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Ghanaian President Nana  Akufo-Addo  has issued a press  release on the death of  George Floyd in America.  In a  Twitter/Facebook post, President Akufo-Addo wrote, "It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism."

President Nana Addo continues,  “We stand with our kith and kin in America in these difficult and trying times, and we hope that the unfortunate, tragic death of George Floyd will inspire a lasting change in how America confronts head on the problems of hate and racism.”

 

See below

 

Third Force Forum (3FF)-The Coalition of Former Presidential Candidates and Aspirants in Nigeria -  have issued a below Press Release that asked  Southerners in Muhammadu Buhari’s Cabinet to Resign.

Adversity Introduces a Nation to Itself


It is with profound sadness that we the undersigned, former Presidential Candidates and Aspirants, under the auspices of the “Third Force Forum”, arose from an emergency meeting, in the week ending April 10, 2020, to address the below matters to all Nigerians:

Pursuant to the federal government’s lopsided distribution of COVID-19 palliative “Cash Transfers” across Nigeria, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, with a distribution formula of 83% to Northern Nigeria (NE, NW, NC), and 17% to Southern Nigeria (SW, SE, SS), as reported by the “International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)”, we hereby ask that cabinet members from the Southern states, serving in the current Cabinet resign honorably, or immediately disassociate themselves from the incumbent government; or on the contrary clearly admit complicity, with a policy that betrays massive inequity to Southern Nigeria.

We make this statement not because we are against our ordinary Northern brothers and sisters.  We are aware that the North has in the past also produced fair-minded patriots, including General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; rather, we make this statement with a sober, but bold assessment of the inclinations of this current Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN).



Equal Productivity Should Provide for Equal Benefits


It is note-worthy that today, over 80% of both resource and tax-based revenues in Nigeria, are generated from the South, while over 80% of all sensitive political appointments are held by people from the Northwest & Northeast, thereby depriving the entire South the necessary input into critical policy decisions.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial arms of government, as well as the entire security apparatus, from the military, to customs, to maritime, and to the management of the State oil company (NNPC), have all been engineered into one corner, and are controlled by only persons from the North, to the detriment of a broad, diverse and inclusive policy framework.

The recent COVID-19 palliative formula response is proof-positive, and it essentially shows that the government has brazenly portrayed, that even under this adversity, that one half of Nigeria essentially works for, or is totally subjugated to the other half of Nigeria, even in the midst of a severe public health adversity.



He Who Holds a Man Down Stays Down 

Many aspiring leaders of Nigeria, including many in this forum of recent presidential hopefuls, have given the current administration a fair-shake, and a benefit of the doubt, since 2015.  Some even supported President Buhari in his initial quest for the presidency.  However, what we will not do is to stay silent in the midst of profound and obvious governmental discrimination.

This current government under President Buhari cannot hold one region down, so that another region may arise, because “he who holds a man down stays down”. Therefore, the net effect of policies like these is that all of us will stay down, because one cannot rob Peter to pay Paul.

Show Us That an Elected President is In Charge
We will not excuse this matter on the grounds that perhaps, President Buhari is not aware of the formula for the distribution of the COVID-19 Cash Transfer scheme.  For some time now, Nigerians have shared innuendoes that the kitchen cabinet of Aso Rock comprises of 3, or 4, or 5 “Unelected Officials”; and these people decide what happens in the entire country.

Therefore, with all due respects to the current government, let the record reflect that the 3, or, 4, or 5 persons that Nigerians believe make and execute policy, were not elected by the Nigerian people.  President Muhammadu Buhari is the elected official that we hold accountable, and the buck stops with the President.
Again, we do not hold grudges against our brothers and sisters that reside in the northern part of this Republic, however, as the great Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King once opined, “it is not where people stand in moments of comfort that matter, rather it is where people stand in times of controversy and strife”.

Therefore, as future leaders of Nigeria, we have chosen to stand with all the people of Nigeria, including the North and the South, to ask that the “Cash Transfer” palliative for COVID-19, a Public Health adversity, be properly distributed to affected states across the entire country, including in the current epicenter of Lagos, and not just as a freebie across Northern Nigeria.  On the contrary, let the cabinet members from the South resign immediately, to show that they are not complicit in this misguided matter.

Transferring all the resources accruing from one region of the country, to another region, will not make the transferee wealthy; rather, it will only make the transferee more dependent.
In conclusion, we hereby call for Southern members of the cabinet to resign, as a protest to the prevailing inequity and injustice.
We wash our hands off any calamity that may befall Nigeria, due to a callous disregard for equity and injustice, in the distribution of the common-wealth of this country, from one region to another region.  The government should also seize this opportunity to address another looming injustice, in the form of the exclusion of Southeastern Nigeria from the proposed World Bank loan, which is being negotiated for parliamentary approval in Nigeria at this time.



Final Notable Points:

There is poverty in every corner of Nigeria, from Sokoto to Anambra; from Akwa Ibom to Bornu; from Lagos to Kano; and from Rivers to Bauchi.  Any pretension that poverty does not exist all across Nigeria is to pander to mischief.  The COVID-19 “Cash Transfer” must be distributed equitably to other regions.

Productivity breeds wealth, it is the responsibility of the 19 Northern Governors to pursue models of society empowerment, whether from Southern Nigeria or elsewhere.  This is not the time to transfer the productive resource of one region to another.  Effecting majority of this cash transfer to Northern Nigeria alone, at the expense of other states, will breed animosity that will be extremely difficult to overcome in the future. The private donors who contributed to the FG COVID-19 Fund did not mean for these funds to be distributed to the North alone, if they did, they would have stated it clearly during their donation.


Signed:
Hon. Okey Samuel Mbonu
Dr. O. Favour Ayodele
Hon. Clement Jimbo
Hon. Evelyn Okere
On behalf of the Third Force Forum       Contact: Charles Adeyinka Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Finance Minister in Nigeria, World Bank personality and  acclaimed global financial guru has been appointed Head of Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) by the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa  

The Council comprises of local and international economic thought leaders bringing together prominent economists and technical experts drawn from academia, private sector, labour, community, think tanks and other constituencies.

 

South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa

 

Nigeria’s Senate approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to borrow $22.7 billion from external creditors to finance infrastructure projects.


Lawmakers gave their endorsement to the government during Thursday’s proceedings in the capital, Abuja, to seek the funding expected from the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and creditors in China, Japan and Germany. “The loans will have a positive influence on the GDP of this country,” Senate President Ahmed Lawan said.


The government will use the money to expand the railways, build a new hydro power dam and fund special intervention projects across the West African nation, according to a letter sent to the parliament in November.



While Nigeria’s outstanding loans amount to about about a quarter of its economic output, Africa’s largest oil producer spends more than half of its revenue servicing debts. The International Monetary Fund has warned that without major revenue reforms, the debts could rise to almost 36% of GDP by 2024, with interest payments taking as much as 75% of government revenue.


"Nigeria’s public debt stands at N26.2trn as Buhari govt moves to borrow N10.8trn"

 

Premium New stated : "About 70 per cent (that is, $17,065,496,773) of the new $22.7 billion loan bid will be coming from China’s EXIM Bank, Nigeria’s biggest bilateral lender in nearly two decades. Apart from China, the other lending agencies are the World Bank, $2,854,000,000; Afrivan Development Bank (ADB), $1,888,950,000; Islamic Development Bank (IDB), $110,000,000; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JlCA), $200,000,000; German Development Bank (KFW) – $200,000,000; China Exim Bank, $17.065.496.773; and the French Development Agency (AFD), $480,000,000. Already, since 2002, Nigeria had borrowed $6.5 billion from China to fund various infrastructural project."

 

 

Credit: Anthony Osae-Brown Bloomberg

Nigeria's Health Minister Osagie Ehanire  announced in an official  statement  that the coronavirus infection has been confirmed in the 20 million metropolitan city of  Lagos. The infected carrier was an Italian citizen who flew in from Milan, at the heart of Europe's largest outbreak, earlier this week. According  to the Health Minister, "The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,"  and he was being treated at a Yaba Teaching hospital for infectious diseases in Lagos.



"The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, has puzzled health specialists. Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent -- in Egypt and Algeria. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 190 million people, is viewed as highly vulnerable to viral spread given its weak health system and high population density."


Below is full statement by Health Minister of Nigeria, Dr. Osagie Ehanire :



FIRST CASE OF CORONA VIRUS DISEASE CONFIRMED IN LAGOS


The Federal Ministry of Health has confirmed a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State, Nigeria. The case, which was confirmed on the 27th of February 2020, is the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January 2020.


The case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.



The Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health has been strengthening measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly. The multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has immediately activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and will work closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.



I wish to assure all Nigerians that have we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China, and we will use all the resources made available by the government to respond to this case.


We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he entered Nigeria. Please be reminded that most people who become infected may experience only mild illness and recover easily, but it can be more severe in others, particularly the elderly and persons with other underlying chronic illnesses. All Nigerians should take care of their health and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene to protect themselves and others, including their own families, following the precautions below:


1. Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.



2. Maintain at least 1 & half metres (5 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.



3. Persons with persistent cough or sneezing should stay home or keep a social distance, but not mix in crowd.



4. Make sure you and people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene, meaning cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into your sleeve at the bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.



5. Stay home if you feel unwell with symptoms like fever, cough and difficulty in breathing. Please call NCDC toll free number which is available day and night, for guidance- 0800-970000-10. Do not engage in self-medication




6. Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19 through official channels on TV and Radio, including the Lagos State Ministry of Health, NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health.



Citizens must not abuse social media and indulge in spreading misinformation that causes fear and panic. The Federal Ministry of Health, through Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, will continue to provide updates and will initiate all measures required to prevent the spread of any outbreak in Nigeria.


Dr Osagie Ehanire
Hon. Minister of Health



After long absence from Africa,  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to 3 African Countries - Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia on diplomatic mission.  The journey to these African countries will be essentially a mission on combating terrorism, bridge building and trade.



With China, Russia and Europeans  encroaching strongly on  commercial and diplomatic landscape of Africa, it becomes imperative for America to revitalize its standing and dominance on trade with Africa.


"Pompeo is visiting Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia as the Trump administration tries to counter the growing interest of China, Russia and other global powers in Africa and its booming young population of more than 1.2 billion.  His visit comes as the U.S. military considers reducing its presence in West Africa's Sahel region while extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group expand their reach, killings hundreds of civilians. Pompeo last year said the Sahel should be the next focus of the global coalition against IS outside the group's core region."


NOT VISITING NIGERIA



Nigeria is among six countries affected by the new visa restrictions placed by Trump administration  and  the others  including  Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania. The new travel ban policy, which takes effect Feb. 21 has brought some pitfalls with  Washington diplomatic relation with the most populous and richest country in Africa - Nigeria.



Nigeria foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama  and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  Nigeria's Onyema and US Pompeo in Washington DC



Meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo , the Nigerian foreign minister Onyeama said, “We have identified all those requirements, we had actually started working on all of them. We hope to have that up and running very soon and no longer running through third parties. Hopefully once that has been achieved we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”



Associate Press reported: "The U.S. travel restrictions come at a time of growing insecurity in Nigeria. The country's military is still battling a decade-long insurgency by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in the northeast, and also now confronts a breakaway faction that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group."



"Also raising concerns is the Trump administration's announcement last month that it will no longer be issuing immigrant visas to citizens of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with an estimated 200 million people and a large, often high-achieving diaspora. New visa restrictions also were imposed on Eritrea, Tanzania and Sudan."



"The U.S. military this month holds its annual Flintlock exercises in Senegal and neighboring Mauritania to help train regional armies to counter extremism.  There are signs, though, that U.S. military interest could be waning. Late last year the U.S. switched to a strategy of merely trying to contain extremist groups in the Sahel instead of weakening them, according to a new report by the Pentagon inspector general.  Meanwhile the U.S. has begun replacing some combat troops in Africa with military trainers. Worried French officials have lobbied the U.S. not to reduce its presence in the Sahel, where France's largest overseas military operation leads the fight against extremists and is adding hundreds of troops."


Africa and US have been in cordial relationship since the inception of democratic rule  in most of the African countries. But since the rise of China with its massive investments in Africa, America appears to be taking back seat. But Washington is giving a signal that she is ready to come back to Africa especially on investment and trade. This is the right time for US to speed up  its presence in the continent . Britain after  decamping from European Union is showing much interest in Africa especially in  Nigeria, therefore it is necessary for  America to be leading from the front.  The time for America to regain its foothold in Africa with its cultural and commercial safety net is now.

AFRIPOL

The exodus of Nigerian immigrants to Canada is showing no signs of slowing down. For the fifth year in a row, more Nigerians emigrated to Canada than the year before as data published by the Canadian government shows the number of Nigerians issued permanent resident permits has tripled since 2015. It's a growth rate that outstrips some of Canada's biggest sources of immigrants over the last five years, including India, China and Philippines. The rise in Nigerian immigrants heading to Canada reflects  the North American country’s push to expand its labor force and lower the average age of its workers as its population advances in years. In 2019, Canada welcomed 341,000 immigrants in total (about 10,000 more it targeted) as part of its immigration policy to attract skilled workers.



For middle-class Nigerians increasingly looking to emigrate, Canada holds appeal for several reasons. Its ongoing drive to increase skill-based immigration offers a legal and long-term path not just to residency permits but also citizenship. It’s a prospect that’s alluring given Nigeria’s ongoing economic and insecurity travails, with the political class not appearing any closer to providing the kind of leadership required to turn around the country’s fortunes. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty. And, given precariously low human capital spending on education and healthcare, it’s a reality that will endure for, at least, a generation.

 

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE

World Bank in the study of poverty in Nigeria have produced a report which  documented  that Northern Nigeria accounts for  87 percent of all poor in the country and South 12 percent.  The detailed, researched and analyzed report was titled ‘Advancing social protection in a dynamic Nigeria’ was released in first quarter of 2020.



According to the report, "Nigeria experiences high inequality along geographic lines, with poverty mostly concentrated in the North and in rural areas. Poverty in the northern regions of the country has been increasing , especially in the North-West zone. Almost half of all poor lived in the North-West and the north accounts for 87 percent of all poor in the country in 2016. Poverty rates in the southern zones were around 12 percent with little variation across zones. The South-South zone saw the most significant drop in poverty from 2011-2016. Poverty was significantly higher in rural areas of the country in 2016. An estimated 64 percent of all poor lived in rural areas and 52  percent of the rural population lived below the poverty line in 2016. In contrast, the poverty rate in urban areas remained stable at 16 percent between 2011 and 2016."


The report in the detailed analysis drew a wide scope of poverty with its  causative tendencies and ramification grounded on "lack of basic infrastructure, poor social service delivery outcomes, weak resilience in the agriculture sector, stagnating productivity in the farm and non-farm sectors, mismatches between youth aspirations and employment opportunities available in the economy, poor education and health services utilization, weak governance, climate change, and conflict have contributed significantly to the poverty situation in the country. Both location and the demographic structure of the household also play a significant role in defining a person’s poverty status. The risk of being poor is higher in the north irrespective of individual or household characteristics, perhaps indicative of fewer economic opportunities. Individuals with higher education have significantly lower chances of being poor, which reflects higher household incomes."

 

Image result for Source: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (2017)


It further illustrates  that "Persons living in households with more children and elderly persons are also more likely to be poor because the earnings of the few working-age adults are needed to support the many dependents. Recent literature also suggests that female headed households have a higher likelihood of being poor in Nigeria. Empirical evidence from the correlates of transient poverty shows that farming household head with secondary and tertiary education, access to credit, and larger farm size decreased transitory poverty. On the other hand, larger household size and dependency ratio, and exposure to flood and pest infestation increased transitory poverty. Analysis of the new NLSS (to be available in October 2019) will provide opportunities for more precise and contemporary assessment of determinants of poverty and vulnerability in Nigeria. "


"Nigeria suffers from very poor human capital outcomes, particularly among the poor. Data from the Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures the amount of human capital a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18, shows that a child born in Nigeria today can expect to be only 34 percent as productive when she grows up compared to if she enjoyed complete education and full health. Nigeria’s HCI is lower than the average for its region and income group, and lower than what would be predicted for its income level. Nigeria’s poor human capital outcomes dim the prospects of sustained growth and poverty reduction in the country, with some studies suggesting that between 10 and 30 percent of per capita income differences between countries can be attributed to human capital."

Wednesday, 05 February 2020 21:06

BIAFRA: Documentary marking 50 years

Documentary marking 50 years since Nigerian-Biafran War launches in London

 

Dr Louisa Egbunike’s documentary weaves together an engaging narrative of reflections from authors touched by one of the most devastating conflicts of the 1960s, one that still casts its shadow on Nigerians around the world


On Saturday 25th January 2020, a sold-out Curzon Bloomsbury cinema played host to the launch of In The Shadow of Biafra, a documentary reflecting on 50 years since the end of the Nigerian-Biafran War.


Produced by Dr Louisa Egbunike from City, University of London’s Department of English, and directed by filmmaker and University of Sussex PhD student Nathan Richards, the film juxtaposes a variety of reflections by creative writers – both those who lived through the war, and those who have been touched by its impact on their families both before and since they were born......

. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE

FEBRUARY 5, 2020

 

President Trump’s remarks during his third State of the Union address can be found below—

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States — (applause) — and my fellow Americans:

 

We meet tonight at a moment of unlimited potential.  As we begin a new Congress, I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans.

 

Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one nation.  (Applause.)

 

The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.  It’s the agenda of the American people.

 

Many of us have campaigned on the same core promises: to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs; to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern, and secure; and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.

 

There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage, together, to seize it.  (Applause.)  Victory is not winning for our party.  Victory is winning for our country.  (Applause.)

 

This year, America will recognize two important anniversaries that show us the majesty of America’s mission and the power of American pride.

 

In June, we mark 75 years since the start of what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Great Crusade” — the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II.  (Applause.)  On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea, to save our civilization from tyranny.  Here with us tonight are three of those incredible heroes: Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik.  (Applause.)  Please.  Gentlemen, we salute you.

 

In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon.  Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag: Buzz Aldrin.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Buzz.  This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets.  (Applause.)

 

In the 20th century, America saved freedom, transformed science, redefined the middle class, and, when you get down to it, there’s nothing anywhere in the world that can compete with America.  (Applause.)  Now we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure, and we must create a new standard of living for the 21st century.  An amazing quality of life for all of our citizens is within reach.

 

We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before.  (Applause.)

 

But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.  (Applause.)

 

Together, we can break decades of political stalemate.  We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future.  The decision is ours to make.

 

We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.

 

Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.  (Applause.)

 

Over the last two years, my administration has moved with urgency and historic speed to confront problems neglected by leaders of both parties over many decades.

 

In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before.  There’s been nothing like it.  We have created 5.3 million new jobs and, importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible to do.  But the fact is, we are just getting started.  (Applause.)

 

Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades and growing for blue-collar workers, who I promised to fight for.  They’re growing faster than anyone else thought possible.  Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.  (Applause.)  The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office.  And we are considered, far and away, the hottest economy anywhere in the world.  Not even close.  (Applause.)

 

Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in over half a century.  (Applause.)  African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.  (Applause.)  Unemployment for Americans with disabilities has also reached an all-time low.  (Applause.)  More people are working now than at any time in the history of our country — 157 million people at work.  (Applause.)

 

We passed a massive tax cut for working families and doubled the child tax credit.  (Applause.)

 

We virtually ended the estate tax — or death tax, as it is often called — on small businesses for ranchers and also for family farms.  (Applause.)

 

We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty.  (Applause.)  And to give critically ill patients access to lifesaving cures, we passed, very importantly, Right to Try.  (Applause.)

 

My administration has cut more regulations in a short period of time than any other administration during its entire tenure.  (Applause.)  Companies are coming back to our country in large numbers thanks to our historic reductions in taxes and regulations.  (Applause.)

 

And we have unleashed a revolution in American energy.  The United States is now the number-one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.  (Applause.)  And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.  (Applause.)

 

After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on Earth, by far, and America — (applause) — America is again winning each and every day.  (Applause.)

 

Members of Congress: The state of our union is strong.  (Applause.)

 

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  That sounds so good.  (Laughter.)

 

Our country is vibrant and our economy is thriving like never before.

 

On Friday, it was announced that we added another 304,000 jobs last month alone — almost double the number expected.  (Applause.)  An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.  (Applause.)

 

If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.  It just doesn’t work that way.

 

We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.  This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate.  In some cases, years and years waiting.  Not right.  (Applause.)  The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and very unfair to our country.

 

Now is the time for bipartisan action.  Believe it or not, we have already proven that that’s possible.

 

In the last Congress, both parties came together to pass unprecedented legislation to confront the opioid crisis, a sweeping new farm bill, historic VA reforms.  And after four decades of rejection, we passed VA Accountability so that we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans.  (Applause.)

 

And just weeks ago, both parties united for groundbreaking criminal justice reform.  They said it couldn’t be done.  (Applause.)

 

Last year, I heard, through friends, the story of Alice Johnson.  I was deeply moved.  In 1997, Alice was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time non-violent drug offender.  Over the next 22 years, she became a prison minister, inspiring others to choose a better path.  She had a big impact on that prison population, and far beyond.

 

Alice’s story underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing, and the need to remedy this total injustice.  She served almost that 22 years and had expected to be in prison for the remainder of her life.

 

In June, I commuted Alice’s sentence.  When I saw Alice’s beautiful family greet her at the prison gates, hugging and kissing and crying and laughing, I knew I did something right.  Alice is with us tonight, and she is a terrific woman.  Terrific.  Alice, please.  (Applause.)

 

Alice, thank you for reminding us that we always have the power to shape our own destiny.  Thank you very much, Alice.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

 

Inspired by stories like Alice’s, my administration worked closely with members of both parties to sign the FIRST STEP Act into law.  Big deal.  (Applause.)  It’s a big deal.

 

This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African American community.  The FIRST STEP Act gives non-violent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.  Now states across the country are following our lead.  America is a nation that believes in redemption.

 

We are also joined tonight by Matthew Charles from Tennessee.  In 1996, at the age of 30, Matthew was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and related offenses.  Over the next two decades, he completed more than 30 Bible studies, became a law clerk, and mentored many of his fellow inmates.

 

Now, Matthew is the very first person to be released from prison under the FIRST STEP Act.  (Applause.)  Matthew, please.  Thank you, Matthew.  Welcome home.  (Applause.)

 

Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis.  Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border.

 

Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.  (Applause.)

 

As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.  We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.  I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught.

 

This is a moral issue.  The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial wellbeing of all America.  We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.  This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today who followed the rules and respected our laws.  Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways.  (Applause.)

 

I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.  (Applause.)

 

Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.

 

No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.  Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls, and gates, and guards.  (Applause.)

 

Meanwhile, working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration: reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.  Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate; it is actually very cruel.  (Applause.)

 

One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north.  Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country.  Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.

 

Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.

 

The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in at least 20 different American states, and they almost all come through our southern border.  Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City.  We are removing these gang members by the thousands.  But until we secure our border, they’re going to keep streaming right back in.

 

Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.  I’ve gotten to know many wonderful Angel moms and dads, and families.  No one should ever have to suffer the horrible heartache that they have had to endure.

 

Here tonight is Debra Bissell.  Just three weeks ago, Debra’s parents, Gerald and Sharon, were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada home by an illegal alien.  They were in their eighties, and are survived by 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.  Also here tonight are Gerald and Sharon’s granddaughter Heather, and great-granddaughter Madison.

 

To Debra, Heather, Madison, please stand.  Few can understand your pain.  Thank you.  And thank you for being here.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

 

I will never forget, and I will fight for the memory of Gerald and Sharon that it should never happen again.  Not one more American life should be lost because our nation failed to control its very dangerous border.

 

In the last two years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings or murders.

 

We are joined tonight by one of those law enforcement heroes: ICE Special Agent Elvin Hernandez.  When Elvin — (applause) — thank you.

 

When Elvin was a boy, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic.  At the age of eight, Elvin told his dad he wanted to become a Special Agent.  Today, he leads investigations into the scourge of international sex trafficking.

 

Elvin says that, “If I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I’ve [really] done my job.”  Thanks to his work, and that of his incredible colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from the horror of this terrible situation, and more than 1,500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Elvin.

 

We will always support the brave men and women of law enforcement, and I pledge to you tonight that I will never abolish our heroes from ICE.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

 

My administration has sent to Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on the southern border.  It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.

 

In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built.  I will get it built.  (Applause.)

 

This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.  It will be deployed in the areas identified by the border agents as having the greatest need.  And these agents will tell you: Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down.  (Applause.)

 

San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country.  In response, a strong security wall was put in place.  This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.

 

The border city of El Paso, Texas used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities.  Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country.  Simply put: Walls work, and walls save lives.  (Applause.)

 

So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.

 

As we work to defend our people’s safety, we must also ensure our economic resurgence continues at a rapid pace.  No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year.  (Applause.)

 

You weren’t supposed to do that.  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.

 

All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.  (Applause.)

 

Don’t sit yet.  You’re going to like this.  (Laughter.)

 

And exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before.  (Applause.)

 

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s great.  Really great.  And congratulations.  That’s great.

 

As part of our commitment to improving opportunity for women everywhere, this Thursday we are launching the first-ever government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.

 

To build on — (applause) — thank you.  To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies.  So bad.

 

We are now making it clear to China that, after years of targeting our industries and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.  (Applause.)  Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, and now our Treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars.

 

But I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us; I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen.  I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China.  But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

 

Another historic trade blunder was the catastrophe known as NAFTA.  I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by the signing of NAFTA.  For years, politicians promised them they would renegotiate for a better deal, but no one ever tried, until now.

 

Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the USMCA, will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers like they haven’t had delivered to for a long time.  I hope you can pass the USMCA into law so that we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with our four beautiful words: “Made in the USA.”  (Applause.)

 

Tonight, I am also asking you to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the exact same product that they sell to us.  (Applause.)

 

Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.  (Applause.)

 

I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.  This is not an option.  This is a necessity.

 

The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, and to protect patients with preexisting conditions.  (Applause.)

 

Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018, drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.  (Applause.)

 

But we must do more.  It’s unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place.  This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it — and we’ll stop it fast.  (Applause.)

 

I am asking Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients, finally.  (Applause.)

 

We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs way down.  (Applause.)

 

No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom.  In recent years — (applause) — in recent years, we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS.  Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach.  My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.  We have made incredible strides.  Incredible.  (Applause.)  Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.  (Applause.)

 

Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind: the fight against childhood cancer.  (Applause.)

 

Joining Melania in the gallery this evening is a very brave 10-year-old girl, Grace Eline.  Every birthday — (applause) — hi, Grace.  (Laughter.)  Every birthday since she was four, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself.  That’s what happened.

 

Last year, Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately, she began radiation treatment.  At the same time, she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer.  (Applause.)  When Grace completed treatment last fall, her doctors and nurses cheered — they loved her; they still love her — with tears in their eyes as she hung up a poster that read: “Last day of chemo.”  (Applause.)  Thank you very much, Grace.  You are a great inspiration to everyone in this room.  Thank you very much.

 

Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades.  My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical lifesaving research.

 

To help support working parents, the time has come to pass School Choice for Americans’ children.  (Applause.)  I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.  (Applause.)

 

There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days.  Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.  These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.  And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.

 

To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.  (Applause.)

 

Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.  (Applause.)  And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.

 

The final part of my agenda is to protect American security.  Over the last two years, we have begun to fully rebuild the United States military, with $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year.

 

We are also getting other nations to pay their fair share.  (Applause.)  Finally.  Finally.  For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by friends of ours, members of NATO.  But now we have secured, over the last couple of years, more than $100 billion of increase in defense spending from our NATO Allies.  (Applause.)  They said it couldn’t be done.

 

As part of our military build-up, the United States is developing a state-of-the-art missile defense system.

 

Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests.

 

For example, decades ago, the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capability.  While we followed the agreement and the rules to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms.  It’s been going on for many years.  That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty.

 

Perhaps — (applause) — we really have no choice.  Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.  (Applause.)

 

As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula.  Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in more than 15 months.  If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.  (Applause.)

 

Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.  Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27th and 28th in Vietnam.  (Applause.)

 

Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela — (applause) — and its new President, Juan Guaidó.  (Applause.)

 

We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom, and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.  (Applause.)

 

Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.

 

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

 

THE PRESIDENT:  America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control.  (Applause.)  We are born free and we will stay free.  (Applause.)

 

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.  (Applause.)

 

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  One of the most complex set of challenges we face, and have for many years, is in the Middle East.  Our approach is based on principled realism, not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress.  For this reason, my administration recognized the true capital of Israel, and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem.  (Applause.)

 

Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives.  More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded.  We have spent more than $7 trillion in fighting wars in the Middle East.

 

As a candidate for President, I loudly pledged a new approach.  Great nations do not fight endless wars.  (Applause.)

 

When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria — just two years ago.  Today, we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.

 

Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.

 

I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach — if possible — a political settlement in Afghanistan.  The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating.  Our troops have fought with unmatched valor.  And thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict.  (Applause.)

 

In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.  As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop’s presence and focus on counterterrorism.  And we will indeed focus on counterterrorism.

 

We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement, but we do know that, after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.  And the other side would like to do the same thing.  It’s time.  (Applause.)

 

Above all, friend and foe alike must never doubt this nation’s power and will to defend our people.  Eighteen years ago, violent terrorists attacked the USS Cole.  And last month, American forces killed one of the leaders of that attack. (Applause.)

 

We are honored to be joined tonight by Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley, was one of the 17 sailors we tragically lost.  Tom, we vow to always remember the heroes of the USS Cole.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Tom.

 

My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran.  It is a radical regime.  They do bad, bad things.

 

To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.  (Applause.)

 

And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed by us on a country.

 

We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants “Death to America” and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.  (Applause.)  We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.  With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.

 

Just months ago, 11 Jewish-Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.  SWAT Officer Timothy Matson raced into the gunfire and was shot seven times chasing down the killer.  And he was very successful.  Timothy has just had his 12th surgery, and he is going in for many more.  But he made the trip to be here with us tonight.  Officer Matson, please.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  We are forever grateful.  Thank you very much.

 

Tonight, we are also joined by Pittsburgh survivor, Judah Samet.  He arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began.  But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall, more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps.  Today is Judah’s 81st birthday.  (Applause.)

 

AUDIENCE:  (Sings “Happy Birthday.”)  (Applause.)

 

MR. SAMET:  Thank you!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah.  (Laughter.)

 

Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train and told they were going to another camp.  Suddenly, the train screeched to a very strong halt.  A soldier appeared.  Judah’s family braced for the absolute worst.  Then, his father cried out with joy, “It’s the Americans!  It’s the Americans!”  (Applause.)  Thank you.

 

A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau.  He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks.  “To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.”  They came down from Heaven.

 

I began this evening by honoring three soldiers who fought on D-Day in the Second World War.  One of them was Herman Zeitchik.  But there is more to Herman’s story.  A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau.  (Applause.)  He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on Earth.

 

Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight, seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom.  Herman and Joshua, your presence this evening is very much appreciated.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

 

When American soldiers set out beneath the dark skies over the English Channel in the early hours of D-Day, 1944, they were just young men of 18 and 19, hurtling on fragile landing craft toward the most momentous battle in the history of war.

 

They did not know if they would survive the hour.  They did not know if they would grow old.  But they knew that America had to prevail.  Their cause was this nation and generations yet unborn.

 

Why did they do it?  They did it for America.  They did it for us.

 

Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress towards equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.

 

Think of this Capitol.  Think of this very Chamber, where lawmakers before you voted to end slavery, to build the railroads and the highways, and defeat fascism, to secure civil rights, and to face down evil empires.

 

Here tonight, we have legislators from across this magnificent republic.  You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii; from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona; from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California.  Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history.

 

What will we do with this moment?  How will we be remembered?

 

I ask the men and women of this Congress: Look at the opportunities before us.  Our most thrilling achievements are still ahead.  Our most exciting journeys still await.  Our biggest victories are still to come.  We have not yet begun to dream.

 

We must choose whether we are defined by our differences or whether we dare to transcend them.

 

We must choose whether we squander our great inheritance or whether we proudly declare that we are Americans.

 

We do the incredible.  We defy the impossible.  We conquer the unknown.

 

This is the time to reignite the American imagination.  This is the time to search for the tallest summit and set our sights on the brightest star.  This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.

 

This is our future, our fate, and our choice to make.  I am asking you to choose greatness.

 

No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together.

 

We must keep America first in our hearts.  We must keep freedom alive in our souls.  And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise, and the light and the glory, among all the nations of the world.

 

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless America.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

 

 

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