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High-Level U.S. Delegation Attending Nigeria's 50th Celebration
President Obama is sending a high-level delegation to attend Nigeria&#39;s 50th anniversary independence celebration October 1, 2010, reflecting the high level of importance the United States places on the U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relationship. <br
President Obama is sending a high-level delegation to attend Nigeria's 50th anniversary independence celebration October 1, 2010, reflecting the high level of importance the United States places on the U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relationship.

Looking ahead, the United States sees Nigeria's 2011 presidential election as an event of major importance that could reflect an enormous "paradigm shift," reaffirming Nigeria's long-term commitment to democracy.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson made those points during a September 29 telephone press briefing with Nigerian reporters based in Lagos and Abuja. Carson spoke from his office at the State Department in Washington, just prior to leaving for Nigeria.

Asked about the 50th anniversary celebration, Carson told the reporters that the U.S. delegation, of which he will be a member, will be headed by Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and will also include Walter C. Jones, the U.S. executive director to the African Development Bank, and James P. McAnulty, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. diplomatic mission to Nigeria.

"We are undertaking this presidential mission to Nigeria to reflect the importance the United States attaches to its relationship to Nigeria," Carson told his audience. "The United States regards Nigeria as one of the two or three most important countries on the continent. It is important in and of itself as the most populous state in Africa and one of the largest Muslim states in the world. It is also important to the region as the largest economy and the most dynamic business and commercial center in West Africa."

Additionally, Carson said Nigeria is important to the global community and West Africa because of the enormous effort that it puts into providing regional stability by supplying peacekeepers who participate in U.N. operations. Nigeria's "efforts in support of stability in West Africa are widely known and widely praised because of what it did in both Sierra Leone and Liberia and what it is doing today as part of the peacekeeping operations in Darfur," he said.

Nigeria is also important to the United States because it is one of the global community's major producers of oil and the fourth-largest supplier of petroleum to the United States, he added. "We value the important relationship with Nigeria and, as a reflection of that, I point out that President Goodluck Jonathan was in New York last week and had an opportunity meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Over the past months as well, Carson explained, President Jonathan has had the opportunity to hold talks with President Obama. "We regard this as an important relationship with the United States and we believe that it is important for us to be at this 50th anniversary to celebrate what we hope will be 50 years of looking forward to building on the country's democratic transformation."

Asked about the upcoming presidential elections in Nigeria, Carson said they are "extremely important" for the people of Nigeria. "It is an opportunity for people to cast their votes for candidates of their choosing, but it is also an opportunity for Nigeria to solidify its commitment to democracy. It is extremely important that the elections to be held next year be substantially better than the presidential and national elections that were held in 2007 and better than the elections that were held in 2003," he said.

There is no doubt, he said, that there was a "great deal of disappointment with the way that the last presidential elections were held in 2007." The United States, he told the reporters, applauds the electoral reforms that have taken place and the appointment of a new elections commissioner who shows "great integrity...professionalism and independence."

Carson explained that the United States hopes the forthcoming elections are "free, fair, transparent and reflect the aspirations and the will of the people. It is important that that Nigerians have an opportunity to vote," as citizens of Africa's largest democracy, he added.

"The success of the 2011 elections could be an enormous paradigm shift for the country," he said. "It could, in effect, signal to all of the world that Nigeria is firmly committed to a democratic path, that its democratic institutions are growing stronger and its commitment to democracy is growing deeper." It is through the mechanisms of democracy, he said, that Nigeria will be able to realize its enormous economic and social potential.

Asked how the United States plans to further strengthen its bilateral relationship with Nigeria, Carson said immediately following Secretary Clinton's very successful visit to Abuja in 2009 the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission was established.

"We are pleased to say today that under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan and the current foreign minister that we have not only established the...commission this year, but we are also actively working in the four subcommittees and working groups that have been established," he said. Carson reminded his audience that the United States has only three U.S. strategic binational commissions in Africa and does not intend to establish any more in the foreseeable future. "The three are with countries that we think are extraordinarily important for different reasons: Nigeria; South Africa and Angola," he said.

The establishment of the binational commission with Nigeria and other factors that have already been detailed, he told his audience, "signal the value that we place on this relationship. This is a valued and important relationship and is valued and important because it is based on democratic principles, shared values and shared attitudes."

Carson said he hopes the commission will be the source of a "growing and more vibrant dialogue," open up even greater economic and commercial opportunities between both countries and further strengthen the political bilateral relationship as well.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)
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