U.S. – Nigeria’s Security Challenges Are Quite Extraordinary

U.S. – Nigeria’s Security Challenges Are Quite Extraordinary

U.S. - Nigeria's Security Challenges Are Quite Extraordinary

United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in a virtual interview with reporters, speaks about insecurity in Nigeria, COVID-19 and others. Excerpts:

This virtual visit to Kenya and Nigeria offered us a chance to engage with leaders from government but also the private sector and civil society. And we had a chance to talk about the many ways our countries are already working together, but also how that cooperation can be deepened. And it was a pretty broad and interesting cross-section of people that I had an opportunity to engage with – people like Dr. Shuaib, who is the Nigerian Government official leading the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across Nigeria; people like Dr. Namunje, who leads the Craftskills Wind Energy International. That’s a company that’s helping develop Kipeto, a wind farm that, when completed, will provide clean energy to 250,000 households in Kenya. It included 10 alumni from the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI, something that I was very familiar with from my last time in government with President Obama and Vice President Biden. But remarkable individuals who are leading innovative efforts across the region’s public, private, and nonprofit sectors. We’ve had 24,000 rising leaders take part in the program to date. It’s remarkable and I think we’re going to feel the benefits of that for many, many years to come.

A common thread that ran through all of these exchanges was that the efforts of all of these leaders, like those of so many people across Kenya, Nigeria, and the United States, are enriched by cooperation between us. Again, consider Dr. Shuaib. Many of the vaccines that he’s helping distribute are coming to Nigeria from COVAX, to which the United States is the largest financial contributor. And our own health experts have been working with Dr. Shuaib and other Nigerian partners since the outset of the pandemic. Or Kipeto, which I mentioned a few minutes ago – that’s the wind farm that Dr. Namunje is helping to develop. That was made possible in large part thanks to a $230 million grant and loans from the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, and it’s getting technical support from Power Africa, from USAID, from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

So one of my key takeaways from these discussions is that we can do so much more of this work together to the benefit of people in all of our countries, and I think you’re seeing the Biden-Harris administration already working to do just that. We’re restoring and reinvigorating our partnerships not only in Kenya and Nigeria, but across the continent. We’re deepening substantive reciprocal relationships with governments, with businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and people, and grounding them in shared interests and respect. We’re working to increase trade and investment in the region, particularly in cooperation with U.S. businesses. And to do that, we’re using all of the tools that we have at our disposal, including the Development Finance Corporation, including USAID, Millennium Challenge, while also pressing international financial institutions to do more. And we remain engaged with our partners on addressing shared security challenges while putting respect for human rights at the core of our security assistance.

We’ll continue to underscore the importance of thorough and impartial investigations into abuses and accountability for perpetrators. We know that this is not easy. Right now in the United States we’re also reckoning with our own challenges, including systemic injustices and inequities. But we’ve also found strength in grappling with these challenges out in the open, painful as it may be, and we’re encouraging our partners to do the same thing.

We’ll also continue to invest in rising leaders through programs like YALI, knowing that for a continent of 1.3 billion people with a median age of 19, the best way to expand opportunity, to grow economies, and promote human rights is to invest in youth.

And we’ll continue to be a partner to African countries in strengthening public health. U.S.-Nigeria cooperation has reached more than 60 million Nigerians through programs that train public health workers, invest in medical facilities, improve access to medicines, vaccines, and reproductive health care. And that’s just one country, as significant as it is.

Both President Buhari and President Kenyatta participated, as you know, in the Leaders Summit that President Biden convened last week on the climate crisis. In that summit, and again today, we underscored our commitment to working with leaders to reduce emissions, adapt to the inevitable changes to come from global warming, and turn our necessary actions into opportunities to actually create good-paying green jobs for people in our countries.
Security in the Sahel and the Lake Chad region and within Nigeria

And this is a very important question and indeed, one we spent some time discussing in the conversations both with President Buhari and with other colleagues in the government. And I think it is fair to say that the challenges that Nigeria faces when it comes to security are quite extraordinary – and you referenced them – whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s banditry and criminality, whether it’s piracy. All of these are real challenges.

The good news is this: One, we are in absolute solidarity between us in trying to address these challenges together. And the United States is committed to supporting Nigeria as it meets these challenges. And what that involves primarily is helping Nigeria continue to build its capacity through training, through resources, through information sharing, through equipment, and all of that done, very importantly, with full respect for human rights.

But it’s also important that we work together, as we are, to address some of the drivers or facilitators of violence and instability that we know those engaged in these activities can sometimes feed on. And that’s why you have to have a comprehensive approach to these challenges. It’s not – the security piece is vitally important, but it’s insufficient, and so economic development, progress, opportunity is hugely important.

So, too, are dealing with some of the other drivers that sometimes produce conflict, violence, and extremism. And one of the things that’s striking, of course, is the Lake Chad basin. And there we’ve seen over time, as you know, the erosion of the basin, including because of climate change. And that, in turn, can produce conflict over resources, new migratory patterns that put people in conflict, food insecurity, the more easy spread of disease, all of which can produce an environment in which terrorism, criminality, other forms of violence are more likely.

So I think it’s vital that we address these, as I know President Buhari is very focused on, and it’s also why it was so important to have President Buhari as well as President Kenyatta from Kenya take part in the climate summit that President Biden convened last week, which was a very powerful manifestation of the broad international commitment to address the challenges posed by climate change, which in turn, as we do it, I think will address some of the drivers we’ve seen of conflict which in turn can feed extremism.

So it’s a long way of saying I think we have to see the big picture, the comprehensive picture – obviously focus on the hard security collaboration that we have and strengthen that, but also not lose sight of some of the bigger pieces of this that we have to address together as well.
Biden administration’s plans for young people

Look, I think you put your finger on maybe the most important point of all, and that is exactly the fact that as we look at Africa generally, as we look at Nigeria in particular, but just starting with the continent – 1.3 billion people, median age 19 – there is, I think, no part of the planet we share where we see such an extraordinary young population that is going to have a profound impact not just on the future of Nigeria, not just on the future of the continent, but actually on the future of the entire world. Because if that extraordinary human resource can be supported and developed and given the opportunities necessary, it’s hard to think of anything more – that will contribute more to human progress in the years ahead.

I had the opportunity some years ago to spend some time in Nigeria when I was last in government, and part of what made that such a pleasure was actually spending time with a lot of different young people engaged in very different pursuits, but the common element, the common denominator was incredibly innovative, entrepreneurial, engaged people. When I was there – I think in 2015 – at that point in time, I think I was told that there was something like 70,000 registered nongovernmental organizations in Nigeria. That’s remarkable, and, of course, they’re driven primarily by young people.

On this virtual visit, as I think I mentioned, I had the opportunity to talk to about a dozen alumni from the YALI program, something that President Obama and then-Vice President Biden started, which we are committed to carrying forward and to strengthening. There are already 24,000 alumni of that program in one way or another, and as you know, the connections that they build with the United States, but as important or maybe more important, the connections they build with one another are going to be a foundation for the future going forward.

But I think what it really says to me is that our government, the Nigerian Government, other governments, as well, of course, as other sectors of our society, including the business community, including our educational facilities – across the board, the single best investment we can make now is in our young people, and especially in Africa’s young people.

Let me put it to you this way: If we were having this conversation 50 or 60 years ago and the question we were trying to answer is how do you define the wealth of a nation – so 50 or 60 years or 70 years ago, we probably said, well, it’s probably dependent on the size of the country, its abundance of natural resources, maybe the strength of its military, its population. And those are important factors.

But I think what we recognise now, especially in this young century that we’re in, is that the true wealth of a nation can be found in its human resources. And countries that have the ability to allow those human resources to reach their full potential are going to do very well in the future, almost irrespective of whether they have an abundance of those other measures of wealth. And so I think that just underscores the importance of finding ways together to allow our human resources and especially our young people to really meet their potential, because if that energy is unleashed in a positive way, there is no challenge we’re not going to be able to overcome.

On the other hand, if we don’t find ways to do that, we’re all going to have a bigger challenge and a bigger problem. So we’re very focused on this. We’re very focused on some of the programs that have been put in place, including YALI, and strengthening them and growing them. We’re looking at other ways to build connectivity with support for young people, and to work with our partners to do that. So stay tuned. I think that there’s going to be more to come, but it’s something that I’m very focused on and also excited about.

Economic recovery post COVID-19

First, you’re exactly right to put the focus as well on the economic effects and impacts of COVID. And we’ve had this this dual crisis, a health crisis and an economic crisis, and there too, unless and until we find ways to support efforts of countries around the world and economies around the world to bounce back economically from COVID, we won’t have fully addressed the problem either. And by the way, that’s also in our interest, because we want strong trading partners, we want strong investment partners, and it makes sense to make sure that we’re doing what we can to be helpful.

And as we’re looking at this, I think there are a number of things that are important. We’ve supported, for example, facilities to restructure debt, because as countries emerge from the economic crisis with debt obligations, that can be challenging in normal times. It’s incredibly more challenging if you’re in the midst of or emerging from the economic downturn that was the result of COVID. So we’re very strongly supportive of flexibility there, restructuring there. We’re looking at a variety of other support programs. And as well, I think being able to move forward with trade, with investment, with partnerships, that too is going to make difference.

I also think we have to, as we’re doing this, try to take advantage of the moment as well. There is a necessity, but there is also some real opportunity. President Biden talks about this in terms of building back better. How do we make – as we’re making new investments in our economies, as we’re working together, how do we do it in a way that promotes greater equity? How do we do it in a way that actually advances the effort to combat climate change? And there, there may be real opportunities in terms of, for example, green technology that can actually create and sustain good, strong jobs. All of these things are on the agenda and we’re looking at them, I think, together very creatively both in our bilateral relationships but also multilaterally, including through the international financial institutions.

And then with regard to visas, et cetera, we’re also doing two things. We removed from the books some of the restrictions put in place by the previous administration, so the appropriate legal foundation is there. But we also now, in moving forward, have to be very mindful of the challenges we all face, including the fact that COVID-19 is still with us. And so we all want to get back to travel quickly, to trade quickly, to enabling legal migration, but we have to do it in a way that is cognizant of the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 so that it is safe and secure, and we make sure we’re at a place where we can do that with the virus under control, so that we don’t risk regenerating it and creating another cycle.

So all of that we’re factoring in in a very practical way to our ability to move forward with travel as well as with immigration.


Nothing is more critical to free, open, democratic societies than the press, than our media. I deeply appreciate the role that you’re playing every day to make sure that the people who we’re responsible to are informed about what governments are doing, that there is transparency, and that there is accountability. And without you that, that doesn’t happen.

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