My Thoughts on Nigeria
29 Oct 2008: Chief Godswill Akpabio
Every anniversary calls for celebration and retrospection. First, you celebrate that God, in His infinite mercies, has kept you alive to mark the anniversary. This we did on Sunday, when we held a special interdenominational service to thank God for His bountiful mercies to us as a people. We also used that occasion to pray for our country, Nigeria. And today we hope to take a trip down the memory lane in order to evaluate our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and use these to set an agenda for the future.
From 1960, when we gained independence, Nigeria has come a long way, though on a rough patch of road. We survived a civil war and rose out of the ashes of that conflict into the economic boom of the early 1970's. We ploughed through the short-lived economic boom and got blasted by an "economic doom" in the 1980's. We have survived coups, upheavals, unspeakable tyranny, corruption, assassinations, election annulments, riots, emergencies etc. We have gone through so many perils that we can say with new meaning that "tough times never last, tough people do." We have outlived all our tough times.
Today, as we mark our 48th Anniversary as an independent nation, we definitely have a lot to thank God for. He has stood by us and led us through all our travails. Many failed states did not go through the pains we have endured, nor did they get hit by the winds of misfortune which we have weathered, and yet they collapsed like a pack of cards. I, therefore, have no doubt that for us to remain as one nation - indivisible, united and cohesive till date, it is God's will for our nation.
However, let us mark this anniversary with the knowledge that though we have come a long way and surmounted so many obstacles, we are still far from where we ought to be. Our ancestors did not fight for our independence so that we could run our country on tribal lines and institutionalized corruption. They had a dream of a land that would be born in freedom, brewed in unity and made the pride of not only Africa, but the entire black race. They knew and understood our diversity, but they believed that we would be able to take our diverse ethnic fabrics and knit a beautiful, multicultural quilt out of our rich diversity.
But today, we have betrayed their hope. It would be escapist to blame past administrations alone for our failures; the truth, we must admit, is that we, as a people, have come short of the expectations of our fore-fathers. Forty eight years after that happy day in 1960, when the joy of our political independence broke like the day across our land, we are yet to gain economic independence. And we have not gained economic independence because when the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted, you had groundnut pyramids in the North, cocoa warehouses in the West and palm produce mills all over the East, but today all these have been consigned to the trash can of history. This is our undoing.
Forty-eight years after, we have abandoned these agricultural treasures to turn our dear country into an economy solely dependent on the crude oil found in the Niger Delta. The tragedy of this is that our fortunes are now determined by forces outside our borders and our control. This makes it difficult for sound economic planning.
Three years ago in 2005, Nigeria's per capita income was rated among the lowest in the world and well below the average for sub Saharan Africa. And yet this is a country that before the discovery of crude oil produced enough agricultural commodities to feed its population and maintain a healthy surplus for export. A country that was the world's largest exporter of groundnut, palm produce, cocoa and a host of other commercial crops. What went wrong?
The nation has left other areas of economic strength to focus only on oil. In the last forty eight years, oil companies have failed to form strategic partnerships with host communities which would have involved not only developmental ventures, but also healthy environmental practices. Because past administrations were more concerned with economic gains than citizenship rights, oil companies tended to ignore the just demands of the Niger Delta people for fair and equitable treatment. The problem escalated and as we celebrate this anniversary, the humdrum of Niger Delta militancy haunts all aspects of our nation's economy.
The administration of President Umaru Yar'Ardua has demonstrated the moral and political will to end the militancy in the Niger Delta and set us on the path of ethnic justice. It would be fatal for the militants in particular and Niger Deltans in general to look at this government from the perspective of the betrayal of hope by past administrations. Steps taken so far by Mr President, particularly the creation of a separate Ministry in charge of Niger Delta Affairs at the Federal Level give hope that the much expected development of the Niger Delta is in sight.
Let us use this celebration to appeal to all militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta to lay down their arms and give President Umaru Musa Yar'Arua a chance to develop our region.
Let the oil from our palm trees and palm kernel flow with greater vigour than the crude oil flows from our offshore platforms. Let us refocus on agriculture so that our nation can feed itself. Let us put Nigeria back to work. We must begin to put our children in a pole position to be key players in the technological race tomorrow. This calls for free, qualitative and compulsory education. In Akwa Ibom State this is already a reality and we believe that the dividends of this would be reaped in bountiful technological harvest in years ahead.
Nigeria must make the Nigerian the centre-piece of every policy. We are two years from our golden jubilee, and before we get to that all-important landmark as a nation we must design state-supported welfare systems and not continue to let the extended family care for their own in difficult times, and in old age. We have already decided in our state that our elder citizens, who are above 70 years, should have free medical care in all Government hospitals in Akwa Ibom State. In the same vein we have also extended free medical treatment to all prenatal cases to alleviate the sufferings of pregnant women.
And so my compatriots, in spite of all that we have been through, there is still hope for our dear country. Let us work together to make Nigeria the country of our dreams. We may not be able to bend Nigeria itself, but if all of us work to change our portion of it, a new Nigeria will emerge. For if at your little corner you can render honest service and abhor corruption, if at work tomorrow you can resist the temptation to take bribe, if you can forsake personal ambition for the public good, if you can blend honesty, patriotism and fairness in your daily dealings, then the journey to a new and better Nigeria would have begun.
And so I say to all of us gathered here today, that though our destiny may lie beyond our vision, it is not completely beyond our control. Let us begin to control it with positive changes in this anniversary.
Happy Independence Day! God bless Nigeria.