MESSAGE FROM IBB
The essence of this site is to share with fellow Nigerians some of my thoughts on various aspects of our social, economic and political life in the last two decades. The speeches, statements, interviews, tributes and interventions here assembled reflect but do not necessarily exhaust my thoughts and sentiments about our country. But they are united by one overriding theme – NIGERIA – its immense potentials, its infinitely resourceful and proud people, the accidents and mistakes in our past as well as the brilliance of our collective future. Above all, they seek to expand understanding of my presidency, policies, and political history, providing critical insights for the nation’s governance challenges. It was when the editors of this site impressed on me the need to gather these thoughts for posterity that it struck me that I have spent the better part of my life contemplating and discussing mostly one subject-NIGERIA.
The speeches and statements here reproduced bear the imprints of time and experience. Since leaving office as military President in August, 1993, I have had the privilege of exchanging views with a wide spectrum of compatriots and friends of Nigeria at home and abroad. I have travelled fairly widely across the length and breadth of the country, attending social occasions and public events as a private citizen. I have had time to reflect on the experiences of the past especially the years in which it was the will of Allah for me and my colleagues to preside over the affairs of our country.
These have been years of intense introspection, of stock taking and of self-re-evaluation and resolution. Out of the limitations of public office and the pressures it entails, one is perhaps in the position to appreciate the practical implications of leadership and governance as well as the corresponding challenge of citizenship and followership. The privacy of life out of public office offers that most important tool for self-appraisal and spiritual stock taking: the opportunity for moments of quite reflection alone. It is in those moments of quite communion with one’s Creator and conversation with the self that we are able to dispel the illusions of our existence, encounter the reality of the soul and distil the essence of experience.
It has been a period of intense learning as well. I have learned from the high and the low in society. Raised in the most modest of circumstances, trained in the most exacting traditions of the art of war in the service of peace, exposed to the privileges that high military and political office confer, I am better equipped to witness first-hand the reality of our social conditions. In free interactions with ordinary people, I have learnt lessons that neither formal training nor the best libraries can teach. From active engagements and exchanges with some of the best minds in the land, I have gained insights not coloured by the heat of self-interest or the deceit of jostling for political office. Out of the crucible of these interactions and my own direct observations of the condition of our country, I have come to a greater appreciation of the Nigerian idea.
I am aware that time has passed. The nation has grown. The very institutions of national governance and social organization have undergone a sea change. Sometimes the very structures put in place for national integration have come under intense pressure leading to moments when the idea of Nigeria has come under scrutiny. At such moments, even the most ardent patriots have had to contend with spells of self-doubt and collective apprehension about the future of our country. But out of the clouds of despair and the heat of indignation the nation always emerges stronger with each and every Nigerian more resolved that this house must not fall.
From years of military rule, we are now promising and important democracy. In many ways, we are a lucky nation. Both those of us who presided over the affairs of the nation while in uniform and those in the civil populace who yearned for the return of democracy are now by and large in the same boat. It is a mark of our increasing maturity as a people who were adversaries yesterday are today political friends. People with divergent ideas and convictions have come together under a common umbrella flying a common banner, the national flag. Today, I daresay, we are all wizened by the experiences of the past, compelled by the challenges of the present and emboldened by the future as a frontier of hope.
The single most important reason why I consider this site timely and necessary is that the thoughts gathered here shed light not only on our modest contributions to national development in the years of military service to the nation but also provide insights into our private reflections on the Nigerian idea in the past two decades. Variously, the thoughts reproduced here are attempts to account for our stewardship and share our fears and hopes with a nation and a people that one owes so much.
As always, I remain committed to the Nigerian idea. It is an idea that has continued to evolve and transform itself over time. We have gone from “a geographical expression” to an indisputable important component of the international equation. We have propelled the Nigerian idea from a rallying voice of freedom for all Africans in the days of colonial domination to an agent for the restoration of the dignity of the black man in the years of Apartheid in South Africa. The Nigerian idea has been projected abroad as an instrument of international peace and an agent of stability in the continent and in our sub region. We have deployed the Nigerian idea in the service of stability in neighbouring countries where the ambitions of a few have inflicted the blithe of civil strife to threaten the survival of many.
Not many of our nationals realise that our exertions abroad have more or less reflected our encounter with our national history. We have experienced a debilitating civil war. A series of sectarian and micro ethnic skirmishes show up occasionally. We have passed through phases when freedom was under threat but nonetheless present.
The Nigerian idea has however survived in spite of these. Therefore, when Nigeria rejects a coup in a neighbouring country, it is because we have experienced the futility of unconstitutional seizures of power. When we send our forces abroad to enforce or keep the peace in a civil war situation, it is because we have known the agony of war as well as its futility as a means of resolving human conflicts. Our democracy may not yet be perfect but when we reject undemocratic tendencies outside our shores, it must be seen as an expression of the freedom and democracy we desire not only for ourselves but also for the rest of Africa and humanity.
The relative peace that has prevailed between us and our neighbours is the product of our world historic record of uniting over 400 ethnic nationalities under one national banner and striving to ensure that they live peacefully as neighbours. Our eternal belief in dialogue and peaceful coexistence must be seen as an outward expression of the historic peace and unity which we quickly re-established after our own civil war in 1970.
Most importantly, the two great world religions co-exist in Nigeria with millions of adherents either side. Sometimes we take for granted the fact that ours is one of the few places in the world where Christians attend Moslem festivities and Moslems feel at home in churches. As the world today grapples with how to understand the essence of Islamic culture and the sensibilities of peoples of that faith, Nigeria offers easily the readiest case study of mutual respect between the faiths while keeping faith with the secular essence of the modern democratic nation state.
Those of us who risked the ultimate price for Nigeria have a sacred obligation to not only uphold the integrity of the nation but also ensure that we assist in the process of correcting past mistakes. This, in my view, is the best way of ensuring that the young and unborn generations can look back with some measure of pride at our exertions. Our legacy may not be perfect but nobility of our intentions should not be in doubt.
I am the first to admit that mistakes have been made in the past. But they were mistakes to which our stage of development and the prevailing circumstances of the day entitled us both as leaders and as a people. No people can overtake their national history. Nor can nations escape those mistakes which their history entitles them to. Similarly, no nation can be entitled to a pace of development ahead of the aggregate development of its people. Our political evolution could have been faster. Our economic progress could be quicker and more orderly. But none of these goals, desirable as they are, is greater than what we have achieved, namely, keeping the country together and our people united.
Democracy would be meaningless if it does not transform the price of unity into an even bigger prize of prosperity and happiness for the greatest majority of our citizens. Our natural and human resources entitle us to happiness. But this entitlement can only remain a potential except we add human value to what nature has endowed us with. I believe we have the men and women to gallantly brace the tape in the race for human progress and development in the 21st century.
I believe in Nigeria. I believe in the coherent diversity of its peoples. I believe in the beauty of its geography, the resourcefulness of its citizens and the infinity of its wealth. I believe in the nation bequeathed to us by our founding fathers and the subsequent history which we have forged with our own imperfect hands. I believe in the manifest destiny of this nation and the indestructible will of our proud and indomitable people.