December 16, 2015
(as prepared for delivery)
First of all, I would like to begin by saying my favorite Nigerian expression: “All protocols observed.”
Second, I am very delighted to make my first visit to Cross River State, particularly to Calabar, the home of Nigeria’s famous Carnival. I also would like to acknowledge that our new Consul General John Bray, based in Lagos, is also here. We understand that we have arrived right in the middle of the festive season. I look forward to seeing the activities.
Third, I would like to thank Governor Ayade, his team, and Cross River State for the hospitality that has made this American Corner a success. We have 11 of these spaces throughout Nigeria, and they primarily depend on the generosity and leadership of our partners. Therefore, I am deeply grateful to the Governor and his administration for their continued support of this American Corner.
Our American Corners, like this beautiful one, are available to all—adults and young people alike. Visitors can easily access the Internet for information and research educational programs in the United States. You can also find a wealth of reading materials, participate in English classes, attend special discussions, and explore any interest you have in American culture. For many, we know it is hard to come to Abuja and Lagos so we are glad we have this vital space that provides a taste of America. To make sure you continue to have that access here in Calabar, I am pleased to present to this American Corner more than 200 new books, materials, and a new television monitor as part of the U.S. Mission’s continuing commitment to the Corner and to our relations with the citizens of Cross River.
But before I get to the presentation of gifts, allow me to tell you why I am here.
The main objective of this trip is to learn more about what your state and the federal government are doing to protect one of the oldest rainforests in Africa—one that has been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot teeming with critically endangered species. We also plan to explore ways to help your government and NGO partners further promote conservation and stop the illicit trade in wildlife. Doing so in collaboration with government officials, park rangers, and NGOs like the Wildlife Conservation Society and Pandrillus will help strengthen the bilateral relationship.
Cross River’s forests are home to a number of endangered species, including pangolins, the forest elephant, the Cross River gorilla, and drill monkeys. While poaching of these species is against the law, limited enforcement has allowed profiting from ivory, pangolin scales, bushmeat, and the live animal trade.
Eastern Africa and southern Africa have often drawn much of the international community’s attention to these issues. Unfortunately, this has meant that West Africa, Nigeria in particular, has become a growing hub for traffickers and poachers who source and pass wildlife products—ivory, animal parts, exotic pets—through Nigeria en route to other destinations around the globe.
The United States recognizes the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking and has committed to take positive measures to address this global challenge. We have also pledged to enact nearly complete bans on ivory imports and exports, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory. As part of these efforts, we hope to expand our cooperation in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on promoting conservation, while combating poaching and wildlife trafficking here in Nigeria. The U.S. government, through our Fish and Wildlife Service, has been a long-time partner of the Wildlife Conservation Society providing $1.25 million over the past five years to promote conservation of the rare primate species that call this region home. This is a part of our decision to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to address these issues.
However, this is not just up to governments to solve. Communities also have a key role to play. They have the ability to “stand in the gap” where conservation is concerned. You can refuse to do business with these wildlife profiteers and illegal loggers. Communities that respectfully share this forest with wildlife show reverence for nature. They also have a responsibility to protect and defend the wildlife with whom they share this forest.
For the past couple of days, I have been reveling in the natural beauty of your marvelous state. I have been learning about Cross River’s rich tourism opportunities, particularly on the eco-tourism side. I just came from northern Cross River, where I visited a drill monkey and chimpanzee rehabilitation facility. I also took a gorgeous walk through a forest reserve at the Drill Ranch and a lovely tour of Cross River National Park.
As I learned of the various benefits of Cross River’s eco-tourism, I became more aware of the challenges that the state and federal governments face in protecting these natural wonders. I also became more aware of the nexus of issues that surround the protection of the forests of Cross River. They play an important role in an issue that affects us all—climate change.
In the wake of the recently concluded COP21 conference in Paris, mitigating the loss of our forests is vital to the success of any international agreement on emissions. Stopping poaching and wildlife trafficking are also critically important issues for the United States. Both are growing issues for Nigeria, especially in the abundant forests of Cross River, to address.
Nigeria has announced ambitious emissions reduction targets at the COP21 conference in Paris that both President Obama and President Buhari attended. As President Buhari himself said in Paris, “The experience of countries sharing Lake Chad further illustrates the mutual challenge we face today and which must be collectively addressed without further delay.”
With the role that forests play acting as carbon ‘sinks’, it is more important than ever for Nigeria and Cross River to preserve what accounts for 50 percent of this nation’s remaining forest cover. I want to applaud Cross River state’s participation in the United Nations Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries program. I also want to urge Nigeria to do more to prevent deforestation, which led to the loss of an estimated 90 percent of the country’s tree cover. I encourage enforcement authorities to rein in the illegal logging ventures that have plagued Cross River Forest for so many years. In addition, I encourage communities and corporations to preserve the forest with eco-friendly products. It is just as important to take advantage of new, affordable technologies like clean-burning cookstoves and alternative cooking fuels, such as recycled paper briquettes and natural gas. With firm logging enforcement, sustainable farming, and eco-friendly fuels, we can help save Cross River’s forests and the greater environment for the benefit of future generations.
I urge everyone here to be more environmentally conscious citizens. Take up the challenge to preserve your forests, stop poaching and wildlife trafficking, and protect the world for future generations. Thank you.