In its quest to destroy knowledge, the terrorist group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people, displaced more than 2 million, and flung some 7 million Nigerians into hunger, thirst, and desperate need.
Boko Haram has a complete and total disrespect for life, the opposite of every religion. It fears knowledge. It fears education. It fears tolerance.
We do not have to be the prisoners of this violent extremism. It can be eliminated. No one anywhere has to live, or should have to live, among this evil.
But it isn’t going to disappear on its own. It takes work and it takes leadership. And it will require sustained effort from all of us – from regional, national, and sub-national leaders, from the United Nations and other multinational institutions. It’ll take great efforts by law enforcement and civil society. And I want you to know today that the United States is deeply committed to this effort.
Through the Multinational Joint Task Force – with help from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom – Nigeria and its neighbors are steadily degrading Boko Haram’s capabilities.
But we also know that beating Boko Haram on the battlefield is only the beginning of what we need to do. As the American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to only one who is striking at the root.” So we have to strike at the root causes of violent extremism.
To win the struggle for the future, nations need to do more than just denounce bankrupt, dead-end ideologies that the terrorists support. They also have to offer their citizens an alternative that is better, that offers hope, that actually delivers on its promises.
To effectively counter violent extremism, we have to ensure that military action is coupled with a reinforced commitment to the values this region and all of Nigeria has a long legacy of supporting – values like integrity, good governance, education, compassion, security, and respect for human rights.
It is essential to build and rebuild trust in government, trust in the military, trust in law enforcement community, wherever that trust has been diminished.
The fight against corruption has to be a global security priority of the first order. Bribery, fraud, other forms of venality endanger everything that we hold dear, everything that you value.
We all pay for corruption. Corruption costs the global economy an estimated $2.6 trillion a year. That’s $2.6 trillion that could be going towards infrastructure, towards health care, towards education, food security, other initiatives – any number of areas where we know we need money to be able to make the investments that give young people that sense of future.
Any government’s most basic duty is to meet the needs of its people – and good, accountable government, just plain old good governance, is basically the key, but it’s not the end of the story. In this country, more than 60 percent of your population is under the age of 25 years old. So it matters to all of us whether or not these young people are able to gain access to education and jobs that will enable them to contribute to their communities in beneficial ways.
A modern economy also requires investments in its people – that’s the key – in schools at all levels, and in programs that train and prepare graduates in order to be able to compete in the global marketplace.
At the center of that effort is a goal that I know is shared by so many Nigerians, including President Buhari, and that is giving women and girls an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplaces. When women are educated and empowered, societies are more productive, more democratic, more inclusive, and far more prosperous.
And those who would tear our communities apart – pitting one religion or one sect against another – they can only be defeated by citizens’ unyielding commitment to unity and mutual understanding. And here I underscore: Breaking the cycle of violence requires treating those who escape or defect from Boko Haram, and particularly those who were abducted against their will, with sensitivity as they try to return to their old communities.
My friends, all of these efforts – fighting corruption, promoting good governance, promoting opportunity for men and women alike, showing compassion and understanding for fellow citizens, even when it’s difficult – all of these things will do an enormous amount to reduce the threat that is posed by violent extremism and to prevent it from re-emerging in the future.