Honorable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chair of the House Committee on Diaspora Matters for the National Assembly
Other distinguished panelists:
Professor Akindele Oyebode;
Barrister Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi
Distinguished alumni of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship and other programs,
Members of the press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And just in case I forgot anyone, let me use my favorite Nigerian phrase –all protocols duly observed.
It is an honor for me to be here, joined by a broad cross-section of Nigerian academics and members of civil society, to discuss an issue of international importance. Thank you for the invitation.
I would like to begin by thanking the director general of the National Institute for International Affairs, Professor Akinterinwa (A-KIN-ter-in-wa) for providing the hall in which we are meeting. The United States Embassy in Abuja and the Consulate General in Lagos depend on relationships with organizations such as the NIIA to conduct our outreach activities. Given our mutual interest in international affairs, it is a real pleasure for me to address you here.
I’d like to share with you a little about the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program of the U.S. Department of State. This program was founded in 1978 in honor of our former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, who dedicated his life to public service. Participants in the program are chosen from designated countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Europe, and Eurasia for a year of study and professional experience in the United States.
About 5,000 fellows from 56 countries have completed the program, and I am pleased to report that 120 Nigerians are alumni of the Humphrey Fellowship. Each year, fellows are nominated through a rigorous merit-based and transparent competition, based on their potential for leadership and a demonstrated commitment to public service.
The Nigerian alumni of the Humphrey Fellowship organized this lecture series to build awareness of critical issues of social concern to Nigerians and to explore possible solutions. Their initiative fully embodies the spirit and goals of the Humphrey Fellowship. Alumni have promoted good governance, national unity and development, as well as commitment to public service. Thank you for keeping Hubert Humphrey’s memory alive through these efforts and for partnering with the U.S. Mission to Nigeria.
Today’s panelists will address the challenges of fighting terrorism. These challenges are global in nature and affect many nations, including the United States and Nigeria. It is only natural for our countries to work together to meet these challenges. We share interests in trade and economic development, promoting democracy, advancing access to education and health care, and ensuring the security of both of our nations.
Last May, President Obama called for a new Counter Terrorism Partnership Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate the efforts of partner countries on the front line. As President Obama said at that time, “America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security. Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods. Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.”
Nigeria is the United States’ most important strategic partner in Africa. As we saw recently when Ebola was effectively contained in this country, great things can be done, and are being done, in Nigeria, particularly when we work together. Let me be clear— the United States wants Nigeria to win its war on terrorism, and we fully support the Nigerian people in their struggle.
As friends and partners, we provide support in the form of equipment and training, but we also share our own lessons learned in combatting terrorism. Over the last decade, the United States has learned that defeating terrorism requires more than just military power.
It requires the protection of civilian populations. It requires economic development in impoverished areas where extremism takes root. It requires accessible education opportunities for all. It requires a free and fair press that can report openly and without fear of reprisal.
And, perhaps most importantly, it requires viable alternatives for young people who remain vulnerable to the lure of extremism due to the lack of opportunities. In other words, it requires a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach—a strategy that we employ as partners of the Nigerian government and people, and one that we encourage the Nigerian government to adopt as well.
Fighting terrorism requires civilians and military leaders work together to both defeat the enemy on the battle field and address the root causes of conflict. Focusing primarily on the population, rather than the enemy, and reinforcing the legitimacy of governments at the local, state and federal level, reduces the influence of terrorists. This can often only be achieved in concert with political reform to improve the quality of governance and address the underlying grievances of the community, many of which may be legitimate.
American counterterrorism strategies rest on the assumptions that the decisive effort is rarely military, although security is the essential prerequisite for success; and that our efforts must be directed to the creation of local and national governmental structures that will serve their populations, and, over time, replace the efforts of foreign partners.
The U.S. government, through the Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other U.S. government agencies, invests substantially in health care, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, economic growth, and education.
USAID supports a range of humanitarian, transitional, and long-term development activities in northern Nigeria. This represents a total investment by the American people of $129 million U.S. dollars. We are working in collaboration with the government of Nigeria at the federal, state, and local levels.
Current and forthcoming activities will: improve government capacity and performance; strengthen food security and water policy; expand the reach and effectiveness of health and education initiatives; and provide services for internally displaced people in northeastern Nigeria.
In our discussions with the Nigerian government and people, we underscore that security is a multidisciplinary endeavor. This endeavor requires coordinated engagement by all aspects of federal, state, and local governments, as well as civil society.
No conversation about security is complete without addressing issues of accountability, whether we are talking about election security or fighting Boko Haram. The United States stands ready to support Nigeria and its security services as they fulfill those responsibilities with restraint and impartiality.
Many of our programs provide clear evidence of this approach. We are expanding our small grants efforts to build partnerships between Northern youth, security forces, and government officials. We believe a stronger civil society, where the people feel a connection to their government, is the best natural deterrent against terrorism.
We are assisting the Ministry of Justice and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We are helping them to draft legislation and developing reforms that would strengthen the EFCC’s ability to conduct thorough investigations. We are also providing training in counterterrorism and investigative techniques. Better coordination between Nigeria and the global community on issues such as money laundering and terrorist financing will make the world safer for all of us.
On November 13, 2013, the United States designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. These designations assist U.S. and other law enforcement partners in efforts to investigate and prosecute terrorism suspects associated with Boko Haram.
We are working closely with your government and neighbors to help counter threats through both existing programs like the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership and new programs such as the Security Governance Initiative and the Global Security Contingency Fund. Through these programs, we are increasing our efforts to strengthen Nigeria’s security institutions, including their ability to enforce the rule of law.
Over the past six months, the United States also has shared intelligence with Nigeria, has begun training a new army battalion, and has held numerous high level discussions with your authorities on additional measures to best address the Boko Haram threat.
Another important security initiative of the United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, is the establishment of a multi-national task force to coordinate regional efforts against Boko Haram, working collaboratively with the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger Benin.
As friends and partners, we continue to look for ways to deepen cooperation with Nigeria and to help acquire the systems and skills needed to restore peace and security. We will also continue to work together to improve our countries’ health, education, cultural enrichment, and economic prosperity.
The challenges faced by Nigerians are significant, but so are the opportunities for growth, development, and success. Indeed, I stand before you as an Afro-optimist, albeit one with a clear-eyed sense of realism about the challenges that must be met on the path toward that bright future.
President Obama has made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success – a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term. As Secretary of State Kerry said last year at the African Union’s 50th Anniversary Summit, “The proverb tells us, ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’ ”
Nigeria has no more committed friend or stronger partner than the United States. We are dedicated to going far with you in the coming years.