October 21, 2015
(as prepared for delivery)
Good evening. I’d like to open with my favorite Nigerian expression: all protocols observed.
I would like to officially welcome the 2015 Mandela Washington fellows back from their exchange program in the United States. I hope the fellowship not only met, but exceeded your expectations. I also wish to recognize the presence of some of the 2014 Mandela Washington fellows and the inaugural members of the Regional Leadership Centers.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is an integral part of the United States commitment to invest in the future of Africa. Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the White House created this initiative in response to the critical role young Africans play in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security.
In July of this year, 41 Nigerians were among 500 young African leaders who travelled to the United States for six weeks of intensive training at 23 top U.S. institutions. In the course of their fellowship experiences, they made connections with U.S. citizens, businesses, civil society organizations, and with other African leaders who have made significant achievements and contributions to their communities.
We were very proud to hear about all of your accomplishments while in the United States. We were especially delighted to watch Grace Jerry introduce President Barack Obama during the town hall meeting in Washington D.C. She spoke passionately about how the fellowship equipped her to become a stronger advocate for the rights of persons living with disabilities. For all of the young Nigerians who participated in the viewing party hosted by the Public Affairs, that moment particularly resonated.
So, today is about celebrating the achievements of young Nigerians who are exemplifying leadership in their various communities. For example: 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow Chinomnso Ibe produces and distributes, free of charge, newborn delivery kits to mothers in rural areas as part of her contribution to reducing the high maternity and child mortality rate in Nigeria.
Oluwamayowa Salu is using technology to make information about malaria and malaria prevention tips readily available to Nigerians. He has also published a comic book on malaria that is set to be translated into four African languages.
Nkemdilim Azinge is not letting the myths about persons with sickle cell disease stop her from living a full life and achieving her fullest potential. Through her organization, she is galvanizing support among Nigerians to create awareness around sickle cell disease and encouraging more people to know their genotype.
Since their return, the fellows have already hit the ground running and are shaping discussions on important issues that affect Nigeria and the continent.
Last month, Timi Olagunju led a discussion in a Twitter chat hosted by his internship organization, Global Integrity, and by the Nigerian NGO “Budgit” about the findings of the Africa Integrity Report. Timi’s discussion was on the score card of Nigeria and other African countries on accountability, public management and accessibility to information, three areas that President Buhari is committed to improving during his tenure.
I am pleased to say that both the 2014 and 2015 fellows are leading efforts to promote the 2016 fellowship and the Young African Leaders Initiative. Your efforts will go a long way toward ensuring that other young Nigerians know about this opportunity, especially as President Obama has doubled the 2016 fellows to include 1000 young African leaders.
Tomorrow you all will be engaging in various community service initiatives, including mentoring high school students, teaching an online “YALI Learns” course to members of the YALI Network, and working with rural women to promote their businesses to a wider market.
Already you are putting into practice the knowledge that you gained from the United States and the values—such as volunteerism and service—that define American society.
I also want to say thank you to the host internship organizations, our implementing partners for the Regional Leadership Centers, and the government institutions represented here today. The United States government is committed to being your partners in building the future of Nigeria and the African continent, and I look forward to getting to know you better this evening.