Saturday, May 21, 2016
U.S. Official Holds Press Roundtable in Nigeria
Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
May 13, 2016
Thanks to all of you for being here this afternoon. It is very good to be back here in Nigeria.
I was here about eleven months ago and that was an opportunity, just after President Buhari’s election, to start to meet with the senior leaders of the new government to help prepare for President Buhari’s visit to Washington, where he was received by President Obama at the White House.
I have to say, in the time since then we have seen the relationship between Nigeria and the United States grow even deeper and stronger. That is evidenced by the fact of President Buhari’s visit, which in and of itself was very successful. By the reinvigoration of the Binational Commission that I was able to co-host with Secretary Kerry just a few weeks ago. By the meeting in London yesterday between President Buhari and Secretary Kerry, and of course their participation in the anti-corruption conference. And then by the events of this week, with Nigeria taking a lead role in bringing together countries in the region and beyond to further coordinate the fight against Boko Haram and violent extremism.
In all of these endeavors I think we have seen a Nigeria that is leading decisively at home with the President and his strong agenda, but also in the region, and even beyond the region. The fight against corruption, for example, is truly a global issue and Nigeria has made itself a leader in that effort.
We had the opportunity today to meet with the Vice President and the Foreign Minister and we talked about our work to further strengthen the partnership between both of our countries and to support President Buhari’s national priorities, in particular improving security, fighting corruption, and expanding economic opportunity.
I also had an opportunity to meet with some young Nigerian innovators and entrepreneurs who are pioneering new frontiers in science and technology and, separately, with civil society leaders who are advancing the fight against corruption in innovative ways.
The meeting with the young innovators and entrepreneurs was really extraordinary because around this table we had maybe twenty people, and when you sat and listened to them and the work they are doing—the conclusion you reach is that there is really no limit for Nigeria because the talent in the room was so extraordinary.
We have the Global Entrepreneurship Summit coming up in Silicon Valley—this will be the sixth summit that President Obama is hosting or taking part in—of the Summit participants, and there is a really hard process to get in, there are nine Nigerians. Nigeria had more applicants to the Summit than any other country in the world, a fact that I think is evidence of the talent that is here in this country.
For me, the conversations with the innovators and entrepreneurs as well as with civil society provided a window into a future for Nigeria that is defined by inclusive growth and high standards of governance. That is the potential that is there.
Let me say briefly as well that we very much admire the work that the President and his Administration are doing on fighting corruption—the progress that has been made to date and the work that remains to be done as well.
Also on the work that is being done on the economy. I’m happy to address both of those during questions if they come up.
Realizing this future, though, requires Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin neighbors to confront the region’s security challenges with focus and determination. Tomorrow we have the Regional Security Summit. That is a valuable forum for frank conversation and collaboration on what are critical shared priorities, including humanitarian assistance, stabilization efforts, and deeper security cooperation.
The United States is deeply committed to supporting Nigeria and other Lake Chad Basin countries in the fight against Boko Haram and its campaign of murder, enslavement, and destruction.
Our governments have been working together to strengthen border security, enhance the capacity of security forces, improve information-sharing, and emphasize the value of respecting human rights above all.
In support of Nigeria’s efforts, we have also contributed counter-IED equipment, mine-resistant armor-protected vehicles, and training for infantry battalions.
Defeating Boko Haram will require a sustained and comprehensive approach that includes providing civilian security and civil administration to areas that are newly freed, investigating human rights abuses and holding those responsible to account, repairing civilian-military relations, restoring stability, providing basic services, and promoting economic development over time.
Taken together, these steps can address the drivers of extremism that gave rise to Boko Haram in the first place and break the cycle of hopelessness and violence that can entice young people to become agents of terror.
At the same time, even as we are doing this, it is vital that we continue to provide life-saving humanitarian aid to those in need and educational opportunities for children who have been out of school for far too long. That last thing that Nigeria needs is a lost generation of children who do not benefit from basic education and thus will be less able to provide for themselves and their families in the future, to contribute meaningfully to society, and in the worst case scenario, fall prey to extremism, to crime, and other social ills.
We have established nearly 300 non-formal learning centers for children of displaced families and their host communities. And we remain committed to efforts to find and return the Chibok girls and the many others taken by Boko Haram from their families and communities.
Military gains have to be matched with a surge of civilian security personnel in liberated areas to prepare for the safe return of nearly 2.4 million internally displaced persons and nearly 170,000 Nigerian refugees who have been forced to flee across borders.
We are ready to support the voluntary return of families who have fled their communities—but when the conditions are right. When refugees and displaced persons are allowed to return on their own timeline—when they deem it safe—then their journeys home are more likely to last.
Plans must also be put in place to ensure that Boko Haram defectors have a secure pathway to demobilize without fear of retribution and detainees receive humane treatment in detention facilities so as not to fuel extremist narratives.
These are all incredibly hard challenges, but I think those challenges are matched by the promise and potential of our collaboration, and especially by the promise of this extraordinary country. With Nigeria’s leadership and continued partnership among the Lake Chad basin nations, we are confident that the fight for the future of the region will be won.
With that, thank you very much for listening and I’m happy to take any questions.