Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ambassador Sanders' Policy Speech at University of Benin

Remarks of Ambassador Robin Renée Sanders

Work to Be Done: Your Role As the Next Generation

University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria
February 26, 2009

  • Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof (Mrs.) Uche Gbenedio
  • University Librarian, Mr. Samuel Ogunrombi
  • Acting Registrar, Mrs. Ojomo
  • Bursar, Dr. (Mrs.) Nwoye
  • Faculty and Staff of the University of Benin; Students;
  • Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press
  • All protocols observed.

Thank you for welcoming me this afternoon to this historic university and this historical city. I have always wanted to come here and I am happy to be able to make my first visit not to long after returning from the U.S. following the historic transition of power that took place in my country with the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama.

With the ushering in of his administration, there is a new face and a new energy underscoring traditional American values. You may be asking what these values are, what should these mean to me and what does democracy really mean? I think if the new U.S. President was here today, he would tell you that democracy is what you want for your country based on the enduring principle that everyone has the right to life Liberty Justice, food to eat clean water education good health care faith in their government and the right to have better future.

Today more than at any other time in our modern history, Americans are harking back to these basics that we had walked away from for many, many years and in some cases forgot what made us strong, what made us respected, and what we needed to do to ensure that America’s tomorrow are not only bright for us in the short-term, but more importantly for the next generation of American leaders. He has said that the way for us to do this is through education, including rebuilding our educational structures, retraining our teachers, and focusing on science and technology to name just a few steps.

Our President has called "education the currency of the Information Age,” a “prerequisite" that we as the current leadership generation owe to the next generation, making sure a college education is within reach of every American – particularly those who volunteer for public service.

But before we get there or achieve these lofty goals that reconnects us to our enduring values, my leadership generation has a lot to do to correct the past mistakes in mismanagement of our financial and economic resources in order to pave a better path for our next generation. This applies to Nigeria as well. Just as my leadership generation must not further squander our wealth Respect financial and economic security neither must your current leaders do that to you.

Your leadership generation is responsible now to you to ensure you have a good education job opportunities better health care services end corruption and poverty and provide food to eat by developing your agricultural sector. My team and I have focused on all these issues through our Framework for Partnership with the people of Nigeria, particularly on poverty alleviation, educational exchanges, micro credit programs, and assisting farmers by helping them increase their crop yield and by providing them with partial loan guarantees from Nigerian banks.

For the people of Nigeria, it is about how you see your future. You must ask yourself do I like what I see? If not, why not? What do I need to change? What do I want to change in my country and how do I go about being a change agent for a better Nigeria. It is for you to choose act and decide to improve your economy and your democracy, have better election processes, end your pockets of ethno-religious tensions, and find peace and development for the Niger Delta.

President Obama has said in a renewed America that from the “grandest capitals of the world to the smallest villages of Africa” America is a friend of each and every nation man woman and child who seeks a future of peace dignity and prosperity. This means that the United States commitment to Nigeria will not change, but in fact will be stronger.

For example President Obama has been one of the strongest advocates for the Millennium Development Goals, which prior to his inauguration, the U.S. Government did not totally endorse. In his administration he has embraced the MDG’s and some of the particulars of his policy for my government to help the developing world achieve these Goals include:
-- Doubling our annual foreign assistance from $25 billion to $50 billion;
-- Lifting the 33% cap on US contributions to the Global HIV/AIDS Fund … ensuring that at least 4.5 million people are on Anti-retroviral treatment by 2013 … preventing 12 million new infections; and,
-- Focusing more on malaria treatment and prevention by
building on the USG‘s current $1 billion dollar per year commitment.
-- On education -- for Nigeria -- we have given 1,200 primary school scholarships, and trained 20,000 primary school teachers.

These additional tools by the Obama Administration will be used by my Mission to further enhance our partnership with you and your generation, and also continue to seek ways to assist the Nigerian government Nigerian businesses and Nigerian civil society.

Let me also speak briefly on the topic of Peace and Security. President Obama has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that security can be bought at the price of human rights. Only by defending our core values - respect for human dignity, diversity, equality, and freedom of conscience and expression - can the United States ever be secure.

Enduring peace and security can never be based on force and compulsion. It can only rest upon deep-seated mutual understanding. This is why the U.S. Mission in Nigeria is actively engaged in supporting development projects in the Niger Delta and seeks to encourage non-violent solutions to the conflict there. We believe that by addressing the causes of the unrest rather than the symptoms lasting peace can be created and spur development, like our programs to: promote cultivation of export quality cassava; our technical assistance to the Lift Above Poverty Organization our efforts to expand access to credit for small and medium-size enterprises in Rivers Bayelsa Delta and Edo States; and, our CALM project that develops non-violent solutions by raising cross-cultural and inter-religious awareness and sensitivity.

But these things alone will not solve all your challenges. Knowledge and creativity must be combined with hard work, teamwork and commitment to goals. We know that hard work courage and tolerance are all virtues which Nigerians have in abundance. I have seen this as I have traveled throughout Nigeria. These virtues can become the energy for growth here in Nigeria no less than they are in America. These attributes along with unity of the nation and a refusal to allow diversity of opinion to tear the fabric of the nation apart are the attributes of the common people of Nigeria. These are core values of the American people and we know these are also the core values of the Nigerian people. One of the key phrases from the U.S. Declaration of Independence is "all men were created equal." President Obama from his own experience knows how hard one has to work to achieve one's destiny and to ensure that equality.

I think this is an important message for Nigerian youth. I know that sometimes when you look at the environment around you it is easy to get discouraged. But that is no reason for not trying to change those things. You are responsible for your destiny. You are responsible for the legacy of your life and the legacy of your nation. But this journey, your journey cannot be for the faint-hearted or for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only riches and fame. Rather you of the next generation must be the risk-takers the change agents and the change makers for Nigeria ensuring that it is free of corruption improves its democratic base through free and open elections and provides the best enabling environment for the development and well being of all Nigerians

So that generations that follow you can look back and be proud of the foundations that you have laid and be able to turn around and say to you job well done!