Compatriots and fellow citizens, today we join the rest of our beloved nation in celebrating our 52nd Independence Anniversary. It is fitting that we celebrate that momentous day when we as a people, took our destiny in our hands and committed ourselves to the task of building a great nation founded on the principles of freedom, peace and unity.
But as we celebrate, let us be reminded that no celebration of any past achievement can be complete without seizing the occasion to reflect on the achievement itself. It is in reflection that you learn valuable lessons from the achievement, and set a promising agenda for the future. I, therefore, urge all Nigerians to see this occasion of our 52nd Anniversary as a time for national consecration and reflection.
Let us, use this occasion to take stock of our national odyssey in order to set a proper course for tomorrow. Let us ask and seek answers to tough questions that could help us re-invent our nation. How have we fared as a nation? What progress have we made from when the British Union Jack was lowered, and our National Flag hoisted? To what extent have we fulfilled the dreams and promises of our founding fathers in our collective and individual conducts? If we can face these questions with brutal honesty, then we can provide answers, which would change the course of our voyage and cast us on shores of unity, peace and freedom.
Today, we are indeed free and independent. But the challenge of freedom is that instead of resting on your oars, you begin the struggle for liberation. Freedom breaks the fetters on your hands, but liberation breaks the fetters of your mind. If this country must survive we must liberate ourselves from the venoms of tribalism, religious bigotry, sectionalism, nepotism, corruption etc. This is a task, which cannot suffer procrastination - we must begin today!
We must liberate ourselves from the wanton insecurity, which has become a threat to our unity and oneness. Violence is not a part of our national fabric; neither did it form part of our noble and dignified struggle for Independence. The late legend Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, put it aptly when he said, “Violence has never been an instrument used by us, as founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic, to solve political problems. In the British tradition, we talked the Colonial Office into accepting our challenges for the demerits and merits of our case for self-government. After six constitutional conferences in 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, Great Britain conceded to us the right to assert our political independence as from October 1, 1960. None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun.”
Few nations can boast of such a noble past. No blood was shed in our Independence struggle because all the parties fought together in a spirit of brotherhood. If no blood was shed in obtaining Independence from Britain, why are we shedding blood now that we are independent as a nation? How come a nation that was born in peace, now become embroiled in perpetual conflict? How did we move from such a noble and peaceful heritage to the Nigerian Civil War, a mere seven years after Independence? How come that after we used reason to gain independence, reason seems to have given way to madness?
The answer, I believe, is that we are in conflict because we have failed to imbibe the spirit of our founding fathers. Somewhere down the line, sectional loyalties swallowed up our national pride. We have tended to forget that we do not have to see eye-to-eye in order to walk hand-in-hand. Political, regional and religious differences exist and will continue to exist, but when Nigeria calls we should shelve such differences and serve our nation with heart and might. Wherever we are, let us commit ourselves to building a great nation out of Nigeria.
Today, let us also remember and celebrate the men and women who midwifed our country with great hope and promise. Let us remember also the men in uniform who labored to keep this country together. Let us remember their labours and sing with new meaning and greater conviction that “the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”
I believe that their spirit of peace and commitment to the common good is alive in our times. We saw it when some Moslems visited churches in Kano in a show of solidarity and love, after some churches were destroyed and some Christians massacred through bomb blasts. If this country must go forward, we must stand up for each other, dwell in unity and never allow the fiery darts of terrorism to stop us from siding with the truth.
Every Nigerian must have a hand in writing the destiny of this nation. Every Nigerian must see the fight to make all Nigerians feel safe everywhere and anywhere they are in this country as a matter of personal security. Every Nigerian must know that Government can only do what we as a people empower it with information and support to do.
We must support and pray for our President, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR. He has shown exemplary leadership in power, gas, agriculture, infrastructure, gender and institutional reforms. He has set our country in the path of reform and transformation. Let us keep him in our thoughts and prayers.
Akwa Ibom state has suddenly become the bridgehead of the new Nigeria. Together, we have given hope to our country and we have laid a foundation for growth and prosperity. We have introduced free and compulsory education to all Nigerian children resident in the state in our attempt to revamp our educational system and position our children to compete with workers anywhere in the world. It was in the same spirit that we built the E-Library for use by all Nigerians. From our free healthcare for the aged, babies up to five years and pregnant women, to the development of impactful infrastructure (Ibom International Airport, The Tropicana Entertainment Centre, the brand new Uyo Stadium coming up, Independent Power Plant, Underground pipe-jacking drainage systems, etc.); and the tarring of over 295 urban roads with flyovers, this generation of Akwa Ibom people would have a hallowed place in the history of our state. For the proposed Deep Sea Port at Ibaka, we most appreciate Mr President for the initiative, which will enhance maritime security and improve maritime economy whilst creating jobs for thousands of Nigerians.
Having done so much it is our prayer that what is happening in our state will happen in other parts of Nigeria. Like I said in an Economic Summit in New York last week, “underdevelopment anywhere is a threat to development everywhere.” If we remain an oasis of development in a desert of underdevelopment, then sooner enough the oasis would either be sucked dry, or the desert would encroach and fill up the oasis.
To make the most of this extraordinary moment of the celebration of our Independence, I urge all Nigerians to team up with heart and might to reclaim Nigeria’s future. That our Independence came with ease does not mean we will secure our future without a fight. We in this generation must serve as a bridge between the dreams of our founding fathers and the promise of a greater nation. That is how this generation can make an indelible mark on our history and turn the next page in the great story of our dear country.
I wish all Akwa Ibom people and indeed all Nigerians a Happy Independence Day.
(An Address Presented by the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Excellency Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON, on the Occasion of the 52nd Independence Anniversary, October 1, 2012)