Keynote Address By Professor IBRAHIM A. GAMBARI
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs United Nations
At The International Convention Of Akwa-Ibom State Indigenes Dallas Texas 13 August 2005
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured and privileged to be the Keynote Speaker at this very important Convention of my fellow Nigerians from Akwa-Ibom State. The significance of this Convention to Akwa-Ibom State, in particular, and Nigeria as a whole, is underscored by the presence of such high level delegations and very important dignitaries here present from Nigeria and other parts of the world. I want to thank the USA National Organization of the Association, and its Texas and Dallas local affiliates for the vision displayed, and the tremendous amount of work and energies that went into organising the Convention. Also, I would want to express a big welcome to all that have come from Nigeria and also from far and near to participate in this Convention. Please let us give them all a round of congratulatory applause.
In trying to decide on an appropriate topic for this presentation, I did some "quick research" on the Akwa-Ibom State Association, USA. I was particularly impressed to discover that it is the oldest cultural organization of Nigerians in the United States. But more importantly, I found a great deal of joy in the trail-blazing activities and dedication of the Organization's erstwhile President, the late Dr. Ikpe, who left us at a very early age. Consequently, I will want to seize this opportunity to request that we celebrate the life and achievements of this great Akwa-Ibomite, and noble Nigerian, by observing a moment of silence in his honor. Let us stand please.
Mr. Chairman, In choosing the title to this address, "The Role of Cultural and Non-Profit Organizations in Development," I was inspired by the events a few weeks ago, at a fundraising dinner organised by the alumni association of Christ the King College, Onitsha; one of Nigeria's eminent secondary schools. In attendance were Prof. Chinua Achebe, Chief Chris Ofodile [SAN], Prof. Ferdinand Ofodile, and many such others. In the same way that I commended the dedication of that Association, whose members donated money, computers, and the like, to help in sustaining their alma mater to ensure that their Alma Mater continues to give the same quality of education for which it is renowned to younger and future generations of Nigerians, I am delighted to recognize and commend the activities of the Akwa-Ibom State Indigenes Association, the "oldest cultural organisation of Nigerians in the USA." Obviously, this expands the horizon of our discussion. So, I will crave your indulgence, once again, to put the salient issues into their proper contexts.
Independence came to us in 1960, amid a hoopla of parades, flag-waving with hundreds of "politicians" lauding our achievement of independence, freedom and liberty. Almost forty-five years to the date, it is an open secret that the great hope and enormous promise of Nigeria have not materialized. Some have even likened our ship of State to going over the speed limit on an ocean to nowhere. In short, Nigeria today bears little or no resemblance at all to the Nigeria promised to us in those glowing speeches delivered by our erstwhile and present politicians.
Worse still, the leadership cadre in Nigeria that forgot to look back to see if the supposed "followers" were still following them. They were leading but Nigerians were not following. In their display of patriotism, they merely stood still. Paraphrasing "Baba Sala's" famous words; "we did not pass, we did not fail, and we did leave the class."
Fortunately for us, the convergence of two factors [a] the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000, and [b] the impending national elections in Nigeria in 2007 should help us in finding the appropriate perspective. Hopefully, we will then be able to exit off these high seas to nowhere, make a U-turn, and head in the right direction, as a nation.
You may wonder how these two developments relate to an organization such as yours. On examination, the relationship should be clear and convincing
In September 2000, 180 member nations of the UN adopted the Millennium Declaration - a public policy with a focus on human development. In the Declaration/ policy document, an augmented set of global goals and targets with corresponding indicators were agreed upon for monitoring human development in the international context.
The objectives or goals of the policy, referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), include:
- eradication of poverty and hunger;
- the achievement of universal primary education;
- the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women;
- reduction in child mortality;
- improvement global maternal health;
- combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other such deadly diseases;
- ensuring environmental sustainability; and
- the development of a global partnership for development.
The sad fact is that, if present trend continues, Africa is the only continent which is unlikely to meet these goals, especially the first which is to reduce by 50% those living in absolute poverty by the year, 2015. The antecedents to the possibility of this development continued to be pointed out by the United Nations and eminent African scholars.
In a landmark 1998 Report on the Causes of Conflict and Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, masterfully integrated and echoed the sentiments of his predecessor, Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, and eminent scholars like Prof. Adebayo Adedeji when he asserted the centrality of the issues of peace, poverty, and good governance in Africa.
The running thread in these perspectives is that there is a nexus between peace and development; that there would be neither peace nor development without democracy that is especially anchored to good governance, accountability, the politics of inclusion, and the rule of law.
The Human Development Report of 2004 added an important dimension to the mix of prescriptions of good governance, democracy, and the politics of inclusion; the idea of cultural liberty in today's diverse world. As Mark Brown, Administrator of the UNDP noted in the brilliant foreword to the report, emphasising the inclusivity of culturally diverse societies is not just a "precondition for countries to focus properly on other priorities of economic growth, health, and education for all citizens but allowing people full cultural expression is an important development end itself."
Closer to home, the issue of diversity has been of paramount interest to all of us, finding its way into the lyrics of our first national anthem. Africanist scholar John Paden, in a narration of an incident between the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello, stated that Dr. Azikiwe had contended that the path towards peace and unity in Nigeria lies in "forgetting our differences," to which Sir Ahamadu Bello responded "no, let us not forget but acknowledge our differences so that we may address them."
Ladies and gentlemen, it is only by following in the sagacious words of our Venerable Archbishop Desmond Tutu that "we delight in our differences" that we can move Africa, and in our case, Nigeria forward.
To turn the situation around, there are things that African governments must do differently with the support of the international community. Furthermore, such efforts, as you can see, and because of their cultural, social and other societal implications, should be supplemented with those of cultural and community organizations. It is my fervent belief that, as Nigerians, we need to embrace a linkage between culture and human development that is comprehensive and sustained, and which helps us to analyse the good, the bad, and the ugly so that it could be determined what, how, and to what extent all the examined aspect/s may contribute to, or undermine our human development.
It is appropriate here to note that a critical requirement in the operational aspects towards the achievement of the MDGs remains the development of volunteerism as an essential aspect for the promotion of social development. As a member of the international community of nations, Nigeria and cultural organisations like the Akwa-Ibom State Indigenes Association must respond to the challenges posed by developments in the international arena. After all, we now have a good understanding of the fact that we are, indeed, a global village. Therefore, I am going to suggest efforts in four major areas where your organization can help, at least at the State, and local levels, in the pursuit of these MDGs in Nigeria:
a. mutual aid or self-help organisations;
b. philantrophy or service to others;
c. participation based on professionalism;
d. advocacy or awareness development.
There are five main reasons for making the above proposals. First, because social issues are dynamic, there is need to develop responses based upon the priorities of each community, with emphasis on the rooted customs, norms and mores of each community.
Second, it is my considered opinion that volunteerism needs to be seen as both a source and a reflection of a community's social capital. Where and when appropriately developed, volunteerism serves as the basis of a community's most basic safety net. It ensures the existence of a "social capital" capable of nurturing social and economic networks for several communities.
Third, "international volunteerism," as exhibited here today by the Akwa-Ibom State Indigenes Association, USA, affects the shape of national volunteerism as others try to emulate them. That was the clarion call I issued at the CKC, Onitsha event referred to earlier; that other alumni associations emulate the noteworthy assistance the organisation's members had provided to their Alma Mater over the years.
Fourth, as demonstrated by the research conducted by the World Bank, there is a positive correlation between participation in local organizations and levels of poverty. There is, also, the added effect of the empowering effects of social mobilisation, whereby the special contributions of women and youths must be encouraged.
Lastly, I believe that, as Nigerians, we must address, urgently, the challenge of mainstreaming the diversity of culture in our efforts to advance and enhance human development. This would necessitate the consideration of the following important elements:
ÔÇó establishing sound and visionary leadership at the local, state, and national levels;
ÔÇó introduction of oral and cultural traditions in the curriculum of our primary and secondary educational institutions;
ÔÇó introduction of mandatory cultural and language studies as core courses in all post-secondary colleges and universities; and
ÔÇó organization of seminars and workshops on cultural diversity for al civil servants and corporate managers and executives at the local, state, and national levels.
Year 2007 Elections in Nigeria
I am going to disappoint a few by what I will not discuss under this heading. Rather, my focus would be on how we can challenge ourselves, in the various cultural, social, professional and other such organisations that we belong into instituting the change that we all so desire in our country Nigeria.
If you believe, like I do, in the need and essence of these types of organisations such as the Akwa Ibom State Indigenes Association, I humbly submit that it is time the Nigerian Federal Government promulgates a national policy framework on volunteerism that would set the agenda and parameters for the States to follow, especially in relation to the prospects for Nigeria to achieve the MDGs. Such declared national policy must be supported by funding committed to in our national budgets.
The late Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O'Neill was fond of saying, "all politics is local." Eminent dignitaries and indigenes of Akwa-Ibom State, I submit to you, in the same vein that all development is local. No matter what and how much pontificating comes out of Abuja, residents of Akwa-Ibom State would measure development by the amount of things and benefits that directly affect them within the State.
Consequently, it is my humble opinion that States need to promulgate a clear strategic posture and establish strategic objectives on an annual basis to provide well coordinated avenues for harnessing and channeling the activities of the volunteer organisations in their States towards measurable development goals. Such expressions of strategies must find conspicuous, and appropriate funding in their annual budgets. It is the only way that the activities of the organisations could be meaningfully applied and recognised in the development of each State.
In a broader context, I would argue that it is impossible to address the concept of development strategies, volunteerism, etc., without taking into consideration the effects and impacts, on our communities, of the state of the country's political affairs, especially now that it is the centre of much concern and mistrust.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it seems to me that there are no real prospects for the development or revitalization of the "Nigerian" entreprenurial spirit within the context of the different scenarios being put forward by the political pundits. Positive change can only result with a people's conscious and deliberate decision for change as expressed in a popular, fair, free, balanced, democratic process.
Consequently, it is incumbent on cultural and other associations as yours to demand change and work for a life-sustaining vision and road map that would breathe a new life into the political framework suitable for Nigeria based on the ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity which would promote human development.
In this regard, your members must help in developing a well developed and clearly understood concept of civil society among Nigerians in the context of the desirable relationship between individual Nigerians and the overall civil society. Furthermore, we should promote and work for the establishment of a civil society that guarantees equal legal, social, economic, and political rights to its citizens.
Beyond your Organisation's historical role in the State, particularly in the areas of health and education, there is also the need to provide and generate interest in the general development of the various communities that add up to the Nigerian nation. This would broaden the areas of your involvement into social welfare, agriculture, women and youth development and empowerment, human resource development, culture and tourism, historic preservation, and sustainable environments.
Let me conclude by throwing a challenge to your membership. At your next convention, it is my hope that it will be reported that your Association's added activities in these following areas to its illustrious list of accomplishments;
a. Social welfare especially for the elderly and physically challenged;
b. Informal education and mass awareness especially in rural communities;
c. Human resource development, especially in communities with high rates of illiteracy and skills deficiency;
d. Advocacy and networking;
e. Support for human rights, strengthening of democracy, and enhancing the rule of law; and
f. Generation of employment opportunities that empower and enhance people's self esteem, especially among women, in local communities.
These are not easy goals and objectives. If they were, I would not have proposed them for your consideration. Nonetheless, I believe that they are achievable. And I feel encouraged to ask the questions: "if not now, when? And if not by you, who?"
Thank you very much for giving me your attention. I wish you all an enjoyable convention and God's special blessings as you return to you various destinations at the end of the Convention's activities.