Policy Speech on Fulbright, Education, Health, Civil Society and Democracy
8th Annual Conference of the Fulbright Alumni
Association of Nigeria (FAAN)
University of Lagos
September 23, 2008
Protocols duly observed.
It is a great pleasure to be at the University of Lagos, more commonly referred to as UNILAG, one of the foremost higher education institutions in Nigeria, not only to celebrate one of the world’s foremost educational exchange programs, the J. William Fulbright Program, but also to highlight how this program serves as one of the key cornerstones of the U.S. policy thrust and framework in its partnership with the Nigerian people, particularly their desire for better educational development. The 8th Annual Conference of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Nigeria (FAAN) provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of education in the role of the development of nations like Nigeria, and you, its members, have played a key role in this.
Since its inauguration in the 1940s, the Fulbright Program has been just as much an integral part of U.S. foreign policy as it is today. Whether the challenge is transforming conflict into dialogue, conducting medical research on such pandemic issues as HIV/AIDS, halting the trafficking of persons, or designing an efficient energy grid- all policies addressed by the U.S. Mission to Nigeria- the voices, talents, skills and commitments of Fulbrighters have helped the U.S. Government address these issues, particularly here in Nigeria. Even in our IT-based global environment, we all know there is no substitute for personal interaction, especially on educational development. It is individuals like you in the U.S. Fulbright Program that show, after all, that it is not data streams that build connections and lasting international partnerships, but dialogue, educational exchange, and personal relations. And that is the hallmark of the Fulbright Program.
Now I want to highlight the areas of study pursued by both Nigerian Fulbrighters, who the U.S. Government sends to the U.S., and the American Fulbrighters, who the U.S. helps to send to Nigeria to help build educational capacity in a variety of areas. These Fulbrighters are a fitting reflection of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria’s policy priorities in our bilateral relationship with the government and people of Nigeria. The U.S. Government engagement in Nigeria is built upon four central pillars: investing in people, including support to the health, education and agricultural sectors; achieving peace and security; enhancing economic growth and trade; and promoting just and democratic governance. You have seen and will continue to see us work on these areas. The U.S. Mission’s framework for partnership with Nigeria also supports poverty-fighting measures such as wealth creation, land reform and food security, with the U.S. Government offering $25 million to address Nigeria’s food security issues.
In addition to recognizing the contribution of U.S. Fulbrighters to the educational sector in Nigeria, our other activities in the educational sector range from increasing the literacy and numeracy skills of 700,000 primary school children in Nigeria to sponsoring Nigerian senior scholars to the United States for a year of research through the Fulbright program.
For example, we have with us today a number of you that reflect what I have been talking about thus far, such as Dr. Victoria Onu, who since her Fulbright year studying in the U.S, has been working assiduously to improve the standard of education in Nigeria. Her model curriculum for early childhood and primary education has been adopted by the 10 states of the South East and South South of Nigeria under the sponsorship of UNICEF, and reportedly may be adopted for use throughout the country.
Last year, U.S. Fulbrighter to Nigeria Bernard Van Wie, whose educational experience is in chemical and bio engineering at Washington State University in the United States, introduced at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, new desktop learning educational modules that can be easily reproduced in Nigeria. This equipment now allows students to have hands-on experience with processes that were previously only theoretical concepts in the classroom.
Also in the area of education, and of particular note in relation to this year’s conference theme of “ICT, Research and Development”, U.S. Fulbright scholar Dr. Cliff Missen helped establish a sustainable computer laboratory at the University of Jos. In addition, due to his experience with limited or unreliable Internet access in the developing world, Dr. Missen developed a computer system known as e-Granary, which places thousands of resource materials on a single server. My mission here is installing these e-Granary computer systems in our American Corners throughout Nigeria as another tool to increase our users’ abilities to conduct research. We are hoping to find a home here in Lagos for a Lagos American Corner, expanding our educational policy efforts and providing a platform for this wonderful e-Granary system to be used by youth, students and scholars in the area.
In the areas of health and food security, a number of scholars have conducted research on sleeping sickness, medicinal plants available in Nigeria, and methods for improving or protecting food crops. Dr. Bala Sidi Aliyu, a former Fulbright Junior Staff Development grantee from Bayero University Kano, conducted research on using biotechnology as a control method for an indigenous Nigerian plant parasite. He has since published two educational texts, one of which has been adopted as a primary reference book for undergraduate students of biological sciences in northern universities.
In our efforts to promote peace and security we are actively engaged with Nigeria’s military and security services, helping them to improve their capabilities in such areas as maritime security, peacekeeping support, and narcotics interdiction. We also support local-level conflict resolution through programs in the Niger Delta such as Basketball for Peace, and IT and job skills training with the goal of bringing youth together from communities experiencing violent clashes in order to encourage peaceful co-existence.
Our economic growth activities range from support for sustainable agricultural development to working through public-private partnerships to establish partial loan guarantees for small and medium size enterprises throughout Nigeria, and this includes the jobs that get developed under our African Growth and Opportunities Act. Nigerian Chidinma Anyabuike, who is currently in the U.S. as part of our Humphrey Fellows program, is looking at micro-credit strategies for Nigeria. She hopes to expand access to micro credit for disadvantaged groups upon her return to Nigeria.
These diverse activities do not exist in a vacuum; rather they operate within the bounds of the different levels of government, policies, and regulations. Our policy objectives support good governance, democratic institutions, and respect for the rule of law so that there is an enabling environment in which the people of Nigeria can thrive and achieve their full potential. Our governance programs have allowed us to provide capacity building to the members of the Nigerian National Assembly, its committees, and its staff. The U.S. Mission to Nigeria is also supporting Nigeria’s election reform efforts with technical assistance to the Electoral Reform Committee, civil society, as well as to women in political parties throughout the country. We very much want to see a truly independent electoral commission so that the flaws of Nigeria’s past elections will be a thing of the past.
Nigeria’s Fulbright family supported by U.S. Government resources has not shied away from its role in the efforts on good governance. For example, Professor Jenkery Zakari Okwori of Ahmadu Bello University undertook his Fulbright research to use theater to bring greater democracy into public decision making. Since his return from the Fulbright program at New York University in the U.S. he has worked with civil society organizations to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy through social action campaigns. Okwori has also collaborated with the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), to develop a manual on “Mandate Protection”, or safeguards for electoral processes, for use in Nigeria.
And this is really important and brings us to the other point I want to address today, which is the democracy pillar in our policy here in Nigeria. I have highlighted already our assistance to the National Assembly, the Electoral Reform Committee, women in politics and civil society. We are also working with state governments on fiscal responsibility and due process. But in the end, democracy is about democratic processes and institutions, and having democracy reflect the lay of the land and the people it is supposed to represent. Thus, in the U.S. our democracy is fluid and dynamic as all democracies should be. But this year more than ever our democracy is groundbreaking, with its diversity of gender, race, and age. As you watch our electoral process unfold and evolve, I hope you will be inspired as Fulbrighters to attempt new approaches to improve and strengthen Nigeria’s electoral and governance systems so that its democracy can thrive. As all democracies can learn from each other- you from us, but we can also learn from you- this is what partnerships and friends must do. And you, as Fulbrighters, are partners with the U.S. Mission’s effort on educational development.
As beneficiaries of this prestigious United States educational exchange program, you know the power of the program and how it transforms lives, yours and those you touch, bringing about positive change in your communities. With your power as change makers, you are vital partners with the U.S. Mission’s educational policy to ensure Nigeria has all the necessary tools to achieve the success it wants by 2020. Education is the foundation of any goal for Nigeria for 2020, and the U.S. Mission and I know you as Fulbrighters past, present and future are committed with us to see Nigeria succeed. Thank you and long live the U.S. Fulbright program and this association.