Talking Points By U.S. Embassy Spokesperson Jeanne Clark Democracy: Setting the Agenda Town Hall Yola, Nigeria, February 28, 2022

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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert

• We are grateful to our partners, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, for bringing us together to more deeply reflect on the freedoms afforded in a democracy; to network; and to share why a free press remains a critical foundation for communities in Adamawara and surrounding states.

• We are proud to be here in Yola today for our third town hall meeting called to recognize the importance of a free media in a democracy, and to more closely examine roles and responsibilities as citizens and professionals in strengthening democracy.

• Given the news of the this past week, this conversation has never been more relevant. Since December, when President Biden hosted the Summit for Democracy more countries have announced action plans to address some of the more insidious threats to democracy, particularly in terms of addressing corruption.

• The U.S. is taking bold action in 5 key areas: Supporting Free and Independent Media; Fighting Corruption; Bolstering Democratic Reformers; Advancing Technology for Democracy; and Defending Free and Fair Elections and Political Processes.

• Here in Nigeria, we’ve witnessed some important development as well. President Buhari began 2022 engaging the media in two important interviews, the long suspension of Twitter ended in January, and just last week the long-awaited Elector Bill was signed into law. Any and all efforts to increase transparency and open routes for citizens to freely express their thoughts and opinions are positive steps to begin a new year.

• Let’s be clear: getting things done in a democracy is not always easy. Democracy is messy. Democracy is hard. Democracy requires compromise – and that means that no one is ever going to get 100 percent of what they want. Now, that doesn’t mean we compromise on every core value – things like protecting the equal human rights of every individual, or national sovereignty – but it does mean that we have to engage with people we disagree with and strive to find areas where our interests overlap and where we can move the ball forward for the good of the country.
• From threats that stem from climate change, to the COVID-19 pandemic or insecurity, the decisions we make this year will reverberate for years to come.

• While many of us here in this room publicly sought a return of Twitter in Nigeria, many more authoritarian leaning governments learned to misuse digital technology to repress populations and expand government power.

• USAID Administrator Samantha Power reflected back on ten years ago, where a summit for democracy might have been a cause for celebration. Social media helped bring down dictators in the Arab Spring, and the Internet, at that time, was still seen as fostering openness and transparency. It seemed that access to information and the ability for people to connect in their own societies across borders would shake authoritarian regimes to their core and accelerate progress toward democracy. Today, she notes that “it seems the opposite has happened. The rise of new technologies over the past two decades parallels the democratic recession and the internet helped fuel it. While it’s true that digital technology has enabled immense scientific and economic progress that we benefit from every day, it has also given governments the ability to surveil, to censor, and to repress their people as never before. Authoritarians learned that Big Data, social media control the Internet, and artificial intelligence could make them even more powerful. The U.S. will partner with allied democracies to address this and develop open-source technology that respects human rights.”

• Each of you has a very important role to play in utilizing technology to push for transparency and accountability while restoring the trust that the public once had in the media. In Nigeria, just as in my country, public trust in the media and in governmental institutions has eroded. As Ambassador Leonard has noted, “patronage politics, corruption, inequality, and the failure of many democratic governments to deliver for their citizens fuel public and media doubts about the democratic model, causing them to lose hope and accept the status quo as normal.” We need to work together to earn that respect back by demonstrating that professional media only publishes verified facts, by clearly setting forth hypotheses and doing the analytical work to evidence when hunches become fact. Media needs to identify and address bias before the public labels become permanent.

• We have long appreciated when Nigerian journalists across the country go the extra mile to exercise budget analysis, examine policy and process, and target questions to further transparency. International partnerships that result in the publication of the Pandora papers, the FinCEN file, and the Panama papers before that, make the public take notice of corruption in their community. These high quality collaborations have resulted in public officials around the world losing their positions and facing prosecution. Just last month, Premium Times underscored the lack of accountability for politically exposed persons, and explained how this damages Nigeria’s international reputation. With transparent, principled, consistent media behavior such as this, the public will increasingly pressure the government to justify its inaction or vote in a replacement.

• Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, highlighted that “media freedom is the oxygen of democracy,” and we could not agree more. The U.S. Government announced new actions and commitments in areas such as bolstering free and independent media; fighting corruption; defending free and fair elections; strengthening civic capacity; advancing the civic and political leadership of women, girls, and marginalized community members; and harnessing technology for democratic renewal.

• We at the U.S. mission remain committed to standing with you as you embolden democracy in Nigeria in the year ahead. I thank you all for your participation today and look forward to the opportunity to learn of ongoing partnerships, enhanced networking and crucial mentoring of the next generation.

Author: Imoh Robert

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