A Conversation with Henry Odein Ajumogobia

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nigerian foreign minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia discusses the challenges and prospects of Nigeria at fifty and the strengthening of Nigeria's bilateral partnership with the United States.

PRINCETON LYMAN: Let me do a few administrative things first. Please turn off any phones, BlackBerries and all the rest, because they do interfere with the recording even if they're on silent et cetera.

Second, the way we will proceed this morning or this afternoon is, I'm going to introduce the foreign minister; he will speak, and then he and I will have a conversation for a few minutes, and then we will open it up for questions and answers from you. And we will end at 1:30 sharp.

(Inaudible) -- let me emphasize again, this is an on-the-record meeting. We have members of the press here as well.

I also want to welcome Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye, the new -- relatively new ambassador from Nigeria. And we're glad to have you here, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you very much.

I had the distinct privilege about a year ago of sitting next to the minister at a meeting in Abuja. He was then with the petroleum ministry. And I was struck by what an extraordinary person he was. And now I am delighted to welcome him here to Washington, D.C., as the minister of foreign affairs.

Odein Ajumogobia is a distinguished lawyer. He's had a brilliant legal career in Nigeria. He is responsible for one of the largest law firms -- opening up one of the largest law firms in the country. He was the attorney general in Rivers State. He was the minister of state for energy and then minister of state of petroleum in the federal government. And he is now the minister of Foreign Affairs.

A man of considerable talent and distinction and articulateness -- and it's a great privilege to have you here, Mr. Minister. And we both look forward to your remarks. (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER HENRY ODEIN AJUMOGOBIA: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Lyman, for those very kind words. Let me also begin by thanking the president, Mr. Richard Haass, and the vice president, Ms. Kay King, and other members of the Foreign Relations Council for this invitation to address this body of foreign policy experts, renowned scholars, distinguished journalists. It truly is an honor for me.

As you may be aware, I'm neither a professional diplomat nor a scholar as many of you are. As you just heard, I have a background in private legal practice. I served as the attorney general of the oil-rich Rivers State for four years, between 2003 and 2007. And then between 2007 and 2010, for just under three years, I was minister of state for petroleum when in April of this year I was entrusted by the then acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, with the complex task of piloting Nigeria's foreign policy at what was then a truly challenging time in our nation's 50-year history.

And let me also convey to you the warm greetings and best wishes of my president, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was here not that long ago and had a very good encounter with this council. And President Jonathan's admiration for your country as a beacon of freedom, justice and prosperity is deep and enduring.

In choosing to speak on the subject of Nigeria's challenges and prospects at 50, my intention is simply to bring to the United States a message of hope and optimism from my country, Nigeria. I believe it's both necessary and appropriate in this particularly significant year when we signed a Binational Commission agreement with the United States. The agreement provided a framework within which to strengthen our bilateral relations and elevate our partnership in pursuit of shared goals and values.

Through the instrument of the BNC, key issues of mutual interest have been identified for closer and in-depth scrutiny. These are aggregated in the following working groups and themes: The first one is the good governance, transparency and integrity under which our new electoral reform is taking place; the second is energy and investment; third, food security and agriculture; and of course, the Niger Delta and regional security. We've had a series of meetings so far, and they've been extremely productive.

Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the dawn of a golden jubilee celebration calls for a certain amount of introspection. I think all anniversaries do. Taking stock five years -- five decades after Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain in October 1960, many of its friends and well-wishers have continued to wonder why a country endowed with so much -- a large, vibrant population, land mass, an array of mineral resources and vast arable land, easy access to the sea, and so much else -- has been unable to harness and deploy its huge material and human endowments into potential and rapid development and prosperity.

There is, in fact, palpable frustration -- even anger -- amongst some of our best friends -- and some of them are in this room -- that progress has not occurred fast enough in that country that providence appears to have favored.

To those friends and well-wishers, let me say this: We truly appreciate and understand your concerns, and sometimes visceral criticism, of our sub-optimal performance as a country. We Nigerians are indeed our own worst critics. But that, however, is only part of the story, and I shall come to the other parts.

But first, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me share with you the most recent scathing indictment of my country, by a highly respected international journalist, Richard Bowden -- many of you may know him -- who, in a chapter on Nigeria in his recent book titled "Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles," had this to say about Nigeria -- and I'll just take the liberty of just reading a small excerpt from the book. He says: "Nigeria has a terrible reputation. Tell someone that you're going to Nigeria, and if they haven't been there themselves, they offer sympathy. Tell anyone who has been to Nigeria, and they laugh. And then they offer sympathy." (Laughter.) "No tourists go there. Only companies rich enough to keep their staff removed from the realities of Nigerian life do business there."

He goes on: "And big companies rarely mention Nigeria in their annual reports, for fear of what it will do to their share price. Journalists treat it like a war zone. Diplomats regard it as a punishment posting. Everyone," he posits, "has a story from beyond normal bounds of credibility. Some are terrifying; most are funny. Nigerian politicians try to pretend that its bad image is some Western conspiracy against Nigeria and Africa."

And as if to counter any suggestion that his conclusions might be regarded as an unfair, parochial, Western perspective, he declares, "It's not just white visitors who fear it," talking about Nigeria. "I told a Ghanaian cab driver in London that I was going to Nigeria. He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, 'I lived in Lagos once' --" Lagos is -- was the old capital of Nigeria, now the commercial nerve center "-- 'Give me a million -- a billion dollars -- and I won't go back there. Never. It's the most terrible place in the world'." (Laughter.)

Richard Bowden's own description of Lagos, the commercial nerve center of Nigeria, was equally unflattering: a New York, without the good manners. (Laughter.) I am sure those of you from New York would understand this.

Yet he concludes -- incredibly, in my view -- that "Lagos survives, it pulsates, it grows, and it works." And then the punch line, "So does Nigeria," once, according to Richard Bowden, itself described as a failed state that works.

Now, I could feel the discomfiture of some of you distinguished ladies and gentlemen as I repeated this totally uncompromising and damning caricature of Nigeria. Bowden's book was first published in 2009, reprinted in -- this year to much critical acclaim. I must say I was rather uncomfortable myself reading these words about my own dear country to a foreign audience, but I do so to highlight a significant part of the challenge we face in trying to make Nigeria work as a stable, prosperous and just country founded on the rule of law.

These unconstructive and prejudicial negative portrayals, images and generalizations of the country, that are often syndicated through global media networks and by journalists with new stories to tell, totally ignore the progress the country has made over the last 50 years against all odds. I can't put it better than our respected ambassador here in Washington, Professor Ade Adefuye, did while speaking to journalists here in the United States. He said, "Nigeria's been maligned; you journalists ignore the positive and blow the negative out of proportion." Surely it's possible to do this with most countries to varying degrees.

For a country that, like all others, needs direct foreign investment to sustain its current 6 (percent) to 7 percent growth rate per annum, this is extremely damaging. While it may be trite to argue about the daunting task of welding together such a cumbersome mosaic of 250 separate and distinct ethnic nationalities into a modern nation, it's equally trivial to recount Nigeria's travails arising from ethnic divisions and disagreement. Six destabilizing coup d'etats. A devastating 30-month civil war. A fragile oil economy vulnerable to external shocks. You will recall that in July 2008, the oil price was $147 per barrel. Six months later, it plummeted to $30 per barrel. You can imagine what that did to our budget. The erstwhile violence in the oil-producing region, Niger/Delta.

Truly, these do not by themselves constitute credible or even acceptable reasons for where Nigeria is today, because multi-ethnicity or military dictatorship and their attendant challenges are not peculiar to any one country. Bowden himself makes this point when he compares Nigeria to Indonesia.

Still, all these arguments, plausible or contrived, do not change where we are. So what can the United Sates do for us in this regard?

For one thing, the United States can help us in countering some of these destructive negative stereotypes. America's perspectives and official pronouncements influence opinions and decisions in boardrooms around the world.

There can be no question that the fragile democratic institutions, poor infrastructure, high level of poverty, preventable diseases, inconsistency in policy and, yes, corruption, are products of mismanaged and misappropriated years in Nigeria's ongoing march to a peaceful and prosperous nationhood. But as Ambassador Princeton Lyman recently pointed out in a well-meaning critique and perspective on Nigeria's situation and its prospective slide into irrelevance to the United States, corruption was a fact of life in many countries that made quantum leaps in development over the same 50-year period.

That may well be true, yet we cannot completely discount the impact of our complex heritage of ethnic and religious diversity or the lingering impact of colonial policy of divide and rule that sowed seeds of distrust and rivalry amongst diverse but otherwise largely harmonious neighbors.

The good news, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is that President Jonathan has set in motion a process of profound political and economic reform. These reforms were initially initiated by his two civilian predecessors to engender political stability, economic growth, wealth and job creation.

At the core of this reform is rejuvenating a policy of uncompromising supremacy of the rule of law, transparency, accountability, openness and due process in governance and in procurement.

There can be no doubt that the prevalence of such democratic values in combination with policies and the will to finally harness its vast resources, entrepreneurial talent and creative capacity of the Nigerian people -- as well, of course, as appropriate support from our friends -- will propel Nigeria to realize its potential, to be among the 20 largest economies in the world in less than a generation.

President Goodluck Jonathan is unrelenting in his advocacy of this vision. It has become evident that the president is determined to do all that is necessary to firmly place Nigeria on the path of constitutional democracy and good governance, through the conduct of free and fair elections and ensuring transparency and accountability.

Already and in line with the president's declared commitment, Nigeria has witnessed a series of fundamental changes in the nation's electoral system. Only last week, the national assembly passed the 2010 electoral act, which among other things outlaws the fraud-prone emergence of candidates for elective offices through the traditional pre-selection, endorsement and affirmation by powerful interest groups.

Candidates, to be credible and acceptable to the independent national electoral commission (INEC), must emerge through free and fair primary processes. The era of impunity, electoral fraud and malpractices is about to end, as far-reaching changes are taking place in the electoral commission.

We are set to embark on the production of an authentic and reliable voters register, to ensure that the 2011 elections in Nigeria meet acceptable benchmarks for credible elections.

The Niger Delta crisis too is being proactively addressed following the reasonably successful process of disarmament of the young people who took up arms against the state, to confront the injustice of decades of exploitation and neglect. The Niger Delta and regional security is appropriately an area of focus in our partnership with the United States through the Bi-National Commission.

With regard to our economy, over the last 12 years and despite the global economic and financial crisis, Nigeria managed to achieve respectable rates of economic growth of between 6 and 7 percent on average, resulting in Nigeria today being regarded as the 37th largest economy by GDP.

Our banking, communication and aviation sectors have grown and improved significantly. Also our international profile has benefitted somewhat through various international reports, including those from the World Bank and the IMF.

A recent Harvard Business Review rated Nigeria among 30 of the most important economies in the world. With the rule of law being entrenched, respect for human rights constitute a significant part of a general societal reform agenda.

Freedom of expression has for many years already become the order of the day. National crises are increasingly being resolved constitutionally, and the Nigerian people are beginning to reassert their rights to hold their leaders accountable.

Despite the fact that there are still many areas of weakness that require improvement, it is encouraging that most neutral analysis of Nigeria concludes that things are improving and that Nigeria is getting better.

To recapture our lost years, the government of President Jonathan has embarked on a long term development plan, to significantly enlarge Nigeria's economy and capacity by the year 2020. This plan encapsulates a detailed strategy for developing our infrastructure and services.

Now, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I raise these issues because I have read some reviews on Nigeria that tend to focus on all that Nigeria has left to do, without giving any due consideration or recognition to the tremendous progress that it has been made, over the last decade or even in the last few months under our new president.

It is sustaining this progress that would determine the extent of Nigeria's importance in its subregion and in the global arena in a few years. Nigeria ought to be among the several countries which barely two decades ago were disregarded but who through focused and consistent policy initiatives have come into the reckoning of the developed world. We are now set to attain that potential and to take our true place of strategic importance in global affairs.

And in spite of suggestions to the contrary, we do not take our progress or strategic importance for granted. Clearly, Nigeria's strategic importance does not lie only in its vast natural and human resources or in its impressive peace-keeping credentials or its population and the dubious negative impact of mass migration from a Nigeria in crisis. It lies rather in its unrealized potential and its unrivaled place in its immediate sphere of influence, West Africa.

Yes, Nigeria is the biggest economy in West Africa and the second-largest economy in subSaharan Africa, responsible, even with the current challenges it faces, for over 60 percent of the region's GDP. With a population estimated at 150 million, Africa's most populous nation has a youthful population and the hope that that brings. The median age is under 20 years.

With respect to natural resources, Nigeria currently has the sixth largest deposits of gas in the world and (is) the eighth largest producer of petroleum in the world. More than 34 solid minerals exist in exploitable commercial quantities. In addition, Nigeria has significant uranium deposits and vast uncultivated arable land, with numerous products that are capable of being harnessed. Hence, agriculture and food security forms another component of the BNC engagement with the United States.

Our human resource potential is similarly well acclaimed. Many Nigerians have distinguished themselves in their various fields all over the world. Nigerians have also won international acclaim and laurels in the professions, the arts, in science and business. Much of the short-sighted analysis of Nigeria therefore tends to ignore the giant strides that the country has made over the last decade and masks the well-conceived agenda of President Jonathan's administration to continue the process of reforms to position Nigeria in its rightful place as an important strategic partner to the leading nations of the world.

But the growth of our economy has been hampered by a critical infrastructure deficit, especially in the energy sector. We've already invested billions of dollars in power generation and in expanding transmission and distribution capacity, but are yet to realize the value of that investment. New plans include investment in clean-energy technologies. This indeed is the highest investment in energy in our 50-year history. This, essentially, is also the reason that the Jonathan administration and the Nigerian people welcomed the establishment of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission, which has investment in energy as one another of its four pillars.

But we also have plans to build railways, dams, roads, bridges to open up our economy. And we wish to ask American businesses and entrepreneurs, investors, to take a chance on Nigeria. We wish to invite corporate and small businesses in America to come and partner with Nigerian entrepreneurs and turn our indisputably incredible potential into reality.

In this regard, we are keen to diversify our economy away from oil and gas. We wish to become aggressive competitors in the world market, with tradable products, goods and services that can command effective demand in other countries. We have huge potentials in the production of solid minerals, agricultural and processed goods, manufactured goods, a comparative advantage in the provision of services, in tourism, finance and marketing. The seriousness of our determination is clearly evident in the ongoing reforms in the financial sector.

It is in these areas that Nigeria is turning to its friends, old friends like the United States of America, and many new and prospective friends who share our hope and optimism of a bright future.

The support we seek is direct investment in the extraction and processing of our solid minerals, in our agricultural sector to ensure food security and value addition. We also seek huge investments in our energy sector and in our infrastructure, development and maintenance of it, in transport and, of course, in education and health.

Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my final point is on the relevance of Nigeria's foreign policy, in Africa in particular and the world in general, from the peace and security standpoint.

From time to time, serious doubts of impact of Nigeria's foreign policy in our region and the African continent have been raised in different quarters.

From the tone of my remarks so far, it should be clear that we are not averse to criticism especially from friends, who do so in good faith for constructive change to occur. All we ask however is that those who criticize us should do so fairly.

I will state without equivocation that the strength of Nigeria's diplomatic efforts and peacekeeping credentials in Africa, especially in the West African sub-region, is outstanding.

At every point in the last decade, Nigeria has unquestionably provided the leadership and the diplomatic clout to advance the peace, stability, common security and prosperity of all its neighbors and beyond and thereby played its part in contributing to global peace and security.

Even in periods of our own domestic difficulties, Nigeria has never been a bystander in African or world affairs. It was in the front lines of the struggle for the liberation of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.

Today from Guinea-Bissau to Guinea-Conakry, Congo-DRC, Liberia to Sierra Leone, Niger Republic to Cote d'Ivoire, Chad to Sudan, no one could justifiably deny Nigeria's efforts and commitment and impact.

ECOWAS, a sub-regional organization, has successfully pioneered the establishment of a standing peacekeeping force -- ECOMOG, now the ECOWAS standby force -- and has undoubtedly made historic strides and impact in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire.

The feat achieved by ECOWAS would have been inconceivable without Nigeria's contribution and leadership role. Today, Nigeria still maintains the largest contingents of peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Liberia and in many ways has borne the highest cost.

Indeed the impact of the absence of Nigerian peacekeepers in Somalia is all too clear, hence the clamor for Nigeria to redeem its pledge to send troops. The African Union is now advocating a change of mandate for AMISOM, that's the hybrid peacekeeping force in Somalia, from peacekeeping to peace enforcement.

The African Union is also seeking international commitment guaranteed by the United Nations Security Council, to provide the resources and logistics necessary for effective engagement in Somalia. Anything short of these conditions will not only render any peacekeepers virtually ineffective but also expose them to avoidable danger and allow the problem to escalate.

As for Nigeria's diplomatic impact in Africa and beyond, those who are in doubt should spare some time to examine the activities of Nigeria's technical aid corps -- volunteer engineers, nurses, doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc., in far-flung places as Namibia, Mozambique, the Gambia, Seychelles and the Caribbean, to name a few. And this has been going on without a break for more than 20 years.

Our foreign policy in Africa is first and foremost based on a clear conviction that our destiny is ultimately and inexorably connected to those of our neighbors and Africans in diaspora. Over 1 million Nigerians live and work here in the United States, many of them making vital contributions to the development of this nation.

In conclusion, Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish to reiterate what I had said earlier, that democracy in a multi-ethnic, culturally heterogeneous developing country of 150 million people is sometimes noisy, passionate, controversial and certainly always complicated.

Those who judge us by whatever standards should not ignore these facts whenever they pass judgment. The promise of Nigeria is real. We are determined to build and entrench democratic institutions, effective and good governance, while confronting our challenges and combatting violent extremism in all its forms.

At the same time, we are determined to set up a competitive market economy with adequate infrastructure to deal with long-term problems of poverty, unemployment, hunger, disease, ignorance and, yes, climate change.

The final promise is that Nigeria will not fail, because we are committed to confronting our challenges and unafraid to do whatever is needed to keep Nigeria as one united nation, in order to fulfill our common destiny as a peaceful and prosperous nation, united in our diversity. A successful Nigeria is an asset to the world.

We now have in President Goodluck Jonathan a leader who is seriously committed to doing something about our problems, and we are making firm progress. We need your support, and I know that we can count on it.

Thank you so much for your kind attention. (Applause.)

LYMAN: Mr. Minister, thank you for what was truly an extraordinary statement. And I really -- I'm really -- I think we're all very impressed with how much ground you covered in that and how passionate you were about Nigeria and its realities and its potential.

We had the privilege, as you know, of having President Jonathan here a few months ago. He made a very fine impression, and you have added to that tremendously.

I wonder if I could just take a few minutes before I open it up, to raise a couple of questions that come from your presentation. President Jonathan and -- as you have articulated, has laid out a very -- a very ambitious program: in elections, in the Niger Delta, in energy, et cetera. But elections, according to a new constitutional amendment, will take place in January, leaving very little time to overhaul what had been a marred election system in 2007, as well as raising questions about the continuity of some of these new programs.

So I wonder if I could ask you to comment a little bit about the prospects for pulling off a good election in January, and how that bears on issues like moving forward in the Delta and some of the other priorities that you mentioned.

AJUMOGOBIA: Well, let me say -- let me say this. There's an expression that the -- one should try and avoid perfection being the enemy of the good. We don't think that we're going to have a perfect election, and that's not the intention. The intention is to have a credible election, an election in which votes are counted, an election in which the results are collated based on a process that's been preagreed, and an election in which all the participants are reasonably satisfied that a process has been followed and that the results are tenable.

That's what we hope to achieve. And we believe that even though the time frame is short and ambitious, there is complete coherence in terms of the determination between the government, the independent electoral commission, headed by an outstanding person -- everyone is confident that he will do the right thing, and he's taking the right steps so far. And so we're reasonably confident that we will pull it off.

LYMAN: And the Niger Delta: You are obviously an expert on the whole area of petroleum and all the issues there. And you raised it again as an issue not only of importance to Nigeria, but to the region. There hasn't been a lot of concrete follow-up action to the amnesty; and therefore, producing more unrest, or threats of unrest, in the area. What do you see happening in the near term in the Niger Delta that would make a difference in -- looking forward?

AJUMOGOBIA: Well, the amnesty itself -- the disarmament phase of the amnesty worked partly because the young men in the creeks themselves were disposed to giving up their arms and being engaged in society. And so that's the backdrop.

Yes, we have -- things have slipped. We went through several months of crisis, during which expectations were not met. Some of the -- some of the leaders of these groups employed hundreds of people through illegal activities -- bunkering, selling stolen crude oil and so on. And some of the promises that were made to them were not fulfilled in the immediate aftermath of the disarmament.

I think they recognize those challenges. And currently the -- some of these 20,000 young men have been engaged in camps. They're paid a stipend while we find vocational activities. Some of them are undergoing training.

The first phase is a reorientation. And the first batch of about 2,500 have been through that process of reorientation. The next phase is vocational training.

Many of them have been to university, have degrees. And they gave up their education to go into the creeks for what they thought was a justifiable cause.

Some of those have indicated an interest in furthering their studies. And we hope that the United States will support us in finding placements for some of those people who need to be, if you like retrained.

And so it is a challenge. But it's working. I don't share the skepticism of those who think that the process has fallen apart. It hasn't. I spoke to the president's special adviser just this morning, to find out where things were.

And yes, there are hiccups here and there, but that's expected when you see the dimension of this problem.

LYMAN: Can I turn to one of your foreign policy issues that you raised?

You mentioned Somalia. It's obviously a country of great concern. The African Union as you pointed out has called for an increase in AMISOM but also a change of mandate.

Did I sense in your comments about Nigeria's possible contribution that it would be dependent on both a change in the mandate and a U.N. commitment to AMISOM?

AJUMOGOBIA: Yes. We think that -- I mean, I said this when I visited the U.N. recently, that we did make a pledge of a battalion to AMISOM. This was I think in 2007. And in 2010, clearly that's not the solution.

And I think all the parties, all the stakeholders recognize this, that we need to take a more holistic view of the situation in Somalia. It's taken on global proportions now especially with the bombing in Uganda, recent bombing in Kampala.

And therefore while we recognize the reluctance of our Western partners and allies to send troops there, we do feel that we should work in partnership perhaps under the auspices of the United Nation Security Council, to review our strategy and the mandate.

I don't think that a peacekeeping force where there's no peace is an effective strategy. I think we need to engage with the political actors, with the various groups that make up this terrible, crisis-torn region and work out a political action plan, if you like. And the troops fall in within that framework.

We think that's the way to go. And we've said this at the African Union. I think the African Union has itself adopted that posture. And we're hoping to be able to engage -- with, you know, the other countries in the African Union and, you know, the European Union and the United States -- towards finding a lasting solution.

LYMAN: Good. Thank you very much. I'm going to -- I could ask a dozen more, but there's 100 people here. So I'm going to open it up to questions. And please wait for the microphone, state your name and affiliation. Make it a short, concise question. Let me start right here with this gentleman. And she will bring a microphone.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Mahesh Kotecha, Structured Credit, from New York. And we do have some manners now that we could improve in New York. Certainly we could.

My question is regarding -- first of all, congratulations on trying to pierce the perception gap, as it were, with respect to Nigeria, which is quite real, as you point out.

And I hope that you will use financial markets, which I know very well, to help pierce that further. You have a rating. You have a potential issue, bond issue to do. You are going to -- you are financing, promoting Africa finance corporation. It's very good.

My question is, when you talk about foreign policy issues, you see the Chinese very active in Africa. Could you comment on the Chinese presence and interest in Nigeria and how you view it?

AJUMOGOBIA: Well, I think the Chinese have approached Nigeria and Africa from a completely different paradigm from the West. For example, they come and say they want to buy our crude, but they will build refineries to refine it in situ. They want to mine commodities. They will invest in the country. So I think that's a different -- a completely different paradigm from what we're used to. And it's an interesting paradigm for a developing country that has challenges in meeting budget requirements and so on.

They've expressed -- in Nigeria in particular, they've expressed a great interest in the oil-and-gas sector. They've recently acquired a medium-sized company, which they expect to grow.

As far as the government is concerned, we feel that -- as I said in my remarks, we tend to go to our old, traditional partners in seeking assistance when we need it, but we welcome new players. And that's really the attitude that we have.

LYMAN: Other questions here. Hank Cohen, right there.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for your address. I'm Herman Cohen. I'm a retired State Department official, colleague, same generation as Princeton Lyman.

And I've followed very closely what Nigeria has been doing in West Africa, and I would endorse your statement that Nigeria has been very important in stability operations in keeping West Africa stable. And there are many bright spots, like Liberia, Guinea, others, countries which are coming through very good transitions from very dark pasts.

So the one question I have is Guinea-Bissau, which clearly is becoming a narcotic state, very unstable, inability to control the country. Shouldn't ECOWAS now be honing in on that, sort of the last real big problem in West Africa?

LYMAN: If I could add to that, Mr. -- because the narcotics invasion, if I will, of Africa goes beyond Guinea-Bissau. And as many of you may know, what's happening is that Latin -- South American cartels are moving cocaine through West Africa to Europe, where the market is growing very rapidly. And the potential of what we've seen in Guinea-Bissau and the corruptibility and the potential of narcostates is frightening.

And I would appreciate your addressing Hank's question and putting it in that largest context, if you could.

AJUMOGOBIA: Yeah, Guinea-Bissau is certainly a country that we're engaging in; the African Union, it's one of our priorities. It's one of the most -- more difficult cases because there isn't a government that is in control. They have issues, the whole issue of security sector reform, with the military that were involved in conflict and now you have generals who have been there for years and years and who basically are controlling this process, and unfortunately some are involved in this trade.

I think, again, as I said for Somalia, I think it's important to take an over-arching view of the situation. Narcotics -- what's happened is the South American cocaine producers have found a convenient transit route through West Africa, where there's poor government -- poor governance, porous borders; they can land planes and take off without any checks and so on.

I think we have to look at both where the cocaine comes from and where it's going. And all the partners work together to try and check this. It's not -- at the same time, of course, we have to try and install good governance in Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria's taking the lead in working on that. It's going to require deft diplomacy to try and get these people who are in positions of power and authority to give up that power and authority in the interests of the future of the country.

We are making progress. It's slow, but I think we have a road map now.

LYMAN: Okay. We can take a question right there, the gentleman there. We have a microphone coming.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Mike Baker. I'm an international affairs fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Foreign Minister, I appreciate your comments about needing to diversify your trade way from commodities to increase your GDP. And you specifically mentioned manufactured goods.

In that area, the maritime sector will be crucial: one, to have efficient ports; one, to have maritime security; and a third, to have transparent and better government bureaucracy, to reduce the red tape. Those three areas being critical to attract investment of companies that might produce manufacturers put in to employ the large population in Nigeria will be critical. What is the government's plan in the maritime sector to revolutionize, if you will, the Nigerian maritime sector in these three areas?

AJUMOGOBIA: Well, let me -- let me say in response -- and ask a question in response. Why would it be that freight to Nigeria is more expensive than freight to Iraq in the middle of a war? Why would it be that goods and services, procurement of goods and services, the oil industry, is twice what it is in Angola?

Now, the excuse is -- in Nigeria, has been the Niger Delta. But when you look at the cost profile for Nigeria, it's not going to work. And that's why I talked about -- I started out talking about the perspective and the perception of Nigeria outside. I mean, people will go where they have -- they find a competitive advantage. That competitive advantage simply can't be realized in this context.

Having said that, the Nigerian government is reforming the maritime industry. We have new laws, cabotage laws, that have tried to encourage greater Nigerian participation, greater efficiency in the ports. We are trying to -- we have an infrastructure commission that is looking at building -- expanding the existing ports and security in the maritime sector.

So while we're addressing those issues in the short term, there are more -- there are longer-term issues that need to be addressed. And I think perception is one of them.

LYMAN: Other questions in the back? I think -- yes, right on the aisle there.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Hi, Mr. Minister. First of all, I hope that I am not one of the journalists --

LYMAN: Identify yourself, please.

QUESTIONER: Yes, I'm sorry, I'm Elizabeth Dickinson. I am with Foreign Policy Magazine now, but I believe we knew each other sort of briefly when I worked for The Economist in Nigeria. So I hope I'm not guilty of your charges.

I wanted to ask you about the upcoming elections once more, and specifically about President Jonathan's candidacy, whether he's considering a run. And speaking of stereotypes, I'm hoping you can debunk one for us that's often in the press here about the regional calculus of that political decision within the ruling party, the PDP.

AJUMOGOBIA: I think the -- this -- the debate has been taken out of proportion. The issue of zoning, which is what we call it, where the political offices are rotated between zones of the country -- Nigeria's been divided into six zones. And this is not constitutional; this was an expedient process to try and create inclusion in the political process. And it's only within the ruling political party, the PDP. So all other parties -- and there are 50 of them -- are entitled to field whoever they wish to field. The PDP, as a matter of policy, decided that it was in its own interest to have this zoning policy, where power would shift between the north and the south.

I think what's happening now, because of what -- the emergence of President Jonathan following the unfortunate demise of President Yar'Adua, is that that policy is being debated. And it's for the ruling party to determine whether it's still in its interest to have that policy -- notwithstanding the fact that President Jonathan is an incumbent president and member and leader of the political party -- or not.

And as far as President Jonathan's candidacy is concerned, he has -- I think he's considering it. He's consulting widely. He hasn't made a formal declaration of his interests. And I think he's also interested in how this debate plays out. So I think that's where we are.

LYMAN: Can I pick up on that to ask -- and then I'll come back to you, John (sp) -- you're -- suddenly it occurs me, you're a young man, and President Jonathan is a young man. Is there a generational change in leadership taking place? I realize we still have people from the older generation who are running -- president -- former President Babangida, perhaps former President Buhari -- but are we seeing a generational change in leadership in Nigeria?

AJUMOGOBIA: I hope so. (Laughter.) I -- I really do. And I think that -- one of the problems we've had in Nigeria is people who -- in politics in the 1960s are still active on the stage. And you know, with due respect to them, I think that it's time that another generation give it a shot. And I think President Jonathan is doing a pretty good job.

MODERATOR: Okay. (Scattered applause.) John, right here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm John Negroponte. My last job in the last administration was as deputy secretary of State. I had an opportunity, Mr. Minister, to visit your country at that time and also in prior assignments during the Bush administration. I was ambassador to the United Nations, where I had an opportunity to appreciate the great work that your country and I think many of the African countries are doing in this whole multilateral arena. I think sometimes the United Nations and our own country gets a bum rap, as we say, in terms of what its been able to accomplish in terms of the peacekeeping missions, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and so forth, and of course the AU, which you mentioned, which has been more proactive as the years have gone by.

But my question to you, Mr. Minister, related to a completely different subject, which is that of international terrorism. And when I during that same time a couple of years ago traveled to some of the other countries just south of the Maghreb in that sub-Saharan African region -- Chad, Niger, et cetera -- there was talk about al Qaeda in the Maghreb and international terrorism, and I'd be very interested in just hearing about your comments as to how you see the international terrorist threat, so-called, affecting both the region in which your country is located and Nigeria itself.

Thank you.

AJUMOGOBIA: I think the threat is real. I mean, you only need to look at Uganda to see how real it is and the threats of al Shabaab, that they will -- there will be more similar attacks in countries that send to troops to Somalia. And I think that that escalates the problem to a global phenomenon. I think the war against terror is a global one. We're all part of it and we all have to be part of it in our own interests.

Nigeria in -- between 2003 and 2007, as I said, I was attorney general in River State. And as far back as then, a bill, an anti-terrorism bill was being circulated amongst the attorney generals of the 36 states and the federal attorney general. That bill is now before the national assembly and has been for a while; it's making its way through the process.

So Nigeria is completely committed to the fight against terror, and we -- but it's the nature of the war against terror is such that you require vast amounts of intelligence to be able to contain the threats. I mean, it's very difficult to stop a suicide bomber from attacking a facility without -- if you had no knowledge, prior knowledge of the operations that went behind it.

And so we obviously need assistance from the United States and others in trying to build that capacity to be able to contain the threat. So absolutely, we're completely with you -- with the United States on this issue.

MODERATOR: Ambassador, did you want to make a comment?

AMB. ADEFUYE: My name is Ade Adefuye, Nigerian embassy. Let me -- there are two (views ?) I want to quickly respond to. I have not read Richard Dowden's book, and when the minister showed me yesterday, I promised I will read it. (Briefly ?) -- I will read not read it, because of the fear of having stomach upset. But I will read it if only it compels me to do so -- (inaudible) -- questions. I think -- (inaudible) -- somebody I knew -- (inaudible). He's one of these social scientists who sets up hypotheses and then look for facts to fit into their hypotheses and theories they set up. I mean, there's no factual -- I don't think I should let it go without being convinced about it.

The point is, he said that companies that do business in Nigeria are not going to say so lest their shares die. I got here three months ago and I was seeing ExxonMobil, Chevron, Halliburton, AES -- all these companies do business in Nigeria, and they do advertise, and they make so much money. Why do business in Nigeria and make it known to the world that you do business in Nigeria? And it's sort of -- it's an issue of research methodology. He did -- he mentioned the case of Ghanaian cab driver in London, just one person, and then he concluded that every Ghanaian feels the same way that he feels. So much for that.

But then it was very painful, as -- (inaudible). Is it negative stereotypes he's sending all over the place? Yes, it's because Nigeria's a failed state. That is a failed state that said -- that was midwifed the birth of ECOWAS and was responsible for 70 percent of ECOWAS -- (inaudible) -- ever since it was created in 1975. A failed state is one that established a technical aid corps 20 years ago that provided the basis for the -- (inaudible) -- assisted in Jamaica, which I had the privilege of dealing with when I was ambassador for -- in Jamaica.

It is a failed state that is one of the largest countries to host a U.N. peacekeeping effort, a fact agreed to by Ban Ki-moon. It is a failed state that been leading both AU and ECOWAS in the task -- in-country terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want to say about -- (inaudible) -- but just pray that God will forgive him. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: I have time for one more question. Let me take the gentleman right there, please, and then we'll bring it to a close.

QUESTIONER: Welcome, His Excellency. My name is Anselm -- (inaudible) -- Miller (sp). I'm from Nigeria. I'm based in Chicago. I'm particularly from River State and I'm glad that you're also my brother.

Having said that, I want to contribute briefly to what steps can be taken to ensure credible elections in 2011. One thing I've noticed is this during elections, it's not that the process is not transparent, but the appearance that it is not transparent gives that conclusion that it is non-transparent. So I would therefore suggest that as a way of making that election transparent, the independent national electoral commission should allow party agents to be present at each of those polling booths. Results should be declared over there, interested local and international observers should be allowed to even certify some of these results or all the results. If these things are done and results are done, accounted in the public where people see that there is no manipulation, I think much of this discussion about non-transparency of elections will be reduced, if not eliminated.

And then on the issue of the Niger Delta, I also want to add that while the government has taken steps to address that problem in terms of the militancy, I also think that we need to deal with the issue of criminality which is separate from those who are actually fighting for the Niger Delta, although we all know the history of it, that it lost -- (inaudible) -- from criminality

But when it comes to the government, we should also look at something like those physical projects, infrastructure development, they should be expedited. I saw it most of the road when I was home in Nigeria, which was the dry season and they have not been completed.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: I have to bring it to close. Minister, why don't you answer that, and any other final comments that you would like to make.

AJUMOGOBIA: Well, on the Niger Delta, let me take that first. The challenge is to find gainful employment for these 20,000 young men. When I was in the petroleum industry, one of the things that we're trying to accelerate was the new LNG project. At the inception of the project, once final investment decisions had been taken, the civil works and infrastructure part of the project could employ up to 5,000 people, and I think the petroleum industry is working on this.

So it's to drive some of the large infrastructure projects, the coastal road refineries and so on, to take out, to employ these people.

I think the commitment of the young people is that they feel that this government is sincere in its wish to change the fortunes of the region. I mean, this has been a crisis that's 50 years old. So from that point of view, the challenge is in working with these young people and with donor agencies and so on who can support us in finding outlets for them in the short-term and prospects for them in the medium- and long-term.

With regard to the other point you raised --

MODERATOR: Election transparency.

AJUMOGOBIA: I agree with you. I mean, I think like Caesar's wife, you must be seen to be above board, you know. And so it's, I think, the idea of announcing results at the polling booths is part of the old electoral law. It's still part of the new one, and what President Jonathan has said is that we will ensure that that is done the same. Again, having party agents at polling booths is again part of the old electoral law; they're entitled to do so.

I think finally I would say that President Jonathan had said when he was here last time that the PDP has been the predominant party in the country, and out of 36 states, it controls 27. And so it wouldn't be -- it shouldn't be surprising if they win an election, but it must be seen to be done fairly. And I think that's important and that's what we're committed to doing.

MODERATOR: Well, Mr. Minister, I can't thank you enough. You have been as articulate as any representative of your country could possibly be. As someone who enjoys going to Nigeria, and I always do, I think you've laid out the issues here extraordinarily well and we are very honored and privileged to have had you here. And I'd ask all -- please thank the minister for this outstanding presentation. (Applause.)







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