Poverty and an assault on human rights are responsible for the “human fragility and brokenness of the world,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe said at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Tuesday.
Maduekwe spoke to about 30 students about Nigeria’s place in the world and current issues relating to its foreign policy at the tea, which was organized by Yale African Students Association president Ruth Botsio ’09 and Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun. Maduekwe, who is in the United States as a Nigerian delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, spoke for about 45 minutes regarding Nigeria’s emergence as a leader in Africa, its take on the Niger River Delta crisis and its controversial new foreign policy of Citizenship Diplomacy.
Maduekwe was sworn into his post July 26, 2007 under President Umaru Yar’Adua. He previously served as Minister of Transport under the previous administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Accompanying the Foreign Minister on his visit to Yale were his wife and several members of the Consulate General of Nigeria.
Maduekwe began his speech by talking about what he termed the politically and socially “fragmented globe.” The founding principles of the United Nations were to create a global community that ensures social progress and protects displaced war victims, he said. Maduekwe said most governments do little to alleviate poverty in Africa and urged the world to take lessons on compromise, deliberation and convergence of interest from African culture. It is Nigeria’s goal to develop an economic system similar to Europe’s, he said, and the country has the potential to become “one big black success story for the world.”
“The base of government is to satisfy the needs of the people,” Maduekwe said. “Foreign policy should be conducted against the background of the welfare of the citizen.”
While Maduekwe did not spend much time in his speech discussing specific issues in Nigerian foreign policy, he answered student questions concerning the Niger River Delta Crisis.
Nigerian student Angela Omiyi ’10 said she feels strongly about the Delta conflict over control of oil revenue, which has embroiled the country in violence for over a decade.
“A lot of the people causing the trouble are politically motivated, and because of that the army can’t just go in and fix it,” she said. “Police in Nigeria don’t have the mindset that this our problem and we want to fix it … If the government had taken initiative and dealt with the hostage situation at the beginning, it wouldn’t have escalated this far because the militants would have realized that the government would not tolerate that.”
Maduekwe said a solution to the crisis is in the works.
“The establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission has increased revenue to that part of the country,” he said. “We have created a road map to develop infrastructure in the Niger Delta to turn the place into a platform of prosperity. We are looking at 10 to 15 years to put the plan into action.”
Yalies gave the tea mixed reviews. Robert Klipper ’11 said he enjoyed the foreign minister’s candor and his willingness to interact with students
“I was impressed by how excited he was to meet with the students after the tea, and went so far as to give out his personal cell phone number to us,” Klipper said.
But other students said they were dissatisfied with Maduekwe’s explanation of certain issues. Happy Kinyili DIV ’09 said expecting the rest of the world to fix Africa’s problems is unrealistic.
“I think the assumption that Nigeria should be working toward the Western world is problematic,” she said. “I didn’t hear him make any statements about what Nigerians could do to improve Nigeria.”
Still, Botsio said she viewed the event as a success.
“The goal was to educate the Yale community about current issues in Nigerian foreign policy,” she said. “Judging by the turnout, I think we did that.”