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Ambassador Leonard’s Remarks for the 2022 Safeguarding Our Schools Event
Abuja Sheraton
August 10, 2022

Ambassador Leonard speaking at the Safeguarding Schools eventHonorable, all protocols observed and good morning to you all. The United States congratulates Emergency Coordination Center efforts in raising awareness and galvanizing stakeholders to safeguard Nigerian schools and school children. We applaud the ECC and its sponsors and supporters for convening this important conference today and for assembling key decision-makers and subject matter experts here who can present concrete ideas on the way forward.

As today’s program agenda suggests, there truly is a learning crisis in Nigeria, and it has many origins. The problem is multi-dimensional, requiring a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

To illustrate U.S. ongoing support to safeguard vulnerable communities including young girls and boys, let me share with you some of the ways the U.S. Mission in Nigeria is working with implementing partners and the government to address the crisis.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has for eight years been supporting the efforts of northeastern states and local governments to take full ownership for the continued education of internally displaced children. Our USAID program provides these children with access to quality education, psycho-social counseling, child-friendly spaces, and opportunities for peer reading, mentoring, counseling, and vocational skills training. The activity also trains and mobilizes instructors to provide conflict-sensitive lessons, while engaging communities and local leaders to increase education options, such as informal learning centers.

Through USAID’s Learn to Read, we work in the northern states of Bauchi and Sokoto to strengthen governance structures to better provide education services. This activity will expand to Adamawa and provide on demand technical assistance to other States. We also work with youth in the northern states at non-formal education centers to contribute to their learning and skills-building.

Closely related to the problem of school closures and the high dropout rate is food security and the lack of adequate nutrition. As President Biden recently noted at the G7 Leader summit, the current global food crisis, triggered in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has made economic matters worse for vulnerable countries. U.S. Mission in Nigeria, through USAID, will be investing an additional $55 million in food security relief under its agriculture, nutrition, and humanitarian assistance programs. Subject to Congressional approval, those funds will help immediately address the economic, food, and nutrition needs of vulnerable communities in Nigeria, including youth, who are adversely impacted by higher food, fuel, and fertilizer prices.

The U.S. itself is not immune from violence against schools. In the U.S. we are painfully aware how random school shootings cost precious lives and impact negatively on entire communities. We know all too well the security challenges impacting schools.

R-L: Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard, Dr. Ayoade Alakija, British High Commissioner to Nigeria Catriona LaingFor the past six years, we have invested in the capacity-building and training of over 150 Nigerian Police Force (NPF) officers, focusing on their role as protectors of civilians and first responders to terrorist incidents. We are also helping develop a Transitional Police Unit (TPU) to be deployed in northeast Nigeria, which will allow the NPF to better focus on civilian criminal concerns.

No country can afford to ignore its educational, food security, and physical security problems. Let’s take the learning crisis head-on and make it a top priority. For its part, the ECC has provided us with an ambitious agenda today. There is urgent work to be done. I join my international colleagues on this panel to again reiterate my country’s support for your goals and ongoing endeavors, thank you.