U.S. AFRICOM's Civilian Deputy Attends Education-Themed Events in Nigeria
U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs
Holmes was a guest lecturer at Nigeria's National Defence College in Abuja January 26 speaking on U.S.-Africa relations, and traveled to the northern city of Kano the following day to represent the command at a school commissioning there. The school, which is unique in that it caters to deaf and blind students, recently underwent a renovation that was funded by U.S. Africa Command through its Humanitarian Assistance program.
At the National Defence College, Holmes spoke before an audience of nearly 200, explaining the mission and work of U.S. Africa Command and taking questions. The college is Nigeria's highest military institution for training senior military officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces and serves as a Center of Excellence for peace support operations training in West Africa. The audience Holmes addressed was comprised of military officers from 13 African countries who are students at the college, representatives from the Ministry of Defence, leadership of the Nigerian Armed Forces, defense officials from European countries, and representatives from civic and nongovernmental organizations.
The school's commandant Rear Admiral T.J. Lokoson was pleased at the reception of Holmes' lecture, noting that the college had invited a diverse group "because of the importance of the topic." He said he appreciated that Holmes got "straight to the point" and "addressed the issues," and he looks forward to working with Africa Command to identify other guest lecturers from the U.S. military.
During his lecture, Holmes quickly addressed the location of U.S. Africa Command's headquarters, which is typically a subject of great interest in Africa. He assured the audience that the command's headquarters is in Germany for the foreseeable future and that at this time the command has no plans to relocate from Stuttgart.
Holmes commended the Nigerian military for its outstanding leadership and peacekeeping efforts around the world. Nigeria is the fourth largest contributor to peacekeeping operations worldwide and the largest African contributor. Nigeria is currently supporting nine UN peacekeeping missions. Holmes also highlighted the command's strong relationship with the Nigerian Navy and said the command hopes to see its partnership with the Nigerian military expand and develop in other areas.
"The one thing I would like you to keep in your mind as you leave and think about in your next assignment is 'How can the U.S. military help us,'" Holmes said. "And then, let us know. We're interested. … We'd like to have a mature dialogue that talks about our mutual interests, your needs, and what our strengths and availabilities are. And I think we can get a lot more out of this relationship -- at very little cost or trade off and I think it is in both our nation's interests to do that."
The following day, Holmes flew to Kano in northern Nigeria to attend a commissioning ceremony for the Tudun Maliki Special Education School. An $84,000 renovation and new construction project was carried out at the school by a U.S. Africa Command Humanitarian Assistance team in partnership with the U.S. Mission in Nigeria and local Kano education authorities. The school is of particular importance in the State of Kano because it is the only school in the state of more than 9 million that provides instruction for special needs students who are blind, deaf or mute.
During the school dedication, attended by students of the school and local officials, Holmes said of U.S. Africa Command, "Our primary mission is to work with African governments and African militaries to develop the capacity to provide security by Africans, in Africa, for the benefit of the citizens of African countries. When I say the word security I give it a very broad definition. … Education is not a primary function of a U.S. military command or indeed any military, but in our approach to providing security in Africa we have adopted a broad spectrum that includes development and diplomacy."
Holmes also spoke about how important it is "to provide educational opportunities for intelligent young men and women" who are disabled and that their disabilities can make "it more difficult, but not in any way impossible to provide them educational opportunities and employment opportunities. We are proud to be able to make a small contribution to the State of Kano and the nation of Nigeria. … The U.S. Africa Command, in pursuit of American interests in security in Africa, believes that the economic and social development of Nigeria, [and its] youth, are critical to this shared objective."
Kano State's Commissioner for Education Alhaji Musa Salihu also commented on the value of security during his remarks. "Education is probably the best complement towards security," Salihu said. "I'm happy that it is you [speaking of Holmes] coming here today, and not because you are talking of security in terms of guns and ammunitions, but because you are talking about security in terms of improving the wellbeing of the people through education."
Dr. Sandy Oleksy-Ojikutu, the education team lead for the U.S. Agency for International Development Mission in Nigeria, discussed the project's significance during Holmes' visit to the USAID offices in Abuja on January 28, 2011.
Oleksy-Ojikutu said that parents who send their disabled children to school in Nigeria are "heroes," explaining that many families choose to keep their children at home instead of sending them to school because having children with disabilities can be viewed as something shameful.
"There is very little done for the handicapped in Nigeria," Oleksy-Ojikutu explained. "The project in Kano shows that it is valuable to educate the handicapped and sends a clear message that investing in them is worthwhile."
Rounding out Ambassador Holmes' visit to Nigeria were meetings with the Minister of Defence Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, the U.S. Embassy country team, and leadership from the Economic Community of West African States. In these meetings he discussed the American-Nigerian military relationship, common security goals in Africa, and future priorities.
Senior leaders from U.S. Africa Command regularly travel to Africa to meet face-to-face with government and military leaders, along with other organizations, to hear from them directly about their security issues and concerns.
View complete transcript from Nigeria National Defence College: http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=5900&lang=0.