Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dr. Robin R. Sanders' Remarks at The Vice President’s Election Event

The Road Map to Nigeria’s 2011 Elections:
What are the Stops on the Road, Who are the Players

Remarks by Dr. Robin R. Sanders

Vice President’s Election Event Organized by CODER, Yar’Adua Center
July 22, 2010

Good Morning. I was pleased to be invited here today to talk about the road map for YOUR 2011 elections -- going forward from this point in time until your election date. It is critically important that Nigeria holds free and fair elections in 2011 that meet international standards and are acceptable to the Nigerian people. It is your choice alone as a nation regarding how to organize your electoral system but there are a lot of players and stops along the 2011 election road. So let’s look at Your 2011 election road map as to who are the players and what are the stops.

On the players’ side, there is the current leadership of your electoral system such as INEC, the National Assembly, State Governors, and the executive branch. There are also the political parties that must become more transparent, respect internal democracy, and also be willing to allow other voice to be heard. Political parties must show true internal democracy to move forward so that the best leaders rise to the top to represent the people.

But the most significant player on the road to elections is the voter. It is the voter that holds the power to ensure that YOUR 2011 elections are elections that all Nigerians can be proud of so that the changes that need to take place in your country to advance development can happen.

The messages that we are hearing are clear: The Nigerian voter wants a 2011 election that is fair, free, credible and most importantly transparent. Voters with the right attitude are also necessary for a successful election. Your vote must reflect your desire to have leadership that can help Nigeria move forward on things like improving the education, health, and agricultural sectors and addressing other challenges such as ending the culture of impunity against corruption or corrupt officials. If you simply vote for whoever has offered you a jug of cooking oil, cash or whatever, then you are not helping democracy advance in your great nation.

Democracy is about government by the consent of the governed. Elections matter because it is through the vote that Nigerians can choose the people who will lead them in the years to come. It is through the vote that you place YOUR trust in leaders to represent your interest. It is through the vote that Nigerian election officials make a promise to the nation to deliver on addressing the key issues facing the country today in education, health, agriculture, and ending the corruption. The Nigerian Government has committed to this through the U.S.-Binational Commission and we heard it, as you do, every day that the Leadership of your Nation has promised to deliver a clean election.

The U.S. Government support for your elections is in the form of technical assistance, which we have been asked by YOUR government. We are doing that and have been since early this year. Our technical assistance is in the form of capacity building in a number of areas not only within INEC, but also with civil society and political party transparency. Let me say a few words about civil society since we are being hosted by a CSO today. CSOs do have a critical role to play in YOUR 2011 elections as monitors, the voice of the voiceless, and observers. They can also play a role in SWIFT Vote Counting where they monitor the results in a parallel manner to ensure that are not tampered with our changed from the polling unit to the satellites and collection centers.

We also are supporting the work of INEC, its new chairman Professor Jega and the newly-appointed commissioners to develop a workable plan for a successful poll early next year. All players in your 2011 election roadmap are critical to the success of YOUR elections from the INEC Chairman down to the poll workers and civil society observers in each LGA.

The other element or step on this road map we are outlining today is funding. This is YOUR ELECTION and it must be Funded properly by – guess who – you as a nation. You are the biggest stakeholder in your own election. It cannot be more important to anyone else than you. It cannot be more important to the donors or the international community than it is to each and everyone one of you. Given the enormous resources at your disposal, we urge the Government of Nigeria to fully fund the election effort, including expedited efforts to develop a credible voter register, begin voter education and to demonstrate the seriousness of purpose and dedication to YOUR democracy, YOUR future. Nigeria is a wealthy country with abundant resources at its disposal.

Nigeria’s Excess Crude Account currently holds US $3.2 billion and your foreign reserves stand at US $37 billion. You have the resources to fund the material and logistical needs of YOUR OWN ELECTION. Donor nations and the international community can provide technical assistance and encouragement, but the primary responsibility for funding a credible electoral exercise rests squarely with the YOUR Government.

I have already outlined what we as the USG are doing in conjunction with other donors like the UK. INEC must work to provide confidence in the voters, to encourage the Nigerian public's participation in national elections in 2011 and educate voters on the election process.
I think we all know what the immediate needs are for YOUR 2011 elections: a transparent voter, educated voters and a transparency process. The last biggest challenge on this road map we are talking about today is TIME. TIME is not on your side, particularly if you end up having an election in January 2011 or February 2011.

· Consider this illustrative example, remember this is just an example:
  • If your elections are in January or February 2011 – from now until then you would need to register or verify the registry of nearly 13 million voters every month;
  • Meaning every day, every day you would need to register or verify the registry of 500,000 voters or 50,000 voters every hour to be ready.
  • We understand that you have 120,000 polling sites and nearly 20-40,000 satellite locations.
  • Meaning every month you may need to organize and make sure nearly 25,000 polling sites are ready

But I have faith in the will of the Nigerian people, the will of the Nigeria voter to want this done so credible elections can be held. As a friend I want you to succeed. These are the stops on the roadmap to get there. We are with you every step of the way in a supporting role. But you must be in the lead. I have outlined the road map I see for you today. You must be in the driver’s seat on this road to Nigeria’s 2011 elections. Make them credible, Make them transparent, Fund them properly so you can take your rightful place in the community of nations that are not only proud of all of the wonderful things that make Nigeria what it is today, but most important because you…150 strong…desire and deserve a credible and transparent election.

Let your election be your voice. Let your election be choice for credible leadership. Let your election be the time to vote for changing the future of Nigeria. We are with you every step of the way if the things we talk about today or done. We are your friends and we want you to succeed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Visit to Nigeria’s Cradle of Aro Culture & Civilization

On June 10, I visited the historic town of Arochukwu which is regarded as the center of the ancient and historic Aro civilization and society. Reports are that the Aro date back to the early civilization in Nigeria, and that many current south eastern groups hail from Aro roots such as the Igbo -- the third largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Arochukwu is located in eastern Nigeria at the extreme end of Abia State and bordering Cross River and Akwa-Ibom states. The Aros have rich cultural heritage. They have made their mark in commerce, academia, sports, and politics. Arochukwu is home to many prominent Nigerians: the late Alvan Ikoku, a frontline nationalist whose portrait is on the Nigerian ten naira note; Professor Humphrey Nwosu, a renowned professor of political science who conducted the 1993 presidential elections which were adjudged as the freest in the history of Nigeria; and Kanu Nwankwo, two-time African soccer player of the year.

Apart from paying a courtesy call on Eze Aro, His Royal Majesty Mazi Ogbonnaya Okoro, the traditional ruler of the Aro community, I met with the “Okpnakpon” (the highest decision making council of Aro Kingdom), women’s groups and ordinary citizens. I was given the title Ada Mazi (daughter-leader of Arochukwu) while there. In my speech at the Eze Aro’s Palace, I pointed out that my visit to Aro land underscores the US government’s respect for other cultures and traditions. I told the audience that my mission was to learn more about the people and traditions of the Aro community as part of USG outreach to different Nigerian communities to build mutual understanding. I highlighted my respect for their culture and the history of the kingdom.

While at the Palace, I met with Daa Mgbafor and Mgbokwo Okereke, 80-year twins who were lucky to be saved by Mary Slessor (1849-1915), a Scottish missionary who preached against the cult/witchcraft killings of twins which was then a prevailing practice in Arochukwu. Ms. Slessor came to Arochukwu for evangelical activities after first stopping in Calabar, the capital Cross River State.

I also visited the House of Okoroji and the Oracle of the Long Juju which are both considered the major hallmarks of Aro society. These sacred sites were used to adjudicate cases among the Aro citizens. While the House of Okoroji served as the court of first appeal, the oracle of the Long Juju is the final judicial authority. The House of Okoroji is over 200 years old and has over 35 artifacts such as the rare original Nsibidi writings on the walls denoting the Aro secret society (Ekpe or Leopard) of the region, swords, gates and other interesting historical items which show the contact Aro people had in the past with other peoples, especially Portuguese slave merchants. I was received by Mazi Orji and Ohabiro Okoroji, direct descendants of Mazi Okoroji, the founder of the House of Okoroji prior to British colonial rule in Nigeria.

The visit to the Oracle or Long Juju of Arochukwu about an 8 minute drive away was difficult and physically challenging. It felt like embarking on a hike but I was glad to the site of the Oracle make it. A visitor who makes the journey to the Oracle does not have to visit the gym after the exercise. The Oracle is found in caves with a constantly streaming waterfall inside sandwiched by thick forest. The road leading to the Oracle is not only narrow and slippery but visitors must pass through creeks, dark alleys and a stream where contending parties take turns to pass through to determine their innocence. Historically, a person would win after a trace of blood is released by the gods a few minutes after passing through the stream. Guilty ones were taken to the Oracle where they “disappeared” or began a long journey into slavery. The tunnel where the guilty ones parties were transported to coastal areas to be sold as slaves still exists today. This is one of the reasons the Oracle is called the Long Juju of Arochukwu.

Seeing these sights brought home to me the rich history and longstanding traditions of one of Nigeria’s oldest societies. It is wonderful to know that the people of this area are preserving their heritage, it was a privilege to be allowed a glimpse into this fascinating civilization that has been maintained throughout so many years, and it was an honored to be deemed Ada Mazi.

On June 11, I made my fourth visit to Cross River State’s capital, Calabar. This time I had an opportunity to see the wonderful historic museum that chronicles the pre-colonial and colonial times of the greater Cross River area (which historically encompassed present-day states of Abia and Akom Ibom, bordering on Igboland). First of all the museum of Calabar itself is in one of the historic and famous two-tiered colonial pre-fab houses brought over by the British. The Museum is well maintained in terms of care, but it will be important to find additional ways to preserve the wonderful artifacts in it from the elements. I was fascinated by the iron, bronze, and cowries that were used as currency in pre-colonial and colonial times until the British eventually replaced these cultural items with coins and paper currency. For example, 10 iron cords were required to buy one female slaves. The other pre-colonial item of interest to me was the famous manila (aka manilla) I had read about, which were large iron horseshoe-shaped items considered one of the highest currency denomination. I have seen the manila in several traditional of items with both the rare and disappearing Nsibidi script and Uli motifs (aka ideograms).

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.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


The U.S- Nigeria Binational Commission (BNC) held its first Working Group meeting on Good Governance, Transparency and Integrity (GTI) in Abuja over the course of two days May 26-27, with pre-meetings May 25 with the private sector and civil society. I participated alongside of the U.S Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero , Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Dr Daniel Baer to move USG and Nigerian Government efforts forward on transparent elections in 2011. This forum provided an opportunity for members of the Nigerian delegation made up of federal legislators, state governors, private sector, civil society and other stake holders to share insights into best practices for Good Governance and credible elections in support of democratic principles. The U.S delegation also met with Nigerian President Jonathan in which he reiterated his commitment to ensuring credible elections in Nigeria. During the GTI-BNC working group, the USG underscore its commitment to support Nigeria's efforts to fight corruption, achieve credible elections, improve governance and support institutional capacity building. The next BNC working will meet in Washington D.C from June 10- 11 2010 to launch the BNC Energy and Investment Working Group.

Ambassador Sanders (right) with Undersecretary Maria Otero (middle) and Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina State

From left - Governor Fashola (Lagos), Ambassador Sanders, Undersecretary Otero and Governor Shema (Katsina)

Ambassador Robin Sanders (Middle) introduces Governor Fashola of Lagos State (left) to Undersecretary Maria Otero (right).

Ambassador Robin Sanders with Governor Fashola.

POTICO - Agricultural Event, June 1-2, 2010

On June 1-2 in Lagos, we celebrated the 3rd annual POTICO event, or POTICO III, to again focus on the need to development Nigeria's agricultural sector. POTICO means the Partnership on Trade, Industry, and Commerce and it is a tripartite effort among the Bank of Industry (BOI), the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, and First Bank (one of the leading banks in Nigeria). This year's POTICO stressed the importance of agricultural infrastructure development. Four U.S. Government agencies participated in POTICO this year, along with such Nigerian headline leaders such as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Group Managing Director (GMD) and CEO of First Bank. Innovative private sector companies such as MARKETS, the NGO CDC Development Solutions, and a leading Nigerian entrepreneur who was featured in Time Magazine for his efforts in agricultural, also made presentations. The goal from this POTICO is to have deliverables such as better web-based and mobile access to information, and expand BOI representation through Nigeria. The 2009 deliverable for POTICO was the establishment of the U.S.-BOI AGOA Resource Center on Lagos Island.