The Nuclear Security Summit currently underway in Washington represents more than just a chance for world leaders and their delegations to address pressing issues and concerns surrounding nuclear armaments. As with other high-level international conferences, it offers an opportunity for heads of state to schedule short, private meetings with each other, where they can discuss other, tangential political matters. The Nuclear Security Summit is an occasion for President Obama to hold bilateral talks (also known simply as “bilats”) with many of the summit attendees, including Goodluck Jonathan, the acting president of Nigeria.
Nigerian news outlets reported that Jonathan — on his first official visit outside Nigeria — and Obama met for about 30 minutes on Sunday, and that the two focused their discussion on substantial topics, like peace efforts in the Niger Delta, electoral reform, and Nigeria’s oil and power industries. In addition to this meeting with Obama, Jonathan’s visit to Washington includes meetings with Vice-President Joe Biden and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, as well as a speaking engagement at the Council on Foreign Relations and a breakfast meeting at the Center for Global Development.
This flurry of high level diplomatic activity comes on the heels of Jonathan’s announcement of a new cabinet, and only one week after Nigeria and the U.S. signed an agreement establishing a permanent bi-national commission. This new commission, composed of working groups, is “tasked with helping Nigeria deal with corruption and electoral abuses, domestic energy and agricultural problems, and instability in the critical Niger Delta region.”
Only about nine months ago, Nigeria took offense at being sidelined from President Obama’s first state visit to sub-Saharan Africa. While Nigeria was then (and is still) a key supplier of crude oil for the U.S., the political tides seem to have turned, and the U.S. appears to be giving Jonathan a chance to prove himself as a reliable, trustworthy leader for Nigeria.
In a post on FP.com, Elizabeth Dickinson asks whether Jonathan has “the support and political flexibility he needs” to implement his ambitious agenda at home. I too wonder if Jonathan will have the political space necessary for him to push forward on important reforms. What’s for certain, though, is that Goodluck Jonathan clearly demarcates himself from his predecessor in terms of substance and style. It would have been difficult to imagine President Yar’Adua earnestly admitting that Nigeria had electoral-transparency issues, let alone act on the promise of tackling this and other issues head on.