Let me express my appreciation to the leadership of the Senate for inviting me to declare open the 2012 Retreat of the 7th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It gladdens my heart whenever I have the opportunity to interact with functionaries of our other arms of government, deliberating on ways of making our country more stable and prosperous. It is a great honour to be here with you.
Nigerians deserve a country that is peaceful and secure. As elected leaders, our primary responsibility is to protect all our citizens, and those who come here to work or visit.
The theme of this year’s retreat, “National Assembly and National Security: Securing the Future for Development” underscores the commitment of the Senate to join hands with the Executive to defeat all threats to our national security.
As we look at matters of national security, we must recognize that it is an all-encompassing issue. The security of a nation depends on its economic growth and resilience. Our economy is growing well. We are diversifying the economy, especially through greater focus on agriculture, as food security is crucial for national security. We are committed to fiscal responsibility and consolidation, as we manage our economy in the face of global recession. We are re-building our external reserves. We must plan and manage our budget process better to ensure that government meets the social and economic security of our people.
We recognize we have several challenges including terrorism and other crimes, which undermine our national security.
I thank the Senate for its foresight, maturity and commitment in initiating this discourse on national security. The Senate being a body of all political parties can work to elevate national security above politics.
Mr. Senate President and distinguished Senators; before the civil war, armed robbery was not known in Nigeria. However, with the influx of small arms and light weapons into the country during the war many of our cities started experiencing armed robbery after the war. We had experienced militancy in the oil producing areas and other ethnic based militant groups in the South West and South East, as well as kidnapping and cybercrime that undermine our national security.
It is unfortunate that politics has become a major source of insecurity as evidenced in the do or die politics of some practitioners. Bitter and inflammatory statements, emanating from some politicians have, at different times in the history of this country, consumed thousands of innocent lives and threatened the foundations of our nation. We must return to politics as espoused by the late Ibrahim Waziri: “politics without bitterness”.
Terrorism, which has become a global phenomenon, is now unfortunately a direct experience in this country. A faceless group of enemies of our democracy and prosperity of our nation have continued to carry out terrorist attacks on innocent people in our nation.
This development is one that particularly concerns me as the President, and is one I will continue to decisively deal with. It is one on which I seek the support and cooperation of the Senate and the House of Representatives. We must work together under a new social and political contract, to safeguard our nation.
How did we get here? Some have suggested that the root causes of this malaise include weak moral foundations, poverty, dirty politics, poor governance, unemployment, religious intolerance and fanaticism.
Whatever be the causes, the solutions lie in a stronger union; employment and wealth creation for all; equity and justice; transparency and accountability; and above all the fear of God.
I call upon all Nigerians to remember that if God did not will it we will not be together today as a country of Muslims, Christians and traditionalists; if God did not will it we will not be together as a people of ethnic groups; if God did not will it we will not be Nigerians.
Our unity is the will of God and our diversity is the binding ligament of our strength. Those who want to weaken us use axes of hate to cut the tree of our strength. We refuse to be weakened. Let us unite to defeat the forces of darkness. Let us unite to prosper.
As a government, it is our responsibility to lay a firm foundation for our people to prosper. Through legislation, executive action and timely dispensation of justice we create the infrastructure, policy environment and sense of justice that form the bedrock of inclusive economic growth. This in turn will bolster stability.
I am committed to mobilizing all citizens to work together to achieve our national security objectives. Although our system of government rests on separation of powers amongst the three arms of government, this principle does not call for working in silos; it calls for synergy and commonality of purpose.
Distinguished Senators, I should like to dwell briefly, not so much on the formal mechanics of the separation of powers, but on the logic of this important doctrine variously theorised by scholars and Statesmen around the world.
This doctrine is even more relevant to us here in Nigeria as we continue to labour to move our fledgling and hard-won democracy to the stage of consolidation.
When our Constitution states that the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary all enjoy separate powers, and that these various powers countervail and balance each other, what it is simply saying is that you can never have enough of democracy and plurality of voices, small and big.
Now, this point is particularly important given the long and tortuous road we have travelled since colonial times to give unto ourselves an elected government where all are represented; and one which all citizens are constitutionally entitled to call upon to address their needs, dreams and aspirations.
The President of the Senate, Distinguished Senators, ladies and gentlemen, our country has walked a difficult road since our independence in 1960. Our people had to endure a civil war, and several seasons of military dictatorship. In 1999, our present system of government, an executive presidential system was established.
While our Presidential system of governance is not perfect, we must salute the commitment of Nigerians to the path of democratic discourse. Yes, we have our challenges, but make no mistake: Nigeria is moving forward. We continue to build stronger institutions, expand the political space and improve governance of political systems that can assure greater peace, stability and prosperity for our nation. For only strong and inclusive political and economic institutions can guarantee prosperity for all.
That was why I strongly supported and assured a free and fair 2011 general election. Free and fair elections are the strongest pillars for any democratic society. We must continue to build on these gains for the greater good of our nation.
National security requires that we continue to tackle corruption at all levels. Greater transparency and accountability, fiscal consolidation and responsibility, and development of a culture of service delivery for our people, must also form the hallmarks of our effort to assure national security.
Executive, legislative and judicial arms of government must continue to work together to fight corruption. We must not take for granted the patience of our people.
A clear consensus has emerged today in our nation that peaceful conciliation of opposing views, which is really what democracy is all about, is the only path to the prosperity and political stability that we all desire.
The Presidential system of government recognizes that diverse views are a fact of life, and deliberately put forward three separate entities, each with its own clear area of jurisdiction so that none performs the functions of the other.
The basic interest of all branches of government is the security and welfare of the Nigerian people. The principle of separation of powers does not overrule this fact. Each should see the other as a partner and not a competitor or rival, as each can rightly claim to represent the will of the people - the Nigerian people.
Let us continue to work together for the good of our country. Our Transformation Agenda has five key elements. The first is growing and diversifying the economy to create jobs, especially for our teeming youths; modernising our infrastructure; accelerating human capital development; improving governance; and reinforcing social cohesion and security.
I ask for the understanding and support of all Nigerians, and indeed extend a hand of fellowship to all patriots so that together we can all continue to make our young democracy yield the social and economic fruits without which, no system of government, no matter how perfect, will endure.
Nigeria cannot be in the margins of the global economic and political order. Now is the time to reclaim our place on the table of prosperity and stability. We are all politicians. But we must recognize that there is a difference between governance and politicking. We must together forge a strong understanding and promote progressive dialogue that moves our nation forward, not backwards. We must not play politics with everything – and certainly not with the sensitive matter of national security.
This is a trying period for us as a nation. The challenge of terror and insecurity should unite us, as we take the fight to the terrorists. As leaders, we must be resilient in the face of terror. The task of building a greater Nigeria to achieve her manifest destiny is a duty for all of us charged with the responsibility of governing the Nigerian people.
This requires the promotion of a conducive and cordial working relationship between the various arms of government, regardless of their individual constitutional functions.
Thus, for example, the performance of the oversight functions by the National Assembly or the use of executive powers by the President must not act as a barrier to the compelling need for cooperation in service delivery for the good of our country. We are one government with one constituency, the Nigerian people.
Mr Senate President, distinguished Senators, ladies and gentlemen, we must continue to hold hands as separate but complementary arms of government and make our presidential democracy a living institution that meets the needs of all our people and guaranties their safety and security.
We must continue to muster our forces and unite our people and bring to an end this challenge to peace, unity and progress.
Over the past one year, we have upgraded our capabilities and intensified our actions against this threat. Although the threat has far from abated, we have implemented several measures that weakened the terrorists’ infrastructure.
We have carefully studied the activities of terrorist networks across the continent and beyond. We are aware of the effects of the displacement of fighters and ammunition from the Maghreb and the precarious positions of some of our West African neighbours and we continue to take appropriate measures including the building of mutual security partnerships.
No challenge is too difficult when leaders cooperate, rather than dissipate energies. Through the collective efforts of the legislature and the executive, we brought the militancy in the Niger Delta to an end. Today oil production is at its peak and there is peace again. We must continue to be watchful and sustain the gains already made. Today as we face the new threat to our peace and stability, let us put politics aside, and as leaders work across the aisle to secure the future of our nation.
I take this opportunity to commend the men and women of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the police, the State Security Service and other intelligence agencies for their resilience and professionalism in combatting this new threat. Several have lost their lives in the defence of our nation. I salute their heroism and patriotism.
Mr. Senate President, Distinguished Senators, Ladies and Gentlemen, to assure the security and safety of our people, and safeguard our national borders from insurgents, I will continue to re-organize and reposition our security operations. As we do this, we need to put in place new legislations that will make it easier to track, obstruct, prosecute and punish terrorists. And I need your support.
I believe in the politics of give and take. I have worked to promote the power of the ballot as a vehicle for securing our democracy.
I believe strongly in the place of God in determining our destiny. And God will help Nigeria and help us as leaders as we boldly take steps to secure our nation.
As we work on securing our future, by securing our nation today, let us move to a new phase of governmental cooperation and citizens’ collective action, all in the defence of our country. We will not fail.
On this note I declare open the 2012 Senate Retreat to the Glory of God and the Greatness of our Country.
I wish you fruitful deliberations.
I thank you for your attention.