Remarks at a Student Town Hall at the American University of Nigeria; U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power (A

PARTICIPANT: We live in a time when women are making tremendous strides, and Ambassador Power is an incredible example of women on the move. [Inaudible] one of the most influential and powerful women in the world. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” and when President Obama nominated her to current position as UN Ambassador, the wife and mother of two small children began a new chapter of leadership and courage as conflicts played in Syria, the Central African Republic, and Egypt.

In all of my four years at AUN, I have welcomed diplomats, journalists, scholars, amongst others, but I have never imagined that in my time I would meet and even have the rare privilege of welcoming the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. With deep appreciation for this opportunity and in all humility, please permit me to welcome one of the most powerful women in the world, Honorable Samantha Jane Power. [Applause.]

AMBASSADOR POWER: Like my T-shirt? [Laughter.] I dey hail una! [Laughter.] How una dey? [Applause.] That’s all I have, I’m afraid to say. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Blessing, for that beautiful introduction. From what I hear from everyone, you are a blessing to this community. I feel very privileged to meet you. I want to express my gratitude to the dynamo who is the American University president, Margee Ensign, not only for hosting today’s town hall but also of course, above all, for the work that this university is doing in the community of Yola and beyond under her leadership. So let’s give her a round of applause. [Applause.]

I think what you all have done here is really a model for how universities in not only Nigeria but all around the world can wade into some of the most complex and seemingly intractable challenges facing their communities. It’s also a model for how you shape a rising generation of leaders.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Adamawa state attorney general, Silas Bala Sanga, who is here today, and of course our esteemed religious leaders who have done so much to preach coexistence and human rights and reconciliation in the community.

As some of you may know, I spent the past week leading a delegation of U.S. Government officials around the region. We came on the request of President Obama to see firsthand how the ongoing campaign to combat Boko Haram was going, and to look at efforts to respond to the devastating impact of Boko Haram attacks. We started in Cameroon and we met even with Nigerian refugees over in Cameroon who pine to come home, want desperately to return to their communities. We also met with Cameroonian IDPs, internally displaced, who have been so affected. We then went to Chad and we are concluding our trip here in Nigeria. We met not only with government officials but with religious leaders and civil society leaders and, of course, students.

We are trying to hear directly from the people of the countries that we are visiting to hear how the challenges posed by Boko Haram are affecting you directly. And, of course, we seek to go back to Washington and back to New York with ideas about what more we can do to support community and national efforts to deal with the effects of Boko Haram and to defeat this evil once and for all.

My delegation includes representatives of the U.S. military, from the United Nations – from the United States, the State Department, and from the U.S. Agency for International Development. This team – military, political and diplomatic, economic and humanitarian – includes a composition that reflects our understanding of the multifaceted approach that is needed to counter violent extremism and to address the root challenges that help fuel its growth.

I am very eager to get to the part of this discussion where you all are the ones doing the talking, but I want to briefly lay out the way we see it. And we come here having acquired a lot of experience fighting terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of that experience has been very, very difficult. The environments are incredibly complex. But we have learned some lessons the hard way, and I wanted to share those lessons with you and hear from you thereafter.

The military, as you all know, has to play a key role in combatting Boko Haram, including by driving terrorists out of the territory they occupy and ensuring that properly trained security forces, who also have the necessary equipment, are in place to prevent terrorists from retaking territory once they have been driven out. That is what Boko Haram attempted to do on Monday when its fighters attacked a Nigerian army position in Kareto, Borno state, but soldiers held their ground and beat back the attack. To strengthen this military capacity, the United States is very active here in Nigeria and across the region in helping train and equip vetted units in order that they may effectively perform operations against Boko Haram.

We are also sharing information as we gather it and working to improve coordination among the different militaries in the region because, as we all know, the terrorists are moving back and forth. They respect no boundaries, and, thus, we need to have seamless coordination among different national militaries who are trying to fight them.

As security forces take the fight to Boko Haram, it is absolutely crucial that they respect human rights to earn and to preserve the trust of local populations. This is something we have discussed in all of our meetings with the heads of state, of Cameroon, the president of Chad, yesterday with President Buhari here in Nigeria, as well as in our interactions with the respective regional militaries.

All of our governments who are involved in fighting terrorism must respect human rights. And when human rights abuses happen, or when civilians are intentionally killed, the perpetrators of those attacks need to be held accountable. This is the only way to convince soldiers that there will be consequences for violations of the laws of war, but it is also the only way to persuade victims that they have a chance at getting an impartial investigation if they come forward and they describe what happened to the local authorities.

Now, I don’t have to tell you, it is absolutely clear to the entire world that the overwhelming majority of abuses in the region are committed by Boko Haram. There is no parallel in the world to the group that in 2015 alone forced at least 44 children to blow themselves up, the youngest of whom was suspected of being just eight years old. Who does that? It is pure darkness. It is pure evil. But it is precisely because Boko Haram has inflicted such profound suffering that we need to ensure that soldiers confronting them maintain the trust of local communities. That trust, citizen participation, the partnership between militaries and local people, that’s what is going to enable us collectively – you, really, with our support – to defeat Boko Haram.

Now, I want to tell you, we have a fair amount of humility when we come to you and we discuss the importance of protecting human rights as one fights terrorism. After the terrible attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, some in our government, in the U.S. government, embraced the dangerous rationale that they had to violate human rights in order to protect American national security. And lately, if you follow the news, you might have even heard some prominent American political candidates making similarly misguided and dangerous arguments, saying that we need to use torture to keep Americans safe. It is just wrong. We have seen the costs of these actions. As President Obama rightly said, they were, as he put it, not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.

As we have learned throughout our history, cutting corners on human rights ultimately makes us less, and not more, safe. I want to stress, the United States stands with Nigeria, and we will support you as you defeat Boko Haram. We will also support you as you promote not only the security but the dignity and prosperity of people in the region.

And I would just like to discuss three more steps that I think we need to take together, three more ingredients that are key to ending the scourge of Boko Haram. First, and again, all of you know this, we need a humanitarian response that is commensurate with the scale of the current crisis. You all know the numbers; you live the numbers. The violence has killed thousands and displaced more than 2.5 million people here. In Nigeria, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of those displaced by Boko Haram are living with relatives and friends. Think about that. It is hard to imagine a greater testament to the hearts of the Nigerian people, to the generosity of the Nigerian people, than the fact that so many have opened their homes to those who have been uprooted. This is a really unusual phenomenon of having 90 percent of the displaced sheltered by other families.

At the same time, this statistic also shows the ripple effect of the violence and instability wrought by Boko Haram, ripples that are felt way beyond the communities directly affected. And you have seen it here in Yola where, as a result of mass displacement caused by this conflict, the population has doubled. And like so many Nigerians, your university community has stepped up in heroic ways. Working together with local religious leaders, the university has provided food and other basic supplies for thousands of people. At one point, a university security guard, Kamai Tumba, was hosting some 50 members of his extended family. Now, if you all see Kamai around, you give him a high-five for me because that is extraordinary. Fifty.

Students, including some in the audience today, began volunteering in the Malkohi camp, which I visited earlier today. One group of volunteers helped set up a virtual network to help displaced people find loved ones who had fled to other parts of the country. Some of these volunteers were in Malkohi on September 11, 2015, when a Boko Haram bombing there killed seven people and wounded many more, including several students at this very university. It speaks to the courage and the compassion of AUN students that so many of you continue to volunteer in this camp to this very day.

But even with the tremendous generosity of Nigerian families and communities like yours, the needs here and in the broader region are still overwhelming. To this end, I was pleased to be able to announce during this trip on behalf of my delegation and President Obama, that the United States will provide nearly $40 million more in new humanitarian assistance to the countries in the Lake Chad basin, bringing our total humanitarian contributions [applause] – to $237 million. [Applause.]

Significant as these numbers are and as these contributions are, the UN’s humanitarian appeal to help those in need in the region in 2016 is only 13-percent funded – 13 percent for the needs that you know so well. Unless that shortfall, which is massive, is filled and filled soon, people are not going to get the food, the medicine, and the other vital aid that they need to survive. So when I return to the United Nations in New York, I plan to deliver an urgent message to other UN member states that we need together to do much more to support Nigeria and other affected countries in responding to this immense crisis.

The second way we have to supplement the military response to Boko Haram is by tackling the longstanding poverty and inequality that existed long before this terrorist group emerged. The northeast has the higher infant mortality rate in the country, with one death every 10 births. The male literacy rate is 18 percent, the female literacy rate, 15 percent. It is for that reason that the U.S. government is supporting projects like Technology Enhanced Learning for All, TELA, here in Adamawa state.

As some of you know, the TELA program aims to teach kids who are displaced, orphaned, homeless, or otherwise unable to go to school. It aims to teach them basic literacy and numeracy, primarily using radio broadcasts. The project has trained 750 facilitators from around the state, each of whom was given a radio, a set of workbooks, and other school supplies. Twice a week the facilitators convene kids in their communities to hear a short radio broadcast, following along in their workbooks as they listen. Your university has been central to this. TELA’s 750 facilitators were trained right here on your campus, and its curriculum was developed by a team led by today’s moderator, Dr. Jacob.

When, recently, a facilitator couldn’t make it to host a class, the kids in his neighborhood went house to house until they found someone who would lend them a radio. And when the kids couldn’t get a clear signal with that radio, they made an antenna out of a coat hanger. That is how hungry children are in your community to learn, and it is an inspiration for all of us who get to engage with you and witness this. It’s amazing. [Applause.]

This brings me to the third key ingredient in confronting the threat posed by Boko Haram, and that is building the inclusive, accountable, and rights-respecting institutions that will improve the foundation for good governance and economic growth. This is the long game in countering violent extremism, one that will require tackling what President Buhari has called the biggest monster of all – you know what this is? Corruption. They will also require embracing the vibrant civil society groups in the region and recognizing that their criticism, while difficult to hear, is a crucial part of making democracies like ours stronger. And it will require knocking down the enduring barriers to opportunity faced by women and girls because as we know, societies where women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities are, on average, more prosperous, healthier, more democratic, and more peaceful.

The job of building inclusive communities cannot be left to government alone. You can build it right here in your community. You are. And this is the challenge I’d like to close my remarks with today. You can help repair and, where necessary, rebuild the fabric of your communities which have been ripped apart by violence and fear. This fear is understandable. How can you tell a young girl who was abducted and forced to choose between marrying a terrorist or being killed – how can you tell her not to be haunted by the fear? What she’s going through is unimaginable. How can you tell a young boy who watched helplessly as his village was burned down and is forced to choose between fighting in Boko Haram and being killed – how can you tell them not to be consumed by hatred? These challenges are so daunting, the pain and the scars and the wounds and the trauma so deep.

We have seen how such fear can divide communities who have long lived side-by-side and worked together, like these religious leaders. Consider the town of Michika in the north of this state, which used to have just a single market day. Since the town was liberated by Boko Haram last year, Michika’s residents are so divided that residents now hold two market days, one for Christians on Saturdays and one for Muslims on Sundays, an arrangement that is worse for merchants and worse for consumers. Consider the abducted boys and girls who’ve been freed or who managed to escape, only to find that their own communities can treat them sometimes with suspicion and distrust or turn them away, calling them a nobody, contagion.

Those are the kinds of fears you can and must work together to dispel by rebuilding inclusive communities from the ground up. That is what the Adamawa Peace Initiative is doing, by bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders in Yola, several of whom are here with us. They provide a living model of interfaith cooperation, and they diffuse tensions when they flare up. It is what your university is doing by welcoming 24 young women from Chibok who escaped Boko Haram, mentoring them in their studies and showing that they should be embraced. They have so much to offer Nigeria. And having met with some of them, I can’t even imagine what these girls are going to do and the difference they’re going to make. They’re going to be doctors and engineers and accountants. They’re going to help change this country.

Every student volunteer you have who goes out and helps rebuild the communal bonds that Boko Haram has sought to sever, whether it’s by taking in displaced families or coming up with a lesson plan for kids, these volunteers, they’re changing the world. They are a critical piece of the fight against Boko Haram. They are doing everything that is Boko Haram’s opposite. And terrorism will be defeated by active kindness, active reconciliation, active trust. Your communities and your nations are looking to you to take up that work in an unimaginably challenging time. We will be with you always. We will be with you to the very end, and the sky is the limit to the partnership between the American and the Nigerian people. And we will do everything in our power as a government to support your efforts to put this horrible chapter behind you.

With that, let me answer your questions. Thank you. [Applause.]

MODERATOR: [Inaudible] and asking your questions this afternoon, because of time. Yeah. Because of time, we’ll have to put all the questions together. So I will invite, first of all, Zambiyat Abubakar (ph). Zambiyat Abubakar is a senior in communications and multimedia design programs. I will also invite Jandomal Yakteradiat (ph), who’s a senior in the petroleum chemistry program. And I’ll also invite Tembi Uluwatane (ph). She’s a junior in communications and multimedia design program. So please ask your questions together.

QUESTION: Your Excellency, I am currently a senior here at AUM, and like many of my counterparts, I’m considering undertaking postgraduate students in the United States.

MODERATOR: Speak up, please, or take the microphone closer to your mouth.

QUESTION: Hello. Your Excellency, I am currently a senior here at AUM, and like many of my counterparts, I’m considering undertaking postgraduate studies in the United States. However, there seems to be a rising Islamophobia in the U.S. A leading U.S. residential presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has proposed to ban all Muslims from coming into the U.S. if he’s elected president. Now, as a Muslim, I worry. Would I be able to come into the U.S. and pursue my postgraduate studies by this time next year?

MODERATOR: Tembi, please.

QUESTION: Your Excellency, recently a general equality bill was rejected by the Nigerian senate. Having worked on women’s rights issues, is there any form of pressure you can put on the Nigerian Government or senate to reconsider their anti-general equality stance?

MODERATOR: Fantastic. Thank you.

Jandomal, please.

QUESTION: Your Excellency, I’m from Rwanda, and two weeks ago my country had marked the 22nd anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi. The United Nations and the U.S. have been blamed for not having done enough to protect the people of Rwanda. You, in fact, have written about this. Your Excellency, what lessons have the United Nations and U.S. have learned from the Rwandan genocide as they view the situations in Nigeria, Syria, and other part of the world where particular religious and ethnic group, women and children are targeted for under threat of violence? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Fantastic. Thank you. [Applause.]

AMBASSADOR POWER: Okay. Great. Thank you. The questions are all a reflection of the intelligence of the student body. When I travel, I like easier questions. [Laughter.] But that’s okay. No, these are great questions.

The question about our election is a question that I get a lot, whether at the United Nations, where we have countries from all around the world, including, of course, many, many Muslim countries – there are 193 countries who gather in New York every day. And some of my fellow ambassadors from very powerful Muslim countries ask me the very question you asked: What’s going to happen? And here’s what I’ll say, without wading into American presidential politics, which would be very perilous. [Laughter.] Every time in our history, America’s history, where we have excluded one group or discriminated against the other or practiced collective guilt, it has been a mistake. And it has been a mistake because it’s immoral, because it’s unjust, because it’s unfair, and it’s been a mistake that we have reversed.

There is something in election campaigns that doesn’t always bring out the most noble spirit in people, and that’s very unfortunate. And the rhetoric, I think, in this election campaign is some of the most, in some cases, offensive that we have heard in a very long time. And I’m not sure the people who talk in those ways think about young women like you, who want nothing more than to dream about coming and getting a graduate degree, and coming back to their community and making their country more prosperous and safer, and ensuring that the next generation has more opportunities than this one.

But I can tell you that the vast majority of the American people don’t espouse views like those that are getting a lot of attention these days. And the vast majority of the American people recognize that our country is what it is today because of Muslim Americans and the contributions that they have made. They are part of the fabric of our society, and America wouldn’t be the same if we discriminated in the way that some are proposing, at least in this election cycle.

So I would encourage you to come to the United States. Come visit me at the UN and I will welcome you, and millions of Americans will welcome you as well. And when you come back here, I think you will have seen the great face of America rather than the one that you’re having to hear every now and then in election season.

In terms of the question of women’s rights and equity, you heard me briefly in my remarks talk about the fact that countries that keep their women down and who don’t promote gender equity are worse off. And the irony is, men are equally worse off than women. The countries don’t grow in the same way. Their GDP isn’t the same as those countries that are able to involve all facets of their workforce.

I mean, imagine if the girls at this school, these incredible young women, suddenly get out of here and people said, “No. Sorry. Only half of the school’s population has this set of opportunities.” And I know that’s how some of you feel at times, depending on where you’re from in this country. It’s even how people in the United States feel, as there are huge gaps between what men are paid and what women are paid to do the same job. And we’ve been at this for a long time.

But it is women, and women like those here on this campus, who are going to leave here and be part of civil society. They’re going to be citizens who get to vote in elections. In their democracy, in your democracy, you can take advantage of your ability to speak and to protest. You can bring that bill up again if you think the bill is great vehicle for doing that. But it is through your activism and through your use of the tools in this amazing country that will allow you to level the playing field once and for all.

And I would note that we need you. At the UN there are 193 countries, as I mentioned, 193 ambassadors as well. Only 36 of the 193 ambassadors are women. We’ve never had a woman Secretary General. There have been 70 presidents of the UN General Assembly. Two women out of 70. We can do better. And it is young women like you, who don’t take no for an answer, who are going to change the world. Young women like Blessing, who I think would make a fine Nigerian ambassador to the United Nations, just for the record. [Applause.]

Finally and briefly, on Rwanda, I’m so sorry, of course, for everything your country went through. I do think Rwanda’s recovery is a remarkable story – 64 percent of the one of the houses of the Rwandan parliament is women. The development indicators. The healthy education. The human rights circumstance is not perfect; a long way to go on that. But considering where Rwanda came from 22 years ago, it’s a miracle. And there’s been tremendous leadership in bringing that about, and I think that’s something you can share with this community, Rwanda’s journey from the genocide to the present. And I think for those of you who are feeling overwhelmed at times by Boko Haram and its effects, there are a lot of lessons in the Rwandan experience.

In terms of our lessons, we have tried to strengthen the international community’s ability to respond when mass atrocities start. And that means investing in preventive diplomacy. You mentioned Syria. Secretary Kerry is spending so much of his time trying to broker a political solution because there’s no military solution to a conflict like that that has so many atrocities and has inflicted so much heartbreak.

We are also trying to strengthen peacekeeping, which of course failed the people of Rwanda. There were peacekeepers in Rwanda when the genocide started, and instead of getting reinforcements, they were withdrawn and your people were abandoned to the genocidaire. President Obama chaired a summit on peacekeeping at the UN General Assembly in September, and we mobilized commitments of 50,000 new troops and police to come into peacekeeping that hadn’t been part of peacekeeping before. And with that greater supply, we hope in a moment of crisis we can send more rather than pull out those who are there.

So that’s one example. And I would note we really want Nigeria to be a part of the solution when it comes to regional conflicts and potential atrocities. And this is an additional reason that we are investing in training and equipping the Nigerian military. We know you have your hands full here, and the Boko Haram priority is a huge priority for all of us. But Nigeria in the past has played a really important role in terms of regional security and stabilization, and once we have defeated Boko Haram, we look forward to Nigerians continuing to lead all around the world to protect civilians. Thank you. [Applause.]