Today marks 53 years of our Independence as a nation. First and foremost, I would like to say congratulations to us all. Through thick and thin, we have built this country together. Through triumphs and trials, we have developed a Nigerian identity in our own way. In truth, Nigeria is still a work in progress and we are challenged everyday to keep building in spite of the various obstacles that we face. Our strength has been in our diversity. If we look back over the years, we can say confidently that there is every reason to celebrate.
Today’s Independence anniversary is unique because it is the last before we mark our centenary. On January 1, 2014, Nigeria will be 100 years old as a country, following the amalgamation of the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914. Beloved country men and women, traditionally, the Presidential address on this symbolic day has served two purposes. It has, quite rightly, been used to remind all Nigerians about our heritage. It has also allowed my predecessors and I to comment on our stewardship to the nation and make political capital out of a state occasion.
But this year, I will not. Because, today of all days, we should not be scoring political points. On the contrary, in this last year of the first century of our Union, we should be addressing our future as a Nation and a people! I admit that these may not be the best of times for our nation. Our people are divided in many ways – ethnically, religiously, politically, and materially. I cannot hide from this reality. I cannot hide from my own responsibilities.
As we prepare to mark the centenary, therefore, today offers us an opportunity to reflect on our long journey to nationhood and the progress we have made so far. Whatever the challenges that we may face, we have every reason to be proud of our national accomplishments; we have every reason to remain proud and optimistic. Our collective national journey has witnessed great watersheds, thanks to our spirit of endurance, perseverance and sacrifice. Getting the rest of the job done with determination and courage is just a matter of time. We are Nigerians, a nation of talented people, endowed with resources, potentials, and Divine Grace.
In our journey to greatness as a nation, we have built an economy that is robust and erected enduring infrastructure and institutions of democracy. Our social system is now more inclusive, open and compassionate. We are waging a steady battle against poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Our sense of community, solidarity and shared expectation is strong and capable of withstanding the present social, economic and political challenges that still confront us.
In saying this, I am reminded of the comments I made a week ago to a cross-section of Nigerians in New York during the 68th United Nations General Assembly. I declare now as I declared then: we have a duty as Nigerians, whatever may be our differences or prejudices, to always put Nigeria first.
Our politics should be an art of patriotic labour and selfless service to the community, particularly by the political elite who are placed in positions of great trust and responsibility. Politics has its own high moral principles which abhor distracting and divisive rhetoric. As men and women in leadership, we must continually focus on service, duty, responsibility, and the next generation. Those who are elected to govern at all levels must focus on improving the lives of our people, not selfish ambition.
In the words of the American theologian and author, James Freeman Clarke, ‘a politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation’. Whether we are Muslims or Christians; rich or poor; from the North or the South; East or West; regardless of our political affiliations, this is the time for every one of us to be a statesman! My clarion call, therefore, on this special day, is that we should begin to align our political utterances and conduct solely to the nobler passions that unite our people. Politicians do not make a nation; ordinary folks do. Our nation is made great by the big and small efforts of regular citizens.
These are the teachers and men and women in academics who inculcate the knowledge and wisdom that transform into tomorrow’s wealth; the traders and market women who tend to our everyday needs; the farmers whose labour feeds the nation; the artisans whose work ensures that our homesteads are well maintained; the doctors, pharmacists, nurses, accountants, bankers, engineers, and other professionals who add value to our lives; the sportsmen and women and those in the creative industry who bring honour and fame to our nation;
And the men and women of our armed forces and security services who toil day and night so that you and I may live in a safe and secure nation.
It is the individual and collective heroism of these regular folks that has placed our nation on the path of greatness. Politics and politicians sometimes distract the people and create unnecessary tension. But our independence celebration is about the same people, the people of Nigeria: their industry, sense of mission and purpose, and their patience and perseverance as we navigate historical turns in our march towards prosperity and self-sufficiency. Today, I salute the people of Nigeria.
My Compatriots, history has proven that nations take time to evolve. We should rejoice in our democracy because it enables us to be united by our differences, not destroyed by them. And, there is no more crucial time for us to be united than now. The threats we face may be real and immediate. But we are not alone in this regard. It is a difficult season for much of the world: industrialized or developing; rich or poor. What matters are the lessons we learn, the wisdom we demonstrate, and the victory we snatch from the jaws of likely defeat.
And I tell you, more than anything else, there are lessons to learn, and every cause to be thankful. If I must cite one example, take Syria. As we all pray and work for a return to normalcy in Syria, it would be helpful for us to reflect on the fact that Syria was once a peaceful, thriving, multi-cultural nation which played host to a mosaic of religions and ethnicities. But that once idyllic nation has today become a theatre of human misery of unimaginable proportions as a result of the activities of extremist forces.
Fellow Nigerians, the spectre of extremism haunts every democracy in every corner of the globe. While we celebrate our independence and good fortune, our hearts must grieve for those who have lost loved ones in numerous terrorist activities around the world.
Back home, I admit being overtaken by deep feelings of grief, whenever news reached me of the appalling atrocities in some of our States, especially the North Eastern part of our country. Just two days ago, terrorist elements attacked the College of Agriculture in Gujba, YobeState killing a number of innocent students of the institution and other residents in cold blood, most of them in their sleep. This act of barbarism is a demonstration of the extent to which evil forces will go to destabilize our nation. But I assure you, they will not succeed.
My heart goes out to the families of all those who have fallen victim of these dastardly acts. Our Administration will not rest until every Nigerian is free from the oppression of terrorism. I reassure you that no cost will be spared, no idea will be ignored, and no resource will be left untapped in the quest to enable our people live without fear.
On this day, I implore every Nigerian – wherever you are, whatever language you speak, whatever your religious persuasion, whichever Political Party you support -: let us join together to fight this evil of extremism.
On behalf of us all, I commend our Armed Forces and security agencies for their dedication and bravery in the face of grave danger, and in the name of our collective liberty.
Fellow Nigerians, this is a time to pull together behind the national cause: the cause of our freedom, and our future. We must rekindle the spirit of Nigeria, to ensure that every democrat and every lover of peace in this great nation continues to live in a free, peaceful, and secure Nigeria.
On my part, I re-dedicate myself completely to the service of this great country. I was elected President to continue the process of building a prosperous nation where hopes, dreams and aspirations would be fulfilled. Nigerians, home and abroad, want a country they can be proud to call their own. I am pleased to affirm that, no matter the challenges we face, we are on the right path to greatness. Our Transformation Agenda, which is part of the overall vision of making Nigeria a land of greatness, has been delivering positive and encouraging results.
On May 29th this year, I presented to the nation a mid-term report of my Administration’s Transformation Agenda. This was conceived as an integrated policy aimed at reconstructing not only institutional governance for effective and efficient service delivery, but also a re-orientation of national norms and values. The document captured the essence of our agenda in relation to core objectives and achievements.
I have been consistently mindful of the weight of public expectation to find solutions to the challenges that confront us because the mandate we have is a free and sacred one. In all that I have done, I have been guided by this sacred obligation, to work hard for the good of Nigeria and to make life better for Nigerians. I want to assure everyone that Nigeria, under my leadership, will not fail.
Exactly 53 years ago today, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa urged us to ‘move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage’. I am sure that there have been times when every one of us must have questioned how closely we have followed that injunction.
But again, I can reassure you that Nigeria’s place on the world stage today is strong and safe, and it is certainly a place of dignity and respect. We must continue to build on this by remaining a nation and a people committed to ideals, the noblest humanitarian values, and the rule of law.
Our Constitution is anchored ultimately on the idea of freedom and fundamental rights: freedom of expression; freedom from discrimination; freedom to vote and be voted for, and the right to human dignity. These are the core values of a true democracy. These are the values of which we must never lose sight.33.
Crucial role of democratisation
In my address to the UN General Assembly last week, I emphasized the crucial role of democratization in improving the fortunes not just of this country, but of our entire continent. Democratic values encourage diversity. They encourage discourse. They encourage disagreement. This is the joy of democracy. It enables us to have an opinion. And ultimately, the ballot box gives us all the opportunity to instigate change. When democracy works, it does not destroy a nation. It unites and defines it.
Fellow Nigerians, our Administration has taken cognizance of suggestions over the years by well-meaning Nigerians on the need for a National Dialogue on the future of our beloved country. I am an advocate of dialogue. When there are issues that stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss.
In demonstration of my avowed belief in the positive power of dialogue in charting the way forward, I have decided to set up an Advisory Committee whose mandate is to establish the modalities for a National Dialogue or Conference. The Committee will also design a framework and come up with recommendations as to the form, structure and mechanism of the process. The Committee will be chaired by Dr. Femi Okurounmu while Dr. Akilu Indabawa will serve as the Secretary. The full membership of the Committee will be announced shortly.
I expect the Report to be ready in one month, following which the nation will be briefed on the nomenclature, structure and modalities of the Dialogue.
Progress since independence
Fellow Nigerians, the past 53 years have seen Nigeria evolve on an epic scale. Our progress since independence has not always been smooth. This is, after all, our FourthRepublic; but despite all its flaws, it has lasted longer than all the previous three put together. That is progress and it proves that, our differences – real and imagined – notwithstanding, we are, in every sense, a united nation.
This is no time for the harmful clutches of parochial sentiments and the politics of bitterness, impunity, arrogance and unhelpful indiscipline. We must stand as one, with absolute commitment and resolve to resist any force that threatens us and the sanctity of our union.
I want to thank all our country men and women who have stood by this Administration in the midst of mounting challenges and enormous expectations. I recognize that it is not easy to keep believing in the possibilities of our greatness when our faith is constantly challenged. But let me assure you that, if we do not despair, we shall reap the reward of our labour in due season.
It is my prayer that, another 53 years from now, our children and grand-children will look back on our effort and be thankful that we kept the faith. May God continue to bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wish you all a very happy 53rd Independence Celebration. I thank you.