Lagos — For the past nine months, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria has been John Campbell, a career foreign service officer who was serving as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department when he was nominated by President Bush early last year. He served as a political counselor in Nigeria in the late 1980s and in South Africa from 1993 to 1996 during the transition from apartheid to majority rule. During an interview in Lagos earlier this month, Campbell discussed key aspect of U.S.-Nigeria relations with AllAfrica's Reed Kramer.
This is your second time serving in the embassy in Nigeria. When were you here previously?
I arrived Nigeria in February 1988 and I left in August 1990, so about two and a half years. General Babangida was the chief of state, and the country was governed by the Armed Forces Ruling Council.
How is the relationship between Nigeria and the United States different now than it was then?
The relationship is much richer, much more multi-faceted than it was then. The relationship is fundamentally much better, much closer. The most significant factor in that change was the fact that Nigeria in 1999 had elections that brought to power a civilian government. There were elections again in 2003. Both sets of elections have been widely criticized, but the fact remains that they happened. The fact that there were two subsequent elections has, I think, fundamentally changed the political culture of the country so that whatever the shortcomings of those two sets of elections, Nigeria has visibly moved on the sort of continuum from authoritarian rule to civilian, democratic rule.
What that does is, it changes the context in which the bilateral relationship takes place. It makes possible cooperation at a much deeper level. That cooperation ranges from the war on terrorism - President Obasanjo was the first or amongst the very first heads of state to see President Bush after Sept. 11 - to joint efforts to combat trafficking in persons, to suppress narcotics trafficking.
That's one cluster of issues. There is [also] cooperation, bilaterally, but also multilaterally in organizations like Ecowas and the African Union, to promote regional stability. Then [there is] the ever-growing economic relationship based particularly on Nigerian energy.
Explain how you work with Nigeria on some of the bilateral issues you mentioned.
We work with the Nigerian drug law enforcement agency closely, particularly on a technical level. With respect to corruption, we try to provide technical assistance to the various Nigerian bodies concerned with it. Suppression of corruption, however, is essentially a Nigerian responsibility. It's something that any foreign government can only help with on the margins.
How do you rate the government's progress on fighting corruption?
The President is deeply concerned about it. He has set up a number of different institutions that seek to address it. In terms of the policy framework, a great deal of progress has been made. What all of us are looking for of course is convictions. There are several cases that are making their way through the court system, so we shall see.
What about the disagreement between Nigeria and the United States over landing rights for the newly re-inaugurated national airline, which is a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic?
The essential issue has to do with the concept of operational control. As you know, we have long-standing differences with the British [that are] very complicated. It has to do with, amongst other things, landing rights for American flag carriers at Heathrow.
A Nigerian airline that is in partnership with a British airline becomes part of this larger issue. And one of the questions that has to be answered has to do with the difference between operational control and ownership. If we're talking about a Virgin Atlantic partnership with a Nigerian company, where does operational control rest? Does it rest with the British or does it rest with the Nigerians?
This, for example, would not be an issue were a Nigerian airline to be in partnership with some other airline. But because it's a British airline, it becomes a part of the larger civil aviation issues between the U.S. and the U.K.
Still on bilateral relations, what is the status of the cooperative effort on fighting HIV/Aids, in particular, the scope of the program known as the President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (Pepfar) here in Nigeria?
It's very large. This year, we will spend approximately $50 million - that's almost half of the total USAID budget in Nigeria. The focus is on prevention, treatment and care.
In the case of treatment, their goals, in conjunction with the Nigerian government and Nigerian NGOs, are to put several thousand people on anti-retrovirals. In the case of care, there's a particular focus on people living with Aids, but also the care of the some one-million Aids orphans that live in this country. And then prevention is, amongst other things, public education done in partnership with Nigerians, particularly with the Federal Ministry of Heath, and also the Ministry of Defense, working through Nigerian NGOs and American NGOs.
And you are seeing progress at this early stage?
There's been a lot of work done on both sides. The Minster of Health, Dr. Lambo, and I chair a joint steering committee that meets every two weeks. We're essentially where the buck stops, and he and I and our respective staffs address the operational issues that always come up.
There is a similar structure having to do with the Ministry of Defense, where the minister of state for defense and I are in the process of setting up a kind of parallel committee, which will be subordinate to the committee that Dr. Lambo and I chair - the Ministry of Health being the lead agency in Nigeria on these issues.
Another key U.S. program in Africa is the promotion of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). How is Agoa impacting Nigeria?
What Agoa does is provide access to the American market. Agoa is an opportunity. The ball now is in the Nigerian court. When I move around the country, what I try to do is encourage Nigerian companies to take advantage of it. Certain countries in east Africa, in southern Africa, have increased their exports to the United States, using Agoa, by a multiple factor. And it hasn't happened for Nigeria. I hope it will. Nigerian exports to the U.S. are overwhelmingly in the energy sector. It's oil and natural gas. The trading relationship I think would be much healthier if it could be diversified.
The trade is essentially one way. What about U.S. exports to Nigeria?
This is a huge oil-producing country, and it dominates bilateral trade. In the case of American exports to Nigeria, we buy oil and natural gas from Nigeria worth something like eight, nine or ten times as much as we sell to Nigeria. That means we are particularly conscious of trade bans that the Nigerian government imposes on products, particularly cultural products, but also energy, that we would export to Nigeria.
How do you see U.S. oil companies being affected by continuing security problems in the oil-producing regions?
In terms of the Delta and the security issues there, they have not thus far impacted on the actual production of oil and natural gas for any length of time. Occasionally, they do for a very short period of time, but there's been no direct, measurable impact.
Obviously it's something that the oil companies have to watch very closely, because if the Delta is unstable, it's going to lead to changes in their patterns of investment. For example, some of them are very interested now in off-shore drilling. Well, if you're off-shore, particularly if you're 125 miles off-shore, what's going on in the Delta doesn't matter very much. With the interest, the focus and the glamour of off-shore drilling, it's still important to remember that the oil reserves on the mainland are huge and important.
This is principally the responsibility of Nigeria's federal government. How are they doing on this score?
Principally? I'm not sure I would say that. I would say it's a kind of partnership. It's a partnership between the federal government, the state governments and the oil companies. Everybody has responsibility here.
State governments now receive roughly half of the oil revenue. The principal energy companies are clearly much more aware of their responsibilities to promote local government. But the Delta is a very difficult operational environment. It's like the Mississippi Delta. And it is not a place where you can solve issues militarily. It's not that kind of problem.
What steps are required to lessen and resolve the tensions in those areas?
Increased local development. Increased responsiveness from the state and federal governments to the socio-economic needs there. Confidence-building measures all the way around, with the various ethnic groups.
Some NGOs are doing very interesting work in terms of reconciliation amongst competing ethnic groups. It's very multi-faceted, both in terms of the origin of the problem, but also terms of what the response to it should be.
Isn't this part of the process of building democracy?
That's exactly right. And there's a ways to go in the Delta.
And in the rest of the country?
Variable. It varies considerably. In a country that's this huge and this diverse, one should not look for uniform rates of progress. Some places are considerably more advanced than others.
How do you assess the role Nigeria is playing regionally and throughout Africa?
It's very positive. President Obasanjo, for example, has taken the lead in the African Union for addressing the crisis in Darfur. There are Nigerian troops there. President Obasanjo, of course, is the head of the African Union. He's also right now the head of the Commonwealth. He is highly supportive of Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States). There have been Nigerian peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte D'Ivoire. It has been very much a leadership role.
Do you see this leadership role continuing after President Obasanjo leaves office?
It remains to be seen. Nigeria's international efforts are important. They also use resources. The depth of popular support for them is difficult to measure. I think the Nigerian on the street is proud of the fact that Nigeria has a major international presence. The Nigerian on the street is also concerned about economic and social conditions within the country. So it remains to be seen whether President Obasanjo's successor will continue the very activist pattern that the president has established.
Do you expect to see a relatively smooth transition to the next administration here?
I think it's important that there have been two, albeit flawed, elections. Every time you have an election, it improves the chances that there will be another one. Thinking back to when I was here before, the parlor game that we would all play is, 'Who's going to mount the next coup?' We don't play that game anymore. There is a parlor game as to who's going to run in 2007 and who's going to win. That says a lot about the political transformation that has taken place.