WHAT DEMOCRACIES DO FOR THEIR PEOPLE:
STRONG INSITUTIONS AND SMOOTH TRANSITIONS
American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State
October 17, 2008
Remarks as prepared for delivery
All protocols duly observed
My remarks today are just one of many programs we are holding throughout Nigeria to celebrate democracy and explain how democracy is practiced in the United States. I welcome the opportunity to speak with you today on this excellent campus of the American University of Nigeria not only about democracy, but also the role that students like you play in a democracy.
Democracy is about the governed, not the government. It rests firmly on the principle that the people of a nation have the inalienable right to choose how best to govern themselves and through their government how best to invest in the nation's people, grow the nation's economy and ensure the nation's peace and security. It is from the people that governments derive their authority, and it is to the people that government is accountable.
In a few short weeks, on November 4th, the people of the United States will once again go to the polls to exercise their inalienable right to choose those they will entrust with the responsibility to represent the American people in their government. As Americans here at the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, the 2008 U.S. Elections are an opportunity for us to celebrate and share our traditions of democracy with our friends in Nigeria. For us and for the United States they also mark the beginning of a time of transitions, to new leadership and to new opportunities.
We are all looking forward to election night. This year, the U.S. Mission is hosting election night events in Abuja and Lagos featuring early U.S. election coverage, programs and information on the U.S. election process, and most importantly, the opportunity to share our democratic traditions with our friends in Nigeria. I am deeply encouraged by the interest of the Nigerians in the U.S. Election. And just as the transition from one U.S. administration to the next will take place over the next several months, so too will our commitment to support democracy and good governance through our partnership with the Nigerian people. Our support for just and democratic governance in Nigeria is one of the central pillars of our partnership with the people of Nigeria.
Our democratic institutions reflect the unique history and traditions of America, as reinterpreted and adapted through many transitions in government. In Nigeria too, democracy must be respectful of the traditions of the Nigerian people, while honoring and reflecting the will of the people through fair, transparent and orderly transitions from one elected government to the next. This is where you come in. It is the responsibility of Nigerians like you to define, ensure, and make your democracy in Nigeria a success. Your education here at the American University of Nigeria, a partner with the American University in Washington, plays a vital role in making you open-minded, but self-assured and strong enough to challenge the things you want to see changed. It will be voices like yours that ensure that corruption is fought at every turn, that you achieve transparent elections and an independent election commission.
What is also important as you learn who you are and what you want for your nation is to know what democracies should do for you: fair and transparent elections; a corruption-free environment; reliable health care and access to education. Your time at AUN will give you the tools to address all these things.
American democracy is firmly rooted in our tradition of representative government- government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" in the words of President Abraham Lincoln. Yet it took many elections and many transitions to ensure that women and African Americans were given an equal opportunity to choose their government.
This year, the Democratic and Republican parties have nominated the most diverse presidential tickets in our history- diversity in age, race and gender. Democrats and Republicans chose their candidates through a nominating process of primaries and caucuses that give the decision not to party bosses operating behind the scenes, but to ordinary citizens expressing their will through fair, open and transparent elections and caucuses.
Our national elections are a wonderful reminder that democracy works for the people. The 2008 U.S. Elections have generated tremendous voter interest, because voters know that the outcome will have a direct impact on the issues that matter most to them. What are the issues that concern voters this year? You may be surprised to know that they are not dissimilar from the issues that concern Nigerians.
Far and away, the top issue on voters' minds is the economy. In the United States and throughout the world, the past few weeks have seen tremendous turmoil in global financial markets. American voters are demanding that the candidates demonstrate that they have the vision and ideas needed to restore confidence in the markets and address the underlying weaknesses in our system that brought on this financial crisis.
Other domestic issues have also moved to the fore. Chief among these are access to affordable health care and the soaring costs of energy. Americans remain concerned about peace and security in the world. Questions about the proper direction for American foreign policy, the threat of international terrorism, and the role of America's military are also among the leading issues identified by Americans in this election.
These issues, as I have traveled around Nigeria, are what I have heard that Nigerians say are important to them. Remember, as Nigerians, and the future of this country, rest with you, you should keep in mind, that the fundamental strength of a democracy is the control it gives you as ordinary citizens to address issues through the power of the vote.
American's choice of their next president, their representatives and senators, and their state and local officials will determine the policies our next leaders will apply to these global and domestic issues. As these new leaders know, as do countless politicians before them, that their performance will be measured by the voters and the power of their vote in future elections.
These political transitions are part of the fabric of democracy in America. Transitions bring change. No doubt, you are wondering what our political transition will mean for Nigeria. While it is not for me to predict the policies of our next administration, I am confident that the framework of partnership between the American people and the people of Nigeria will remain. Nigeria is a leader in the region; the United States and the international community want you to do well. We recognize you face important challenges: instilling the principles of good governance and anti-corruption efforts at all levels of government; implementing electoral and institutional reforms to address the flaws of past elections and ensure the integrity of future elections; developing the human capital and physical infrastructure needed to meet your economic and social goals, ensuring peace and security throughout Nigeria and continuing as a leading contributor to peacekeeping operations throughout the region. Know that through our framework for partnership, whatever the results of the U.S. elections, we will continue to work with you to address these challenges.
For example, just for education alone, the U.S. Mission to Nigeria through our U.S. Agency for International Development activities are increasing numeracy and literacy skills of primary students, improving access to education services, increasing the quality of teaching, and fostering community participation in the educational process. In our five-year COMPASS program, a $25 million budget is supporting Interactive Radio Instruction, teacher training and instructional materials development, and grants to parent-teacher associations to improve the quality of educational services. We are working closely with government ministries, parastatals, the National Assembly, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholder groups through the ENHANSE program to strengthen and support the policy environment necessary for successful social sector programs in Nigeria. Through the Ambassador’s Girls’ Scholarship Program, we are providing about 1,200 scholarships and mentoring to girls and boys in all regions of Nigeria. We provide in-service training to more than 20,000 primary school teachers to improve their teaching skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Our programs also increase girls' primary school enrollment, retention, attendance and completion, especially in the North. Our Youth Exchange and Study program allows secondary students to attend school in the U.S. for one year while living with American families.
We will also work with you to strengthen your institutions of democracy and just government. Since the 2007 elections, Nigerians have signaled a new commitment to the rule of law and respect for the independence of the National Assembly and the courts. Judges and legislators have responded to this by demonstrating unprecedented independence. Electoral tribunals which had, in the past, merely rubber-stamped flawed elections, many- not all- are now overturning at least some of the most egregious polls.
As a friend and partner, the U.S. Government is working with Nigerians to strengthen all these positive trends: developing institutional capacity within the National Assembly, providing technical assistance to improve accountability and transparency in all three branches of Nigeria's federal government, as well as with state and local governments. This includes technical assistance to the Electoral Reform Commission to support its efforts to identify best practices in electoral reform, while also supporting the work of state legislators from Nigeria's 36 states to develop their input to the electoral reform process.
On a democracy's responsibility on health care: we are helping Nigeria through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, which combines comprehensive prevention, care and treatment programs to support the Nigerian Government's response to the HIV epidemic. Last year alone, the U.S. Government's PEPFAR program provided $447 million dollars to Nigeria on HIV/AIDS programs, including support to clinics.
On a democracy's economic responsibility to its people: we are partnering with Nigeria to encourage a more open trading system, including signing a bilateral investment treaty; facilitating investment in micro and small enterprises; and partnering to bring U.S. advisors to assist in natural gas development and with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission. We also encourage Nigerian businesses to take greater advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.
Our agricultural programs support a wide range of crop development programs, such as the Cassava Enterprise Development Program, which partners with the private sector to promote the production, processing and marketing of cassava products using improved technologies, and the Development Credit Authority loan portfolio facility, which provides partial loan guarantees for agricultural financing for framers.
Democracies also provide peace and security for their people, so we stand ready to support Nigeria’s work to ensure peace and security in the country and throughout the region, such as through the African Union. We commend your government’s position on Zimbabwe calling for the voice of the Zimbabwean people to be heard freely and fairly, and your leadership on the African Union Peace and Security Committee. We work closely with your military on capacity building to provide training and equipment to your peacekeeping forces, and aid in technical assistance to the Nigerian Police Force to build the capacity of police training for students and instructors, including training to investigate allegations against police. We are providing financial forensics and criminal investigation programs to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and other financial crimes institutions. U.S.-funded full-body scanners and other detection equipment are helping to stop narcotics trafficking through Nigeria’s international airports, and on human trafficking we work closely with your National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons to prevent this horrible act. On the Niger Delta we have just begun work with some states on youth development needs, education, and vocational training, and have offered to do more if requested by the Nigerian government.
All of these areas: education, health services, a corruption-free environment, peace and security, are the things you as the future of Nigeria must expect from your democracy. We are with you, as you can see from the range of our policy programs, in your road toward a fuller democracy. Thus, our partnership with you is based on mutual friendship and a common desire to see Nigeria, as well as each and every one of you, achieve the full potential that is your future. I have talked a lot about what democracies can and should do for you, and also what your role is. As we celebrate the upcoming U.S. Elections we want you with us to share in one of the key democratic pillars- a dynamic, exciting and transparent election. We want this for America and we know Nigerians want this for Nigeria.