Thank you, I am very pleased to be here and delighted to meet you all.
There is a lot to discuss today, and I am, above all, here to listen to your views and your concerns. I have long learned that you only hear part of the story from government officials, and I hope that we can have a candid conversation about the challenges civil society is confronting in promoting free, fair, and transparent elections, fighting corruption, advancing responsible, effective, and rights-respecting approaches to insecurity.
Nigeria will rejoin the United Nations Security Council for the fifth time, in January, after an absence of only two years. I have spent some of the day today discussing your government’s plans for its time on the Security Council, and I am interested in your views on opportunities at the United Nations and areas where you think we can be more effective to advance your important work.
Our two countries share much in common. Both have vibrant civil societies, whose promotion of civic engagement is so key to advancing important reforms and making government accountable to its citizens. In Nigeria, civil society organizations like yours have tirelessly advocated for increasing the credibility of elections and citizens’ participation in the electoral process, which is so vital for any democracy. You all have also worked to highlight the impact of poor governance and public corruption on the average Nigerian citizen who wants to contribute meaningfully to society. Tragically, we have both been targeted by terrorists. The brutality of the attacks against your people is shocking. In responding to these attacks it is essential that we do so consistent with the most fundamental of international human rights norms. The United States is concerned by some of the stories we hear of inhumane detention practices in Nigeria, and I have discussed those with officials here. Security crackdowns that do not discriminate between legitimate targets and innocent civilians are both counterproductive and wrong. We know how hard it is to fight insurgency and terrorism, but we have also seen how much more effective we are when we put the welfare of the local population at the heart of our efforts.
I was pleased to hear President Jonathan’s announcement earlier this month of his development plan for the North-East. Efforts to fight poverty, create jobs, and respect the dignity and rights of all people would help lay a foundation for longer term progress. My government will be urging President Jonathan to fulfill his commitment to implement his plan as soon as possible.
It is the organizations in this room that will shape Nigeria’s future. The actions you are taking and the networks you are forming are helping Nigeria to move forward in a variety of ways – to empower women, create new opportunities for young people, expose and curb corruption, strengthen democratic institutions, and ensure that the electoral process is free and fair.
I want to reassure all of you that there are people, in the United States, as elsewhere, who are watching, listening and supporting your efforts and success. Civic engagement in all aspects of Nigerian life is not only laudatory, but a responsibility that has and will continue to reap enormous benefits for Nigerians and the future of your democracy. In just over a year, you will all participate in another presidential election, which we hope is an opportunity for the voices of 70 million voters to be heard. Between now and then, the world will be watching to see that the coming local and state elections are well-administered, transparent, and credible.
We noted with concern the irregularities in last month’s gubernatorial election in Anambra, and will follow closely next summer’s contests in Ekiti and Osun. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for the 2015 elections – and civil society can play a big part in that – by demanding fair campaign practices, raising voter awareness, and training to participate as poll observers. The 2015 election will draw global attention and can – if you push hard enough -- prove a model for all of Africa, if they are free, fair, and transparent.
Before closing, I want to mention that the United States has developed some new platforms for engaging with civil society here in Nigeria. For example, we have a multi-year project designed to reduce the potential for violence in the Niger Delta. On December 5, we began accepting applications for the next round of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, which will bring more than 500 men and women from across Africa to the United States for training and coursework in our educational institutions. Nigeria is one of the largest sources of talent for this initiative, and I encourage you as civil society leaders to identify candidates you think would most benefit from this.
I applaud your efforts to enrich the lives of your communities and build a more unified, vibrant, and prosperous Nigeria and look forward – during our discussion -- to learning more about what you are doing, the hopes you have, and the obstacles you confront. Thank you.
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