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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Nigerian Foreign Minister Yusuf Maitama Tuggar at a Joint Press Availability

MODERATOR:  Your Excellency the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar; Your Excellency the 71st United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken; distinguished members of the Nigerian and American delegations present; ladies and gentlemen of the press – good evening.

Over the course of the last one hour, His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken have engaged in robust and constructive discussions on Nigeria-United States bilateral relations.  They elaborated on how to expand its frontiers in several areas of shared mutual interests. 

Following extensive deliberations, Ambassador Tuggar and Secretary Blinken are now ready to address the local and international press.  The ground rules for this joint press briefing are as follows.  After the remarks by their excellencies, the honorable minister of foreign affairs and the United States Secretary of State, four questions will be entertained – two questions from the Nigerian press corps and two questions from the United States press corps.

Kindly remember to introduce yourself and your organization before asking your questions when it is time for the Q&A session to begin.  Without further ado, Honorable Minister, you may take the floor. 

FOREIGN MINISTER TUGGAR:  Thank you very much.  A very good evening to you all.  Today, we’re happy and honored to be receiving the United States Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken, here in Abuja at the presidential villa, where he met with His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, along with my good self and a number of my colleagues, honorable ministers.

And during the course of that meeting, several issues were discussed of a bilateral nature, as well as multilateral nature.  They ranged from food security to agriculture to pharmaceuticals to security itself here in the region.  And I have to say that the discussions were very fruitful, and a decision was also made that a number of these issues will be further discussed at the upcoming Nigeria-U.S. Binational Commission.  That is, if I’m correct, coming up between the 11th and the 13th of March, so that’s around the corner.

It is also important to note that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu brought up the issue of Nigeria’s membership and participation in the G20 as well as the United Nations Security Council.  As we’re all aware, Nigeria is the most populous nation on the African continent.  It has the largest economy.  And therefore, along with the 4-D – President Tinubu’s 4-D foreign policy agenda of democracy, development, demography, and diaspora, we feel it necessary and deem it fit for Nigeria to be ably represented in these decision-making bodies.  And we’re aspiring for that.

To paraphrase the late Moshood Abiola, you must not shave a man’s head in his absence. Because, by some accounts, as many as 60 percent of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council in one way or the other are related to Africa, so Africa needs to be represented.  And I’ll stop here for now to allow Secretary Blinken to expatiate further.  Thank you. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  And good evening as well to everyone.  Foreign Minister, thank you so much for your engagement today, and in fact, every day, as we’re working so many issues that we share in common. 

And for me, it’s great to be back in Nigeria.  I mentioned to the president, actually this is my third visit as Secretary of State, because the very – one of the very first things I did as secretary was to visit Nigeria virtually.  Remember the days when we weren’t traveling because of COVID?  But one of the first things that we did do is organize a virtual visit here to Nigeria, then I came here the following year, and it is very good to be back here today.

At the UN General Assembly just this past September, President Tinubu said, and I quote, “Africa is nothing less than the key to the world’s future.”  I’m here in Nigeria at President Biden’s behest, and earlier this week we were in Cabo Verde and Côte d’Ivoire, and we’ll be going to Angola, because we share that conviction.  Africa has shaped our past; it is shaping the present; it will shape our future.  The United States is committed to strengthening genuine partnerships on the continent, to work to solve shared challenges, and also to deliver on the promise and the fundamental aspirations of our peoples. 

Nigeria, as Africa’s largest country, largest economy, largest democracy, is essential to that effort.  And we are doing a lot of work together already to drive in a positive direction.  We’re driving climate action, as partners in the Global Methane coalition.  We’re pushing for permanent representation for African voices at the UN Security Council, in other international organizations that need to reflect the realities of today, not just the day that they were created many, many years ago. 

We’re working and collaborating to support the development and use of artificial intelligence for good.  With 30 other Atlantic countries, we’re driving blue economic development, environmental protection, science and technology exchange through a new partnership for Atlantic cooperation.

Today, as the foreign minister mentioned, with President Tinubu, with the foreign minister and other colleagues, we spoke about a range of common priorities, including our focus on accelerating economic growth and opportunity here in Nigeria.  This is a place of extraordinary innovation, extraordinary dynamism.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit many times over the years.  I’ve seen that each and every time, and I expect to see more of that in Lagos tomorrow.

American entrepreneurs, American companies are eager to partner with and invest in Nigeria’s economy, particularly in the tech sector.  We have tech giants that are teamed up with Nigerian partners to help meet President Tinubu’s one-million-digital-jobs initiative.  Other companies are hard at work laying undersea cables, using satellite technology to expand access to the internet.  Our tech incubators are fostering Nigeria’s next startups.  Our venture capital companies are working to finance them.

So we want to work in partnership to help drive Nigeria’s technological revolution, which is creating jobs, it’s growing businesses, and it’s spurring innovations in both of our countries, because one of the things we’ve learned from these partnerships is that it benefits us as much as any place or any company that we’re investing in.  We’re learning a lot from it; we’re getting a lot from it.  And one of the initiatives that President Biden laid out – a Digital Transformation with Africa Initiative – we see as particularly energized, and it’s a particular area of focus for us.

Now, Nigeria offers real, clear, compelling opportunities for investors.  At the same time, I think it’s no secret that there remain some long-term challenges that need to be overcome to really unlock the full potential – tackling corruption, making it easier for foreign companies to repatriate capital.  These will all pull in a transformative direction and pull in transformative investment. 

I know that President Tinubu’s focused on these challenges, and we also welcome his very bold economic reforms to unify the currency and fuel subsidies.  We also recognize that, in the short term, these reforms have created pain for vulnerable communities.  I spoke about some ways that the United States can support Nigerians while the government carries out these essential reforms and works to protect those who may – again, in the short term – be negatively affected.

We also discussed our very consequential work on public health, something that the minister mentioned.  One of the things I must say as an American I’m proudest of is PEPFAR, initiated by President Bush, carried on by successive presidents of both parties.  Over the last 20 years, PEPFAR has saved well over 20 million lives and changed for the better many more.  Over the last 20 years, we’ve invested $8.3 billion in HIV and tuberculosis prevention, care, and treatment, and in strengthening the public health system, reaching millions of Nigerians.  And that effort will continue.

Our partnership is also strengthening Nigerian institutions to innovate and lead the region’s public health response.  Tomorrow, as I mentioned, we’ll be Lagos.  I’ll get a chance to visit the Institute of Medical Research here in Nigeria to learn more about the achievements that the government has made to respond to HIV, to respond to COVID-19, to respond to tuberculosis, to respond to other infectious diseases.  With assistance that was provided through the PEPFAR platform, our U.S. Agency for International Development as well, and the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. National Institutes for Health, the NIMR has developed world-class laboratories that are making significant differences in Nigeria’s work to detect and to combat disease.

On security, which we also discussed at some length, the United States is determined to be and remain a strong security partner for Nigeria.  I want to extend the condolences of the American people to all Nigerians who were affected by the horrific attacks over the Christmas weekend.  We mourn their loss, and all killed in recent attacks, including – by the way – staff from our United States mission, locally employed staff and four police officers who were killed in Anambra last May.  As I told the president and the foreign minister, the United States will support Nigeria as it works to bring about a more secure, a more peaceful, and a more prosperous future for its people. 

Fundamentally, this outcome is an investment in the foundations of an inclusive, democratic society – a focus on equal opportunity for all regardless of ethnicity, religion, or any other group distinction.  That helps build the social cohesion.  That also deters banditry, deters terrorism, deters violent extremism. 

I also shared how our own experience in combatting terrorism around the world over more than 20 years has highlighted just how important civilian security, human rights, and accountability are to achieving genuine and enduring security.  We’ve had to learn our lessons in doing this, and it’s important for us to share our own experience with our friends and partners. 

We also discussed challenges to democracy and security in West Africa.  We very much appreciate Nigeria’s leadership in ECOWAS to try to move to a return to the constitutional order and democracy in Niger after it’s been disrupted.  And we talked about building on the important summit that President Tinubu shared in December to try to see Niger get back on to the constitutional path. 

Many other things that we covered in the conversations we had.  As the minister mentioned, we have our Binational Commission meeting in a very short time to focus both on bilateral issues between us but also to focus on our common regional and global agenda, because one of the hallmarks, I think, of the relationship between our countries is that increasingly not only are we focused on our bilateral work, but also on regional and indeed global challenges.  And that’s a source of great strength, I believe, for both our countries. 

This is an incredibly dynamic and consequential time for our partnership.  I am grateful to the foreign minister and to President Tinubu for the opportunity to be here in Nigeria.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  At this juncture, the session for question and answer will commence.  As I mentioned earlier, there will be four questions entertained: two from the Nigerian press corps and two from the United States press corps.  They will be handled from one press corps each to the next.  And I will begin by calling on Adesuwa Omoruan of Arise News Nigeria.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, (inaudible).  Foreign Minister, Secretary Blinken, can I just say that you missed watching the better football game at AFCON yesterday where our Super Eagles emerged victorious, and that the game you saw in Abidjan where Ivory Coast was – suffered a crushing and crashing-out defeat.  But to my question.  I just thought I should put that out, Mr. Secretary. 

Secretary, the U.S. has demonstrated its willingness to support the likes of Ukraine and other embattled democracies when threatened by anti-democratic powers.  In line with this, Nigerians have asked the question why similar levels of support in terms of hard equipment, financing, and intelligence are not provided at a similar scale with a similar level of urgency given the fact that there is a clear attempt by some powers to create a belt of dictatorships at the expense of democracy in the Sahel. 

And permit me, Mr. Secretary:  Why is the U.S. and its allies not showing the same level of concern considering the level of insecurity and infrastructural devastation present in some regions in Nigeria?  You have just said some of your workers were affected in the recent – and you have – in recent killings.  And you have reassured President Bola Tinubu, but Nigerians will wonder why it seems as if the U.S. and its allies are less concerned about the sustenance and development of democracies in Africa compared to the democracies in Europe like we see you do.  Thank you very much. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Let me start by saying that we were very impressed with the Super Eagles.  And of course, as a good diplomat I’m not going to pick sides, but we wish very well for the Super Eagles as they move forward in the tournament. 

Let me say this in response to, I think, a very important question.  I have to tell you we are intensely focused on challenges to security in the region, in the Sahel; intensely focused because of the impact that it’s having on our friends and partners; intensely focused because of the broader impact that insecurity can have on all of us, including the United States. 

And we talked – we’ve already talked a little bit about Niger, where the leadership that President Tinubu is showing through ECOWAS we hope can make a difference in restoring the constitutional order and restoring a critical partner in trying to find security in the region. 

One thing I can also say is this.  As some countries have looked to various ways of providing security, including going to partners like the Wagner Group, what we’ve seen is actually the problem getting manifestly worse and worse and worse.  We see the exploitation of people and resources by Wagner.  We’ve actually seen violence and extremism in the countries where it’s been operating go up, not down – in fact, go up dramatically.

Having said that, it’s important that we be working to support our partners who are trying to find effective ways of fighting insecurity.  And we are working to support Nigeria, we’re working to support our Lake Chad regional partners, to strengthen the capacity of their security forces in a whole variety of ways to deal with insecurity.  And yes, that does go to equipment, technology, to weapons, and we’re working on that. 

But it also goes to many other things, including information sharing, intelligence, technical support, advice, and it goes to having a comprehensive approach that genuinely focuses on citizen security – working with local communities in partnership, demonstrating that security forces are there first and foremost to protect them and to support their needs.  By the way, that was an approach that was delivering results in Niger when President Bazoum was in office before he was deposed in a coup.  And in every place where there’s been an unconstitutional change in leadership, as I said, things have only gotten worse. 

So when you look at what we are doing, we’re providing assistance through a variety of means:  through our diplomacy, engaging with other countries; through our security assistance; through police and military and justice program reforms, which are vital; through dialogue efforts; through development programs.  All of these things work hand in hand.

Now, it’s also vitally important from our perspective and the perspective of our Congress that there be a focus on making sure that civilians are protected, that humanitarian considerations be taken into consideration and a concern, as all of these efforts are underway.  And that’s part of our dialogue and conversation too with our partners in Nigeria and elsewhere in the region.

MODERATOR:  Hands up from the United States press corps, those who would like to ask a question.  Please introduce yourself.

QUESTION:  Julian Pecquet from Jeune Afrique and the Africa Report.  I have a follow-up question to my Nigerian colleague’s question.  Your meeting today as the Sahel is increasingly fragmented, as you know – I was wondering if you think West African leaders and their Western allies should engage with coup leaders.  Presidents Biden and President Tinubu are both reluctant to accept the coup in Niger, understandably, but does that risk pushing the junta to – into the hands of the Russians, just like Mali and Burkina Faso?  Thank you. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I don’t think these two things are inconsistent.  We, of course, don’t recognize what happened in Niger or in other countries where a coup has taken place.  And in fact, we clearly declared the fact that there had been a coup.  The question is:  What is the most effective way to get back on the democratic track, in the case of Niger to return to constitutional order.  And that also involves some engagement with those who perpetrated the coup, which is exactly what ECOWAS has done, what President Tinubu has done, what we’ve done in engaging with the CNSP and setting out what is necessary if Niger is to once again enjoy the relationships that it had with all of us, including assistance, including cooperation on counterterrorism, including other forms of support.

So I don’t think these things are inconsistent.  And as I mentioned, back in December there was a very important meeting between ECOWAS chaired by President Tinubu and the – those responsible for the coup in Niger to just be very clear about what we’re looking for, what the region is looking for, what ECOWAS is looking for, what the international community is looking for to get Niger back on track.

Now, we’ll see if that – if that produces results.  But I think being very clear about what happened, very clear about what we’re doing about it, but also having the appropriate engagement is necessary to see if we can move this to a better place. 

MODERATOR:  The second question from the Nigerian press corps, please raise your hand.  Go ahead and introduce yourself, please.

QUESTION:  Thank you, (inaudible).  My name is Stephen Angbulu.  I write for the Punch newspapers.  Secretary Blinken, the policies of President Bola Tinubu seem to align closely with many prescriptions and recommendations of the World Bank and Western allies.  They include policies such as the removal of longstanding subsidies on petrol and of course the unification of the foreign exchange rates, among others. 

Nigerians anticipated a reciprocal boost in infrastructural investment and U.S. dollar liquidity injection, the kind seen in Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, and others.  Well, that has not been forthcoming.  President Joe Biden launched the Build Back Better World program for infrastructural investment in developing countries.  Now, what can you tell Nigerians about the extent of investment across sectors that the United States is ready and willing to commit to the Nigerian economy?  And what encumbrances, if any, do you see in the way of tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investment in infrastructure and U.S. dollar-denominated liquidity?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Well, as I mentioned before – and I think a few things are important here.  One is what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing is very real interest on the part of American companies, American investors in working here in Nigeria, investing here in Nigeria, helping partner with Nigeria; and in so doing, create new jobs, new opportunities, and even new industries.  This is a big focus of our binational commission and the work that we’re doing together.

I mention as well, though, there are – there remain some impediments that we hear from our own business community that I think stand in the way of maximizing those opportunities.  One is the repatriation of capital.  This is important.  I know the central bank governor is working on that.  And second is the ongoing effort to combat corruption, because companies that come in and invest want to make sure that they’re going to be investing with a fair and level playing field, and corruption of course is a big impediment to that.

Having said all of that, look, I do think we’re seeing real movement.  When we had the Africa Leaders Summit hosted by President Biden, one of the commitments we made was to generate an additional $55 billion in private sector investment in Africa over the next three years.  Well, here we are one year after the summit, and we are 40 percent of the way to achieving that goal.  By the end – by two years out after the summit, based on the trajectory we’re on now, we’ll be at 70 percent of that goal, and we will achieve the goal in the three years, as President Biden set out.  That’s just one, albeit an important manifestation, not only of our commitment to generating more private sector investment, but actually to doing it. 

And as I – President Tinubu and I had a chance to discuss this.  I think there are responsibilities on all sides.  One, as I mentioned, are the things that can be done here in Nigeria to create the best possible climate for investment.  But two, on our end, is to use all of the tools of government that we can to support that.  Because for the United States, as much as we are doing with assistance programs of one kind or another, as much as we are doing as being the leading contributor by far to virtually every United Nations program that helps other countries – and that may not be so known to people, because it may have a United Nations label on it as opposed to a USA label on it – there is more that we can and President Biden is doing to help us generate private sector investment, which is really the comparative advantage that we bring.  And that includes using some of the tools in our government that have not been used as effectively before to support the private sector in terms of risk investment, in terms of supporting in one way or another the investments with insurance, with participation.  We have tools like the Development Finance Corporation, like the Export-Import Bank, and others that are now working together in ways that they haven’t before, and firing on all cylinders.  It’s a whole-of-government approach to trying to generate and target private sector investment.

One last thing.  I am convinced more than ever before that in Africa in general, in Nigeria in particular because of its extraordinary strengths, so much more can and should be made in Africa – for Africans, but also for the entire world.  I think there are tremendous opportunities here, for example in the pharmaceutical sector, to make things here in Nigeria.  But that also requires doing things like strengthening the regulatory agencies that are responsible for overseeing something as complicated and as challenging as pharmaceuticals, and also so that Nigeria can be an exporter to other countries in the region, harmonizing regulations and rules with other countries in the region. 

So there’s a lot of work that goes into this, but the foundation is there, the intent is there, the energy is there as we both do what’s necessary to create the strongest possible environment for investment here, to maximize the tools that we have at our disposal, to support private sector investment.  I think you’ll see that moving forward in very significant ways.

MODERATOR:  Permit me, Your Excellencies, to remind the participants present here that following the next question and answer, this session will come to a close.  And the reason why I mention this now is because it is important that everyone remain seated while the United States Secretary of State and the honorable minister of foreign affairs depart from this hall. 

Without further ado, I invite the next question from the U.S. press corps.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good evening.  Michael Crowley with The New York Times.  Secretary Blinken, you have said that among the principles the U.S. believes in for the aftermath of the conflict in Gaza, one of them is that Israel must not create buffer zones or change the size of Palestinian territory within Gaza.  There’s some reporting and indications that Israel may, in fact, be beginning to do that now.  I wonder, first, do you believe that to be the case?  Are you seeing those indications that Israel may be trying to create buffer areas?  And if that is the case, what might the Biden administration be trying to do to prevent that?

Mr. Minister, my question for you also relates to the conflict in Gaza.  Nigeria has supported a ceasefire in Gaza at the United Nations.  The United States does not support a ceasefire in Gaza, and I wonder whether that difference in position and the U.S. position toward the conflict in Gaza might be causing any harm to America’s image within your country where there have been demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and calls for a ceasefire. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, happy to start.  So, as you said, we’ve been – we’ve been very clear going back some months now about some basic principles when it comes to the way forward for Gaza and more broadly.  And with regard to Gaza, we’ve been very clear our opposition to the forced displacement of people.  We’ve been very clear about maintaining in effect the territorial integrity of Gaza, which is what you’ve alluded to, and a number of other critical principles, including Palestinian governance of Gaza reunified with the West Bank, et cetera.

Whether there need to be and it’s appropriate to have transitional arrangements as Israel reduces the intensity of its military operations in Gaza and ultimately brings them to a conclusion in order to both ensure its security, to make sure that October 7th can never happen again, and then get to a place where we have more permanent arrangements that go to the governance of Gaza, the security of Gaza, the redevelopment of Gaza, I think that’s – that’s one question.  But we’ve been very clear about opposing any permanent change to Gaza’s territory configuration.

Now, one thing that’s also very important:  You’ve had in Israel hundreds of thousands of people in the south and in the north taken together who’ve been forced because of insecurity to flee their homes – of course the people in southern Israel adjacent to Gaza after October 7th, as well as people in northern Israel because of insecurity coming from the border with Lebanon.  And it is totally appropriate and something we support that those people be able to return to their homes and that the necessary security arrangements be in place to give them the confidence to do that. 

So again, if there need – if there need to be transitional arrangements to enable that to happen, that’s one thing.  But when it comes to the permanent status of Gaza going forward, we’ve been clear, we remain clear about not encroaching on its territory.

FOREIGN MINISTER TUGGAR:  Thank you.  The issue of Gaza is one that President Tinubu brought up during the course of the discussions, and it was deliberated upon; it was discussed extensively.  The approach here is to focus on the commonalities.  So one thing we have in common – a common denominator between the U.S. and Nigeria – is the fact that we both agree that the way forward is a two-state solution, and I think that’s not in doubt.  Having said that, of course, each country behaves with regards to foreign policy with the influence of its domestic politics and domestic influences.  So it’s not surprising that Nigeria, of course, has been from the get-go very expressive with regards to the issue of proportionality of violence.  The Israeli approach in Gaza, we’ve expressed concerns, which is why I was part of a seven-member committee of foreign ministers that went around to world capitals calling for a cessation of fire. 

So that remains, but we focus on the commonalities, not on the differences.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  This session has come to a close.  Please remain seated.  Please remain seated as the – their excellencies, the principals, depart the hall.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-nigerian-foreign-minister-yusuf-maitama-tuggar-at-a-joint-press-availability/

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