AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, DR GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN, GCFR, TO THE PARLIAMENT OF COTE D’ IVOIRE DURING HIS STATE VISIT ON 2ND MARCH 2013.
1. It is always, for me, a great delight to be in Cote d’Ivoire and to receive the generous welcome of the Ivorian Government and people. The warmth of reception reflects the strong bonds between our two nations and peoples which we must continually work to strengthen and deepen.
2. I am certain that our region and our continent are the richer and stronger when we come together, when we collaborate, and when we approach common problems not only with similar perspectives as we happily do, but also with a sense of purpose and action.
3. It is reassuring that Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria are now setting a much cherished example of this cooperation and partnership.
4. I bring with me the greetings and the best wishes of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
5. I am grateful for the honour of addressing this Assembly and the opportunity to have a dialogue with you, distinguished members, who play such a vital role in the governance of this great country. The critical role of the National Assembly in the promotion and sustenance of democracy and good governance all over the world, and indeed in Cote d’Ivoire, cannot be ignored or under-estimated.
6. Mr. President, honourable members of parliament, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this occasion is an encouraging moment for me, standing in front of fellow brothers and sisters in the West African sub-region. We have similar history, similar challenges and similar triumphs. On a daily basis, we face the challenge of building an enduring democracy, to ensure that each and every one of our citizens will have a sense of belonging.
7. We face the challenge of economic prosperity, with a shared determination to banish poverty and deprivation from our lands. We equally face the challenge of nation-building: to create an enabling environment where our diverse cultures and traditions can coexist in peace, unity and harmony.
8. Our triumphs are also similar in many respects. Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have both overcome devastating civil wars. Ordinarily, we should not be where we are today because of the bitterness and rancour of the past, because of the pain and the plunder that political crises brought upon us at different times in our history. But here we are today, waxing stronger by the day and marching to our destinies with determination, tolerance and compromise.
9. Our recent struggles and victories indicate, to me, that the worst, for us, is over. The time has now come for us to work harder, work more harmoniously and forge ahead with our goals of building great countries that the whole world will be proud to associate with.
10. I must concede that for those who do not understand Africa and our history, their views may, more often than not, emanate from news headlines and sensational stories that generally project our continent as a region of conflicts, poverty, underdevelopment, broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations. But Africa’s story is much more complex than that.
11. Our governance systems have evolved from village republics, through city states, emirates, kingdoms, and empires to the countries we now have today. We have also travelled through the valleys of colonial and military dictatorships with the attendant pain and dislocation. It is gratifying that most of West Africa is now democratic and our people are determined to defend our democracy.
12. Mr President, our democracies came about as a result of our peoples’ insistence that their votes matter. At independence, most African countries were saddled with weak governance arrangements and political institutions. These and other sundry challenges exacerbated the crisis of national identity and nation building.
13. Most of our states lost their first decades of independence to internal strife as political contests often degenerated into violent adversarial situations and, at times, even armed conflicts, leading to military rule.
14. After decades of military dictatorship or one-party rule in many countries, Africa’s nascent democracies are now striving to consolidate. The continent is striving to deepen democracy for good political, economic and social governance so as to build firm foundations for peace and stability on the continent. This is borne out of a realisation that the prosperity and welfare of our people constitute the bedrock upon which durable peace and security can be anchored and nurtured.
15. The challenge of governance in Africa is to order our societies and manage the contest for political power in a manner that assures collective security and peaceful co-existence. To do this, we must summon the best that there is in us, especially our tradition for dialogue and support system that is firmly embedded in the character of our peoples, nations and civilizations.
16. Today, indeed, all over Africa, democracy and good governance are accepted as a political, economic and societal necessity. They are seen as necessary conditions for the advancement of peace and security. For Africa, the principles and institutions of democracy and good governance should promote the following:
· Constitutionalism, the rule of law, the protection of human rights as well as an independent judiciary within a system of checks and balances; · Responsiveness, accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs and resources;
· Broad and popular participation in political processes and consensual orientation informed by the mediation of societal differences in a manner that best serves the interest of the whole community, in an equitable and inclusive manner.
· The ability of Government to properly manage socio-economic development and ensure efficient delivery of public goods.
17. Indeed, it is self-evident that people, who feel secure and free, governed by the rule of law and not by the whims of men, are less likely to go to war with each other, either within or across borders, than those who do not.
18. The current realities are obvious to all: the people of Africa want to exercise their right to free choice and they are ready to defend what they believe in.
19. We therefore risk the very institution we are trying to build if we exclude the people who voted us into power in the governance process. That is why we have to build strong institutions and allow the rule of law to take root. Democracy without strong institutions defeats its own objectives.
20. In building institutions, I have been fascinated by the beauty of the separation of power principle which advocates that the executive, the parliament and the judiciary perform their functions independently without cross-interference by each arm of government.
21. My understanding of this separation of power concept is to the effect that the various arms of government should in the discharge of their functions, act cooperatively and communally, in the interest of the people who voted us into office.
22. My belief is that the separation of power is not a separation of government. There is so much work to be done for the good of our people that I see separation of power more as division of labour, so that the work of governance can be effectively accomplished.
23. The cooperation of the various arms of government that I advocate must necessarily guarantee the following; i. Food, clothing and shelter, for these are the primary needs of every human society. ii. Fundamental freedoms, so that citizens can aspire to expand the frontiers of our present civilization. iii. International cooperation across countries and continents as we members of the same humanity, work to ensure peace, justice and equity for man and nature.
24. Democracy works best when everybody is equal before the law, when there are established processes for the resolution of disputes in business and politics, when the basic rights of the citizens are defended and protected by our institutions no matter whose ox is gored.
25. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in the light of this, I salute you and the good people of Cote d’Ivoire for your promotion of open, accountable and responsive government. We are your allies in this undertaking and you can always count on our support and encouragement. As Africans, wedded to the same destiny, we will not shirk our responsibility of being our brothers’ keeper.
26. We are ourselves daily confronted with the multiplicity of demands and expectations that are the hallmarks of a multicultural society. There are some, here and elsewhere, who might think that the straightjacket of a dictatorship is the surest way to bottle up these grievances and dismantle dissent.
27. That is wrong. Nothing strengthens a society more than openness and a leadership courageous enough to understand the inherent positives that flow from these contending demands. As African leaders, we have to, calmly and dispassionately, harness these energies and utilise them to serve the best interest of our people.
28. Often enough, there has been too much attachment to past definitions of self. We are all too quick to see ourselves as our forbears saw themselves centuries ago, not minding the changed and the changing nature of the society we live in. A major challenge to democracy in Africa, in particular, is widespread poverty. Poverty dis-empowers our people and retards growth and sustainable development.
29. We must, therefore, assiduously promote the welfare of all citizens and create the enabling environment in which they can fully realise their aspirations and potentials. This would enable them, as stakeholders, to invest in the protection of peace and stability of our countries. And this is achievable.
30. Your pre-eminent city, Abidjan, is an example of the future of Africa: a bustling cosmopolitan centre of mixed ethnicities and nationalities. 31. My own countrymen and people form a sizeable proportion of the population of this wonderful city. They have brought their energy and skills to enrich the economy and culture of Abidjan and other towns and villages in this country. That is the African spirit at work. That is the way we should see ourselves. Borders divide us physically, but our spirits are one and indivisible.
32. It is therefore imperative for West African governments to follow the lead of their citizens. We need to set free the energy of our peoples by loosening the bolts of bureaucracies that have stifled trade and exchange of ideas across the sub-continent. The borders we defend so resolutely nowadays are, after all, fairly recent creations. Useful as they may be, they must not be more important than the welfare of the sub-continent and its peoples.
33. It is estimated that there are billions of dollars waiting to be unlocked by improved trade among our countries. Presently, most of this trade is underground. It has resulted in lost revenue for our governments and brought untold sufferings to our citizens engaged in this venture.
34. More importantly, it has complicated the security environment in our sub-region.
35. Merchants of death who bring the small arms and light weapons that have brought anguish and despair to our sub-continent are using the smuggling routes that our traders use. We must continue to work on easing the bottlenecks along our borders to bring genuine traders into the open.
36. In this way, we can deploy our resources more quickly to interdict these criminals who import harmful substances into our countries.
37. I am convinced that urgent and effective tackling of the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons will no doubt, significantly reduce the security challenges to democracy and stability in Africa in particular. To this end, international cooperation between states, regional and international organisations is of utmost importance.
38. There is also a worrying upsurge of piracy and other maritime crimes that is threatening security, trade and other economic activities in parts of Africa.
39. In the Gulf of Guinea, international criminal activities are often targeted at cargo ships and the taking of hostages for ransom. This negatively impacts economic growth and development, as shippers are discouraged from transporting their goods through piracy-prone waterways.
40. This realization makes it incumbent on the states of the sub-region to forge strategic alliances with other members of the international community in curbing this menace.
41. No doubt, Cote D’Ivoire has played its part in providing solutions to the ills that confront this region. We recognise and salute your contributions to the enthronement of peace and progress across West Africa.
42. As the second most populous nation in the region and an economic power-house as well, your country has shown leadership. Part of my mission here is to reaffirm my country’s commitment to sharing this burden of leadership with you. We stand to gain a lot by strengthening linkages between your institutions and ours, in areas ranging from agriculture, finance, culture and sports to security.
43. We have undertaken momentous reforms in these areas and we are of the belief that we could both share our ideas and experience. We will therefore seek improved coordination between our officials and experts and yours to enrich our two sister-nations.
44. Permit me, Ladies and Gentlemen to recount a tale that I always find instructive. In August 1914, an English explorer, Ernest Shackleton, placed an advert in a London newspaper. It reads: Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return, doubtful. Honour and recognition, in case of success.’
45. The man was seeking to build a team that will explore the Antarctic. Some 28 men responded to the advert and embarked on a 22-month endurance trial under the most hostile condition to traverse the Antarctic on foot through ice, snow and intense cold. Although the task was not completed, Shackleton and his men are today remembered for their courage and sense of honour. Others have since completed the job, following on the trails of these bold souls.
46. Our job is no less arduous, but I dare say the environment is not as forbidden as that confronted by those explorers. The men and women gathered here today are the embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of our peoples, and we must not fail them. We are, most of us here, the elite of our countries.
47. I recall your recent struggle for democracy and how the world rose in your support. For me and my country Nigeria, our support for your struggle was based on principle and our common aspiration for freedom, equity and justice. We decided to stand with the people of Cote D’Ivoire to demand that the ballot must be respected. Our ultimate objective was to work with like-minds across countries and people to insist:
i. That all elections conducted in our continent must be free, fair and credible.
ii. That no person or group should wake up to change the constitution of its people without the support of the people.
iii. That whenever elections are conducted, the driving force should be the people and nothing but the people who stand to collectively benefit from its outcomes and that the principle of one man one vote; one woman one vote; one youth one vote should be respected.
48. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a time to show true leadership to confront the challenges facing our countries. Pulling together, we can more quickly overcome these. Our two countries are richly blessed. In Cote D’Ivoire, whether you are Baule, Bete, or Dioula, you belong to a united nation. It is the same in Nigeria, whether you are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa-Fulani, or you belong to a minority group like mine, Ijaw.
49. Together, we must build our nations on the foundation of our diversity, and allow for inclusiveness and equitable participation of all our peoples, to assure peaceful co-existence and political stability. Regardless of our religion or ethnicity, we must all work together and use our diversities to build stronger economies and robust and inclusive systems that benefit all.
50. I assure you of the continued friendship and comradeship of Nigerians and our willingness to share your joys and burdens in the spirit of true sisters and brothers.
51. Long live the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
52. I thank you all.
Credit: Reuben Abati