Clinton says Peace Corps returning to Nigeria

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Clinton says Peace Corps returning to Nigeria

Clinton Tells Lawmakers World Needs Nigeria to Succeed, President says Peace Corps returning to Nigeria

Clinton Tells Lawmakers World Needs Nigeria to Succeed

President says Peace Corps returning to Nigeria

By Charles W. Corey Washington File Correspondent

Abuja, Nigeria -- "The world needs Nigeria to succeed" in its democratic transition and economic transformation, President Bill Clinton told a joint session of Nigeria's National Assembly April 26 as he announced a new series of U.S. initiatives to help it along.

"Every great nation must become more than the sum of its parts," Clinton told Nigerian lawmakers who welcomed him to their legislative chambers with a standing ovation.

Nigeria, he said, has "within it the seeds of every great development going on in the world today and it has a future worth fighting for."

One part of that future, he said, can be seen in the person of a Nigerian-American Philip Emeagwali, a budding computer genius who lived in a refugee camp during Nigeria's civil war. Clinton said Emeagwali had to leave school at one point because his parents could not afford the cost. But he won a scholarship and subsequently invented a formula that lets computers make more than 3,000 million calculations per second.

What is so exciting about Emeagwali's case, Clinton said, is that "there is another Philip Emeagwali -- or hundreds of them -- or thousands of them -- growing up in Nigeria today."

Clinton pointed to the importance of interdependence and the "experience of diversity" and the "common faith in freedom" that both Nigeria and the United States share.

"Today, America has people from over 200 racial, ethnic and religious groups," he said, adding that the most important thing we have is our "common humanity."

Two broad challenges face both countries, he said. The first is to work together to help Nigeria prepare its economy for the 21st century -- to make it the "engine of economic growth and renewal across the continent." The second is to "work together to help build the peace that Nigeria and all of Africa so desperately needs."

To build stronger economies, he said, the world must confront killer diseases that are "draining the life out of Africa's cities and villages," such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Clinton saluted President Obasanjo "for his leadership" on the HIV/AIDS front, and in "recognizing that we can't beat AIDS by denying it; we cant beat AIDS by stigmatizing it. Right now, we can only beat AIDS by preventing it, by changing behavior and changing attitudes and breaking the silence about how the disease is transmitted and how it can be stopped."

Building a stronger economy also means helping all children learn, he said. "In the old economy, a country's economic prospects were limited by its place on the map and its natural resources. Location was everything. In the new economy, information, education and motivation is everything."

Clinton announced that the United States will work with a variety of Nigerian non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and universities to set up community resource centers to provide Internet training and support in all regions of Nigeria.

He also said that he has asked the Peace Corps to "reestablish its partnership with Nigeria as soon as possible to help with education, health and information technology."

Clinton said he and Obasanjo earlier discussed an international initiative to feed schoolchildren worldwide. "We know that if we could guarantee every child in every developing nation one nutritious meal a day, we could dramatically increase school enrollment," he said. "I hope we can do this in Nigeria."

Clinton said as more and more democratic and economic reforms take place everyone will be able eventually to say "Come to Nigeria. This is a place of untapped opportunity because it is a place of unlimited potential."

Regarding trade matters, Clinton recalled the recently passed U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act. "The challenge is to make sure that any foreign involvement promotes equitable development - lifting people in communities that have given much for Nigeria's economic progress, but so far have gained too little from it," he said.

On debt relief, Clinton said "We are prepared to support a substantial reduction of Nigeria's debts on a multilateral basis as long as your economic and financial reforms continue to make progress and you ensure that the benefits of debt reduction go to the people," like those living in the Niger Delta.

On democracy, Clinton counseled "patience and perseverance. It demands openness to honorable compromise and cooperation. It demands support on a constant basis from the people of Nigeria and from your friends abroad." What is not required, he said, is "being patient" with corruption or injustice.

Democracy also depends upon a political culture that "welcomes spirited debate without letting politics become a blood sport. It depends on strong institutions, an independent judiciary, a military under firm civilian control" and contributions from both men and women alike."

Concluding, Clinton hailed Nigeria for the leading role it has played in peacekeeping, pointing out that the West African nation has spent thousands of millions on peacekeeping -- and sacrificed hundreds of its soldiers lives in the search for peace in West Africa. Clinton said the United States this week began training the first of five Nigerian battalions for U.N. peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone.

Clinton ended his first day in Nigeria attending a state dinner in his honor hosted by President Obasanjo.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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