I consider it a great honour to be invited by the Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller to Jamaica at this special and historic moment. It is a great delight to be here at a time when you are celebrating both the Emancipation Day and the Golden Jubilee of your country’s Independence. I wish on behalf of the Government and the People of Nigeria to congratulate the Government and the People of Jamaica on the occasion of your country’s 50th. Independence anniversary and to express to the Governor General, the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, and the people of Jamaica, that we as your kith and kin in homeland Africa, rejoice with you and bring you special greetings on this memorable occasion.
I am grateful for the warm welcome that has been extended to me and my wife and members of my delegation, since our arrival. I am also grateful for the honour of addressing this great House, the Parliament of Jamaica.
It was only two years ago that our own country, Nigeria also marked the 50th anniversary of her independence. Although our two peoples are separated by distance, we share many things in common: a common heritage that spans centuries and generations, as well as political and cultural linkages. It is not lost upon us that we have come to Jamaica at a time of great national renewal, of hope and belief that a determined people can prevail and overcome any challenges that may be thrown at them irrespective of time and space.
This is what I believe Emancipation and Independence mean for this land and all the states in the Caribbean. The loosening of the chains that held people down and diminished their humanity has awesome inspirational force and great symbolism.
The good news is that the chains have since been cast away. It is a new age. And we must rise to its challenge. Jamaica, in particular, has come a long way through generations of history that are marked by significant experience. The Independence that is celebrated today tells a story of triumph and progress. Today, I do not intend to take you on a voyage through the history of the black man and woman and our common heritage. I believe that this is something that you are familiar with, and very knowledgeable about too, like an inescapable sub-text of our collective experience as one people. One certain fact is that the Black man is alive; he remains resilient, proud and is moving on.
Your country, Jamaica is a fine example of how a people can turn handicaps into opportunities and challenges into narratives of success. The strength, resilience and durability of Jamaica’s freedom and democracy speak for themselves and are to be found within this setting. Over the years, especially since Independence in 1962, this country of great men and women has built and nurtured very strong democratic norms as a foundation for inclusive nationhood.
As Jamaica moves ahead, Nigeria stands with her and her people and will continue to work with you. Jamaica has always been a reliable partner in progress among the developing nations especially of African descent. It has always been a source of hope that has given support to the cause of the developing world and the black race in particular. Having come along so far, and so gloriously, and to this point in your 50 years of Independence, you can only move forward with greater expectations and successes not only from your people but from the world.
The people of Jamaica can only be prosperous living together in peace and harmony within the context of a peaceful world. There is much that Jamaica and Nigeria can do together to promote and sustain the democratic ethos and culture, beyond our respective countries, along with those with whom we share affinity and a common cause. We must put together, frameworks for action to support needed collaboration in this vital area. We must also work together to secure and guarantee human, civil and other basic rights that support nation building.
In a clear sense, these are the same rights that we celebrate today. These are the same passions that underpin both Emancipation and Independence. They are the same values at the heart of the Black Heritage. But if I may locate the present in the context of our past, the question should be asked: is the Black man really free today?
Today I am happy that the black man has put the shame of dispossession behind him and is moving on. At independence, many African States had ephemeral democratic governments that were overthrown by Military dictators. Dictatorial regimes invested heavily in self-preservation and not development. I am happy today that most black people of the world live in countries where democratic governments are in control. Today the destiny of the Black person is in the hands of the Black people.
But the other truth is that the Black race is still at war against poverty, against diseases, ethnic conflicts and underdevelopment. This must be addressed. There is the need for Nigeria and Jamaica, and indeed the rest of the world, to work together to reduce the level of those artificial forces that have kept the majority of our people from making progress.
The predicament of the black race is inherently shared by Nigeria with its population of 167 million people. The same reason our past leaders took it upon themselves to be part of the fight for the total liberation of African countries from the shackles of colonialism. Our forbears, in Africa and in Diaspora, have done well. We are working very hard. But we have a duty and a responsibility to create, nurture and sustain an environment under which future generations have no other option but to prosper and excel. We can only do this through the consolidation of democracy and good governance.
Let me at this point sincerely appreciate what this great country of Jamaica is doing in this regard. To have a female Prime Minister elected even for a second term, demonstrates clearly the advanced level of democracy in your country. I congratulate you and I congratulate my dear sister, The Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, for being the first female Head of Government of this great country.
Recommending a model for the growth of nations is not an easy enterprise, and I do not intend to venture into that. Different countries have different challenges at different times in their history. But it is my humble belief that democracy, good governance and the rule of law will be the tonic that will revolutionize our economies and technological development.
In a highly globalized and competitive world, states are forming strong regional economic blocs. To promote trade and investments, boundaries are beginning to get narrower and narrower every day. It is for the same reason that we must support one another in tackling the scourge of imbalances in the prevailing global order. As black people, with a common ancestry, we must unite.
We must unite to fight poverty.
We must unite to fight hunger
We must unite to fight diseases
We must unite to fight illiteracy
We must unite to fight bad governance and electoral malpractices
We must unite to fight ethnic conflicts
We must unite to fight dictatorial regimes in Africa
We must unite to fight terrorism.
We must unite to secure a place of pride for the Black man in a modern and technology-driven world.
Africa is free of colonialism but not totally free because of its economic dependence on others. We therefore still have our work well-defined for us: we must be committed not only to liberating ourselves from economic woes but also to work with other counterparts, the developing nations of the world, to achieve economically what we have achieved politically.
Within the context of a new world order, Jamaica is potentially gifted to create for herself, a redefined role in the pursuit of economic development within the emerging new World Order. Where will Jamaica be in the next 50 years? Where will Africa be in the next 50 years? What is the future of the black man or woman in the world in the next 50 years? This should be our pre-occupation. That is our challenge, as we celebrate this Golden anniversary.
There are new realities to which working with Jamaica, Nigeria will further commit herself. These include new trends of global economic slowdown and security concerns. These are global issues of our time. Our roles must be complementary. Nigeria and Jamaica must work together to make a difference and increase the fortunes of our people. As leaders we cannot afford to disappoint our people and future generations.
There is a unifying vision that Nigeria and Jamaica share. There is ample scope for even greater and more functional co-operation between our two countries. The opportunities for increased trade and investments are immense. We must take advantage of them to build and strengthen our ties. Jamaica was one of the first countries to which Nigeria sent her first set of Technical Aid Volunteers in 1989.
We also have a Cultural Agreement with Jamaica signed in 1991, which provided for the exchange of information on the culture and the arts of both countries. I recall, very vividly, Jamaica’s effective participation at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in Lagos in 1977. A Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) has since been established to consolidate the achievements of FESTAC ’77. I intend to discuss with the Hon. Prime Minister, ways and means of developing an interaction between the Centre and similar structures in Jamaica to further improve our technical cooperation in cultural matters.
I also must affirm the role that both Jamaica and Nigeria, in concert with other countries, have played in the quest for a new world order that is more equitable and just. We have done this together over the decades, especially within the United Nations, the G77, the Commonwealth and the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) and in other multilateral bodies where through determined action, we have made a difference. We must continue to press ahead with such collaboration at the multilateral level.
Jamaica and Nigeria must continue to work together to strengthen our special relationship and to help transform our societies and the world.
Your Excellency, the Governor General, Honourable Prime Minister, President of Senate, Members of Parliament, I wish to thank you once again for inviting me to Jamaica at this special moment in the history of your country.