THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Abuja, Nigeria) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 26, 2000 REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON AND PRESIDENT OBASANJO IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS AT STATE DINNER International Conference Center Abuja, Nigeria
8:15 P.M. (L)
PRESIDENT OBASANJO: Your Excellency, President Clinton; your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It is, indeed, a matter of joy and pride for any country and for any leader to play host to the President of the United States of America, especially if that President is as exceptional as Mr. William Jefferson Clinton. (Applause.)
Mr. President, it is my honor and privilege to welcome you once again to my beloved country, Nigeria, and to this state banquet. I do so on behalf of every man, woman and child in this great country in Africa. On a very personal note, I am delighted to receive Mr. William Jefferson Clinton, my friend, the friend of Nigeria, the friend of Africa, and indeed, the acknowledged friend of peoples of African descent, wherever they might be. (Applause.) I heartily welcome Mr. Clinton with the firmly established reputation for believing in the cause of the underprivileged and working tirelessly for that cause.
About 22 years ago, I had the singular honor of hosting the first ever visit of an American President to Nigeria. Today, here we are, hosting another American President, a man whose achievements are likely to place him in the top league of successful leaders in recent world history. (Applause.)
Mr. President, it is no secret that this visit is a fulfillment of the promise you made to me during my own visit to your great country in October last year. You told me at the time that you would regard it as an important aspect of your foreign policy to visit Nigeria before the end of your final term. Mr. President, I wish to express profound thanks to you and to your dear daughter, Chelsea, for honoring my invitation to visit our country.
I express my delight and appreciation personally, and on behalf of my own family, as well as the government and the entire people of Nigeria, we would have dearly loved to have Mrs. Hillary Clinton over here. (Applause.) But we fully appreciate the important preoccupation keeping her at home at this time. Mr. President, please convey our sincere gratitude to her for sending you and Chelsea, her two beloved family members to visit us. We wish her success in the forthcoming elections. (Applause.)
Our welcome and thanks must also go to all members of your government who worked tirelessly to ensure that the visit took place. Our appreciation is gratefully extended particularly the to members of your entourage. Mr. President, we are delighted that they will be received here at home by their Nigerian counterparts with whom they have worked so hard to cement the relationship between our two countries.
It is indeed a pleasure to also welcome here this evening my brother, Mr. Tanja, the democratically elected President of Niger Republic, who in this period of good neighborliness, has come all the way here to join us in welcoming you and your party.
Nigerians welcome you with heartfelt joy and singular happiness, with a sincere wish and prayer that you will, on your all too short visit, find our country warm, to savor, to admire, and attractive for another visit. As you will have noticed since your arrival this morning, Nigerians in Abuja are all excited to see you amongst them. Your visit is, indeed, too short and too restricted to Abuja, both for reasons beyond our control. But, Mr. President, you will see enough in Abuja to convince you, and to convince Chelsea and your party, that Nigerians sincerely and welcome you. (Applause.)
The United States is now the only superpower in the world, enjoying unprecedented prosperity. That, notwithstanding, the spontaneous show of admiration and affection to you, Mr. President, arises likely from your own exceptional qualities. (Applause.) Nigerians admire and salute your very high intellect, your genius in political strategy, your consummate mastering of the practice of e-governance -- e for electronic governance -- your incredible success in inducing sustained economic prosperity in your country and beyond, your image of the world's number one democrat, and your deep preoccupation with improving the lot of ordinary working families everywhere, especially in your beloved country, the United States.
You were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but in these eight years you worked hard to put a silver spoon in the hands and mouths of most Americans. (Applause.) These are reasons why the American people love you, especially combined with your personal charm and grace, generously given with so much bonhomie.
But we have many more reasons to salute you, President Clinton. We know that you wanted to, but could not bring yourself to visit Nigeria during your first African tour of 1998, when we watched you under the heavy yoke of pernicious dictatorship. It is a caring friend to call and find you hostile and unapproachable, leave only to call again later. That is typical of the care and concern you have for the whole of Africa and for all peoples of African descent at home in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The claim of being the first black President of the United States is most endearing, and I dare say, quite befitting. (Applause.) For us, on this visit you have come home. We welcome you, and tonight we confer upon you three Nigerian names in one, to reflect your love for the people, your indomitable courage, and your glorious homecoming. Mr. President, we name you Sodangi, Okoro, Omowale. (Applause.)
You and your family will always be welcome to your home, Africa and Nigeria, after you complete your term of office as President. If you should want to follow my footsteps and return to family at the end of your term, land will be made available. (Laughter.) Furthermore, the road from the International Airport to the Abuja Lokoja Highway will henceforth be called President Clinton Drive. (Applause.)
These are all tokens of appreciation and gratitude by Nigeria, as a country, and on behalf of Africa. Nigerians will never forget the assistance that you, together with many of your fellow countrymen and women, gave us when you so sturdily stood by us in some of the most perilous, uncertain and painful moments in our recent history.
Today, Mr. President, we thank Divine Providence that you are here to celebrate with us the freedom that Nigerians, through the support of friends like yourself, wrenched for themselves from the jaws of tyranny, driven by personal ambition and moral delinquency, of a seemingly interminable interregnum. Democracy and freedom, which had both alluded us for too long, are with us again. (Applause.) We are now ready to embark on the path of progress and prosperity for all our people, in the spirit of unity, pride, discipline, patriotism, accountability and good governance.
Mr. President, we all know that the struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is long and tortuous. But we are determined in Nigeria to assail any obstacle, go any distance, work any late hour, expend any energy and call on any human resourcefulness to get there. By the grace of God, the support of genuine and understanding friends, the just, stable and prosperous society we seek for our children and their children shall be ours to the glory of God and the pride of future generations. (Applause.)
Since our return to civil democratic rule last year, we are learning a lot about the practice of democracy -- and we like it. I take advantage of this rare opportunity to thank you, Mr. President, and all Americans, for their unwavering commitment through advice and through technical and material support to our quest for a stable democratic dispensation since May last year.
But right now we are preoccupied with the equally difficult task of mending our society and our infrastructure, both severely damaged by mismanagement, corruption and political abuse of the recent past. Our administration came in to find our people very much divided, with great resentment and mistrust pervading in the society.
We have also been faced, as everyone knows, with circumstances in which everything from food to drinking water have become unaffordable luxuries for our citizens. Nothing at all seemed to function adequately. Most of all, our cherished social institutions have virtually lost all credibility.
Relative good news is that over the past year, through judicious planning and physical discipline, and through targeted allocation of resources, together with uncompromising moral and legal stands against corruption, things are generally beginning to adapt markedly.
Most of all, we are now sensing the restoration of trust in government and leadership, the social asset in nation building that had previously been wasted by greed and selfishness. My countrymen and women are very vibrant, teeming, articulate, upwardly mobile, and assertive. That vibrancy and effectiveness is the stuff of which Nigerians are made. That is why both our politics and our governors are sometimes loud. But to borrow a line from you on another occasion, there's no amount of this verbal altercation or seeming provocation and apparent insults that will deter me from working with all in the three arms of government -- (applause) -- indeed, with everyone in the country, to try to solve the best interests of the Nigerian people.
For me, the cause of Nigeria and the cause of democracy and good governance is worth sacrificing everything for. Except that I will not compromise my integrity and I will not sacrifice my conscience. (Applause.)
For all the boisterousness of our politics, the Nigerian is a very generous spirit. Our people care and they willingly share. They may have a hot head, but they have a soft heart -- particularly over any matter affecting Africa. You, yourself, Mr. President, spontaneously recalled last February at the National Summit on Africa in Washington, how Nigeria spent up to $10 billion Euro dollars on peacekeeping in Liberia and Sierra Leone. This has been typical of our knee-jerk response to the needs of Africa's independence. If something affects Africa, we do not look at our pocketbook before entering headlong to give whatever assistance we can. (Applause.)
But with our burgeoning population of Nigerians, the legitimate aspirations and the acquired tastes of our people, Nigeria is hard-pressed and needs relief if we are to deliver a democracy dividend to them who have all been waiting long enough for it.
We have a sufficient number of trained people and plenty of undeveloped natural resources. But we know that we cannot achieve our desire for economic development if we continue to bleed from the gushing wounds of an ever-penetrating debt repayment lance. Debt burden will frustrate our fresh approach to political and economic strategies.
That is why we urge that we be relieved of that burden -- not because we want to shirk responsibility, not because we want to abdicate from tough choices, and not because we wish to obtain something for nothing. No, Mr. President and distinguished guests. The reason is that we have followed the trend of events and have done our sums. We find that given the present loan structure, with the oppressive force of compound interest, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We shall perpetually remain in debt. Our development aspiration will be frustrated and we shall not wean ourselves from the aid-receiving mentality -- and rise up to the trade and cooperation pedestal.
We shall not be in the position to help others, nor to contribute regularly to world peace and prosperity. This will be our fate, even with petroleum exports, which draw undue world indignance when prices are temporarily high, but with high cost of exploration and production are sympathetically taken for granted when the prices, as often happens, fall.
The reality of our plight can best be understood by a single illustration. The World Health Organization reckons that in order to achieve minimal health standards in any country, at least $60 U.S. dollars would need to be spent on every citizen annually. In our last national budget, with the best of intentions, we could only manage to allocate to health the equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar for each Nigerian.
This enormous financial gap and minimum provision of health care speaks for itself, even if state and local government provisions are taken into account. One clear reason why we cannot advance anywhere near the minimum requirement for health in this country is undoubtedly the debt repayment burden. Yet, these are debts whose principles repaid several times over. These are debts incurred during periods of reckless leadership and mismanagement. And these are debts whose substantial portions have been stolen and remain corruptly lodged in the balance of some of the creditor countries. (Applause.)
Mr. President, the world will bear witness to the fact that we are doing everything to achieve economic reforms by assailing all the evils and faulty strategies that wrecked our economy in the past. We are willing to improve the management of the oil industry, to cut out inefficiency and waste. The non-oil, particularly the agriculture and solid minerals subsectors are being revitalized in a determined and serious fashion.
The government overheads are being pruned and wastage will no longer be accepted as inevitable. The inefficiency inherent in the government running of enterprises is being excised away through the systematic and patriotic privatization of our public-owned enterprises. Our people shall be motivated and empowered by better governance and by assault on their crippling poverty.
Of course, we have engaged in an unrelenting war against corruption and abuse of office. We shall gladly work with anybody or institution that has good advice to offer, recognizing our national sovereignty and dignity.
Nigeria now has, for the first time in its history, a political party that won a successful general election with a sweeping majority across the entire nation -- (applause) -- half the leaders elected without any dispute, and half a military determined to play only its constitutional role. We thus have these ingredients for taking all of our people along the challenging, the exciting path of democracy and freedom, through transparent leadership, good governance, political stability, social advancement, economic prosperity and national greatness.
That is our path and that is the path all our friends all over the world should wish for us, pray for us, and assist us to remain on. It is not going to be easy. There will always be both inevitable and wanton destructions. But while everything comes from God, no sustainable good comes instantly or cheaply.
Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, what is true of Nigeria is true of Africa. After having the honor of sharing a fraternal repast in this banquet, I shall not sour our moods by recounting the succession of tragedies that brought Africa to its present unenviable status among the continents of the world. Besides, the United States of America has shared the experience of colonialism, the struggle for independence, and the pains of a civil war. But while America has, in a period of less than 200 years, grown to be the most powerful nation in the world, Africa lapsed into stagnation, poverty, and strife.
Mr. President, our dreams of the early independence years of the 1960s have been replaced by disillusionment, disease, and despair. It is mercifully true that Africa has rid itself of direct external colonialism and has been able to produce leaders and defendants occupying positions of power, reverence and admiration in the world. Unfortunately, these leaders, who would have been busy rebuilding Africa and restoring these shattered dreams find themselves endlessly preoccupied with peacemaking efforts among warring African nations and disputes that should never have arisen in the first instance.
These continuing continental cures cannot be expected to result in the status quo. The lost time and the missed opportunities result in increasing poverty and environmental degradation with mass migration, brain drain, and the failure to control disease. It is, therefore, little wonder that HIV/AIDS is now ravaging Africa and bringing in its trail the assault by diseases once thought to be reasonable treatable, like malaria, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Africa today is becoming the end states of the manifestation of the injustice of slavery, colonialism, poor political education, faulty transfer of power, and the economic exploitation of the last few centuries.
There is no way that the rest of world can plead innocence to the plight of Africa. It is certainly unthinkable that on top of all of its seemingly endless tribulations, Africa will also be called upon to be at the crushing bottom of debts arising from a conceptually unfair international economic system.
Mr. President, the world needs to acknowledge and accept the reality of Africa. No one is asking the rest of the world to stop while Africa recovers and catches up. The world simply needs to mobilize to save and restore Africa to the path of growth, development, and hope. The transfer of wealth from the very poor to the very rich must stop. (Applause.)
A long-term master plan of technical assistance, technical cooperation, and trade and investment is urgently needed. We fully accept that African nations themselves need to help themselves by getting their act together, by being serious and by stopping their nations from being turned into private systems of plundering, tyrannical and undemocratically-elected rulers.
African nations need to move from the position of being preys to their own predator leaders, to becoming contractual societies where government exists solely by the wishes of the people and for the people. They should also in their economic policies make their countries attractive to investors in terms of security, facilities, and returns. Fortunately, we do not know of any African nations that disagrees with the need to woo investors.
But African nations also need to take a cue from Nigeria. Here in Nigeria, we have had examples of predator leadership. By the grace of God, we have rid ourselves of the worst of it for good --(applause)-- and wish other sister African countries to do the same, if Africa is to have any chance in the future.
Mr. President, I realize that all this will not be easy. But we do take hope in the silver lining that your tenure of office as U.S. President represented around this dark cloud of uncertainty about the future of Africa. In word and in deed, you live by your oft-repeated assertion that Africa matters, and that the people of Africa work very hard, but reap very little as a result of multiple factors. You articulated the need to support Africa in trade and economic assistance, in conquering poverty, ignorance and disease, and in bringing about peace through democracy, economic reforms and better leadership. This vision has been elaborated in your partnership with Africa policy.
No greater evidence of your seriousness about Africa exists than the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act -- (applause) -passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by you into law. It opened the U.S. market to all African businesses to sell their wares. We particularly appreciate the efforts of members of the Congress who are here, and those that are not here, and who in their different ways have contributed to improving relations between the U.S. and Africa, particularly in the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
But let me specially appeal to you to appropriate the funds needed for the HIPC countries -- highly indebted poor countries -- to meet the U.S. contribution to the decision of the G-8 at the Cologne summit of last year. I make a special appeal to you also to appropriate funds to debt cancellation for Nigeria. It is a moral responsibility and a humane duty. (Applause.)
For us in Nigeria, we know that there has been special treatment. Mr. President, your administration identified Nigeria as one of the four countries around the globe for special treatment and support of an emerging democracy. The activities of our Joint Economic Partnership Committee, the bold and wide-ranging activities of the USAID, the return of the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, the program to assist in the rehabilitation of our defense establishment, and the thrust of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation -- OPIC -- through the establishment of AirLink and our mutual agreement on Open Skies, all bear testimony to our intensified cooperation as a result of your leadership and initiative. In the not too distant future, the fruits of this cooperation will yield dividends for all too see. I am confident of that.
In the worldwide compass, the United States cooperates as the keen advocate of our cause in all major international platforms, such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Paris Club, the United Nations. We thank you, Mr. President, and your administration, as well as members of the U.S. Congress.
You can feel it expand our cooperation and it is my particular hope that the JEPC -- the Joint Economic Partnership Council -- will transform into the U.S.-Nigeria Joint Commission. It is also my hope that Mr. President will support us to host the U.S.-Africa ministerial partnership for the 21st century here in Abuja in March 2001.
Mr. President, your legacy in Nigeria and in Africa is well laden. And my prayer is that we shall all work so that even after your term of office expires you will always look back with the satisfaction that you did the best for us here in Nigeria and on the continent of Africa. We wish you and your family God's blessing.
Mr. President, I must now thank the members of your party, particularly the Cabinet Secretaries, among them Secretary Slater and Secretary Richardson, the distinguished members of the U.S. Congress and the leaders of corporate America and your distinguished entourage. We hope that they have the opportunity of meeting with their counterparts here. I particularly wish to assure the potential investors of the readiness of this government and of this country to make Nigeria attractive to your plans. We know that nobody enters into any business in order to suffer or lose. You will find us worthy partners.
Your visit, Mr. President, marks the dawn of a new epic in U.S.-Nigerian relations. This coming at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium bears good portense. Our outstretched hands of partnership join in the spirit of our shared past experiences, our mutual understanding of the present, and our brightest hopes for the future. We are well aware of the heavy responsibilities world relations places on America. In the spirit of our deep friendship and prized values, you can always count on Nigerians as genuine and sincere partners.
In conclusion, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, may I now request all present here to join me in a toast to our most distinguished guest and statesman, Mr. William Jefferson Clinton -- you can rise up -- President of the United States of America, and for his continued good health, personal well-being, and to the friendly and unending relations between Nigeria and the United States of America.
(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Obasanjo; to the President of Niger; to the distinguished leaders of the legislative and judicial branches of the Nigerian government, and all our friends from Nigeria who are here. I believe I can speak for the entire American delegation when I say thank you all for an unforgettable day. (Applause.)
And on a very personal basis, I want to thank you for enabling me to say something no previous American President has been able to say -- it is good to be back in Africa for the second time. (Applause.)
I will say, Mr. President, I was very moved by your generous remarks, and I was very glad to have a Nigerian name. (Laughter.) But now, you will have to give me a copy of your remarks so that when we go out tomorrow, I can introduce myself properly to the people of your country. (Laughter and applause.)
Mr. President, it's a great honor for all of us to be here. I wish that my wife could come, and your remarks indicated you understand why she could not. But I am grateful for her interest in Africa as well, and especially in the Vital Voices program that so many Nigerian women have been a part of.
We meet at a pivotal moment in your history. The long deferred dreams of your people finally can, and must, be realized. I spoke about it in detail to the members of the Senate and House today. I will only repeat that it is a daunting challenge, requiring both rigorous effort and realistic patience.
Nigeria is poised to do great things for its own people, and for Africa's democratic destiny. We in the United States have long known Nigeria as an economic partner and an important supplier of energy. But now, more than ever, we and others throughout the world will know and honor Nigeria for its greatest energy resource -- the people of this great nation. (Applause.)
We have come to appreciate it in many ways -- the musical genius of King Sunny Ade; the brilliant writing of Chinua Achebe; and your Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka. (Applause.) We also think rather highly of the basketball feats of Hakeem Olajuwon. (Applause.) And we're coming more and more to appreciate the football brilliance of the Super Eagles. (Applause.) Indeed, every four years a growing number of people in the United States actually cheer for the Super Eagles in the World Cup -- after all, the eagle is America's national bird, too. (Laughter and applause.) And, more importantly, tens of thousands of Nigerians work and study in the United States, and we are honored to have them. (Applause.)
I was quite interested, Mr. President, in the presentation before your remarks, showing all the similarities between you and me. I would also like a copy of that. (Laughter.) I don't know if I could persuade people back home with a case without all that evidence.
For all our differences, even in a larger sense, we are not so different after all. Our capital, Washington, D.C., like yours here, was created as a compromise between north and south. (Applause.) Though I must say, ours took much longer to become a respectable city. And as I saw today when I addressed your legislative branch, your government, like ours, often displays what might charitably be called a creative tension between its different branches. (Laughter and applause.) Finally, our greatest strength, like yours, comes from the fact that we are many peoples striving to work as one.
Mr. President, the hope we celebrate this evening owes much to you, for you have twice answered the call to restore civilian government. The United States will stand by a nation, any nation, and especially Nigeria, that faces its responsibility as bravely as the people of this nation have in the last few years. (Applause.)
We outlined today our commitments and we will keep them, to help you economically, educationally, in the struggles against AIDS and other public health problems, and the struggle to rebuild your infrastructure in our common cause to restore peace in Sierra Leone, and to support Nigeria as a leader for peace throughout the continent. And we look forward to fulfilling those commitments.
I listened again to the case you made tonight, a case that I also heard from your legislative leaders this afternoon, and first in our meeting this morning, and of course, even earlier when you and I first met. I will do my best to help Nigeria succeed economically. You must do so. (Applause.)
When Nigeria became independent in late 1960, almost 40 years ago now, the American people were also quite happy, because it was a time of great hope for us at home and around the world. We felt it in the new beginnings of President Kennedy's election and the progress of the civil rights struggle in our own country, and with the crumbling of colonialism here and around the world.
We were proud that some of your early independence leaders, like Nnamdi Azikiwe studied in America. In 1959, this is what he told an American audience. He said, "We struggle toward the same ultimate objective: to revive the stature of man so that man's inhumanity to man shall cease. Your success shall be our success. And your failure shall be our failure."
Since he said those words to Americans, there have been great achievements and profound setbacks in both our nations. But those words are as true today as they were when they were spoken. And today, we have the best chance since the early 1960s to make them come true.
And so tonight, Mr. President, and all our distinguished Nigerian friends, let me repeat your hero's words back to you: Now and forever, your success shall be our success. (Applause.)
I ask you to join me in a toast to the President of Nigeria and to the people of Nigeria, to the success of the democratic experiment here, to the friendship between our peoples, and to our common commitment to seize the future together.
(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)
END 9:05 P.M. (L)