Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Official Dinner Hosted by the Federal Minister for Abuja, Nigeria
March 14, 2007 | Speech | Population & Reproductive Health

Minister and Mrs Mallam El-Rufai, thank you for welcoming the MacArthur Board to your home and for this wonderful dinner.  We have had an opportunity to renew longstanding friendships and to meet new colleagues with whom we will make common cause in the future.

Tomorrow will be an historic day for the MacArthur Foundation – the first time its Board meets outside of North America.  It is fitting that the meeting be here in Nigeria, the country of our deepest investment in Africa.  Our Board has come to Nigeria to see first hand our work in improving higher education, reducing maternal mortality, and strengthening the rule of law.  We like what we see and feel confident that our funds are being well used.

We work in Nigeria because of its importance and its potential.

This nation can show the world that a large, ethnically diverse, developing country is able to move from authoritarian rule to a healthy democracy.  It can leave behind economic stagnation and create a vibrant market economy—one that distributes the fruits of growth fairly.  Africa – and the world – badly needs a success story.  I have faith that Nigeria can write that story.

This is my sixth trip to Nigeria in as many years. I have traveled throughout this wonderful and diverse country, and can speak first-hand of the progress I see: a vibrant free press, universities gaining strength, a robust civil society, a growing economy, and (we sincerely hope), a peaceful transfer of power between democratically elected governments following a free and fair election.

We all know there are challenges of persistent poverty, education and health systems that need strengthening, and many areas of the national infrastructure that need expansion or repair.

But the reservoir of talented, courageous, determined Nigerian people is an inspiration for those of us who want to help.

We are particularly impressed with the quality and dedication of people in government with whom we have worked.  They are a principal reason we make more grants to government here in Nigeria than we do anywhere else in the world.

I was privileged to know the late Chief Bola Ige and at his request, MacArthur supported the review of the Laws of the Federation and their publication.  Later we collaborated with the National Working Group on the Reform of Criminal Justice, helping to produce a draft bill in the National Assembly that covers a broad range of legal issues, including protocols for arrests, arraignments, and pre-trial detention.

We were pleased to help the National Human Rights Commission develop an ambitious plan of action, and to work with the Legal Aid Council to create a data system to cut time spent in pre-trial detention and reduce prison overcrowding.  And more recently, I was honored to dedicate the Community Policing Center at police headquarters here in Abuja.

In six states, MacArthur Foundation co-operates with NGOs and State Ministries of Education in bringing the national Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education curriculum to schools.  We have helped sponsor the training of nurses and midwives in each of the 66 midwifery schools across the country. 

And there is our work strengthening federal universities.  We feel our money has been well used and that we see real progress – a new IT Center at Bayero, new science labs at ABU, a new library at Port Harcourt, an advanced research lab at Ibadan, a two-thirds reduction in the cost of bandwidth access for our partner universities, and an eight-fold increase in their access to electronic data over three years.

We hope to proceed with new vigor when next month’s elections are over and the future leadership is clear.  MacArthur has a long-term commitment to Nigeria and we will work with those in the new government who want to work with us.  Above all, we hope the election is – and is perceived to be – fair, so that the new government will have the confidence of the Nigerian people and the international community.  That confidence is critical as Nigeria is poised to make even greater progress.  We and others want to help. 

Nigeria is a great nation, a voice for Africa on the international stage, and key to international stability in this region.  The MacArthur Foundation is privileged to be your partners as you work to strengthen your institutions, increase the effectiveness of government policies, and raise the quality of life for all the citizens of this country.  We are optimistic about the future of Nigeria and we wish you well as you build Africa’s leading democracy in the months and years ahead.

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