‘What Nigeria needs is true federalism’
BY SEGUN ADIO –
Yearly, the celebration of America’s Independence Day comes along with a passion. At this year’s occasion, new US Ambassador, John Campbell, gave this speech to mark the event in Lagos.
I am delighted that you are all here to help us celebrate the 228 celebration of the 4th of July, our nation’s independence day. Many of you were here last year to join our Independence Day activities. It was at that occasion last year that Ambassador Jeter bid his farewell to Nigeria. Howard Jeter remained a true friend to Nigeria and I am honoured to succeed him as ambassador. In the late 1980s, I had the privilege of serving in Lagos as our political counsellor. I am pleased to return to Nigeria, and on this occasion to Lagos where I hope to visit often. I will like to reacquaint myself with old friends, and in fact the receiving line is a wonderful one after another; I am absolutely delighted that you have come.
One old friend who is not here is George Obiozor, whom I know since my earliest days in Nigeria. I met with George just before he left Nigeria to begin his posting as the new Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America. I do hope that he will receive the same warm reception in Washington that I have found here, as both of our countries continue to share the strongest bilateral ties and friendship. He will be presenting his Letters of Credence to President Bush on July 15. Of course I very much look forward to beginning new friendships.
America has great respect for emerging democracies such as Nigeria, because our own history has taught us to sacrifice, and challenges inherent with establishing a democratic system of government. While the United States is celebrating two hundred and twenty-eight years as a democratic republic, and Nigeria has in fairly recent years just started that journey, and with much work ahead, nevertheless despite this huge age difference, our true democracies have many things in common.
First, we are both large, multiethnic, diverse countries. To address these complexities, both the United States and Nigeria have embraced federalism. The US form of federalism has worked well for us. This has demonstrated particularly to those who do not believe that ethnic identity should be assimilated into the larger society. We have pride ourselves for having created what is often called a “melting pot society.”
We are recognizing that other countries may have put democracy in different forms. So countries like Canada, Switzerland, Nigeria can demand, have often portrayed this federalism that help countries with significant cultural, linguistic and religious diversities by allowing for more state, local and other provincial autonomy to accommodate the wishes of its citizens.
I will say that our melting pot did not emerge as a result government policy; it occurred as a result of social and economic forces, stronger than any government, especially in the case of the United States, the pre-eminence of the English language.
Federalism in the United States has been on for more than two centuries. Each generation has its own salient issues that question whether authority is best left in Washington, state capitals or in the communities.
African governments, including Nigeria, are grappling with their own forms of federalism as being attempted simultaneously to balance legitimate interests of the country, the states and the communities. This too must respond to economic, social and cultural forces stronger than any particular government. Nigeria has to find its own balance between these levels of government, and the United States, my government, will assist where it can.
I need to share something else; the sheer burden of leadership that result from our sheer size, and those people who are often called on to deal with the intractable problems. The economic and political successes of Africans generally, and Nigeria, specifically, are important goals to the United States government. We firmly believe that the democratic system is the best means to achieve that success, because it fosters long term stability and the conditions needed to realize the vast potentials of this country and continent.
Nigeria’s importance in this regard cannot be over stated. The over 130 million Nigerian citizens, roughly one-fifth population of sub-Sahara Africa, deserves rising standards of living and good governance. But we all must acknowledge that developments in Nigeria reverberate far beyond its borders. What Nigerians do to put democratic values in practice can make an enormous contribution to not only Nigeria, but the entire continent of Africa. Nigeria stands as Africa’s largest country no doubt, and all of these countries’ leaders are major additional responsibilities to make the continent succeed. Indeed, Nigeria must succeed and we are committed to doing what we can to support your efforts.
As we celebrate 228 years as a country, we invite all Nigerians to join us and salute freedom-loving people in this Fourth of July with us. I also want to express our gratitude to Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, the Seven Up Bottling Company, Oceans Energy Nigeria Limited and those corporate bodies who have been our sponsors. Enjoy tonight’s programme, avail yourself to our hospitality and have a really good time. Thank you very much for coming.
Culled from Diplomatic AGE, Thursday, July 8, 2004