“No matter how much President Obama and I want this future for you, it will be up to you to decide whether it happens or not. You are the ones with both the opportunity and the responsibility. But I want you to know, as you walk this path to a stronger democracy that produces results for your people to lift the development of Nigeria up, that you will have us by your side”. Hillary Clinton
Well, I am absolutely delighted to be here. I’m very grateful to TMG and all of the partners who helped to organize this event. I apologize for keeping you waiting. I’ve had such an extraordinary schedule of meetings today, and I just finished a very interesting and important dialogue with leaders of both the Muslim and Christian communities. And I had to listen to everyone, because everyone had something very important to say.I want to thank you for the work that all of you do. Moshood listed off all of the different affiliations that are represented here. But you are here, in part, because you care about your country. You have worked on behalf of the public or the private sector, civil society, the faith communities, because of your commitment to a better future.
I am here on behalf of President Obama and our Administration and my country to deepen and strengthen our relationship. We have had a long history of friendship and partnership with Nigeria, and we want to do even more. But we recognize, as I have told the government officials with whom I have met today, that Nigeria is at a crossroads, and it is imperative that citizens be engaged and that civic organizations be involved in helping to chart the future of this great nation.
I started my trip in Africa about – over – about a week or so ago – I’ve lost track of time – in Kenya. I was at a town hall meeting much like this at the University of Nairobi, and one of the people in the audience was my friend and a former Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. And she said something which has stuck with me as I have traveled across this extraordinary continent. She said, “Africa is a rich continent. The gods must have been on our side when they created the planet, and yet we are poor.”
I have seen the best and the most distressing of what is happening in Africa today. Yesterday, I was in eastern Congo, one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, yet one that is replete with human misery. Today, I am in Nigeria, a country that produces 2 million barrels of oil a day, has the seventh-largest natural gas reserves of any country in the world, but according to the United Nations, the poverty rate in Nigeria has gone up from 46 percent to 76 percent over the last 13 years.
Now, there are many reasons why Nigeria has struggled. There is the destructive legacy of colonialism, there are wars, including a devastating civil war. There are other external forces. But as President Obama said in Ghana in his historic speech, the future of Africa is up to the Africans, and the future of Nigeria is up to the Nigerians. The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria’s wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the local, state, and federal level. (Applause.)
And some of that is due, as you know so well, to corruption, others of it to a lack of capacity or mismanagement. But the World Bank recently concluded that Nigeria has lost well over $300 billion during the last three decades as a result of all of these problems. And therefore, it is imperative that we look at where Nigeria is today and, in the spirit of friendship and partnership, of a country that has made its own mistakes, has had its own problems, we look for ways to help one another, and particularly to help the people of this country.
The raw numbers, 300 billion, 2 million barrels of oil – they’re staggering. But they don’t tell you how many hospitals and roads could have been built. They don’t tell you how many schools could have opened, or how many more Nigerians could have attended college, or how many mothers might have survived childbirth if that money had been spent differently. The lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state. We deplore the attacks perpetrated by any armed group, whether they be religious extremists, militias, or criminals. But addressing the challenges that they and the poverty of the country pose takes more than action by your excellent military or your police. It requires fixing Nigeria’s flawed electoral system – (applause) – establishing a truly independent electoral council.
In order to create a peaceful, stable environment that creates development among the people, citizens need to have confidence that their votes count, that their government cares about them, that democracy can deliver basic services. They need to know that officials will be replaced if they break the law or fail to deliver what they have promised. (Applause.) And they each know that Nigeria’s natural resources, particularly your oil and your gas, will be used to invest in social development programs that benefit all Nigerians, particularly the poorest. We stand ready to work with you and with your government and with civil society to help realize these goals.
The foundation of a democracy is trust. And a democracy doesn’t always behave perfectly. And a democracy is not just about elections. It’s about an independent judiciary and a free press and the protection of minority rights and an active legislative body that holds the executive accountable. It is about building those democratic institutions.
Again, to refer to President Obama’s speech, what Africa needs is not more strong men, it needs more strong democratic institutions that will stand the test of time. (Applause.) Without good governance, no amount of oil or no amount of aid, no amount of effort can guarantee Nigeria’s success. But with good governance, nothing can stop Nigeria. It’s the same message that I have carried in all of my meetings, including my meeting this afternoon with your president. The United States supports the 7-point agenda for reform that was outlined by President Yar’Adua. We believe that delivering on roads and on electricity and on education and all the other points of that agenda will demonstrate the kind of concrete progress that the people of Nigeria are waiting for.
We also believe that civil society has a very big job to do. And by civil society, I include all of the organizations that are formed by citizens, the NGOs, the faith-based groups, everyone working together. You have already helped to elevate the ideals of democracy, but now you must use the political system to encourage Nigeria’s leaders to serve the common good. There need to be watchdog groups, like NEDI to push for transparency. There need to be journalists, including many of you in this audience, who will shine a bright light on any abuses of the public trust or those who would enrich themselves at the expense of Nigeria’s citizens; independent courts and prosecutors, institutions to punish wrongdoers and deter future wrongdoing; citizens who persist and persevere often against long odds.
The capacity for good governance exists in Africa and it exists right here in Nigeria. We have seen it in many places, and we have seen it here in Nigeria. I know that it doesn’t sometimes feel like it’s possible because the climb is so high, but I have great confidence in what Nigeria is capable of doing. If you think about it, you’ve had one election that has made a peaceful transfer of civilian authority to civilian authority. And to the president – your president’s great credit, at his own inaugural address, he admitted that the election that put him in office had been flawed. (Applause.) And I think that there are the ingredients, the ingredients of determination, of effort, that must be mixed into a cake that all of Nigeria can feel they have a part in making and enjoying.
We have seen good governance in other places in your government, such as the action taken recently by all sectors of Nigerian society to fight human trafficking. We watched Nigeria make changes and moved it into the top tier of countries in the world because the society decided to solve a problem. (Applause.)
You have worked with international partners, along with my own country. We’ve seen the start of promising reforms, including reductions in trade barriers and closer cooperation on health care challenges. But there is so much more we can do together. This morning, the foreign minister and I agreed that we would create a bi-national commission to look at all of these issues, to see where the United States could provide technical assistance and support as the changes are made. There are many electoral systems, for example, that work very well in complex societies like Nigeria’s. Think about India where you have 500-600 million people voting. The poorest of the poor in remote areas with no electricity, none of the amenities, vote on computers so that when the results are announced, no one questions them. Think about Indonesia, which has only been a democracy for 10 years, a young democracy like Nigeria’s. After years of military rule and so many problems, they have just completed a hard-fought election with parties that that contested. And there was a winner, and everyone accepted it.
Now, I know a little bit about running in elections – (laughter and applause) – and I have won some elections and I have lost some elections. (Laughter.) And in a democracy, there have to be winners and losers. And part of creating a strong democratic system is that the losers, despite how badly we might feel, accept the outcome because it is for the good of the country that we love. (Applause.)
And of course, in my country, the man I was running against and spent a lot of time and effort to defeat asked me to join his government. (Applause.) So there is a – there is a way to begin to make this transition that will lead to free and fair elections in 2011. We will work with you. We believe so strongly in Nigeria’s positive future. We are grateful for what Nigeria has already done. Tomorrow, I will be in Liberia. The people of Liberia owe their freedom to you – (applause) – the Nigerians, your military, your leaders. The people across Africa owe so much to you. But now, you owe it to yourselves to make sure that your country, which I believe should be not just a leader in Africa, but a leader in the world, produces the kind of results that the intelligence and the hard work of the Nigerian people are capable of producing.
No matter how much President Obama and I want this future for you, it will be up to you to decide whether it happens or not. You are the ones with both the opportunity and the responsibility. But I want you to know, as you walk this path to a stronger democracy that produces results for your people to lift the development of Nigeria up, that you will have us by your side.
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