AFRICA NEWS: Nigeria: Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Discussion with Civil Society

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AFRICA NEWS:

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By Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Abuja – SECRETARY BLINKEN : Again, thank you. We are grateful for your participation today. Reverend Hayab, for making this journey from Kaduna all of the way to here, deserves a special thank you. It was greatly appreciated.

I also met with civil society activists from Kenya just a few days ago. And I wanted to have the opportunity to meet with you all and to learn from you. To make progress on the most important issues, we must engage with government. Government can’t do so alone. The key to making progress is community groups, faith groups and journalists.

I want to hear from each one of you, as I have said. Before we start a conversation, I want to quickly share with you a few things that are top of my mind.

Freedom of expression and access to information are the keys to democracy. That is something we all know. A lot of it happens online and through social media. We know that these forums can be misused to spread misinformation, hatred, and incite violence, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

I’m interested in hearing from you about how you view government and the private sector. How you see citizens participating in democracies in achieving the right balance between an open, vibrant discourse that’s essential but not being used to inflict damage.

The second thing I am thinking about – I think about how some of you were deeply involved with the electoral reforms and constitutional changes that were passed in Nigeria. This includes those that are below the age that Nigerians can run for public office. We know how vital it is to keep our democracies vibrant and healthy. It’s important to make sure that young people feel engaged in shaping the system and that it responds to their needs, their futures and their aspirations.

I’d love to hear from you all whether that’s the case and, if not, what you think we could do to strengthen the connection between rising generations and our democracies.

The third thing we saw this week was the completion of the work of the independent Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and the transmission of its final reports. This is a significant step towards accountability for the killings, and other abuses that were allegedly committed by security forces during “End SARS”, protests one year ago. We look forward to the federal government, the Lagos state government, and other state governments taking steps to address the alleged abuses and grievances of victims’ families. While reports are important, what is even more important is the action taken to address those abuses. Your views on this would be greatly appreciated.

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Finally, I really just want to recognize the role that many of you played, particularly the faith leaders who are here, in defusing tensions that can result in communal violence. It is a country with a wide range of faiths and religions. There are so many views in one country. That’s something that is very powerful and wonderful. It does come with its challenges, and the potential for violence and tensions. Your efforts to ensure that this is not the case are greatly appreciated.

We’ve seen that the trust that you’ve earned from communities can make all the difference in preserving peace, and your leadership is one that we hope more will follow, not just in Nigeria but beyond.

So those are some of the things that were on my mind. I am most eager to hear from you all and have a conversation. Again, thank you for being here. We are grateful.

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