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US Backs Anti-Corruption NGOs and Others for Transforming Nigeria

In this photo released by the Nigeria State House, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks to Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, before their bilateral talks at the State House in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has praised NGOs working in Nigeria for their unwavering commitment to build communities, fight corruption and transform the country.

Kerry met with representatives of anti-corruption non-governmental organizations and a group of adolescent girls studying and working on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field at the United States embassy in Nigeria's capital Abuja Wednesday.

"I salute you for your courage," said Kerry. "I salute you for your vision and your commitment to trying to help to change things and we want to work with you.”

Anti-corruption groups in Nigeria have asked Kerry to help speed the return of billions of dollars looted from the country's treasury by local officials.

They believe the looted money is in banks or their offshore holdings by the United States and Britain, Switzerland and other European countries.

Kerry told the group that asset recovery is a lengthy, complicated process but the U.S. government has lawyers and accountants working on it.

Kerry also addressed key issues in the development of girls in Nigeria and the challenges they face in the daily life.

He said teaching valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership and innovative thinking are some of the keys to ensuring Nigeria attains its full potential as a country.

"The work you are engaged in couldn't have been more important. I know some of you are involved in technology, in computers, writing codes and doing different things but I want to hear from you today sort of how we can together work in order to empower everybody to be able to make their own choices," Kerry said. "We long ago learned in our country that you cannot build the community that works leaving half the people in the community on the sidelines. You can't live to your full potential as a nation unless you have you whole society engaged.”

Kerry said that United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed 100 million dollars in efforts to help people make their own choices.

In 2014, the U.S. froze nearly half a billion dollars of illicit funds from deceased military dictator Sani Abacha but it remains to be seen how and when the money will be repatriated.

President Muhammdu Buhari, who won 2015 elections on a promise to halt graft, has estimated that $150 billion has been stolen by government officials over the past decade.

Dozens of current and former officials have been detained since Buhari took office, but anti-corruption NGO officials say that court cases are being delayed by a corrupt justice system.