Abuja | May 5, 2016
(as prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon. I hope you all enjoyed your trip from various parts of the country to Abuja.
First, I would like to recognize our Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni. Thank you for joining us today. I’m sure you are as excited as we are to meet the new class of fellows. Your mentorship and partnership will be critical to the success of the 2016 program. You have formed a strong alumni association in which all Mandela Washington fellows can continue to make a difference in Nigeria’s economic and political development.
Mandela alumni contributions have already made a positive impact on Nigerian society across the country. Last December, Mandela alumni donated clothes and blankets to the residents of an internally displaced persons camp in Maiduguri to help them cope with the unusually cold harmattan season. That same month, I spoke at a forum organized by alumna Lois Auta to advocate for equal access to government facilities for Nigerians with disabilities. As President Obama envisioned when he announced this program, you are making a difference in Nigeria and across Africa.
And now, to the newly selected 2016 Mandela Washington fellows: congratulations. At 100, you are more than double the size of previous classes. You were selected from among more than 10,000 applicants from across Nigeria. Our goal was to select a diverse group, both geographically and socio-economically, representing all Nigeria has to offer. We interviewed candidates regionally in Bauchi, Jos, Kaduna, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Abuja, and Lagos. You come from all of those states, as well as from Borno, Katsina, Kwara, and others. You come from state capitals as well as rural areas. You are teachers, lawyers, doctors, NGO activists, and businesspersons. You sell smoothies and candies. You advocate for the freedom of the Chibok girls and for an end to spousal abuse. You teach students how to read and promote recycling. You have developed plans and a vision to provide education to girls in the northeast and health care to all Nigerians. You represent the best of Nigeria’s youth and the future of the country. Your selection says a lot about who you are as young leaders and the level of impact you are having on your communities as entrepreneurs, civic leaders, public servants, and champions of renewable energy.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is an integral part of President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. He has been so impressed with results of this program that he doubled the capacity of the program from 500 to 1,000 for the 2016 fellowship. The White House created this initiative in recognition of the critical and increasing role that young Africans play in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, promoting peace, and enhancing security in Africa.
As you all embark on this adventure, I ask that you be good ambassadors for your families, your communities, and, of course, your country. You will have the opportunity to meet hundreds of bright and inspiring minds from other parts of Africa. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn, to share, and to expand your network.
Upon your return, we hope that you will share what you have learned with members of your communities and the YALI Network. We also hope that you will leverage the U.S. and African connections you have established to their maximum potential. Many of you are already making an impact in your communities; indeed, that is why we selected you.
For instance, among you is Tobi Ajayi. Tobi has cerebral palsy, but that did not stop her from getting a bachelor’s and master’s degree in law. She runs an organization that advocates for persons living with disabilities, especially persons with cerebral palsy. Tobi served on the presidential committee that drafted the policy document on “Persons with Disabilities for the Nigerian Vision 20:20:20” and helped establish the Lagos State Disabled Persons’ Rights Board.
Nneoma Albert-Benson is a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She also runs the Beauty for Ashes Women and Child Care Foundation, which provides women and children with a wide variety of legal services, especially women in prisons who are still awaiting trial.
Danladi Saleh Idrisa was the only medical officer at the Chibok General Hospital during the time of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping. Since then, Danladi has been providing psycho-social support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and assisting in the implementation of various interventions in northeastern Nigeria. The United States remains committed to supporting Nigeria in overcoming its security challenges and ensuring the safe return of the young women of Chibok and all those abducted by Boko Haram. Please keep up the good fight. Your work is really making a difference, and I applaud you.
Nigeria is going through a period of social, political, and economic change, and as young leaders, you all have a pivotal role in the outcome. As President Obama’s personal representative to Nigeria, I am here to tell you that the United States remains deeply committed to working with the people of Nigeria, especially its young people.
We believe in your potential. You all are beacons of hope for Nigeria and Africa. We look forward to working with you upon your return to expand the influence of your projects and to engage more than 45,000 Nigerians within the YALI network.
Once again, congratulations for the great work you are doing. I wish you a most productive—and enjoyable—fellowship experience.