Abuja | July 4, 2015
Distinguished Guests, all protocols observed.
Good evening, everyone. I’m pleased to welcome you to the celebration of the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence announcing the United States’ independence as a sovereign nation.
I’d like to thank Amikaeyla Gaston, all the way from Oakland, California, for tonight’s entertainment. Having survived a hate crime and near death experience in her own life, Amikaeyla believes in the power of music to overcome fear and to heal, a message she spreads all over the world as she shares her gift with political refugees, war survivors, and other people who benefit from her message of hope.
The people of the United States and the people of Nigeria have known deep wounds and devastating losses throughout our histories. But time after time, the people of both nations have overcome those tragedies – as Amikaeyla puts it, to become our own super heroes.
Tonight we celebrate the heroism of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, a list of the 26 grievances that led them to declare themselves a free and independent people. Stepping forward, signing their names to a public document, was a very brave thing to do. They launched an experiment in self-governance that many – if not most – thought would likely fail. They risked everything – their lives, property, and reputations – because they believed they could make the world a better place. Events in the past now, of course, seem inevitable but at the time their success was anything but inevitable. As one of the most famous signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, said at the time: “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we will all hang separately.”
As I told President Jonathan when I arrived in Nigeria in November 2013, and as Secretary Kerry told President Buhari when they met immediately after the presidential inauguration (and, as I am sure President Obama will tell President Buhari directly when he receives him in the Oval Office at the White House on July 20), the people of Nigeria have no better friend than the United States. In my country, our commitment to democracy is right there in our Declaration of Independence. Here in Nigeria, you demonstrated to the world your commitment to democracy in historic elections earlier this year. In both of our great countries, commitment to democracy is deeply woven into our status as free and independent peoples.
As friends, we are here to support the Nigerian people and the government they have chosen and you have before you this evening a tangible symbol of that support. If you were here last year, you may remember that this site was a construction zone! Now we can show off our new Office Annex which we opened in November, Marine House, and other facilities. We are proud of this concrete and mortar commitment that the U.S. Government has made as a physical representation of our long-term commitment to Mission Nigeria. And we are delighted to see the new British chancery rise next to us, a symbol of how, just as our chanceries will soon stand next to each other, our two countries stand next to each other here in Nigeria as friends and partners committed to helping this magnificent land move forward.
But while the project itself is impressive, it’s only one example of our commitment to continue our vibrant presence here. We have maintained a robust engagement in Nigeria for many years, and our partnership with your great nation runs deep. Over the years, we’ve worked with the Government of Nigeria on a host of issues—on elections, security, the Niger Delta, fighting infectious disease, and spurring broad-based, inclusive economic growth, just to name a few.
It is clear that the future of Nigeria belongs to the people of Nigeria. More specifically, it belongs to Nigeria’s heroes — to those men and women who are brave enough to believe that they can change the world. And the United States stands with every Nigerian who believes that this country can be healthier, safer, and more prosperous.
For me, this is an exciting time to be in Nigeria. In the past year, we’ve seen Nigerian doctors and nurses defeat Ebola, we’ve seen the Nigerian military reclaim territory from Boko Haram, and, most of all, we’ve seen the Nigerian people go to the polls and defy expectations, make their voices heard as they insisted that their votes count. Thanks to them, the light of Nigerian democracy shines brightly across the continent.
These achievements weren’t made by those of us in the diplomatic community, as much as we have encouraged and supported Nigeria over the past year. They were brought about by the Nigerian super heroes who overcame fear and apathy, raised their expectations, and committed themselves to the hard work of making their communities a better place to live.
President John F. Kennedy famously told Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Perhaps less well known is the line that followed: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
I can’t wait to see what Nigerians will do – and we can do together – for the freedom of all. Not just the political freedom you exercised this year, but freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from sickness, and freedom from corruption.
As you fight Boko Haram and secure and rebuild the Northeast, we will continue to help in every appropriate way.
As you lead the effort to provide humanitarian aid to those driven from their communities and help them return home, we assist with food, medical care, and education programs.
As you fight corruption, we offer technical assistance, training for investigators and prosecutors, and a commitment to ensure that no stolen funds are laundered through our banking system.
As you improve the business climate, we encourage trade and investment.
As you continue privatization of your power grid, through President Obama’s Power Africa initiative we stand ready to, among other things, help companies invest in building more electricity infrastructure, especially environmentally-friendly power generation.
As you increase your commitment to healthcare and education, we support those efforts too.
Every step of the way, we will fulfill the commitment our Declaration of Independence made 239 years ago, to treat all of humanity, in peace, as friends. I am here – every American and Nigerian who works at the U.S. Mission in Nigeria is here – because we are committed to that endeavor.
In conclusion, please raise your glasses and join me in a toast:
TO THE HEALTH OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI AND PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, TO THE WELFARE AND PROSPERITY OF THE NIGERIAN AND AMERICAN PEOPLES, AND TO THE RICH AND VIBRANT PARTNERSHIP THAT UNITES OUR TWO GREAT DEMOCRACIES.
Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of the evening.