The United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has said his country has so far delivered 7.6 million doses of safe, effective vaccines to Nigeria, and will send another significant number of doses by the end of the year, with no strings attached.
Blinken who disclosed this during a joint press conference with Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama in Abuja on Thursday, after the signing ceremony for $2.1 Billion development assistance agreement between the two countries, also noted that the United States is helping to bring treatment to more than 1.5 million people in Nigeria living with HIV/AIDS, and is on track to control the epidemic by 2023.
The secretary of state who is on official visit to Nigeria, noted that Nigeria touches the United States every day through the amazing power of its diaspora.
According to him, “Musicians, writers, artists, entrepreneurs, athletes enrich our lives, make them more interesting, more rewarding, and we’re grateful for that as well.”
Blinken said, “Our meetings today, the engagements that I’ll have throughout my time here in Nigeria, reflect the depth of this partnership of now more than six decades and the way that our collaboration is vital – and maybe more vital than ever – to tackling shared challenges and actually delivering results for our people, which is what our responsibility really is.
“Let me just touch on a few of the issues that we’ve been talking about today and where our cooperation is especially important. First, we’re working together to beat back COVID-19 and to build back better as we address the devastating impact that it’s had on all of us – on our communities, on our economies. The United States has delivered 7.6 million doses of safe, effective vaccines to Nigeria, and we expect to send another significant number of doses by the end of the year, donated with no strings attached. And we’re providing significant aid to save lives right now, from the more than 150 testing labs that we helped to set up nationwide to helping tackle a food security crisis that was worsened by the pandemic.
“We have teamed up for a long time to confront epidemics and to improve public health. In that sense, this is not new. The United States and others worked with Nigeria toward eliminating wild polio virus, supporting vaccination campaigns, aiding surveillance to detect and isolate cases. That collaboration was key to the country being certified free of the virus in August of 2020. That’s a huge achievement. American assistance is helping to bring treatment to more than 1.5 million people in Nigeria living with HIV/AIDS, and we’re on track for epidemic control by 2023. Our support for primary health care helps provide vital services to more than 60 million Nigerians.
“These and other efforts have helped create a robust infrastructure for Nigeria’s COVID-19 response and broader efforts to strengthen public health security, which are essential to detect and prevent the next pandemic.
“Second, we’re working with Nigeria to build back better from the pandemic by fostering inclusive, sustainable economic growth. That’s the goal of the 2 billion development agreement that Geoffrey and I just signed, and which will make, I think, significant investments in improving access to quality education, public health, and other services and tools that Nigeria’s rising generations are looking for and need to thrive here at home and in a global economy. And we’re committed to working with the government as it pursues economic reforms, for example, to create a more stable regulatory environment to attract more foreign investment.
“Third, we’re working together to address the global climate crisis. The foreign minister and I were both just at COP26, where President Buhari made significant new commitments to join the Global Methane Pledge and build on the progress that Nigeria has made in solar power. This is crucial as more and more Nigerians feel the impact of the crisis, something the president, I must say, talked about very eloquently when we were together a short while ago, and people displaced, people who have lost connections with their livelihoods as a result of climate change, among other disruptions.
“Our work together also demonstrates how tackling this crisis represents an opportunity – a once-in-a-generations opportunity – to create good-paying jobs and expand renewable energy access. The USAID has a five-year, $110 million project, the Nigeria Power Sector Program, and that’s supporting key initiatives like the Solar Power Naija, which will bring solar energy to 25 million Nigerians who are off the electric grid and lack access to power. That, in turn, is expected to create as many as 250,000 new jobs in the energy sector, spur local industry, generate $18.5 million in annual tax revenues. So it will have practical, meaningful effects.”
Blinken said the United States will continue to support Nigeria in its effort to tackle terrorism, while expressing satisfaction with the report of the Lagos State panel of inquiry on Lekki tollgate shooting, which indicted the Army and the police in the killing of protesters.
“Fourth, we’re working with Nigeria to address security challenges, including those posed by Boko Haram, ISIS West Africa, and other terrorist and extremist groups. In meetings with the president, with the vice president, with the foreign minister, we discussed the importance of a comprehensive approach that builds effective security forces, addresses the underlying drivers of extremism, and respects Nigerians’ basic human rights. The United States is committed to helping Nigeria do that by continuing to invest in our security partnership and the institutions that strengthen the rule of law and that hold accountable those who commit human rights abuses, corruption, and other acts that harm the Nigerian people. By tackling these issues, we can help to address some of the problems that have been key drivers of insecurity,”he said.
“To that end, let me say that we welcome the conclusion of the investigation by the independent of inquiry established by the Lagos state government to look into the events that took place near Lekki toll gate in Lagos in October of 2020, and this, of course, was amidst the “End SARS” protests, including the killings and other alleged abuses by the security forces. We anticipate and look to the state and the federal government’s response to the findings and expect those to include steps that ensure accountability and address the grievances of the victims and their families. We’re also working closely with Nigeria to help the populations most affected by conflict and violence in the country, particularly in the northeast, where the United States is providing vital humanitarian aid to approximately 2.2 million internally displaced Nigerians.
“The United States continues to build the capacity, together with Nigeria, of the military, including through the recent delivery of 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft. But capacity building goes much deeper than delivering military hardware, something that we talked about as well. We’re also providing more human rights and rule of law training because military and civilian security forces are more effective when they act in accordance with these values and because it’s crucial that Nigeria hold accountable members of the military who commit abuses.
“Journalists, human rights defenders, and others in Nigeria’s very vibrant civil society are playing a vital role in shining a spotlight on these and other issues. Their ability to exercise freedom of expression and other basic human rights is crucial to advocating for individuals and communities and strengthening this country’s vibrant democracy, as we’ve seen in the successful efforts to promote electoral reform and lower the age at which Nigerians can run for office. I look very much forward to meeting several of these leaders tomorrow, including faith leaders who are defusing communal tensions and promoting peace. And we look forward to Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, joining the Summit for Democracy next month. All participants from government to civil society will make commitments to improve and strengthen democracy in our respective countries and strengthen the partnership among democratic nations.
“The range of issues that we’re working on together is vast, but given the interests we share and the challenges we have in common, delivering for our people demands that we find ways to deepen our existing ties and partnerships even further. That’s ultimately what this visit and the work that we’re doing every single day between our governments, between our people – that’s what it’s all about.
“Lastly, let just say one brief word about yesterday’s events in Sudan. The United States is deeply concerned by the violence used by Sudanese military against people engaged in peaceful protest, which reportedly killed more than a dozen civilians and wounded scores more. The military must respect the rights of civilians to assemble peacefully and express their views, and we continue to support the demand of the Sudanese people for the restoration of the civilian-led transition, including the return of Prime Minister Hamdok to office and the immediate release of all those detained since October 25th.”
In his own remarks, Onyeama thanked the United States for its technical support, especially in the provision of vaccines, while noting that Nigeria is working towards producing own vaccines.
On the report of the Lagos State panel on police brutality, the minister said the government believes in the rule of law and are following all the processes.
He noted that the government has been totally transparent and actually encouraged and helped to set up these panels of inquiry and to make it transparent and totally open, and will continue to do so.
“So as was mentioned, the Secretary had excellent meetings with Mr. President and also with the vice president. We were able to sign – again, as he mentioned – an agreement that, within the framework of USAID, will engage and provide assistance in very important, critical areas for the country, and we thank you very much indeed for this technical assistance and support.
“There are various areas that we cooperate with the United States in. First off – as, again, the Secretary has mentioned – to thank the United States for the assistance that was provided, especially the vaccines, in the health sector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate this enormously. Of course, the real challenge – we’re a country of 200 million people, and we have to – we aspire to about 70 percent vaccination level for our people. That’s a huge number,” Onyeama noted.
“And what we really need to be looking at, of course, is manufacturing vaccines ourselves here, and we’re hoping to have some cooperation and support from the United States and other friendly countries in the transfer of technology that is required and also in the licensing agreements, especially for the transfer of intellectual property rights, the permission or the license to produce. That might take some time, but we are hoping that we can count on the United States to help bring that about as some of the pharmaceutical companies, American ones, are producing very important vaccines.
“An area that’s also of importance to us here in Nigeria is also the consular one. I mean, a lot of Nigerians are asking how we can ease the regime of visa applications to the United States embassies. And so, of course, we had a mechanism, the drop box mechanism, and now a lot of us – and because COVID has, of course, exacerbated everything – have very long waiting times to even secure interviews for their visa applications. And so this is an area that we hope that we can really look at and try to find some solution to.
“The security aspect that you’ve also mentioned that was discussed with Mr. President and also with the vice president. It’s an area, again, that we have very important and very fruitful cooperation with the United States. Of course, the global terrorism is a global scourge, and we all need to work together to address it. And we appreciate enormously the weaponry that’s been provided to Nigeria. And as you say correctly, it’s not just the hardware but also the, quote/unquote, “software,” of training the personnel to be able to have – to take maximum advantage of this weaponry. But we do appreciate the cooperation in security, in the security area, the sharing of intelligence, and we’re very much on the same page with regards to the fight against terrorism.
“In the area of trade, of course, once upon a time, the United States was our largest market for petroleum, for selling oil. And in a few years, we’ve seen the U.S. become totally self-sufficient, so our largest market has disappeared right there. But we would, of course, like to also access the U.S. markets for other products that we have. This government has, as a priority, the diversification of our economy. Of course, we relied far too heavily on one commodity, petroleum.
“And the United States has a mechanism, the African Growth Opportunities Act, to facilitate market access for African countries. And we’re not taking advantage of it as much as we should. And one of the areas of challenge for us is a priority area for us, which is agriculture, and we’re hoping to export more agricultural products to the United States. And there are certain market access issues we have, some with regards to the quality of the agricultural products, phytosanitary aspects, and we would like to be able to work with you to be able to try and address that and facilitate more easily for our agricultural sector access to the U.S. market.
“And the U.S. is coming up to look at other areas of cooperation with developing countries. And our president, President Muhammadu Buhari, met of course in Glasgow during the COP26 with President Biden. And President Biden is one of the presidents or leaders behind an initiative to access – to make – to facilitate the support for developing countries in regards to infrastructure. And again, this is a key priority area for our government, the huge infrastructure deficit that we have and challenges that we face. And so we really look forward to working together in trying to help solve some of these infrastructure challenges that we and other developing countries face. And they’re really happy that it’s now become a real policy objective of the United States to do this, and we look forward to working with you very much in this area.
“Of course, in the humanitarian field, we’re extremely grateful to the support that has been provided by the United States in the humanitarian area. The large number of internally displaced persons that we have in north and the work that some of your agencies are doing in this area is something that we welcome enormously.
“And of course we discussed with the vice president on the issue – the area of climate change. And so here, after the Paris Agreement, developing countries, United States and others, big emitters I might say, made a commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries to help with adaptation, mitigation. And so far, it’s been observed more in breach than in the observance of this promise. So we’re hoping also that the U.S. – and we’re delighted to have the U.S. back supporting the multilateral system and back in the climate change, finding a solution to – on climate action. And so we’re also hoping that the U.S. will push the other industrialized countries to make good on this promise, because we certainly need this kind of financial support to be able to put in place all the actions that we need for mitigation and for adaptation.
“And of course, in this context, as the vice president mentioned, is a very important issue for us as a gas-producing country. In fact, Nigeria is seen more – well, we are actually more of a gas-producing country than actually an oil-producing country. And we’re looking to gas to help to address our energy needs. And we noticed that a number of the big industrialized countries and financial institutions are now defunding projects and gas projects, and of course this would really be a huge blow for countries such as ours that really want to see gas as a transition fuel and to have time in which to work towards net zero – 2050, 2060, net zero emission, but in the meantime to be able to also continue to use gas and exploit the gas that we have at our disposal. So we hope that the U.S. will understand and support us in getting financial institutions such as the World Bank and others to go easy, as it were, on some of these countries that need this transition period to use these fuels.
“And you talked about the “End SARS,” and of course the Lagos panel has come out with a report. But I think one thing is absolutely clear, is that the government believes in the rule of law and are following all the processes. The government’s been totally transparent and actually encouraged and helped to set up these panels of inquiry and to make it transparent and totally open. And we’ll continue to do so. So I think that there’s no issue there.
“And we’re also learned with and have read with much appreciation that Nigeria has been taken off the list of concern for countries that the U.S. feels have issues with religious freedom. So we appreciate that you have recognized that Nigeria need not be a country of concern as far as religious freedom is concerned. So we welcome that decision by your government.”