Being a leading and respected diplomatic institution in Nigeria, The United States Consulate General, Lagos, continues to advance efforts of progress through strategic interventions and partnerships, even under the current Consul General, H.E Ms Claire Pierangelo. Towards these commendable commitments, Acclaim Nigeria talks to its Chief Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Russell Brook (now former) on the Mission’s various pursuits in the nation.
Enjoy the Interview with the CPAO Russell Brooks
Sir, as the current PAO of the United States Consulate General, Lagos, how has the job been so far?
The work in Lagos has been a wonderful opportunity for me and I really appreciate the fact that it is a mega place, a huge city of over 20 million people and it’s the media, financial and cultural hub of the country; and as one of the largest economy in the whole Africa and because of that, it has made my work kind of interesting. The community is extremely vibrant and I have enjoyed every minutes of my time here.
The U.S Consulate General, Lagos has continued in interventions and partnerships in many key areas such as health, STEM, Environment, Girl child, Media growth, PLWDs, Culture, and Music among others, all aimed at improving lives and bettering societies, why all these various commitments in Nigeria?
That’s a very big question. First and foremost, I think numerous American Ambassadors and Consular Generals who have served in Nigeria have considered United States of America a longtime friend of Nigeria; and the Nigerian people are the most strategic partner of the united states in African continent, and for that reason we have expressed our commitments to these various programs that we have engaged in to help both Nigeria government and her people. And, I am thus pleased that you have named so many of them and you have done a really good job of our awareness in both media and social media where we try to explain to the Nigerian people of what we are doing and why. Just to mention a few of the things that you mentioned, you talk about health:
The PEPFAR program has literally saved and transformed the lives of millions of Nigerians providing important drugs that have allowed them to live and saved the lives of the children. What greater impact can you make than saving lives? That’s something Ambassador Symington, the immediate U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria said many times, and the most important thing we do here is to save to lives, and PEPFAR program is an excellent example. When we talk about entrepreneurship, we are trying to help Nigeria develop an economy that is going to provide the jobs, provide the economic future that this young people so richly will desire.
Many people talk about the over dependence on the oil economy and how that does not represent a viable future of the long time for Nigeria; therefore, if we can get more of the Nigerian youth to be involved in entrepreneurship, in providing the goods and services, and not only what people need in Nigeria, but throughout West Africa and throughout the continent, then they are going to produce the job and the wealth that will produce more prosperity to Nigeria. So, that is what United States hope to help Nigeria to achieve and sustain.
The Consulate has committed several grants in cash and also capacity support how many deserving grantees: how are these awardees selected and supported?
The mission and that means the embassy in Abuja and the Consulate-General in Lagos, offers grant program. We publicize our willingness to provide these grants in something we call “Annual Program Statement” that is publicize in the embassy website and basically, it describe what type of program we are willing to support, what the level of funding can be and what are the requirements for expressing interest in securing those funds, and how to produce a grant proposal or application. So, that information is online and we certainly encourage potential grantees to look at it and if they have a deal or current program that is worthy of our support we encourage them to follow that direction and make an application.
Though, obviously, we cannot support everyone who is interested in receiving our funding and we don’t pretend that we can’t, but what we do say is that these are the areas that we are interested in supporting because they match our goals and objectives in Nigeria. We are trying to help Nigeria in the areas of health, promoting entrepreneurship, conducting programs that increases the professionalism of the media, encourage program that support agriculture support Girl-Chil development, women inclusion and empowerment, youth development, quality education, etc. So, if you have ideas in those areas and show yourself to have the viable experience as partners for us, then you are eligible to apply for a grant, we review those grant and determine who are the best partners for us to work with.
Are these projects targeted towards social development and impacting the Nigerian people?
Both, the programs are focused on areas that the Mission has decided are our goals and objectives in Nigeria. So, partnership means that two parties agreed that these undertaken are worthy of our aims and goals. Oftentimes partnership is used a bit differently in Nigeria than in United States. For example, oftentimes when the word partner is utilized in Nigeria, the person utilizing the word is referring to the fact that we or other organizations are funding a project. For us, partnership is a bit more than just that. Partnership also means that we agreed in terms of the aims of the Project, we agreed in that, this is something what while to do that it will be mutually beneficial. Partnership for us means two parties who have committed themselves to projects and pursuits that are mutual and beneficial
Therefore, if United States has identified an area of concern that is a worthwhile area to engage in and tries to make an improvement in terms of providing a benefit for the Nigeria people; if we can identify valuable partners, i.e. people who also believe that this is worthwhile to do, and who also have the experience in the skills with a local knowledge that will enable them carry out a successful project in that area then those are worthwhile partners for us. And in exchange for the ability and experience what we can provide is the funding, while they provide the skills and experience, then that’s a partnership.
It is mutually beneficial, it is not just a matter of can you give us money, it has to be mutually beneficial.
If you have to do something that does not correspond with our goals and objectives why would we support that?
Commending the Consulate involvement in the 2019 International Day of People Living With Disabilities, and your partnership with Project Africa Enable, why are you interested in this group of special people?
Yes, the United States has really made the sector vibrant and people with disabilities are greatly supported across the globe and even in Nigeria too.
And this also another example of area we are drawing our experience for societal good, and I mean the experience of helping people with disabilities by the United States. We have not always been good at that; there were many years where people who suffer with disabilities also were discriminated in the United States. We have never said we are perfect, but we have always strive to make our country better, towards “A More Perfect Union” that means we recognize that we are not there yet, but we are striving to get there just like Nigerians would always say ” we are getting there”; we Americans believe in something similar. We may not be perfect now but we are trying to get there.
Also, many years ago people such as myself the ‘African Americans’ also suffered prejudice, racism, discrimination but our situation is much better now than it was 50 years ago, Latinos can say the same thing, women can say the same thing. Many years ago women did not have the right to vote, but they do now and thrive very well in the American society; we are striving to create that “more perfect union”.
Unfortunately, the disabled also suffered from discrimination, but we have passed landmark legislation many years ago, the’ American With Disabilities Act’ which became the law of the land to treat the disabled just like everyone else. You don’t discriminate against them in terms of employment, housing, or any other type of benefits. That is what we have done domestically and we are trying to help others Nigeria including, recreate that in their lands so that people no matter where they are, no matter what ailment or disability they have, they have the same opportunity as everyone else.
The U.S. Mission is at the fore front of building Strong Democratic Institutions in Nigeria, How is the Consulate advancing on this crucial component of national development?
Well, it is a work in progress; we believe that developing strong democratic institutions is crucial for Nigerians and for Nigeria’s progress. We talked about how it is important for everyone in Nigeria to feel interested in investing in its growth; to feel that their rights will be respected whether we are talking about the disabled, about women, ethnic minorities, youths, everyone needs to believe that their right will be respected in Nigeria, that they will have opportunity to go as far as their talents and dreams could take them.
Though we recognize that may not be the case right now, but in order for Nigeria to get there, all Nigerians must feel proud and must feel that their country will offer them the opportunity that they seek: a country that is much inclusive, a country that is more democratic, and a country that obeys the rule of law. We believe in stronger, more inclusive, more egalitarian government of people, and we are doing what we can to help Nigeria to get there; whether we are talking about providing support for INEC during elections, about trying to improve the capacity of legislator in the National Assembly and about the free media. We are frantically working to support the democratic institutions to be more capable, ore vibrant and stronger to serve the Nigerian people better.
You are a respected voice and advocate of youth improvement, relevance and inclusion in Nigeria’s and Africa’s growth and continuity, any word of inspiration for the Nigerian and African Youth?
My passions describe a custom of variety of things. Some are personal and some are professional. On a personal level, I am a father; I have a son and a daughter. They are both in their twenties, one just graduated from graduate school and the other is still in graduate school and they are now looking to make their marks in the world, So, I could imagine my children and relate it with what the Nigerian parent and their children are going through, they are similar. I am not so old that I can’t identify what young people are going through. You know how it feels, when you are not sure of what the future holds for you, you know you want to accomplish something great but you are not sure how you are going to get there,
Also, because Nigeria and Africa has such a vast young population with the majority of the population been probably below 25 years, they as Nigerians must put in their very best to succeed and excel.
For Africa to become a modern, more technological advanced and more productive society, it is in the hands and responsibility of these young people. The future is theirs, it can be a bright future, it could be dark future but it is up them. Right now they can look at the various things in Nigeria and say we don’t like that or we will do better if we have the opportunity. What I am saying is that, they do have the opportunity to do better, I am not saying that what have been laid down for them in the best way possible to make it easy for them, but no matter what their obstacles are, it is their responsibility to create the political system that will be inclusive for all Nigerians, it is their responsibility to make this a more direct economy, it is their responsibility to try to make the educational system better here, it is their responsibility to produce a better health care system here.
They can no longer just blame the elders, the elders share some fault for why things are the way they are, but it is the responsibility of the young people to put themselves into positions to change things and to make things better for their children.
How is the Consulate supporting media growth in Nigeria, especially, providing journalists with right support, exposure and capacity strengthening?
We do a lot of work in terms of strengthening capacity of media. Just recently we had an American expert, a former Journalist, currently an Author who was an Editor in the New York daily News, She is Ms. Linda Harvey. She has done training in numbers of African countries, but she came to Lagos not long ago and did a 3 day training for journalists. These was a group of 20 journalist representing print, television, radio and online, all were Editors and she spent that time in a workshop titled “News management” where she offered ideas and instructions on how to do their jobs in a more productive fashion.
They talked about leadership, about their roles as Editors and how to develop younger talents in the media, and, it was extremely productive and inspiring for those that took part in the program.
We have also done similar program in Abuja, we have gone out and done training outside Lagos especially in preparation for elections, We have done programs on fact checking as an example, we have also done media literacy program.
We consider media to be one of the core components of a free democratic society, therefore, we tend to professionalize and strengthen the media in order to achieve a more develop and democratic Nigeria..
CPAO Brooks, Thank you for talking to us.
It’s is my pleasure, you are indeed welcome; we appreciate your works and urge you not to relent on them for the continued promotions of national and global growth.
(Mr. Russell Brooks has since left the US Consulate-General, Lagos to a new posting and the Consulate now has a new CPAO Chief Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Stephen Ibelli who is active, affable and rapidly advancing growth efforts in Nigeria.