Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Road in Northern Nigeria in Support of USG Advocacy for Inter-religious Dialogue, Health Sector Improvement, and Cultural Preservation – One Year After President Obama’s Cairo Speech.

On June 7-9, 2010, I travelled to the northern part of Nigeria to visit Katsina, Sokoto, and Borno States to further build U.S.-Nigeria relations. I had the opportunity to dialogue with traditional rulers, community and civil society leaders.

The first stop was Katsina on June 7. I used the opportunity, while in Katsina, to pay a condolence call on behalf of the U.S. Government, on Hajia Dada, the mother of the late Nigerian President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. I also visited the 100 year old Gobarau Minaret (originally built 500 years ago). This historic monument was originally a mosque, and then became a center for learning and a lookout point to spot invading armies. The US Government is providing a grant to rebuild the minaret and protect its proud heritage through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. I also called on the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, in which he strongly emphasized that continuous interaction between Christian and Muslim communities was vital to foster peaceful co-existence amongst the two religious groups.

In Sokoto, on June 8, I paid a visit to His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar, and commended him for his tremendous leadership role he has played in the Polio Eradication Initiative in northern Nigeria. We also discussed ways to involve traditional leaders in efforts to address other health-related problems such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, in order to improve the health conditions and lives of people in northern Nigeria.

In Borno, the focus was on mutual understanding as I met with the Shehus of Borno and Dikwa and students at the University of Maiduguri to restate the importance of President Obama’s Cairo Speech on New Beginning for America’s engagement with the world -- across nations, peoples, religions and perspectives. She also toured the historic Rabeh’s Fort at Dikwa, North East Nigeria, to learn more about Borno’s rich cultural and religious traditions. The Fort which is now a National Monument was built in 1894 by Rabeh Ibn Fade-Allah, as his headquarters after successful invasion of the Borno Empire. The story of Rabeh’s exploits and death is of great historic importance in the remaking of the present Borno.

Similar to my first visit to the Shehu of Borno’s palace in Maiduguri, about a year ago, I was given a warm traditional welcome by traditional drummers and trumpeters on the evening of June 8, 2010 when the Shehu of Borno, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanemi received me. Similar courtesies were accorded on June 9 when the Shehu of Dikwa, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Muhammad Ibn Masta II received me in his temporary palace in Dikwa and also presented me with the royal ci-ma-yi dress underscoring his appreciation for the first visit to the palace by U.S. Government Official since his coronation in March 2010. The conversation with the two traditional leaders focused on efforts by the U.S. Government to support the Borno community in health, education and agriculture and to reach out to diverse communities to build mutual understanding, interfaith dialog so that we can all live “as part of human kind in -- harmony, in peace, and in prosperity.”

Also while in Borno, I made my second trip to the University of Maiduguri to have a roundtable with a diverse group of Muslim and Christian students to talk about their views and feelings about the U.S. It was an interesting hour and half where students made both positive comments and raised areas of concern, particularly regarding Nigeria’s upcoming 2011 elections. We talked through the issues and I noted how important it was to appreciate that mutual understanding did not mean we had to agree on everything, but what it did mean was that we respected each others’ views and perspectives. I also stated that “through our partnership we have continued to support all Nigerians to strengthen democracy, encourage free, fair and transparent elections in 2011, fight corruption, encourage good governance, respect for human rights, invest in the people of this great country through our health, education and youth leadership and economic empowerment programs, promote women’s rights and girls education, respect for the diversity of religion, diversity of political views and the diversity of perspectives on the world.”

I told the students that as the youth and future leaders of Nigeria, they must show commitment to building a better future for their country and think deeply about what positive legacies they want to pass on to their children fifty years from now. We ended the session with me noting that Nigeria was one of the U.S. Government’s best friends and thus we wanted the best for Nigeria, especially for the 2011 elections.