The outlook of the U.S. on Nigeria’s sustainable development

17 Oct 2018
Stuart Symington


A decisive factor in Nigeria’s sustainable development path will be the dedication of its citizens to a common and inclusive agenda.

Stephen M. Haykin, Mission Director, Nigeria, USAID (representative of US Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington)

This being the remarks of Ambassador Stuart Symington, United States Ambassador to Nigeria, who was represented by Stephen M. Haykin, USAID Mission Director, at the 10th Anniversary Colloquium of Financial Nigeria magazine, which held on September 11, 2018 at the Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja, on the theme: "Nigeria's Sustainable Development Agenda." 

Salutations: Distinguished Guests

I would like to begin by thanking Jide Akintunde and the sponsors of this forum on such an important topic.

In my remarks, I will explain why we are bullish on Nigeria’s Sustainable Development. I will discuss some of the salient challenges. I will share highlights of the US response through our advocacy and actions. Finally, I will suggest that there is a “special sauce” that will enrich Nigeria’s sustainable development menu.

Bullish on Nigeria

There are many reasons for the United States to be bullish on Nigeria.

The people of Nigeria are dynamic and diverse; there is a strong entrepreneurial streak and there is an abundance of highly talented professionals with a vast array of skills.

There is considerable, untapped economic potential. Nigeria can certainly supplement its natural resource-based economy with increases in agricultural production and agro-processing, manufacturing for a large internal and regional market, and service provision. For instance, one of our commercial contacts has created hundreds of jobs in call centers serving clients around the world.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest democracies and my sense is that most Nigerians want that democracy to deepen and endure; it may not always appear obvious, but Nigeria’s institutions are important arbiters of the complex demands of a diverse population.

Nigeria is also a valued partner of the United States. In fact, Nigeria enjoys a trade surplus with the United States: Nigeria’s exports to the US totaled $6 billion in 2017, while the US exported $2.2 billion in goods to Nigeria. We also have strong ties in the areas of investment, security cooperation and cultural exchange.  


Even as we are optimistic, we are keenly aware of the challenges that Nigeria faces.

Although Nigeria is a middle-income country, there is great income inequality and there are deep pockets of poverty. We must also be concerned where there is marginalization of women or other groups due to their ethnicity, beliefs or means of livelihood. Nigeria has a youthful population, but Nigerian youth do not all enter adulthood with the same means and opportunities.

Nigeria faces huge demographic challenges. Population will likely increase to nearly 450 million by 2050. Coupled with climate change, this will put profound pressure on Nigeria’s resources, notably water and arable land. Population growth will also tend to outstrip the capacity of the country’s infrastructure and, already, it means that nearly one million youth are entering the job market each quarter. Population growth is thus the Achilles heel of efforts to promote sustainable development.

Poverty and inequality are closely associated with poor health, education and nutrition status. You are well aware of the severity and variability of the health and education statistics. Were you aware that 36 percent of Nigeria’s children under five are stunted, with the profound impacts this will have on their health, education and earning prospects over the course of their lives?

One proximate cause of poor health, education and nutrition status is low public expenditures. This, in turn, is related to very low public revenues, due in part to low tax rates and weak systems for tax collection. Low social spending is also the result of transfers from Government to the petroleum and power sectors because fuel and electricity tariffs are below cost-recovery levels. Fiscal, trade and other macroeconomic policies tend to act as brakes on private sector initiative and economic growth.

Weak governance, whether due to low expenditures, inadequate capacity or lack of checks and balances, slows economic and social development. Where security services and rule of law are weaker, Nigerians may have less confidence in government.

Conflict is another great challenge. I see the various conflicts that arise in different parts of Nigeria, whether large or small, as manifestations of the economic, governance and social challenges that I have just outlined. This is why sustainable development for all Nigerians is important to each and every Nigerian.

US-Nigeria Bilateral Cooperation

Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) forms a solid foundation for US-Nigeria bilateral cooperation. Our support for sustainable development comes through our diplomatic and technical dialogue and through our foreign assistance.

We seek to programme our foreign assistance to be catalytic. We are committed to the principle that the nature of our bilateral assistance will evolve over time. As the USAID Administrator, Mark Green, has stated, “I believe the purpose of foreign assistance should be ending its need to exist… we could help our partners by prioritizing programs that show measurable impact, incentivize reform, diversify our partner base, foster local capacity-building, and mobilize their own domestic resources.”

One pillar of our bilateral cooperation is to strengthen the capacities of government and civic actors and build greater trust in governance. We support efforts to improve the transparency and accountability of public institutions, for instance, by helping to strengthen public financial management and support for federal and state participation in the global Open Governance Partnership. We actively support peaceful, inclusive and transparent elections. We also work with a number of civil society and faith-based organizations to promote their roles in policy advocacy, promoting government transparency and mitigating conflict. We have many examples of how civil society collaboration with government authorities has enhanced service delivery or deescalated conflict.

We actively support efforts to increase economic opportunities and job creation, especially for the large numbers of youth entering the workforce. We acknowledge recent progress made and continue to advocate and provide technical assistance for improvements in economic policies and the business enabling environment. We recognize the powerful role that the private sector must play in Nigeria’s development, drawing upon its reservoir of entrepreneurship and talent. A major component of our cooperation, known as Feed-the-Future, promotes growth in agriculture and agribusiness, areas in which we believe quick gains are possible. Recognizing that there are important infrastructural constraints, we provide assistance to improve production and distribution of electricity, through our Power Africa initiative.

A third and critically important pillar of our cooperation is investing in people:
• In education, we focus on access to and quality of primary education, notably early reading, in states with some of the lowest enrollment and literacy rates.
• Health is one of the largest parts of our assistance portfolio. It focuses on increasing capacity for primary healthcare, maternal and childcare, immunizations and family planning. It also focuses upon HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and polio.
• Water, sanitation and hygiene represent an additional element, where our emphasis is on sustainability of access to clean water.

The US-Nigeria bilateral relationship is much deeper that I can capture in a few short minutes here. It includes exchange programmes, joint research and higher education relationships. For those who are interested in learning more, I refer you to our USAID outreach and Embassy public affairs staff, as well as our web and social media platforms.

Special Sauce

Nigeria is unique in the way it handles the competing claims of its diverse population. Some of the recipe for doing this is baked into the Constitution, which may explain why there are perennial calls for constitutional reform. Sometimes it seems that this competition takes Nigeria almost to the breaking point.

Where the actions of individual citizens, acting in their own self-interests, are contrary to the common good of all citizens, we have a phenomenon known as the “tragedy of the commons,” an expression originating in overgrazing of livestock in nineteenth century England. The alternative is mutual cooperation, where individuals place a premium on shared objectives. For instance, last year I visited a small community in Sokoto that had pulled together to build a small structure for the sole purpose of hosting non-formal education for youth, many of them young women and girls. In Nigeria, we see such examples of mutual cooperation, every day.

A decisive factor in Nigeria’s sustainable development path, the “secret sauce,” I submit, will be the dedication of its citizens to a common and inclusive agenda. This requires leadership by government and it also requires leadership in civil society and the engagement of Nigerian citizens. This coming together will be enhanced through active communication and public debate.

This concept, the notion that Nigeria is ultimately one unified nation, is so central that it is embodied in Nigeria’s national anthem. You know it better than I do (help me out here): “One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity…”

Thank you and may all Nigerians pull together to ensure sustainable development for all of the children of Nigeria.