50 years of Nigeria: celebrating our interests with the U.S. By Chudi Okafor

50 years of Nigeria: celebrating our interests with the U.S.

By Hon. CHUDI OKAFOR, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, U.S.A. (excerpts from his address at the October 1, 2010 reception in Atlanta, Georgia, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence).

Special to USAfrica, USAfricaonline.comCLASSmagazine

Distinguished and Honourable State Representatives, Guest of Honour, the Mayor of Sandy Springs, Mrs. Eva Galambos, Special Guest of Honour, Amb. Andrew Young, Chairman & CEO of Global Energy, USA, Inc, Mr. Kenneth Yellowe, President, Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia (ANOG), Mr. Titus Olowokere, Vice Chairman, Nigerians in the Diaspora Organization, Mr. Victor Ugoh, Presidents of Nigerian Organizations from the Southeast USA, Leaders of other Nigerian Organizations, Friends of Nigeria, Fellow compatriots, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening and welcome.

May I crave your indulgence to please stand up and observe a minute’s silence in honour of our late President, H. E. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, GCFR, and the victims from the bomb blast earlier today in Abuja.

Thank God Nigeria is 50 today, I mean half a century; and so it is for 17 other African States who [are celebrating] 50 years of their independence this year.

On this special occasion of our jubilee anniversary celebration, I wish to convey to this august assembly, fraternal greetings and best wishes from the Nigerian President, His Excellency Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR.

My wife, the entire staff of the Mission, and I, sincerely thank you all for being with us at this historic moment.  A close look at this beautiful assembly shows that people from all walks of life have indeed come to celebrate with us. In his congratulatory message, H.E. President Barrack Obama, has today through the US Secretary, Mrs. Hilary Clinton, honoured Nigeria’s history and accomplishments. We sincerely appreciate it.

First of all, we welcome in our midst, the untiring Mayor of Sandy Springs, Mrs. Eva Galambos. I would like to seize this occasion to formally congratulate her for winning yet another term in office.  I say untiring because you only need to go round the City of Sandy Springs to appreciate the amazing pace of development of this new City. As our host Mayor, I am happy to say that both the Mission and the Residence are located within this beautiful and hospitable City.  The fact that the Mayor is here with us today, after a long visit abroad, testifies to the unflagging friendship and goodwill she has towards Nigeria and her peoples. Your Honour, thank you for coming.

2. At this juncture, I wish to pay tributes to the Special Guest of Honour, Amb. Andrew Young. A former Congressman, a two-term Mayor of Atlanta, former US Ambassador and Special Representative to the United Nations. Amb. Andrew Young is a global personality, a civil rights activist in his own right, and a Pan- Africanist at heart and in spirit. In this connection, I would like to congratulate you (and Amb. Carl Masters) for the role you played in the just ended successful Sullivan Summit that traced DNAs of African Americans to their specific African countries of origin. Among others, it has just been revealed that the Mayor of Atlanta, Mr. Kassim Reid, originated from Nigeria.

Amb. Young is a man who is not afraid to say at any time that Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general, will overcome her present challenges. Amb. Andrew Young has used the epic movie “What is wrong with Nigeria” to tell our story, and he has confided in me that the best is yet to come. Sir, we sincerely appreciate your presence here this evening.

3. May I at this point also acknowledge the presence of Members of the Georgia State Congress, for being here with us. In particular, our Guest of Honour, Rep. Randal Mangham, in his capacity as the Chairman, USA-Africa Chamber of Commerce, and his unceasing drive for bringing the Organized Private Sectors of both countries, to do business for the mutual benefit of our peoples. I shall not pre-empt the incredible experience of Rep. Mangham’s visit to Nigeria, which I believe he would tell this evening.

4. It is most appropriate at this time to recognize the presence of my dear colleagues, the Consuls General and their Trade Commissioners, who have brought their goodwill, friendship and support to this occasion. Their presence is a testimony to the many years of happily existing cooperation and understanding between Nigeria and their respective countries, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. With 144 diplomatic Missions in Nigeria, and 102 Nigerian Missions abroad, it is easy to appreciate the depth of friendship Nigeria has with the world. Thank you for standing by Nigeria during the good, the bad and ugly times in our nation-building efforts. This is what genuine friendship is all about.

5. Also, I take delight to welcome in our midst, the presence of a young and dynamic Nigerian entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry, Mr. Kenneth Yellowe. He is the Chairman & CEO of Global Energy, and a philanthropist, and has come all the way from Houston, Texas to grace this occasion. Mr. Yellowe is involved in various indigenous private sector initiatives in the Niger Delta, calculated to see Nigeria emerge as an effective competitor in the oil and gas industry. He has also participated in activities that will assist Government reform the energy sector by having a joint venture agreement for gas distribution in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Sir, we salute you for coming.

6.  At this time, let me acknowledge the presence of some of the Presidents of the Nigerian Organizations in the Southeast of the US, who in spite of their very busy schedules in arranging for their own anniversary celebration, made it a point of duty to be here with us today. We have Dr. Patrick Idoye, from Tennessee, we have Dr. Clement Ebio from Alabama, we have Mr. Leo Okoli, from Missouri, we have Mr. Victor kienka, from Oklahoma, and we have Mr. Chukwuemeka Ikenekwu, from South Carolina. Thank you so much for ministering to the needs of Nigerians in your respective States and for being good ambassadors for Nigeria.

Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

7. After five decades of Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain, on October 1, 1960, there is no doubt that many of our friends and well wishers have continued to express frustration, and wonder why, a country regarded at birth, as the leading light of the Black race and endowed with so much, is yet to harness and utilize her huge material and human potentials for development. To these well-meaning friends, we say tonight, we truly appreciate and understand your concerns, and sometimes criticisms, of our performance as a nation. Let me assure you that you are not alone, because even some of our compatriots in the Diaspora, who are well represented in this audience, sometimes feel the same way. The plain truth however, is that this is only part of our story, as we need to be wary of the danger of a single story.

8. This special occasion of a golden anniversary calls for a measure of sober reflection and stock-taking. Candidly, we cannot because of understandable frustration forget the progress, however moderate, Nigeria has made against all odds. Lest we forget, as a nation, we inherited six dubious reputation of military coup d’ etats, a devastating 30 months civil war, many ethnic and religious conflicts, the Nigeria-Cameroon boundary dispute, and recently, the Niger Delta conflict. While not excusing bad governance that has trailed the better part of our 50 years history, significantly, no one should underplay the gigantic and complex effort in managing 150 million inhabitants.

9. Ours is the most populous black nation on earth, comprising 250 ethnic and religious groups with passionate and fixated identities, and welding this polyglot into a modern nation state, is not a cakewalk. Comparatively speaking, it is a fact of history that two large countries in Europe that tried to transit from authoritarian regime into democracy, both failed and disintegrated into many States. We also know that it took the mother of all democracies, that is the USA, more than 250 years of nation building and hard work to reach this enviable level of development that is worthy of emulation.

10. Happily, today, by the Grace of God, Nigeria is for the past ten years, fully in the throes of democracy, and there will be no going back. A measure of national and political stability has been restored in Nigeria in a remarkable fashion. The present Administration is of the firm belief that the time has finally come to harness Nigeria’s immense resources, entrepreneurial know-how, and creative capacity to place her where she rightly belongs. It is set to tackle the problems of power, security, infrastructure, and exemplify zero tolerance for corruption. President Jonathan in his national broadcast to Nigerians today, pledged to personally fight corruption in a transparent manner.

11. The Administration has therefore set in motion a process of profound political and economic reform measures that would engender sustained stability, economic growth, wealth and job creation. These reform measures are anchored on the rule of law, accountability, due process and openness with a free press. This vision is personally driven by our President, with a view to propelling Nigeria to its desired goal to be among the 20th largest economies in the world, by the year 2020. Indeed, we are not alone in this quest, projection and optimism.

12. According to the Business Insider of September 27, 2010, that is, only three days ago, on Emerging Markets, there are six economies in the world expected to lead their regions soon. They are called the MAVINS and they include; Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa. In a nutshell, even with our problems and challenges; at 50, it is gratifying that most objective analysts [of] the Nigerian situation admit that there is an observable positive shift, and that if these efforts are sustained with equal vigor and determination, Nigeria will in no distant future leapfrog the poverty gap. They observed that after all, 5 years after the unfortunate [Nigeria-Biafra civil war which started in 1967 and] ended in 1970, by 1975, Nigeria was at a comparable level of economic development with today’s [Pacific Asian economies also known as the] Asean Tigers.

13. What is more, H. E. President Jonathan has pledged to do all that is necessary, to place Nigeria on the path of good governance through the conduct of free and fair elections, by ensuring that every vote must count. With the recent appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega, as the new Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, and the fundamental changes in the electoral law, Nigerians are confident that the era of impunity, electoral fraud and malpractices are over.

14. Furthermore, Nigeria is aware that neither dignity nor economic development can thrive without security of lives and property. On this score, the Niger Delta post Amnesty Programme is on course, following the successful process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former militants in the region. Today, it is on record that 20,192 former militants have turned in their weapons. As a result, oil production is on the increase, the confidence of the business community has been restored, and the incidence of kidnapping of foreigners has reduced in the Niger Delta region.

15. Indeed at 50, (and rightly so), we should raise these issues, because some reviews on Nigeria tend to put searchlight on only what we did not do well, by painting a doomsday scenario, without the recognition of what we have done well. I can testify to you, time and again, that there is a palpable paradigm shift and that Nigerians are set to take their destinies with both hands. In the final analysis, what unites Nigeria is by far more than what divides it, and our cup will remain half full and not half empty.

16. On Nigeria – US relations, President Jonathan’s admiration for the U.S as a beacon of hope, freedom, law and justice, is sincere and unwavering. Happily, with the recent visit of President Jonathan to the U.S, relations between our two countries are upbeat and excellent.  This shared optimism is the desired tonic Nigeria needs from her friends and well-meaning partners, this remarkable year. It would be recalled that not too long ago, Nigeria’s name was removed from the club of 14 countries she had no reason to belong to in the first place. It would also be recalled that the unacceptable categorization of Nigeria in this club was provoked by the irresponsible behavior and attempted terrorist act of a young man, who was trained and educated outside Nigeria. It is indeed noteworthy that we have put all these behind us.

17. As a matter of fact, there is a noticeable momentum of mark of special relations, in all aspects of our bilateral cooperation with the US. This was what informed Nigeria’s signatory in April, this year, of a Bi-National Commission Agreement with the US. The BNC Agreement provides a broad framework within which to strengthen and broaden the basis of our bilateral cooperation, and elevate our partnership in pursuit of shared goals and enduring values. In so doing, it is important to realize that the US, as a great friend will assist, but will not lead our development efforts.

18. The responsibility is ours. Since the BNC kicked off, vital issues in our bilateral relations such as; the electoral reform, energy and investments, the Niger Delta and Maritime security have been discussed. Without doubt, this agreement was hammered out to cement Nigeria’s strategic position in Africa. As I have often told some of our friends, when you look closely at the map of Africa, it is like a shot gun facing downwards, but the trigger, whether you go east or west, north or south, is always in Nigeria. How can you then discuss Africa without Nigeria?

19. According to a recent statement by the US Assistant Secretary of State, Amb. Johnnie Carson, Nigeria is not only a major source of US petroleum supply, but a dominant economy in West Africa, second largest economy in Africa, a major contributor to international peace and security, and has one of the most educated group of immigrants in North America.  He submits that these criteria make Nigeria a strong, robust and vibrant partner of the US in global affairs. I cannot take anything away from what the Assistant Secretary has said but would like to add that Nigeria is also the 6th largest petroleum producer in the world, that supplies sixteen and a half percent of US gas needs more than any Middle East country, thereby contributing to her energy security needs. Nigeria holds the 8th largest reservoir of gas in the world, and is endowed with more than 34 solid minerals.

20. In terms of peace-keeping, Nigeria has made unmatched contributions in Africa. She believed at independence in 1960, as manifest destiny, that her freedom would not be secure if other African States are not free. This Afro-centric nature of the Nigerian foreign and defense policy, was the basis for sending Nigerian troops to serve in the UN peace-keeping force in the Congo. In recognition of her high standing in the comity of nations, the then UN,SG, appointed a Nigerian as the first African to command a UN peace-keeping force in the Congo.

21. Ever since, Nigeria has sent peace-keeping forces in every country in Africa that has gone through conflict. Notably, were efforts made in Liberia and the Sierra-Leone, where we spent about $12billion and paid the supreme price with the blood of our children, without which these two countries would have gone under and disintegrated. Today, there is concern within UN’s circles that Nigerian peace-keepers should hurry to help stabilize the situation in Somalia before it deteriorates further. As for the Darfur situation, a Nigeria remains the hybrid Force Commander assisting to stabilize the region and to ensure that the situation is under control.

22. It is also important to underline the historical fact that Nigeria was instrumental as an honorary frontline State, to the liberation of the Southern African countries of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, where we equally spent billions of dollars. As you may be aware, Nigeria is the 4th largest UN troops contributor in the world, after Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and also a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

23. Other pioneering international roles played by Nigeria include the formation of the Organization of African Unity, (now AU), in May 1963. In January 1966, she was the first member State to host the 54- nation meeting of the Commonwealth outside London.  In December, 2003, she hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. (CHOGM). Additionally, in May 1975, she spearheaded the formation of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), as well as, the formation of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in 2001.

24. At this juncture, it is right and appropriate to say as noted by Amb. Johnnie Carson, that Nigeria has the largest and the most vigorous intellectual community in Africa, which is a reflection of her immense human capital and potential for development. She has employed this endowment as an effective tool of foreign policy by consistently assisting development efforts in all regions of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, countries under the framework of Technical Aid Corps, (TAC). This is similar to the American Peace Corps. Within the Caribbean region, Nigerian professionals are rendering services in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Belize and even Cuba.

25. May I now salute all Nigerians in the American Diaspora, who have distinguished themselves in many areas of human endeavour, especially in the arts, science and technology, business, sports, entertainment and you can add to it.  For the records, today, there is virtually no college in the US, without Nigerian professors and students; there is no major hospital in the US without hardworking Nigerian medical personnel. As a testimony to their hard work, the best 2010 car design for Ford Motors in Detroit, was by a young Nigerian; a Nigerian with the IBM, today has 70 patents in US, and 130 worldwide to his  credit; a company owned by a Nigerian is trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and he is today, a Trade and Policy Adviser to President Barrack Obama; a Nigerian is also a member of the Board of the US highest scientific discovery, the NASA; Nigerians are today occupying Deanship positions in Engineering at top US colleges; and a Nigerian has made vast contributions in adapting the GPS from military to civilian use.

26. I have lost count of how many Nigerians that have played in the NBA, as well as, the entertainment industry.

In all these, note that the womenfolk are not left out. A Nigerian is the Managing Director of the World Bank; a Nigerian is also the Vice President (Africa) at the World Bank; and the first coast to coast teen pilot in the US, is a Nigerian girl. These feats are replicated all over Europe, Asia and Africa. It was in recognition of all these achievements and your role as equal stakeholders in the Nigerian project, that the Federal Government of Nigeria created the Diaspora Commission, which has passed through the third reading in the National Assembly. Also, I am particularly gratified that your prayers to vote in future elections in Nigeria after 2011 elections, has finally been answered. Remember that our greatest resource as a nation is human capital, that is, our brains and not natural resources because no nation has ever industrialized in the 20th and 21st centuries with natural resources alone.

27. This address will not be complete without thanking those who made contributions in making this night memorable. I salute all cultural entertainers, the masquerade group from South Carolina, Heritage Drummers and Dancers, led by Chief Alani Ogunlade, and the Ima Cultural Group, led by Ms. Gloria Udoh, for coming to showcase different parts of Nigeria’s rich and beautiful dance steps. I salute the award winning artists, Messrs. Ibiyinka and Okoye for such display of aesthetic works of art and paintings. This glimpse of Nigeria’s cultural display this evening, readily reminds one of the unmatched 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), when Nigeria hosted the entire black world to showcase the African cultural heritage. Indeed, whether one is referring to the Rio carnival or the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, they all drew inspiration from mother Africa.

29. The Delta Air Lines contributions over the years in making our anniversary celebrations successful is appreciated. We would like to urge the Delta Air Lines management to continue to improve their services, because Nigerians deserve the best, more so, as the Atlanta-Lagos route has proved to be the most lucrative for the Air Line across the Atlantic.

30. [I thank] the Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia for rallying Nigerians; young and old, men and women, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations, in one accord to celebrate our 50th jubilee anniversary. To portray the beauty of our diversity in a remarkable way, ANOG has organized a week-long activity that includes a symposium, cultural show-piece, picnic, soccer, and a road-show parade, the first of its kind in the City of Atlanta. This is how it should be for a nation with one destiny.

31. In conclusion, with the paradigm shift on good governance in Nigeria today, I assure you and our friends and partners in the international community, that these efforts would be sustained, and that the sacrifices of our heroes past shall never be in vain.

32. May I now enjoin you to please rise and toast to the happily existing friendship and cooperation between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the United States of America.

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