Fellow Citizens. Today, 1st October, 2010 marks the 50th Anniversary of our independence from Britain. It is with a deep sense of humility and gratitude to the Almighty that I address you this morning. On this day in 1960, the heroes of the nationalist struggles and all Nigerians were full of hopes and dreams. The citizens of the new country danced in colorful celebration of the new found freedom. Nigerians were filled with expectations as the Union Jack was lowered and the green-white-green flag was raised in its place. A new country was born. A new journey had started on a road never taken before. The future was pregnant with promise.
With patriotism and pragmatism, our founding fathers charted a course for the greatness of this country. While there were differences and disagreements, they did not waver in their desire to build a country that future generations would be proud of. They made compromises and sacrifices. They toiled night and day to build a viable country where progress and peace would reign supreme.
Our independence was gained by men and women who envisioned a land of freedom and one of opportunity.
Our founding fathers sought a government of character, that seeks justice to her citizens as our national anthem so eloquently describes: One Nation Bound in Freedom, Peace and Unity. However, today, the opinion of many Nigerians is that these dreams and expectations have not been fulfilled. Not only have people despaired about the slow pace of progress, some have in fact given up on the country. Some believe that if the colonial masters had stayed longer, Nigeria may have been the better for it. All these postulations, we must admit, are borne out of a somewhat justifiable sense of frustration. Our troubles and failures are well catalogued. For a country that was, in terms of development, on a similar, if not better level with many countries at independence, it is discomforting that we are lagging behind as the economic indicators among nations now show.
In the midst of these challenges, it is easy to forget our unusual circumstances. We have actually been moving from one political instability to the other such that we have barely been able to plan long-term and implement policies on a fairly consistent basis. This instability has also impacted negatively on institutional development, which is necessary for advancement. The structures of governance had barely been developed when we ran into a series of political obstacles shortly after Independence. While we were at it, the military took over power and this fuelled a different kind of political instability which ultimately led to the unfortunate 30-month Civil War. This was certainly not the dream of our founding fathers who sacrificed so much to give us Nigeria. They did not dream of a country where brothers would be killing brothers and sisters killing sisters. They did not dream of a country where neighbours and friends would exchange bullets in place of handshakes.
Military rule and the Civil War were major setbacks for our nationhood. They produced a polluted national landscape. This did not offer the best atmosphere for national development. It impacted negatively on Nigeria socially, politically and economically, a situation which further undermined our aspiration as a stable nation. Without political stability, it has been very difficult to plan and build our institutions like other countries that were our peers.
Dear compatriots, despite the serious challenges that we have been living with; we cannot ignore the fact that we have cause to celebrate our nationhood and even a greater cause to look forward to a brighter future. This is a historic occasion when we need to pause and appreciate who we are, what we have, and to reflect on the encouraging possibilities ahead. There is certainly much to celebrate: our freedom, our strength, our unity and our resilience.
This is also a time for stock-taking, to consider our past so that it will inform our future. This is a time to look forward to the great opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Nigeria. In fifty years, we have in several respects, attained heights that we should be very proud of as a nation. In the fields of science and technology, education, the arts, entertainment, scholarship, and diplomacy, Nigerians have distinguished themselves in spite of the enormous hurdles they encounter everyday. If we could achieve so much under tough conditions, we are capable of achieving even much more in our journey to the Promised Land.
Our strides in medical science are hardly celebrated. Recently a team of Nigerian scientists led by Dauda Oladepo of the International Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) discovered CD4 Lymphocyte baseline for testing people living with HIV/AIDS. The effort is all the more remarkable because it was funded by the Federal Ministry of Health and its findings are particularly useful to the Nigerian environment. The discovery is very vital to monitoring and managing the disease progression in infected people.
Also, a Nigerian scientist, Dr. Louis Nelson, has made significant progress in his research to find a permanent cure for diabetes, which afflicts over 123 million sufferers worldwide. The vaccine that has made Yellow Fever disease manageable was developed in our shores! While we may not have landed a spaceship on the moon or developed nuclear technology, our inventors and innovators have made globally acknowledged contributions. Clearly, these are indications that within us are potentials that can be harnessed for greatness.
Nigerian writers have won numerous awards on the global stage. Professor Wole Soyinka gave Africa its first Nobel Prize in Literature. Professor Chinua Achebe pioneered the most successful African novel in history. Ben Okri won the Booker prize. Helon Habila, Sefi Attah and Chimamanda Adichie, among several others, are internationally renowned.
In the movie industry, Nollywood is rated second biggest in the world. Nigerians have by themselves defied all that is negative around them to build a billion dollar film industry from the scratch. This is a major landmark worth celebrating. Today our actors and artistes are household names in Africa and parts of the world. The future can only be brighter as competition in this sector breeds improved quality and better creativity. Our leading professionals - lawyers, scientists, economists, doctors, diplomats and academics are celebrated all over the world. They occupy prestigious positions in the leading institutions across the developed world. Most of them were born and bred in Nigeria. Most of them schooled here before they travelled abroad. This should tell us something: that daunting as our circumstances have been, we are still full of ability and capability. We are blessed with talented and patriotic Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora, many of whom are willing and ready to return home to be part of the drive to turn Nigeria around for good, so that the country can take its pride of place in the comity of nations.
My brothers and sisters, as we begin the journey to another fifty years of nationhood, we have two choices to make. We can choose to focus on the imperfections and problems that easily beset us as a nation or we choose to focus on the unlimited possibilities that we have. I urge us all to choose the latter. I prefer to see the silver lining in the dark cloud rather than the dark cloud in the silver lining.
Today, we need to celebrate the remarkable resilience of the Nigerian spirit. We need to appreciate, that even though the road has been bumpy; we have trudged on, in hope. We may not have overcome our challenges, but neither have our challenges overcome us. Whenever we are completely written off, we always bounce back from the edge to renew our national bond for the benefit of our progress. That is the Nigerian spirit. This is what has kept us together as a country even when other countries with far less challenges have fallen apart.
Our recovery from the scars of the Western Region Crisis, the Civil War, and the June 12, 1993 election annulment has convinced me more than anything else that Nigeria is destined for greatness. It has proved that in our differences, tough circumstances and diversity, what binds us together is far stronger more than what divides us. We have a glorious future awaiting us. I am convinced that North or South, East or West, Muslim, Christian or other faiths, majority or minority, we are all bound by our common humanity and mutual aspirations. We are not sworn enemies. We are not irreconcilable foes. We are neighbours who sometimes offend each other but can always sit down to talk over our differences. We are one people and one family. There are clear examples across the country where, in one family, you have people of different faiths and convictions living peacefully under the same roof.The father could be a Muslim, the mother a Christian and the children professing different faiths. Yet, they do not draw the sword against one another in the name of religion.
Fellow compatriots, one of the greatest achievements of our union this past fifty years is our togetherness. The late Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello once said: "Let us understand our differences." I identify fully with these words of wisdom. Our faith may be different. We may not speak the same language. We may not eat the same kind of food. But we are in a plural society where we have continued to accommodate one another and integrate without reservations. This we must build on! This we must strengthen! We have the opportunity of imitating our forefathers by envisioning a new society where our children and children's children will live in peace and harmony and enjoy good quality of life comparable to the best the world can offer.
Today marks the dawn of a new era. It is in our hands to decide what we want to make of it. We must reawaken in ourselves the hunger and aspirations of our founding fathers for a strong, united and prosperous nation that shall be the pride of future generations. To do this, we must change the old ways of doing things. The core values of patriotism, hard-work, integrity and commitment to good governance must henceforth take precedence.