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Address by Dr. Ango Abdullahi, Special Advisor on Food Security to the President of Nigeria

Introduction: Peter McPherson: I think that we’re encouraging a dialogue among African countries -- Mali, Ghana, all kinds of dialogues can occur. Our last speaker in this panel is Dr. Ango Abdullahi, Special Advisor on Food Security to the President of Nigeria.

Dr. Abdullahi: Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, distinguished African leaders, distinguished participants of this dialogue and ladies and gentleman. I do not think that I will take too much of our time for my remarks today. President Konaré has already eloquently addressed the African position and I think that the Congressman has also eloquently described the American position. I think it just remains for me to convey just a few messages from my own President.

I’m sure that some of you, particularly those who have been part of this initiative since the beginning, must have know that President Obasanjo has been also part of this idea from the beginning. The fact that he is not here today must be very painful for him personally because I know how important he felt it would be to be present here today. But other important reasons took him back to Nigeria after the HIV/AIDS summit in New York. It made it necessary for him to send one of his aids here to deliver first his personal apology for not being here, but also to assure all of you that he is very much part of this deliberation in spirit. Also, to present just a few messages on the pillars of this initiatives rather than on the national details affecting each individual African country.

I think that, at this particular point in time, the initiative is trying to have a foundation and this foundation has to be in the area of commitment on both sides. President Konaré has again expressed what appears to be a commitment on the African side, but I would like to mention specifically here the commitment of our President. For those of you who have known our President over the years, right from the time he was Military Head of State in Nigerian between 1976 and 1979, many would remember him as an agriculture "addict." In fact, in his discussions virtually all the time when talking about development of Nigeria or development of African countries, he stressed that the cornerstone for this development must be agriculture. I think this is something that he kept even after he left office in 1979 and engaged in various activities around the world, particularly with non-governmental organizations addressing development problems in Africa.

When he came back as a democratically elected leader in Nigeria, the message remained the same. Agriculture is his number one priority and, for those of those who have assisted him in the professional sense, we believe his position is correct. I think it is also correct to say that most African leaders today have realized that some mistakes have been made in the past in terms of priority or non-priority that have been given to agriculture. I think from that point of view we would like to assure, at least the Nigerian assurance, to all the stakeholders in this Partnership that agriculture is at the core of our development strategy in Nigeria.

There is no question about it, even with petroleum playing a very important role in the Nigerian economy today. Believe me, all discussions at the micro and macro levels in terms of economic planning have considered agriculture as the centerpiece for our strategy. Have no fear at all that Nigeria is poised to join hands with partners all over the world, particularly with this particular Partnership, to push agriculture forward.

I would also like to say here (and I know that my respected President Konaré has already said so): there is now in Africa a new leadership which is different from leadership that people have consistently referred to as retrogressive and uncaring for Africa. I think this is changing very quickly and have no doubt in my mind that the leadership that this Partnership is dealing with is the kind of leadership that the people of Africa trust. I would like to believe that fears concerning African leadership, should really now take a back seat. What we’re looking for certainly -- and this is as message that is very strong from the President -- is more action than talk. There is no doubt that a lot of talk has taken place around the world about developmental problems.

Only in 1996 we had the World Food Summit and decisions were taken in terms of what to do to cut hunger by half in 20 years. All indicators today from whatever source, show that there are still more than 800 million hungry people around the world, instead of the 400 or 300 or 500 that we said should be the number at about this time. Something must have gone wrong. I know that affected regions themselves bear responsibility. We believe that those who are in a position to assess development, to really renew their commitment should do so. I have no question in my mind that the United States is in a position to really move this Partnership forward.

It has already been considered here, resources are here, and therefore it remains for resources to match the commitment. I have no question in my mind that in the next few days only those who have initiated this idea will continue to push it to the point when certain critical policy positions will be taken. Those of us on the committees will now be looking at the fine details that will affect not only the regional concerns, the continental concerns, but also the national concerns.

So Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, once again you have the good wishes of President Obasanjo. I would like to again remind you of his commitment and assurances that he’s going to work very closely with his brothers on the continent. I’m sure those of you who have seen Obasanjo in the last years know that things are really moving not just in Africa, but also around the world looking for this kind of Partnership.

Thank you very much.


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