians, a lot of what was said focused on your government to ensure that INEC has all the resources it needs to conduct the elections the way they should be.
The US is ready and willing to support everything that INEC needs to make sure there are no technical confusions during the elections.
How is Nigeria’s bi-national trade with the US?
We are involved in bi-national trade in several ways. First, Nigeria is the second largest African trade partner that the US has, and Nigeria is probably the largest beneficiary and participant under the Opportunity Act that we have. But it is true that majority of Nigerian goods that are exported to United States are oil related.
And when you take out the oil proceeds, Nigeria still has some respectable degree of exports nearly as many as we have hoped for to further encourage bi-national trade.
So I think there are a couple of things to think about with Africa or Nigeria specifically when you talk about bi-national trade.
One is that Nigeria needs to diversify its economy, and not put all the money in one basket, which is the oil basket.
Nigeria needs to diversify its interests and attention and invest its money in producing other things that can be exported, aside oil.
Nigeria certainly has the resources, the strength and creativity, in addition to the human resources, to produce other export goods.
So the burden is not on us, but on you to look within you for other things which you can choose from that could further grow your economy.
It is also important for you to use that same creativity which you have to look around for other greater markets prospects and try as much to improve your infrastructures to get your goods move from Nigeria to Togo, Chad, or to Tunisia, because you are bound to probably reap far better proceeds than you would in trying to get that number of products to the American market.
This is one of the reasons President Barack Obama is focusing on another of his economic trade prospects for Africa, which is the ‘Trade Africa Initiative’.
The Trade Africa Initiative is intended to improve intra-African trade and shortening the time it takes to get merchandise across land borders.
Human power and productive capacity.
Estimates are that by the year 2040, the population of Nigeria would be larger than the population of China and India and that means Nigeria would be the largest most populated country in the world. That also means that Nigeria would have the human power and productive capacity that can certainly increase your GDP, given the fact that your human capacity is educated and you use that capacity to diversify your economy.
Another side that is depressing and at the same time promising for Africa is that 60 per cent of the sub-Sahara Africa is unexploited and agriculture is something that Nigeria specifically could exploit but you are not, because you feel you have got your goldmine here in oil.
Several of Nigerian governors were at a meeting in Washington DC, and they talked about farming, agriculture, oil and transformation of food processing, but not one of them talked about the service sector and the various source employment and the money making initiatives that you have access to.
But, essentially right now, we are working with your government and the private sector to double access to energy, access to electricity.
Certainly, with the resources, armed with the human capacities with which to catch up with developing infrastructures, American investors and funding institutions are all ready and waiting on decision by the Nigerian government to ensure that the regular frame work is put in place, followed by consistent efforts to ensuring that planning on your national side is carried out.
You have the structures and what you need are the people who are committed to ensuring things work the way they are supposed to, and that takes political will, rule of law, meaning enforcing the law.
It also takes respect for human rights, accountability and wilingness to make all the people accountable, regardless of their position, political party or affiliation to a particular person.
There has to be a robust determination and political will to do the right things.
On Boko Haram
I think it is important for your country and perhaps other affected countries to get together and map out better strategy to curtail and or sanction the perpetrators and what is happening around Boko Haram.
Many of them take refuge in neighboring countries and it is worse in the northern part of Nigeria; in our view, there has to be a way for the countries that are affected to come together and solve the problem non-violently
And I hope there would be discussions on how to cooperate with each other and also look at border security.
It is our sincere hope that President Jonathan would join other African Presidents who have been invited to the leaders summit that President Obama would be hosting in Washington DC.
If you ask me, I would say that corruption is extremely high in this country; there is no other polite way to say this.
It is extremely unfortunate, because Nigeria as a country has tremendous intelligent people who do not have to be corrupt, because they have all it takes to be successful. Nigerians are resourceful and they are living in abundance of wealth and to acknowledge the fact that there is corruption in Nigeria is disheartening.
Corruption is something that Nigerians ought to want to handle in order to restore the image of the country. They ought to be proud of their country and it is not acceptable for the citizens to say, ‘that is how life is in Nigeria’.
We just had a successful bi-national meeting weeks ago and we sent the number four person from State Department and they talked about the burden of the society and good governance.
We are good friends with Nigeria and as we consider these bothering issues, we would ensure that you get the high level of policy attention coming in from our government.
By Vera Samuel Anyagafu and Prisca Sam-Duru