Ambassador Entwistle: Good morning to all of you. I’m delighted to be here this morning. Actually it’s not my first time in Adamawa but it’s my first time in Adamawa on the Nigerian side of the border. I started my career a long long time ago in Cameroon and I visited Adamawa Province in Cameroon. So the first time on this side of the border in Adamawa.
I’ve been the U.S. Ambassador to this marvelous country for almost one year. I’ve been a U.S. diplomat for almost 34 years. As I said, I started in Cameroon, followed that with a tour to the north of her in the Niger Republic which is where I met and married my wife. So we’re very happy to be back in this part of the world.
But in my diplomatic career I’ve had the privilege of bouncing back and forth between Africa and Asia. Before this I had the privilege of being the U.S. Ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa.
When I started 34 years ago as a young officer in Cameroon I never dreamed that someday I would be entrusted with a position as important as this, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. And I firmly believe that Nigeria is the most important relationship that the U.S. has in Africa.
As I’ve gotten to know the country and know the relationship I’ve been very struck by the fact that almost every subject I look at in this country — health, education, security, investment, trade, take your pick — the U.S. and Nigeria have been doing fantastic things together for decades.
Look at this university, this marvelous university. That stands as a testament, I think, to the American-Nigerian relationship.
Now one of the things that has changed in my time as a U.S. diplomat is when I started all those years ago almost anything of substance between two countries took place in the government to government channel. One of the most positive developments I’ve seen in the past 35 years is the growth of contacts between nations in non-governmental channels. Relationships between academic institutions which lead to fantastic things like AUN.
So I’m delighted to be here today at AUN, and to have a chance to see and to celebrate what this institution represents.
A couple of issues, one of the reasons, well, why did I come on this trip? Of course the main reason was as I said earlier, I don’t consider myself the U.S. Ambassador to Abuja, I’m the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. So I like to get away from my desk and my in-box and all of my electronic devices and drive the roads of this country and meet Nigerians and form a real sense of what’s going on. What is the reality in this vast country?
The other reason I came right now, of course, was the governor election on Saturday which of course is now not going to take place. But I think some of the themes that I’ve been talking about in relation to elections remain extremely relevant. My government is very committed to helping with your elections. We’re providing support to INEC. We are providing support to Nigerian civil society so that they can do things like observe elections themselves. I think the most important thing that can be done is to build up the indigenous electoral observation capacity because that’s an investment not just in this election but in the next one and the one after that. It’s an investment in the future of democracy in this country.
We’re also providing a good bit of support to the police and others who will be involved in maintaining the security during the elections.
Of course as well these days the whole world is focused on Northeastern Nigeria for obvious reasons. The Boko Haram insurgency. I want to make clear that my government is heavily involved in supporting your government in its response to Boko Haram. Indeed, many months ago when I had the privilege of presenting my credentials to President Jonathan, afterwards I had the honor of sitting down and talking with him. The first thing I said to him was Mr. President, I want to make very clear, the United States stands with Nigeria in its war on terror. And that is as true today as it was then.
That takes many forms. Some of it is military training. Things like that. Some it is information sharing. All of these things. It’s a multi-pronged approach but I just want to make clear that sometimes you see things in the headlines that aren’t quite accurate, but our commitment to helping your country in this struggle has not changed at all. It grows every day.
So with that, why don’t I stop talking. I’ll be glad to take your questions. You can ask me any question you want. I’ll do my best to answer it. But again, thank you all for coming and let me again say how pleased I am, how honored to be able to do this here on the beautiful AUN campus.
So please, questions, and please tell me who you are before you ask your question.
Audience: My [inaudible].
You talk about building support as the Nigerian government tries to combat insurgency. If you follow the headlines in the papers the last few days or weeks, [inaudible] your government providing support in Nigeria is way under [inaudible] Nigerian government to combat insurgency. For [inaudible] say you making it extremely difficult for Nigerians to procure arms from your country and from your allies, and that when it comes to decide [inaudible] gets, [inaudible] it’s in a way not sharing intelligence with the Nigerian [team]. So that has gone on and on.
Now my question is why is it really difficult for Nigeria to procure arms from your country? Why is that the case? And is your country suspicious of the Nigerian [inaudible]? Why is the relationship not as deep as we are made to believe?
Ambassador Entwistle: Well you won’t be surprised when I say that I disagree completely with those headlines and they are quite inaccurate. Here’s the deal.
Our two countries have had a strong military relationship for a long time. We share training. We’re training a Nigerian infantry battalion right now. Over the years we’ve shared a lot of equipment. Some of the newest vessels in your Navy came from the U.S., excess ships that we shared and so on. So the idea that the United States doesn’t share military equipment with Nigeria across the board simply isn’t true.
However, before we share equipment with any country, whether it’s a government-to-government grant or whether it’s a commercial sale that would require government approval, we look at a couple of things. We look first of all, does it make sense in terms of that country’s needs? The second thing we look at of course is the human rights situation in that country. And as we look at equipment transfers we look at the situation in this country over the past few years and unfortunately, as you all know, there have been instances, I’m not saying across the board, but there have been instances of human rights abuses by the Nigerian military up in the northeast.
So the kind of question that we have to ask is, let’s say we give a certain kind of equipment to the Nigerian military. That then is used in a way that affects the human rights situation. If I’ve approved that, I’m responsible for that. So we take this responsibility very seriously. That doesn’t mean we don’t share equipment, it means we look at each case very carefully.
The other thing about equipment is I think sometimes militaries around the world, and I think it’s the case here, is sometimes it’s easy to think that new equipment is the solution to everything. I would say in the struggle against Boko Haram, as we support Nigeria in its struggle against Boko Haram, obviously equipment is part of the equation. But I think it’s more than that. It bothers me when I talk to soldiers who have come back from the northeast and they talk about how they were on the front lines with only a few bullets, they only ate every two or three days, that kind of thing. It seems to me that that’s much more important, meeting the basic needs of soldiers in the field, making sure that they have boots and that they’re well trained, that they have ammunition for their rifles.
So I think if you don’t focus on taking care of the soldiers on the ground and meanwhile you want to buy high-tech equipment, it’s my experience that you can buy the best equipment in the world but if the soldiers on the ground don’t have what they need, then that doesn’t solve anything.
So that’s the kind of equation that we go through. So we haven’t cut off anything. Our cooperation continues. But yes, I freely admit that we look at every transfer, everything very carefully for the reasons that I’ve just described.
You had a second question. What was the second question?
Audience: Sharing of intelligence.
Ambassador Entwistle: Right, sharing of intelligence. Obviously I can’t go into all the details here, but yes, part of what we’re doing to help Nigeria in its struggle against Boko Haram is sharing information that we think will be helpful. That has not reduced, despite the headlines. If anything it’s growing day by day. I can’t go into the details, but that part of the relationship is very strong.
It’s time for a woman. Gender balance. I stand for gender equality. [Laughter]. They always ask the toughest questions.
Audience: Good morning, sir. My name is [Hesiyah] [inaudible]. I’m a student, majoring in accounting.
My question is, what are some of the U.S. [inaudible] policies that are instituted in the U.S. educational system that make it advanced and highly standards? And the second one is that how can we compare to Nigeria? Which policy do you think we can apply to the Nigerian educational system that will make it look better?
Ambassador Entwistle: My goodness, I wasn’t fantastically successful in the U.S. educational system. I was a mediocre student. So I might not be the best person to ask that question.
But I’ll tell you, I think one thing that American schools do very well is rather than just giving information to students and expecting them to memorize it and give it back, obviously that’s part of it. But I think American institutions tend to be pretty good at encouraging students to learn how to think for themselves. Take the information you’ve learned in this course and that course, think about it, analyze it. What does it mean and how can it help you in your efforts to succeed and make the world a better place? So I think we’re pretty good at that.
I’ve seen other education systems that might be better at actually getting students to remember information, but I think we’re quite good and maybe that’s, I imagine that’s a focus here at AUN on realizing that just acquiring information is the first step. The second, most important step, is what do you do with it? How do you analyze it? How do you use it to change the world?
So as a poor student myself, that would be my hopefully pretty good answer. You can give me a C on that if you want. [Laughter].
Audience: My name is Josef [inaudible]. [Inaudible].
The question I want to ask you is concerning AUN itself. What, based on the fact that American University Nigeria is an American standard style of institution, what is the American government doing to support AUN?
Ambassador Entwistle: We’re sending brilliant speakers. [Laughter].
Audience: What is the organization doing to support AUN based on the fact [inaudible] the community? Last two weeks we [fed] almost 6,000 [inaudible].
Ambassador Entwistle: Right.
Audience: So what is the school trying to do? And how do you see American University of Nigeria?
Ambassador Entwistle: Based on the questions you asked me I’d have to give AUN pretty high marks. You’ve obviously been studying very hard.
As I said earlier, I think one of the tremendous developments in recent years is the development of ties between private institutions. This seems to be a success for that. It doesn’t seem to me that you need a massive U.S. government intervention here at AUN. I think you’re doing just fine.
However, what the U.S. government is very interested in doing is the many activities that you engage in off campus, you talked about what you’re doing for IDPs and so on. I had a spectacular session yesterday morning with the Adamawa Peace Initiative as they talked to me about what they are doing to support IDPs. We’re looking at supporting their efforts through the U.S. Agency for International Development. So different activities like that might be appropriate for U.S. government involvement.
But overall, there’s an old joke in the U.S. about I’m from the government, I’m here to help you. And be very afraid of that. But it seems to me that AUN is thriving just as it is.
Audience: My name is [inaudible], and I work for the [inaudible] [Communications].
My question, as AUN’s development [inaudible]. So do you think that this is a new solution for [inaudible] development?
Ambassador Entwistle: Yes. How was that for an answer? [Laughter]. I’ve been very impressed with AUN. As I said earlier, not just what you’re doing in terms of education on the campus, but what you’re doing to make the world around you a better place.
Audience: Manuel [inaudible], I report for the Guardian Newspaper.
Sir, your President Barack Obama he visited more small countries in Africa but [refused] to visit Nigeria. We are [inaudible] that the reason is that Barack Obama doesn’t believe in democracy in Nigeria. How true is this media report?
Ambassador Entwistle: Look, nobody would be happier than me if President Obama visited Nigeria. That would be a wonderful thing. He’s a busy man. He can’t visit as many countries as he would like. But nobody would be happier than me to have him come to this country.
However, let me suggest to you that whether or not the President of the United States visits, it’s not the only measure of a relationship. If you look at the fact that shortly before I came in New York in, that was 2013 in New York, September of 2013, President Jonathan was just about the only African leader that President Obama saw. A couple of months ago I was in Washington for the African Leaders Summit. You all saw the coverage of that. Vice President Biden only met with three African leaders and one of them was President Jonathan. So that gives you an indication of the importance of the relationship.
So I would encourage you, don’t judge our relationship just by whether or not President Obama comes. I would be delighted to see him come, and if he comes I expect there to be a very strong AUN presence to welcome him. Let’s put it that way. [Applause].
Audience: Your Excellency, [inaudible] Ambassador to Nigeria. My name is [inaudible].
I would take you back to [insecurity] in Nigeria, in the sense that the major, one of the major problems confronting Nigeria now is insurgents. Boko Haram is [inaudible] in the south. U.S. Ambassador, sometime ago U.S. military intelligence were in Nigeria to help us secure the [inaudible]. They left here in a dramatic [situation]. No [inaudible]. They were not, their policies were incompatible with the allied counterparts. What is actually the situation? Why did the U.S. military left in that dramatic [way]? Thank you.
Ambassador Entwistle: Well, I think I already sort of answered that question but yes. After the kidnapping of the Chibok girls last spring we had quite a few U.S. government officials come out and figure out what could we do that would be helpful to the Nigerian government effort to secure the release of these girls. Over time some of them left when it became clear that your government might not need their specialty and so on. But as I said earlier, we’re continuing to do what we have done since day one of the Chibok crisis which is figure out how we can support the Nigerian government effort. And yes, the numbers of people who came out in the immediate aftermath are smaller now as we figured out what the most important ways in which we can help were, but the actual effort is as strong as ever in terms of sharing information.
But I want to make clear, it’s to support the Nigerian government effort to get these girls back. I just met some of them. I was very impressed. We will continue to do everything we can to help your government secure the release of these poor young women.
I’m the father of a daughter. I can’t begin to imagine what the families are going through.
So don’t take this the wrong way, don’t believe every headline you read, but our support to the Nigerian government on this has not diminished in quality. Yeah, maybe the number of people has gone down a bit, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the exchange between our two governments that matters and I’m very satisfied with that.
Time for a woman journalist. Gender balance. That’s what I’m all about.
Audience: Mr. Ambassador, sir, my name is [inaudible], I work for TV [inaudible].
Sir, you have been in Nigeria and just a while ago you told us that [inaudible] some of our soldiers were being in the past where Boko Haram have not [inaudible]. I’d like to know what is your impression of this insurgency? Lots of people are trying to guess the solution. Analysts have been making a lot of comments. But I’d like to know your impression. Do you think there is a police [inaudible] Boko Haram?
Ambassador Entwistle: Yes, I do, and I think one of the very important issues when we talk about Boko Haram is I think there are still some open questions about who are they, what do they want, what are their goals?
A year or so ago I would have said to you that it seems to me that their basis was religiously motivated. But in the year since then, in the time I’ve been here, as they kill more and more Muslims, it’s hard for me to accept that they’re only motivated by religion. So is it just basic thuggery? Is it nihilism? I’m frankly open to others’ opinions, and I ask the question a lot when I travel. Who are these guys and what do they want? Because I don’t think that we fully understand that.
The other thing that I think all analysts are looking at with Boko Haram is especially in the last six months, it seems to us like they have gone from being a small insurgency group with a couple of guns out under the trees into being a very effective conventional military force. If you look at how they operated around places like Bama and Guoza, it’s clear that they have very effective military leadership that is trained in small combat strategy and so on. I’m not a military guy, I don’t know all the right lingo.
So I think that’s another open question that all of us need to look at together is where does this military expertise come from?
So I think many times in life the more you know about something the more questions you realize there are. And frankly, in many ways that’s where I am on these guys. We know some, but as this continues I think more and more questions come up about what motivates them, how in the last year they’ve become more effective on the ground militarily, that kind of thing.
So if any of the staff here is doing research on those subjects, I’d be fascinated to hear it because it’s something that I think we need to figure out together.
Audience: Thank you very much, Ambassador. My name is [inaudible], and I’m with [inaudible].
I just ask three direct questions. First, is there public accountability on corruption? Previously, a few months ago, during the President’s media chat when he was asked about some missing points —
Ambassador Entwistle: Which President? Your President. Okay. Just checking.
Audience: He did say about [inaudible] million dollars are actually missing. America will [know]. And after he made that statement [inaudible]. What do you think on the fight against corruption and impunity in Nigeria? Do you think the Nigerian government is doing enough to combat this [inaudible]?
The second thing is, you’ve been at the forefront campaigning against electoral [violence] in [inaudible]. And you’ve spoken about a need to force or encourage politicians to make a pledge against [electoral] violence. Do you think that is actually a solution or not? If we campaign that politicians should pledge against [electoral] violence is sufficient?
And lastly, INEC is currently battling the issue of IDPs [inaudible]. The U.S. government has come out to indulge INEC to say hey, you guys need to protect the voting rights of these people. Practically speaking, what will be your first suggestions on how to deal with an issue of ensuring that internally displaced persons would [inaudible]?
Ambassador Entwistle: Those are good questions.
The first one on corruption, I don’t remember the specific quote from President Jonathan, but look, I know from reading all of your newspapers and listening to your TV stations and so on, Nigerians themselves recognize what a huge problem corruption is in this country. Whether it relates to where does oil revenue go, to why don’t troops in the northeast have all the equipment that has been budgeted for, all of these things. It’s clear that corruption is a huge issue. I know that not just from my own observation but from listening to Nigerians and to Nigerian media.
But let’s be clear. Corruption doesn’t happen only in Nigeria. My country historically has struggled with corruption and continues to struggle with it today. I vote in the state of Virginia, and I don’t know if you’ve seen in the news, but the former governor of Virginia is now facing, has been convicted I believe of serious corruption charges. In the state of Illinois something like the last seven governors, four of them are now in prison. So that shows that corruption sadly is found everywhere.
In our historical experience two things have to happen in the fight against corruption. First, you have to have effective institutions in place, in power to fight it. And private citizens, the average guy who goes to work every day and pays his taxes and takes care of his family, he needs to get frustrated and angry and say wait a minute, I’m tired of paying my taxes and not being able to know where the money goes. Where is this money going?
So I think those two things have to happen.
I think there’s progress here in Nigeria when I meet with groups like the EFCC and that kind of thing. I’m not saying you’re close to wiping it out. We haven’t wiped it out in our country. But I think it’s going to be the combination of those two things — empowering the institutions to fighting it; and average citizens may be empowered through the media to stand up and say wait a minute, I’m tired of this. Where does this money go? How come that former civil servant is driving a BMW? That kind of thing.
Electoral violence. Yes. I’ve been speaking out quite a bit on how there’s no place for violence in a democratic election. Every time I meet a politician or a candidate in this country I encourage them to publicly commit themselves to not fomenting, supporting or condoning violence before, during or after the election. You can go to our embassy web site and see a video that I put together on some things I saw as a child in Alabama in the early 1960s and what I learned from that in terms of the importance of elections and the fact that there’s no place for electoral violence.
But I think someone like me saying this only has limited effect. This will become effective in two ways. One, when you in the media take up this challenge, and I urge you to do this. Between now and February every time a candidate wants an interview or he wants to be on your radio station or something like that — I shouldn’t say just him. Him or her. Make them take the non-violence pledge in public. Make them, if you’re from a radio station, make them commit on the air, on the radio, that they will take the non-violence pledge. If you guys in the media pick this up, if civil society picks this up, it’s much more powerful than one old bald diplomat saying it.
But I believe very strongly in this. I will continue to make these points. But they will be much more powerful if they’re reinforced by all of you.
Finally on the INEC and the IDPs, that’s a very good question. As I mentioned earlier, we are doing what we can to support the internally displaced in terms of education, food, meeting their basic human needs. But at the same time it’s bad enough that they’ve been displaced. I think it would be wrong if on top of that they are also effectively disenfranchised next February. I’m not sure we can solve the problem completely, but it seems to me the problem can be dealt with in a number of ways and we’ve been encouraging INEC both at the Abuja level but also whenever I come out and travel, to look at this creatively.
It seems to me one way to do it is I understand that IDPs, many of them, even if they decide not to remain in an internally displaced camp, they still register there, and it seems to us that that should produce a list that could then be used to support some sort of what we call in the U.S. absentee balloting. Saying okay, this guy is now in, he’s fled home in Borno, he’s now displaced in Gombe, but we can tell exactly where he should vote is Borno. There should be some way to still allow him to vote, at least in the presidential election.
So I’ve been talking to INEC about this in recent weeks. I’ve been happy that they’re willing to think about this creatively and come up, try to come up with a solution. So this is a tough one in terms of Nigerian law which I believe ties a voter to a specific polling place and they must vote there.
It seems to me that creative people of good intent should be able to find some way around that so that Nigerians who are displaced, as many of them as possible can vote. So yeah, we’re talking to INEC about that to see what can be done. It seems to me that there are two issues. How widely will INEC be able to conduct the elections in the northeast? And the second question is what happens to those poor unfortunate people who have had to flee their homes.
So yes, you’re right. We talked to INEC about that, encouraging them to come up with some sort of creative solution because I said disenfranchisement on top of being displaced seems, just seems extremely unfortunate to me.
Audience: Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador. My name is [inaudible], and I am the President of the [inaudible] Intern of the Office of Communication.
A major question is on the representation of the youth and women. As the United States of America is a developed country and part of the reason is —
Ambassador Entwistle: In some ways.
Audience: In some ways. Compared to our country, Nigeria. One of the reasons why it’s fastly developing is because of the empowerment of youth and women. And I believe as a student and as a youth in this country that this is part of, this is a major problem, one of the major problems that we are facing.
So as an Ambassador, what is the most important message you have for the youth of Nigeria as we are the future of Nigeria, and also the women that are trying to come up and empower themselves? Thank you.
Ambassador Entwistle: Let’s look at U.S. history. Yes, women play an active role in U.S. politics and so on but that didn’t just happen. It was the result of a long struggle. A hundred years ago in my country women couldn’t vote. They got the vote as the result of a long struggle which culminated in their getting the vote.
The same thing if you look at the history of African Americans in my country. I remember living in Alabama in the early 1960s and watching protestors who, African-American protestors who wanted to vote, even though they had theoretically had the right to vote for 100 years. They had effectively been blocked from doing so.
So these things don’t just change by themselves. They change when people are willing to struggle and fight for them.
In terms of youth, I look at non-governmental responses, quite frankly. Things like this university. We’re trying to do what we can to empower African youth through, just to cite one example, President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative which was highlighted last summer in connection with the African Leaders Summit. We’re taking applications for that again now, I think. You can look at our embassy web site and see exactly how to go about it.
But before I came out here when I was reading up on Nigeria and so on, everything I read and everyone I talked to said oh, Nigeria’s most important resources is petroleum. Now that I’ve been here a year, I don’t agree with that. I think your most important resources is young Nigerians. Every time I do something like I did this morning, give a speech to a bunch of young Nigerians and interact with them, I go away thinking wow, this is why I’m optimistic about Nigeria despite the many challenges. It’s because of the young Nigerians I meet who are smart, dedicated, love their country, are patriotic and want to make it a better place.
So we are doing things to try to support youth all across Africa. Anyone who has good ideas on things we could be doing, we’re always glad to hear them.
Audience: Good day, Mr. Ambassador. My name is [inaudible] and I’m a political student. I am also here for a non-government organization known as [inaudible], essentially owned by students here in AUN.
I have two questions. My first question is about the United States humanitarian [inaudible]. United States government always [inaudible] across the world when it comes to health issues, education, displaced people [inaudible]. But when Cuba sent over 100 doctors to contain the Ebola situation in Africa, the United States has not. Why?
My second question is about United States diplomacy. Over the years we see United States always spearheading cases of terror and global war on terrorism. But this time [inaudible] we see the United States forming multilateral organizations with countries such as France, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Now does this mean that this sort of relationship will aid in the war against terror with Boko Haram? Thank you.
Ambassador Entwistle: Your first question, the United States has been extremely active against Ebola in Africa. We are on the ground in a big way in the countries that are still struggling with it like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Here in Nigeria the reaction, the response to Ebola, quite frankly, was fantastic. Your government both at the federal and state level responded very quickly. We were glad to help with U.S. personnel from the Centers for Disease Control. But I think the response here showed that if you respond quickly, if you do the fairly straightforward things like isolate potential victims, do very quick and effective contact tracing, the things that we’re now doing in the United States and so on, it was shown here that this can work.
In terms of absolute numbers of doctors, the Cubans may have more, but I can tell you we have a lot of health personnel through the Centers for Disease Control, through the U.S. military, on the ground, all through West Africa.
Your other question, yes, in the war on terrorism since 9/11, I think you have to respond to every situation a little differently. Yes, there are themes that unite them but every situation is a bit different.
I’m not an expert on the Middle East, on Iraq and Syria, but it seems to me that one of the basic facts there is that these groups are operating in places where basically government has withered away and there’s really no nation state in many ways. That’s different here in Nigeria where this is happening within the confines of a very strong nation state that has an Army that’s trying to respond. So it may be appropriate in the Middle East to have a coalition and so on. Here I think, as I said earlier, there’s a very committed Nigerian response and we are supporting that because the situation here is frankly different.
Yes, as part of that response we talk to the French and British and that kind of thing. But it’s all in the context of supporting the Nigerian effort, not thinking about coming in and doing something ourselves. You don’t need that here in Nigeria.
Thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I must say that it’s conferences like this that give me confidence in Nigerian media. Go out and be as tough on the candidates and the elections as you are on me. Okay? Thank you very much.