Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' Policy Speech on Fulbright, Education, Health, Civil Society and Democracy

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Policy Speech on Fulbright, Education, Health, Civil Society and Democracy
U.S. Ambassador Robin Renée Sanders
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.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' Remarks at Official Flag Off of Malaria-Free Kwara Program

U.S. Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Official Flag Off
Malaria-Free Kwara Program, Ilorin

Monday, September 22, 2008

“Every Child Must Live”. This is the motto of the Kwara State Health Reform agenda and it reflects the initiative this state has taken under the leadership of the Honorable Governor Saraki to do what a government should do, invest in its people. I am honored to be part of such a momentous occasion.

The U.S. Mission in Nigeria is dedicated to partnering with federal, state and local governments, civil society organizations and the business community to strengthen the health sector in Nigeria. In this effort we are committed to combating malaria, one of Nigeria’s biggest killers of children under the age of five.

One of the main U.S. Government policy thrusts is in the area of health, particularly malaria. The U.S. Government is one of the biggest donor contributors to the health sector. My Mission, on behalf of the U.S. Government distributed and sold more than 3.5 million insecticide treated nets in Nigeria. We are also working closely with local and international partners to train health care workers on the proper use of intermittent, preventative treatment for pregnant women. One of our local partners, WomanKind Family, has been very effective in promoting the fight against malaria in Kwara State through social mobilization, malaria education, and training on the uses and benefits of insecticide treated nets. Another local partner, the Royal Covenant Heritage Foundation, is working closely with Faith-based groups and several local communities on health promotion programs. On a broader scale, we are supporting drug regulatory agencies to ensure that service providers use proper methods to treat malaria, as inappropriate treatments lead to anti-microbial resistance.

Governor Saraki’s forward-thinking approach to providing free malaria treatment to children and pregnant women is commendable. I also want to recognize the wonderful work of the First Lady on this and other health issues for women and children. Your Excellency, as you know, by investing in the women and children you are investing in the future of Kwara Sate, and in the future of Nigeria. So it is with great honor and pleasure that I am here to help flag-off this Malaria-Free program today. The U.S. Government and my Mission are partners with you in this very important fight against one of the main causes of infant mortality. Together we are partners in this fight and I know that you will reap considerable returns on this vital investment in your future. Thank you.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' at Iftaar Dinner in Ilorin 2008

U.S. Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Iftaar Dinner

Governor’s Lodge, Ilorin, Kwara State
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Assalamu Alaikum, Ramadan Mubarak. I am honored to be invited during this holy month of Ramadan by the Executive Governor of Kwara State, the Emir of Ilorin Alhaji Sulu Gambari, Honorable First Lady of Kwara State, Executive Council Members, distinguished ladies and gentlemen of Kwara State, and all other protocols duly observed. As you know, Ramadan is a special time of prayer, fasting, service and commemoration for the revelation of God’s word to the prophet Muhammad.

Muslims in the United States often celebrate Ramadan with the encouragement and support of friends, colleagues and neighbors. So I am here tonight to support and honor the friendship and traditions of a great faith by taking part in this Iftaar dinner hosted by His Excellency, the Governor of Kwara State.

It is also befitting that I have only recently returned to assume my official duties in Nigeria after spending time with my family. It is in this spirit that I share this evening with you during the holy month of Ramadan, as part of the Kwara State family, to celebrate the Muslim faith. We all share a commitment to peace, to love of faith, to love of country, to love of family, and to caring for the people of Kwara State. As we break fast together we note that America treasures friendship with Kwara State and welcomes and honors your faith.

Ramadan Kareem, and thank you, Honorable Governor, for the opportunity to take part in this special occasion.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' Remarks at Iftaar Dinner 2008

Ambassador Robin Reneé Sanders
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Iftaar Dinner featuring Bruce Onobrakpeya and
introducing the Art in Embassies Program
Chief of Mission Residence
Friday, September 12, 2008, at 6:00 p.m.

Assalamu Alaikum, Ramadan Mubarak. I am honored to welcome such distinguished guests during the holy month of Ramadan, a special time of prayer, fasting, service, and commemoration for the revelation of God's word to the prophet Muhammad.

Muslims in the United States often celebrate Ramadan with the encouragement and support of non-Muslim friends, colleagues, and neighbors. So it is fitting for me, and members of the U.S. Mission representing our country, to honor the friendship and traditions of a great faith by hosting this Iftaar dinner- my first- at the official residence of the American people here in Nigeria.

It is also befitting that this is my first official act upon returning to Nigeria and assuming my duties after spending time with my family. It is in this spirit that we come together this evening during Ramadan, as family, to celebrate the Muslim faith and to learn more about each other. We all share a commitment to peace, to love of faith, and to love of country. As we break fast together we note that America treasures friendship with Nigeria, and welcomes and honors your faith.

As you know, an important part of America’s moral fiber is tolerance. Americans believe that no one should be treated differently because of the color of their skin, where they were born, or what they believe. Not only do Americans reject intolerance, but we celebrate diversity. Hence the theme of this Iftaar dinner is “Democracy and Diversity: The Strength of a Nation”. It is also the theme that I have chosen for the official artwork of the U.S. Residence, done in partnership with one of Nigeria’s most premier artists, Mr. Bruce Onobrakpeya. On this unique occasion both Bruce’s and the Residence’s collections are being exhibited for the first time.

Bruce Onobrakpeya is a living memorial to diversity and has challenged and changed the art scene in Nigeria and the world over the past 50 years. Since his first one-man exhibition in Delta State in 1959, Bruce has participated in over 70 exhibitions in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. His works are featured in several important public and private collections in Nigeria and abroad, such as the Vatican Museum in Rome and the National Museum of African Arts in Washington, D.C. In April of this year, one of Bruce’s works was sold for the largest sum ever paid for a piece of art in Nigeria.

Bruce Onobrakpeya has been a bridge builder between the United States and Nigeria. He has said that his residency at an art school in the United States in 1975 changed his life. It helped to instill in him a dream, which has now been fulfilled through his annual Harmattan Workshop Series in Delta State. I hope you enjoy, as I do, the wonderful pieces Bruce has personally selected to display for you this evening.

Together with Bruce’s pieces, we are introducing these two art collections at the residence. The two pillars, democracy and diversity, go hand-in-hand with the progress and development of any country. The United States and Nigeria have these two pillars in common. And these are the themes you will see reflected in the art and sculptures shown here this evening, which highlight the array of diversity- ethnicity, religion, gender and age- that make any nation not only strong, but better.

All of these pieces are connected, just like all of us who live in diverse, democratic societies. We must always remember this, and I hope that as you view these pieces and reflect on their beauty you will keep these themes in mind. Each piece renews our faith in all of us moving forward together, but also underscores the work that we still must do together in today’s global village.

As we celebrate this Ramadan season let us enjoy the food and friendship as family, and use the art on display as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Ramadan in our own lives, on our shared values of family and community. “Ramadan Kareem”, and thank you all for coming.