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Nigerian Ambassador First Speaker for Ambassador Lecture Series

February 23, 2006 — His Excellency, George A. Obiozor ambassador from the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United States, delivered the inaugural speech on Wednesday for U.Va.'s new Ambassador Lecture Series. Obiozor’s talk on “The U.S. and Nigeria: A Complex but Vital Relationship” explored issues of cooperation between the United States and Nigeria, focusing on such topics as peacekeeping efforts in Africa, the war on terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and trade and oil production.

Obiozor opened his speech with warm praise for U.Va.’s founder, saying that Thomas Jefferson’s “vision of the world … remains relevant today and still constitutes the primary guiding principles for human development.” He also lauded the efforts of President George W. Bush, most notably through such initiatives as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, to pursue a “meaningful, mutually rewarding policy toward Africa.” Though the relationship between the United States and Nigeria has historically “been one of uneasy friendship,” he noted, current relations are “more cordial and fruitful” than at any time since the late 1990s.

Obiozor said that as Africa’s most populous, and arguably most powerful, nation, Nigeria figures prominently in the “success and sustenance of evolving U.S.-Africa relations.” Having suffered its own history of civil war, Nigeria has become an effective peacekeeper, helping in recent years to resolve conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Sudan. Moreover, he noted, Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo “is leading the charge for domestic, regional and continent-wide reforms to strengthen democratic practice, openness and the rule of law.”

The ambassador also spoke about Nigeria’s progress with social and health issues. Noting that “large numbers” of Nigerian girls have been forced into prostitution in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and some areas of Africa, he described Nigeria’s efforts to stop the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs as well as what he calls the “shameful and embarrassing phenomenon of human trafficking.”

In 2000 Nigeria signed what is known as the Palermo Convention, an agreement among 124 nations to combat transnational organized crime, which includes the illicit drug trade and the commercial sex industry. As outlined in the Palermo document, Nigeria’s program seeks to reduce the demand for drugs through prevention and counseling outreach programs. Nigeria has also signed bilateral and multinational agreements to assist with the repatriation of women and children who have been smuggled abroad. Obiozor also pointed to the “fierce and effective” National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency as the reason that Nigeria is “no longer a safe operational haven for international drug traffickers.” Where public health issues are concerned, Obiozor pointed out, Nigeria’s creation of a government food and drug oversight agency in 1994 is helping to combat the global threat of fake pharmaceutical drugs.

Perhaps of greatest interest for the future of American-Nigerian relations, Obiozor said, revolves around his country’s oil production. Though West Africa’s estimated 60 billion barrels seems small compared to the reserves of the “Middle East oil giants,” the United States and other large-scale oil consumers see mid-range producers like Nigeria and Angola as vitally important because they are reliable suppliers who offer stable prices. As the United States works to lessen its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, its relationship with Nigeria will assume even greater importance.

Sponsored by U.Va.’s Diplomat Scholar Program, the Ambassador Lecture Series features international diplomats speaking to students and others in the University community about key political, economic, cultural and technological issues of global interest. Conceived by Leonard H. Robinson Jr., U.Va.’s diplomat in residence since 2004 and a politics lecturer, the series also provides a unique opportunity for students to talk informally with the special guests after the lecture. Lectures are held in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture. — by Mary Carlson

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