"Nigeria, Democratic Progress, and the Moral Authority to Lead in Africa and Beyond," Remarks by Jonathan Fanton, University of Ibadan Convocation Lecture
November 16, 2006 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

Chairman of the occasion, Pro-chancellor of the University, Chief Gamaliel Onosode; Vice-Chancellor Professor Olufemi  Bamiro; deputy vice-chancellors; other principal officers of the university; distinguished guests; eminent faculty; students and friends: good afternoon.  All other protocols observed.

I am privileged to join with you in observing this convocation at Nigeria’s first and finest university.

Let me begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor of vice-chancellors for his gracious words of welcome and by expressing my admiration for the strong leadership he is providing for this institution.  I also appreciate the kind words of introduction by the University Orator.  Ibadan is doubly blessed to have one outstanding leader follow another.  It was my privilege also to work with Professor Ayodele Falase, whose determined vision sparked the University’s renaissance.

To you all, I want to express my appreciation for your warm welcome. 

It is a pleasure to be back in this venerable city of Ibadan, where the MacArthur Foundation established its first office in 1994.  I am delighted that Professor Bolanle Awe, our first country director, is able to join us this afternoon.

I feel very much at home here at Ibadan and in Nigeria, the country outside the United States that I have visited most often in my seven years as President of MacArthur.

I thank you for inviting me to present this convocation lecture, which I consider both an honor and a challenge.

An honor because of the reputation this university has earned within Nigeria and across the globe. The words of your former Vice Chancellor Professor S. O. Olajide are appropriate: Ibadan is a “premier and pre-eminent institution and a national treasure in the world of learning.”

Your invitation is also a challenge because we gather at a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s history and thus for this University.

Universities are the bellwether for democratic societies.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?  The reverse is also true, as we know all too well:  authoritarian regimes are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

So, as Nigeria looks forward to a crucial election year, the role of higher education has never been more critical.  The April 2007 ballot is an opportunity for this nation to prove to a watchful world that it can – for the first time -- enjoy a peaceful transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents.

But there is even more at stake, for Nigeria is of importance not only to Nigerians.

Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the world stage.  A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that employs its power wisely and in cooperation with other democracies can blaze a trail to an effective system of international justice.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

With these aspirations in mind, I would like to offer three basic connections for us to reflect upon this afternoon.

The first is between higher education and democracy.

The second is between the protection of human rights and the growth of democratic institutions. 

The third is between Nigeria’s own democratic progress, and its moral authority on behalf of international justice and peace. 

Before commenting on each in turn, permit me to touch lightly on the work of the MacArthur Foundation.

The Foundation began making grants in Nigeria seventeen years ago when it was not so easy to operate here.  Because we believed in freedom, we were viewed by the authorities as a potentially subversive force.  In the time since, we have witnessed first hand the tremendous changes that have made this a different Nigeria – a place where we now feel deeply welcome.

Since 1989, we have supported almost 300 organizations and individuals, investing over $75 million in the fields of population and reproductive health, the environment, and human rights. 

In 2000, we formed a partnership with the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations, later joined by Mellon and Hewlett, to strengthen higher education across Africa.  The Partnership remains active with almost fifty universities in nine countries, and a total enrollment of over 350,000 students. MacArthur chose to work with four institutions in this nation, Ibadan first among them, thus demonstrating our long-term commitment to Nigeria and confidence in its future.

This does not mean that we are unaware or naïve.  I have traveled the length and breadth of Nigeria more than once.  I follow events here on a daily basis, striving to comprehend the good, the bad and the many circumstances where good and bad are thoroughly mixed.  I know the history of civil war, military dictatorships, ethnic strife, regional tensions, corruption, and all the rest.  But, I also know how determined the Nigerian people are – how determined you are -- to shape a peaceful, stable and democratic future.  I have seen evidence of a burgeoning civil society that is dedicated to creating national institutions that are honest and effective.  I have talked with the leaders and graduates of this and other fine Nigerian universities.  And so I know – as do you – that in Nigeria the people on the ground, not the oil under it, are by far its richest resource.

I should note that MacArthur is not involved in partisan politics, nor does it embrace any ideology other than a commitment to free expression and a passion for truth.  But, we do have an attitude.

Former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ayodele Falase, captured that attitude well when he said in an interview: “There are two categories of people.  There are [those] who say 'Oh! This is bad.' And…[then do not] do anything about it.  And there are those who immediately ask 'What can I do?  How can I help?'”

I will be honest in saying that the MacArthur Foundation has little time for chronic complainers; we are partial instead to builders -- to individuals and to institutions that believe in themselves and in the ability of people from different backgrounds to take on and tame the toughest problems, both locally and globally.

We are optimistic about human potential, but realistic enough about human nature to know that enduring gains do not happen by accident or because of the alignment of the stars.  Progress begins with moral commitment and is multiplied by sustained effort. That is why, though we prefer dreamers to skeptics, we also prefer doers to dreamers.

The MacArthur Foundation casts its net widely, operating in sixty-five countries and on every continent.

We take a comprehensive approach to the protection of human security, understanding that both opportunities and dangers come in many forms and that there is as much evil in the suffering inflicted by famine and disease as there is in that caused by terror and arms.

MacArthur also takes a long view of history: we believe that the commitments that count are commitments that last.

Because a foundation’s tools are limited, we are always on the lookout for people and institutions that will join in fixing what was broken in the past, improving upon the present, and transforming the future.

And that is why the Foundation is proud to make common cause with you in strengthening this university.

As Ibadan prospers so will all of higher education in Nigeria, for this institution sets the standard to which others aspire.

But Ibadan is not just the premier university in Nigeria or in the region, nor just one of the top few in Africa.  Its rightful place is among the leading academic institutions in the world. 

Although young by the standards of other distinguished universities, it has a stellar record of accomplishments beginning with its alumni, who include a Nobel Laureate and a host of ambassadors and government ministers, leading businesspeople and scientists, and celebrated poets, playwrights, and novelists.

The university is also acclaimed for its impressive record of scholarship and research.  For example, the Institute of Medical Research and Training has earned worldwide praise for its studies of parasitic diseases, while its malaria research group ranks as Africa’s best.  The Department of Virology has been designated a World Health Organization Center for yellow fever, and influenza. 

UNESCO awarded the Adult Education Department its International Reading Association Literary Prize. The Planning Studies program had a central role in developing the master plan for Abuja.  The Center for Economics is respected both for its macroeconomic modeling and its research on the impact of globalization. 

If this were not sufficient, Ibadan University is renowned not only for what it has done, but also for what it has overcome.

We all know the military years were hard on all Nigerian Universities, but especially on Ibadan.  And yet the firm foundation of academic quality, the commitment to free inquiry, the courage of the faculty and staff rode out the storm.  Ibadan is once again on the move.  In 2000, the then Chairman of your Governing Council, Mr. Felix Ohiwerie led a planning process that articulated an ambitious vision for this institution.  Consider these words: “There has been much talk about a return of UI to its past glory. I am expecting the implementation of the vision to do something more for us. The past glory may no longer be good for today or tomorrow. I expect the successful implementation of the Vision to put UI in a continuous state of glory.” 

Your current Vice Chancellor, Professor Bamiro, sharpened that vision when he said:

"[T]hroughout the world, private and public sectors are seeking to chart directions for future growth and development using the triad of knowledge, information, and innovation. The imperative for these strategies is not simply to survive, but thrive. The triad of knowledge, information, and innovation implies a central role for our universities, as knowledge workers, particularly the Premier University, the University of Ibadan."

I spent the morning conversing with the Vice Chancellor about his goals for Ibadan’s future and came away inspired by the reach of his vision and confident in his ability to fulfill it.  I firmly believe that ambitious plans are more likely to succeed than timid ones.

Responding to the priorities articulated by the Vice-Chancellor and faculty, the MacArthur Foundation has invested over $7 million in this university since the year 2000.  And joined by other donors, we will do more because we have been so impressed by the great strides you have made.

There have been gains in every area:
• A 40% increase in investment in teaching and research;
• A 20% increase in the number of staff holding PhDs;
• The opening of a new digital library facility;
•  A tripling in Internet access;
• Research collaboration with other world class universities on such vital projects as the prevention of HIV/AIDS;
• Construction underway on a multidisciplinary laboratory with facilities for advanced scientific research;
• More aggressive fundraising from the private sector yielding over $1 million in infrastructure investments, enabling the construction of a new auditorium in the Faculty of Agriculture; a new General Studies Programme Building; training facilities in the Department of Epidemiology, Medical Statistics and Environmental Health; new roads; and many other projects.  Cooperation with the private sector led to the establishment of Ibadan’s Programme for Entrepreneurship and Innovation last year.  And I note with enthusiasm that your former president, General Abubakar, has agreed to become the Chair of the University Advancement Center.

I could go on, but we all understand the central point: this university has a record of accomplishment to support its claims to leadership – it is already a center of excellence, and it has an inspiring vision for the future.

All this is grounds for pride, but you may be prouder still that this university has been, and must remain, a training ground for democracy.  This is the first of the three vital connections I propose that we reflect upon today.

Of course a university is not, strictly speaking, a democracy.  As a former university president, I can tell you it is impractical to put every decision to a vote.  But a great university is characterized by the democratic values of fairness, transparency, and wide consultation.  It sets the standard by which all other institutions, public and private, should be judged. It carries within itself the conscience of a society, keeping alive the vision of what a nation at its best can be.

A university also provides practical lessons.  When students are challenged by their instructors to analyze arguments, look for fallacies, and verify facts, they develop skills in critical thinking that are assets to any citizen in a free society.  So, too, when young people rouse their intellectual curiosity to pursue independent research inspired by their own interests and ideas.

As Professor Adebayo Adedeji said in 1997 on the occasion of Ibadan's 49th Foundation Day: "… The new mandate of the idealistic new Nigerian University is to become the people's university wherever it may be located. It must be a center for public debate, discussion, discourse, seminars, and the beacon of light for the people. … It must be prepared to stand up for what it considers to be in the public's interest and against what it perceives not to be in that interest."

Here at Ibadan, students conduct campaigns and hold elections.  They serve on committees and develop proposals for change.  They learn how to build coalitions and count votes.  They interact with each other in ways that encourage civility, embrace complexity, and nurture the skill of knowing when to compromise for the greater good.  These are qualities that ignite democratic progress and that burn away the ignorance and self-absorption of bigoted ideologies.

Nigeria’s quest to forge an indelible national identity is well known. Its success is vital to the country’s social, economic, and political health.  The effort will surely benefit from the experience of students at this university, where young men and women from all social backgrounds gather to study and live.  As students acquire the twin gifts of knowledge and sound judgment, they will also find growing within themselves a sense of quiet confidence mixed with humility.  That sense, when allowed to mature, comprises nothing less than the moral foundation for democracy.

As students become more accustomed to democratic ways, they begin to appreciate the truism that living in freedom is not only about the enjoyment of rights; it is also about the fulfillment of responsibilities.  Democracy appeals to our sense of justice because it dares to assert that legitimacy in government comes from the collective whole, not just the privileged few.  However, this thesis falls apart if citizens do not rise to the challenge by exhibiting restraint, tolerance and sound judgment, based on evidence not ideology – all qualities nurtured at universities like Ibadan.  Those of you graduating this fall will lead Nigeria's citizens by the power of your ideals and the inspiration of your example.   

This brings me to the second basic connection I would like to highlight today, and that is the linkage between Nigeria’s future and democratic practices, including fair elections and support for human rights.
A healthy democratic society will be able to point with pride to its public institutions – to a national assembly that is truly representative and debates real issues, to courts that are independent and honest, to an electoral process that is free and fair, and to government agencies that honor the rights and dignity of every citizen – and deliver effective services.

Since the election of President Obasanjo in 1999, Nigeria has made significant progress toward these goals.  It has ratified eight international and continental treaties, including the landmark Protocol on the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

It has, with MacArthur's support, reviewed the laws of the Federation and published them in easily accessible form. 

It has repealed odious edicts from the dark period of military rule, including “Decree Two,” concerning the detention of persons, and the Constitution Suspension and Modification Decree of 1993.

The world knows that Nigeria is well-along on its journey from a repressive regime to a modern democracy.  But to secure Nigeria’s moral authority, additional steps are needed.  Let me suggest a few that would, if implemented, send a powerful and positive signal throughout and beyond this continent.  I am pleased to note that many of the proposed reforms are already embodied in legislation under consideration by the National Assembly. 

For example, a bill accepting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been passed by both houses of the Assembly and will be ready for the president’s signature before the end of his term. 

Further, the National Working Group on the Reform of Criminal Justice has approved path-breaking recommendations that have been incorporated into a draft bill.  This legislation sets time frames and protocols for arrests, arraignments, and trials, including limits on pre-trial detention. It proposes alternatives to custody such as community service, parole, probation, and suspended sentences. It provides for the protection of witnesses and for the payment of compensation to victims of crime.  If enacted and enforced, it would transform for the better the criminal justice system here in Nigeria.

Another essential goal is to ensure a balance between freedom of assembly and the need to maintain law and order. In defining that balance, authorities should bear in mind that the right to free association is thrice guaranteed: by section 40 of Nigeria’s constitution; by Article 11 of the African Charter; and by Article 22 of the UN-approved International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Invoking the Public Order Act, the Nigerian police have recently refused to allow meetings of certain political parties and public interest groups. Fortunately, these actions are under review by the courts.  The Public Order Act needs modification to protect the right of free assembly while also ensuring public safety.

The Assembly is also considering another important bill – a Freedom of Information Act – to guarantee that citizens have access to the information necessary to make wise judgments about public policies and leaders.  In government as in gardens, a little sunlight is needed for healthy growth.

Progress is needed on other fronts, as well.  To this end, the MacArthur Foundation has assisted a wide variety of Nigerian organizations, both in and outside government.  Our purpose has been to support three central goals: first, to strengthen civil society; second, to enhance the legal architecture for safeguarding human rights; and third, to improve the performance of the police.

We have concentrated our work at the federal level and in four states – Lagos, Rivers, Kano and Plateau.

We have worked closely with reform-minded government officials and agencies in the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and the Supreme Court to improve Nigeria's laws. We provided funds for the Human Rights Commission to develop a national action plan, which identified clear benchmarks for progress on such key issues as police abuse, access to due process, the scope of police powers, and the training of law enforcement and correctional officers. 

We have been pleased to assist these government-led reform efforts, but most of our funds go to civil society organizations. MacArthur money has helped the group “Access to Justice” seek accountability for extra-legal killings. MacArthur has aided the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the Justice Development and Peace Commission in providing legal assistance. It has helped the Civil Liberties Organization gather, analyze and publish information on human rights violations. We have also supported Baobab for Women’s Human Rights in analyzing, documenting and promoting the rights of Muslim women under Shariah. Groups such as these form the backbone of Nigeria's civil society; they are striving to create a climate of accountability and respect for the rule of law.

Of course, nothing would do more to increase respect for law than professionalizing the police.

For the majority of us, as we go about our lives, the police represent the most familiar and immediately relevant face of government.  Unfortunately, it is no secret that Nigerian police have used torture and other brutal methods in their efforts to crack down on crime.  They have also engaged in extortion and corruption.  This is not new, nor are the excesses by any means unique to Nigeria.  But an unacceptable abuse does not become acceptable merely because it has gone on for a long time or because others are also culpable. 

Progress requires that wrongs be corrected and more rigorous procedures adopted.  It should be understood in every corner of this land that the job of the police is to protect and serve the country’s citizens, each of whom is entitled to due process and freedom from bribery, beatings or torture.

President Obasanjo has done a service by admitting the problem and by promising that abusive practices will be punished.  And Sunday Ehindero, the Inspector General of Police, has accepted that challenge.  This has opened the window to meaningful reform, which must be wide-ranging and systematic. 

Nigeria is fortunate to have nongovernmental organizations such as the Network for Police Reform in Nigeria, the Civil Liberties Organization and the Center for Law Enforcement Education.  Such groups help to encourage change, shine the spotlight on misdeeds, improve the judicial process, and generate trust between communities and police.  However, the responsibility for actually implementing reforms rests squarely with the government -- only it can improve conditions for police, revise training methods, monitor interrogation techniques, and investigate and prosecute official misconduct.

As important as more effective and fair policies are to Nigeria’s democratic future, our attention is bound now to turn to the April election.  A core right in a democracy is the opportunity to choose leaders freely and fairly.  Earlier this year, the world watched as Nigeria pondered whether to alter its constitution to permit a third term for President Obasanjo.  Allowing a tested, committed, and competent leader to retire at a critical time in a nation’s development is never easy.  A debate over whether to make changes that would permit further service was to be expected.

Nigeria grew in self-confidence and world respect by having discussed the options and settled the matter through a democratic process.  The Parliament did its job and the President accepted the outcome.  Nigerian democracy is stronger for the exercise.

But this was not the easy course.  Everyone knows that the upcoming elections will be contentious. May 2007 will mark the first governmental transition since 1999. While many wonder if it will occur peacefully, most Nigerians who were skeptical of the last transition have come to realize that it was not a fluke. Nigeria's democracy is here to stay. However, the goal in this election should be to take democracy to a higher level. A vigorous debate on the issues, a minimum of interference and violence, a robust voter turnout, and a process that is – and is perceived to be – open and fair – are all important markers. The legitimacy of the next government, its capacity to advance Nigeria's economic and political development, and the future of Nigeria's international leadership depend on a successful election.

Given these stakes, two questions arise. How can ordinary citizens help? And what appropriate role can international civil society play?

The job for ordinary citizens is to ensure that they are registered to vote and that they do vote on election day. While so doing, they must abide by all relevant rules and regulations – a fair election begins with responsible voters.  And part of that responsibility is to educate themselves about the issues by searching beyond campaign rhetoric for objective evidence on which to base their judgments.

International civil society can do its part providing technical assistance to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is charged with guaranteeing the credibility of the vote. And international representatives can help by serving as objective observers during the campaign and on election-day itself.

It would be foolish for me to predict the outcome of the balloting.  But, if you imagine nightmare scenarios ranging from widespread pre-election violence, to massive voting irregularities, to a contested outcome, my instinct tells me the reality will be better than that.  Let us hope that – when the election is decided -- Nigeria will have a government that is legitimate and that commands enough support to lead.

If it does, Nigeria will have a major role to play in the evolution for the first time in history of a genuinely comprehensive and effective international system of justice.  This is the third connection I would like to stress today.

For as Nigeria’s democracy deepens and its reputation for respecting human rights grows, this country’s influence in Africa and around the world will also be enhanced. 

In a world linked by global communication and commerce, a government’s record inside its borders will inevitably shape how it is perceived by those on the outside.  A government known for honoring the rights of its people will have credibility in international councils that a regime notorious for abusing its citizens will not.  

Given its large population and strategic location, Nigeria cannot help but be a leader in Africa, whether for better or worse.  During decades of military dictatorship, it set a bad example.  The new Nigeria is raising expectations.  It is now able to lead -- not simply because of its size, but because of the commitments it has made to democracy, the rule of law, and the rights of the individual. 

These commitments matter because the need for principled and purposeful international leadership is plain.  Each day, we are assaulted by news of terrorism and civil strife, by examples of repression and natural disaster.  These phenomena have an immense human cost: destroying lives, disrupting economies, uprooting families, aggravating poverty and aiding in the spread of disease.

Given these facts, we would be wrong to view the present global situation through rose-colored glasses—and I assure you I do not.  But I spoke earlier about the value of a positive attitude.  And I see amid the storm clouds that now surround us significant rays of hope.

The reason is that, over time, a powerful set of norms for the protection of human rights has been evolving.  And let me be clear that I am talking about more than “after the fact” justice, but also about prevention. 

I have in mind an inter-related system of standards, practices, and laws that will shield the vulnerable from exploitation, even genocide.  Under such a system, those who honor the rights of others will have their own rights preserved, while even the most powerful will be held accountable.  This structure can be neither exclusively local and national, nor entirely global.  Traditional justice and reconciliation processes also have a part to play.  Our framework must cover the full range of possibilities and needs. 

Because most human rights violations are committed close to home, that is where such a system begins – in local courts, buttressed by local representatives of national human rights commissions and observer groups.  When patterns of abuse arise, national authorities must step in to address them.  When that fails, regional bodies such as the newly created African Court for Peoples and Human Rights come into play.  When they are not enough, we must turn to the broader international community to close the gap between what principles promise and governments actually deliver.

In developing such an integrated international system, we are still far from where we would like to be, but I see promising trends.  What is more, Nigeria is contributing significantly to the good news.

Last decade, Nigerian peacekeepers were instrumental in ending the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone and in returning peace to Liberia.
More recently, Nigerian diplomats under President Obasanjo’s leadership helped to resolve thorny political crises in Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sao Tome.  

Nigeria continues to be a leading contributor to UN and African Union peace operations. In recognition of that, the country was chosen to serve on the governing council of the new UN Peacebuilding Commission and also elected to the reconstituted Human Rights Council.

Most dramatically, last March, Nigeria transferred Charles Taylor to the authority of the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone.  This action, taken at the request of Liberia’s newly-elected government, is a true milestone.  Taylor was everything a person entrusted with power should not be: an international criminal, an exploiter of children, and a ruthless enemy of human rights.

His transfer responds to the African Union’s founding commitment to end the culture of impunity; and his trial will be an extraordinary display of international justice at work. 

The court in Sierra Leone was established by the UN four years ago in partnership with the government in Freetown.  This ad hoc arrangement is one of several the world has made after the fact to deal with massive violations of human rights.  Such tribunals are a step forward, but of course for the victims, they are a step too late. 

What the world has needed most is an institution that will not only punish violations, but also prevent and deter them.  Since 2002, we have had such an entity, the International Criminal Court.  This is a rich addition to the globe’s collection of legal tools.  For the first time, we have judges from every continent sitting on a permanent court with the power to apply universally accepted law to the world’s worst criminals and crimes. 

It is encouraging that the importance of the court is widely understood.  Already, 102 countries are participating, including Nigeria and more than two dozen other African states. Indeed, more countries have ratified from Africa than from any other continent.

Such enthusiastic support is necessary because the Court’s job is daunting.  Its mandate is to help achieve justice in areas where alternative remedies have not worked.  It will be called upon to deal with enormous crimes committed by powerful people.  Because the Court does not have its own army or police, it must rely on the cooperation and law enforcement clout of governments.  It will often depend on the testimony of witnesses who live in hard-to-reach places and who may well fear for their lives.   So we must be realistic in our expectations.  But we should be resolute in offering our help.

The Court’s initial investigations concern events in Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Darfur region of Sudan.  Last year, it made history by indicting its first suspects, leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the rebel group that has been terrorizing villagers in Northern Uganda for nearly two decades:  25,000 children abducted and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves, 90 percent population displaced, over a million and a half civilians forced into refugee camps.  And just last week, the first trial began for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, charged with kidnapping children under 15 and using them as child soldiers in Congo's civil war.

Criminal prosecutions provide an indispensable means of preventing and punishing crimes against humanity.  But they depend for their success on the willingness and ability of governments to act.  We have to consider the possibility that in some cases this will not happen, either because a government is complicit in the crimes being committed, or because it lacks the resources to stop them. 

The peril in this possibility is compounded by a disturbing change in the nature of conflict.  In the past, wars were fought between armies.  Now, increasingly, the victims are civilians.  As we have seen over the past decade in numerous conflicts, it does not take advanced weapons to kill large numbers of people.  In areas where families depend for survival on farming or grazing, the disruptions created by war are as fatal as bullets or bombs. 

This deadly trend has created for the world a choice: we can act -- or we can turn our heads and look the other way.  In the past, leaders in this region have championed the doctrine of non-intervention; this was understandable, given the grim legacy of colonialism.  But mindful of the blood spilled in a dozen or more recent wars, the new African Union has adopted a doctrine of “non-indifference."

This has been on display over the past two years in Darfur, where an AU force has struggled to protect civilians caught in a war between government-backed militias and rebel factions.  It is important now that the AU force be supplemented by resources and troops under the auspices of the UN. 

The deployment of a UN mission is necessary not because the AU has failed, but because it has succeeded in providing some protection for civilians when no one else would.  The AU was never intended to be a military organization; the world should acknowledge that it has performed a courageous service by acting as a bridge between chaos and hope. 

The AU also merits the lion’s share of credit for last May’s Abuja peace agreement, which provided at least the starting point toward a long term settlement of the crisis. It is yet another measure of Nigeria’s stature that President Obasanjo played a central role in bringing those negotiations to a conclusion.

At the UN Millennium Summit in 2005, leaders from around the world declared that every state has a duty to protect its citizens from crimes against humanity and that the world has a collective responsibility to protect populations when their own governments fails to do so.  I am proud to note that this declaration grew out of a study organized by Canada and partially funded by the MacArthur Foundation. 

The “responsibility to protect” is not, as some might fear, simply a new rationale for big powers to intervene in the affairs of smaller countries.  It is, rather, an expression of moral truth – for it is wrong to stand by and do nothing when innocent people are slaughtered.  That happened in Rwanda a dozen years ago.  The world in the 21st century should set a higher standard.

My discussion here this afternoon would not be complete without another mention of the role of civil society.  Networks of nongovernmental organizations were at the leading edge of efforts to create an International Criminal Court and in prodding the UN to acknowledge a collective responsibility to protect vulnerable populations. 

Like the best universities, the best NGOs help to generate the political oxygen that allows democracies to flourish.  Their assets include the ability to give disenfranchised populations a voice, the courage to tell inconvenient truths, the vision to identify problems early, and the capacity to deal through partnerships with issues that are multi-dimensional and long-term.

Because true NGOs are, by definition, independent, they do not mindlessly follow policies dictated from above.  They encourage freedom of thought and action, often challenging conventional wisdom and contemporary authority.  This has ensured that they will be opposed, especially by authoritarian rulers who see public participation as a danger. 

The health of what we call civil society – the NGO sector – has become a litmus test for judging progress toward democracy.  Civil society in Nigeria is strong and getting stronger and that sends an unmistakable message to the world that Nigeria remains on a democratic path.  By one count, there are 1000 NGOs here and the sector is growing by 15 percent every year.

The development of human rights law is just one area where these organizations play a critical role.  NGOs are everywhere active, from the preservation of the environment to public health, to the creation of economic opportunity, the training of workers and improving the quality of schools.  But to prosper, these organizations need engaged Board members, talented staff and dedicated volunteers.  So, as I near the end of my remarks let me issue a call to the students and graduates of Ibadan to get involved in nongovernmental groups.  Helping to build a vibrant civil society is like working to support a proud and independent university; it is one sure way to contribute to a successful and democratic tomorrow for your country.  There could no greater gift to the future than that.

Those of us who have spent much of our lives around universities know that convocations are special communal events. Weddings look forward and funerals look backwards, but a convocation is infused with the spirit of both memory and expectation.  It is an occasion for applying what has been learned to what still must be confronted; to identifying the stars by which we might wisely navigate in years to come.

Each of you graduating this year represents hope for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world. I believe passionately in you.  I believe in your ability to recapture and then go far beyond this university’s past years of glory.  In keeping with Professor Bamiro’s vision, I believe in your commitment to create an institution that will earn and richly deserve a place of honor in the world. 

I believe, as well, in Nigeria.  Your country is stronger for the setbacks it has overcome, and wiser for the knowledge it has acquired through adversity.  In a world where the same errors are often repeated over and over again, Nigeria is poised to begin a new era of true democracy and a more fully developed sense of itself as one nation, united, independent and free. 

I believe, finally, and perhaps most importantly, that good friendships are both precious and rare. They knit societies together and help us to rise above our differences in the service of a higher calling. I cherish your friendship and am proud that the MacArthur Foundation has been a partner of your country for almost two decades.

On the occasion of the 58th convocation of this great institution, I congratulate each of you and the entire university community.

I wish you and all your families long life and good health.

And I thank you again for your kind attention, your hospitable welcome, and for the honor of being able to be with you on this very special day.

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