1. Fellow Abians, dear compatriots, I bring you warm greetings this day as we mark, our 63rd Independence anniversary. I thank God Almighty for sparing our lives and preserving the nation over the last 63 years despite several difficult moments and setbacks.
2. I wish to specially acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices and the important contributions of many unsung heroes and heroines of the Independence struggle in Nigeria, especially the labour movements, the trade unions and the ordinary people who insisted that our right to self-rule cannot be negotiated.
3. May I most importantly appreciate our founding fathers and pre-independence leaders who fought hard that we shall become one nation, despite differences in tongues and tribes.
4. As a people, we must continue to draw inspiration from the selfless leadership of the giants and titans whose vision and courage opened for Nigeria and much of Africa, new leadership vistas and platforms to rethink our place in the world as black people, living in the Mother Continent.
5. Leaders like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Michael Okpara, Mr Eyo Ita, Pa Michael Imoudu, Senator Joseph Tarka, Chief Margaret Ekpo, Chief Jaja Wachukwu, Mallam Aminu Kano and several other nationalists taught us great lessons in leadership, devotion to fatherland and courage in pursuit of what is right.
6. Today’s anniversary presents us with a new opportunity to reflect and ponder over a few very important issues that have direct bearing on our progress as a nation. The first subject of interest for me is the Nigerian citizenship and the demands of nation building.
7. Oftentimes we forget that a nation embodies more than just the philosophy of those in power but the dominant character and the shared appetite of the citizens. The men who fought gallantly for our independence and their compatriots at the time did not just aspire to be part of an empty geographical space, they were united in values that elevate, principles that inspire, and a genuine belief that our future is safer in the hands of our own people than with colonial authorities.
8. There is no disputing the fact that somewhere along the line, things began to fall apart and the failure to manage those misunderstanding and disagreements led us down a path that in the opinion of many scholars, the country is yet to recover from.
9. The events that led to the crises of the mid 1960s which ultimately culminated in a 30-month fratricidal war with catastrophic consequences to the nation, the series of military interventions, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief M. K. O. Abiola, the return, once of again of the military to power and the setbacks besetting our present democracy, the new dimensions of insecurity and alarming poverty levels are clear deviations from the dreams and ideals that propelled the fight for independence.
10. A lot of factors have been blamed for Nigeria’s failure to live up the heights expected of it at independence 63 years ago and there are merits to each of the viewpoints. My estimation, however, is that Nigeria has not made much progress in its journey of transformation for reasons of elite greed and narrow-mindedness.
11. The desperation for power, the unending pillaging of public resources and a worrisome refusal to see the bigger picture boil down to greed, that ungodly urge to think only of ourselves and immediate concerns.
12. Corruption and abuse of processes which have combined to cripple several critical state institutions in the country are manifest products of greed which for me represents an unhealthy desire to acquire everything for oneself, without minding what happens afterwards.
13. The rights and entitlements of the poor are denied them mostly because an individual or a tiny group of persons have been so blinded by greed that they can hardly acknowledge that the goods of the land are best enjoyed when shared fairly.
14. So as a nation, we went astray because we refused to wean ourselves of certain impulses that inhibit greatness and over the years, things got worse and those in power began to think only of themselves, their communities, clans, tribes, religious groups and just about every other tiny enclave they identify particularly with.
15. In the end, the Nigerian nation became the ultimate victim as the projections and lofty expectations of greatness which greeted her independence vanished. Within the first decade of independence, the dreams of October 1, 1960 became a nightmare for many as cynicism took the place of optimism in our national engagements.
16. To register their disappointment and frustrations, many, especially young, talented bright minds began voting with their feet, electing to go where their skills and hunger for success can find the most appropriate expressions.
17. It is most disappointing that for years and decades, our leaders refused to see the danger of losing our brightest physicians, engineers, scientists, mathematicians and skilled athletes to other countries.
18. The situation at the moment has reached the point where if nothing is done urgently to make this place attractive to those who have the capacity to drive development with their ideas and learning, we may go to the hospitals in the future and find that there are neither nurses nor doctors to attend to us, our best teachers would be educating children in other countries while here, our pupils will have no one to attend to their learning needs.
19. We betrayed our youths and this has continued for generations mostly because those who wield political power on our behalf were either unable or just refused to appreciate that no nation thrives when the young people are isolated, disconnected or made to be disinterested in its affairs.
20. Perhaps someone may ask: how and where has Nigeria betrayed its young people? Simple: in refusing to pay more than a passing attention to them, ignoring their voices and refusing to provide them with the things that their peers in other countries take for granted.
21. You find striking evidence of this continuing betrayal in the number of young men and women who are either unemployed or under-employed, an electoral practice that torpedoes that expressed voice and choice of the people, an education system that encourages rote learning, a weak public infrastructure that cannot support the dreams and appetites of those who want to strike out on their own and make a name for themselves, and social system that rewards criminality and brigandage.
22. Although it may be uncharitable to expressly claim that nothing has been achieved over the last 6 decades and three, we must be sufficiently honest to acknowledge that the dreams that drove and sustained the independence movement have clearly been abandoned, we have become a terrible shadow of what we could have been and all genuine patriots must be worried.
23. While the leaders bear the greater responsibility for our national failure, there are still valid reasons to argue that those who are not directly in positions of power may have contributed to much of the unfortunate realities that have lingered in our national life.
24. Our pains are exacerbated by ordinary citizens who like many in positions of leadership, misuse and trade the powers they wield for petty gains. And I must mention those who sell their votes, the millions who vote clans, tribes and religion over expressed capacity to deliver, those who use their voices, not in protest against injustice, but for some mercantile objectives, the officials and individuals who exploit and extort fellow citizens on the highway, in the markets, classrooms, government offices, religious centres and other social settings.
25. A lot has gone wrong for us and with us and until we acknowledge our individual and collective complicity in bringing the country to this point; we shall continue in the path of tragic errors.
26. My verdict is that while our leaders may have been found wanting on several critical aspects of leadership, many of the followers are complicit. The good thing, however, is that today is a great day to begin on a new path towards national rebirth.
27. Admitted that a whole lot has fallen out of sync with our values and dreams of nationhood, I do not however think that the situation is completely irredeemable, otherwise, many of us will not be here.
28. At any rate, we must refuse to be misled into thinking that change can just happen by merely wishing it. A desire for change must be matched with the appropriate commitment, a clear sense of responsibility and an understanding of the quantum of sacrifices required to turn things around.
29. Today I invite you fellow compatriots to think of how we can begin anew, the task of building the country our ancestors once dreamt of, a place where men and women will live in dignity, a society where individuals would be assessed on the merits of their abilities and not accorded undue privileges nor denied their genuine entitlements on the basis of some primordial considerations and sentiments.
30. How do we return to the path of meritocracy, honesty and the other critical attributes that had led other nations to the path of true greatness? While there are clearly no simple answers to this, especially in the light of the moral corrosion that had blighted our values for too long, we can start by modelling these fine attributes in daily engagements, in our businesses and general endeavours.
31. In Abia, our dream since taking over in May this year is to return our people to a place where they can believe and dream again. Our victory, as hard fought as it was, was driven in large part by the people’s hunger for genuine leadership, sense of direction and a selfless disposition to public service.
32. On a steady and progress basis, we have continued to make choices and decisions that affirm our belief that the people, having suffered untold neglect and psychological damages from years of dishonest leadership, clearly deserve to be served better.
33. We have started rebuilding social infrastructure and working on the structures that would ultimately improve the living conditions of Ndi Abia, no matter where they live, who they vote for or where they worship. The New Abia that we are building is about developing a new service orientation, a place where you are treated with dignity, and given the opportunity to live fully and thrive, no matter where you were born.
34. I shall continue to do what needs to be done to lead our march to a new, more desirable destination. It is an obligation my team members and I are fully committed to. Things would not always be smooth but we must never relent in doing what we need to do, for our children, for their future and a better country.
35. I would end by reminding us that Nigeria is a country of great potential but again, it must be acknowledged that seeds of greatness do not autonomously translate into actual greatness as we must have learnt over the last 63 years.
36. My charge to every Nigerian therefore is that we must begin to individually and collectively water these seeds of greatness in nationhood as planted nearly hundred years ago by the men and women who walked this path before us.
37. Ultimately, we must remember that we have nowhere else to go, it is either we embrace our job to build Nigeria into the great country it has the potential to become, or we spend our last days in regrets about what could have been. Today therefore is a great day to start with a new resolve and a firm commitment to think less of ourselves and more of our compatriots and then, the country at large.
38. May God bless Nigeria and give all of us the courage to work to build a truly great country out of it. Happy Independence Day Ndi Abia umu nne m, and all Nigerians.
Dr Alex C. Otti, OFR,