I greet you all on this Independence Day.
Today, we join the rest of our fellow citizens both within and outside the country to celebrate the 57thindependence anniversary of our country, Nigeria.
57 years ago, on the 1st of October 1960, we became a free sovereign nation with full responsibility for our destiny as a nation and as a people. After 57 years, we have every reason to celebrate this day because independence was the culmination of the dreams and struggles of our founding fathers for us to forever be in complete control of our affairs as a free, unfettered people.
At independence, our founding fathers were men and women of various ethnographic, political and social thoughts.They were also people of peace and progress. They held and exercised power not for the sake of it, but for its intrinsic values.
They valued the very essence of our diversity, respect for each other’s cultures and beliefs and strivedto build a virile, united and progressive nation out of our heterogeneity.
They worked hard, prayed and hoped that Nigeria would be great and the citizens would before long be free from ignorance, hunger, and poverty and no faith would ever be in danger in our country.
Our founding fathers gave us the 1963 Constitution to instill in us the virtues of democracy, fiscal federalism, and the rule of law. They sought to build our democracy on the timeless pillars of social justice, liberty, equality and solidarity.
Yes, at independence, there was a country – a country with great future; a country that believed in the ideals of economic, social and political justice, a country we were all proud to belong to,and call our own irrespective of ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds. And as citizens, we promised to promote fraternity among us, and the unity of the nation.
However, 57 years after independence, where does our country stand today? While most countries that got independence after us have consolidated and advanced as strong truly united nation with all their diversity; ours has clearly lost direction like an unmanned ship adrift in the Atlantic gasping for rescue.
For 57 years we have moved from one constitution to another; from one type of government to anotherand yet failed to tackle the fundamental challenges of nation building.
We started well no doubt and were on the path of greatness. But we stumbled along the way barely few years into independence and have sadly, failed to find the right balance and direction since then.
As a political norm, democracy is not a gift. It is our God-given right to freely elect those to lead us through a free and fair electoral process. And so those who betray our democracy commit a sacrilege against God and the nation.
After nearly 18 unbroken years of democracy and despite positive assertions to the contrary, our democracy keeps floundering under the watch of the Federal Government just as the vast majority of Nigerians are alienated from the State and estranged from the development process and denied the dividends of democracy.
If economic progress is the test of our democracy then we have woefully failed as a nation. For 57 years we abandoned all other economic options and depended on a single economic product derived from the natural bowels of the Niger Delta.
Today, we are all paying the price for the failure to diversify our economy, which now lies in ruins, severely battered and spewing unprecedented levels of destitution, hardship and poverty. Quite paradoxically, Nigeria is a land of plenty stunted by bad governance, nepotism, alienation, poverty and inequality.
If social harmony is the test of democracy, then we have also failed on that score. For 57 years, we have not been able to rise above ethnic or sectional interest and forge a sense of common identity.
Notwithstanding the platitudes to the contrary, the reality is that we are today a divided nation; a nation constantly flirting with crisis from the hegemonic tendencies of the powers that be, who have failed and are unwilling to even acknowledge the depth of injustice that are perpetratingagainst other sections of the country, especially theminority resource-bearing communities.
We all crave for strong national institutions to support our democracy, protect our freedoms and advance our development. Unfortunately, instead of advancing our democracy and protecting our liberties, some of our most important national institutions, specially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian Police have become the undertakers of their destruction by acts of deliberate compromise, partisanship and even sabotage in the discharge of their constitutional responsibilities.
What else can we attribute INEC’s manifest and chronic inability to conduct free and fair elections since 1999? What else can we attribute INEC’s failures to safeguarded or credibly defend the integrity of any of its elections since 1999?
Why is INEC not bordered that almost each and every of the elections it has conducted since 1999 were virulently disputed for rigging; a situation that has unnecessarily drawn our courts into becoming the defactodeciders of electoral processes and outcomes instead of the primary electorates?
How else can we attribute INEC’s misfeasance and criminal complicity in the emerging but strange jurisprudential contraption in election disputes where fake results produced and procured from the custody of terribly partisan Police agency were validated and accepted as evidentially superior to its own results by the electoral tribunals to overturn the returns it genuinely and rightly made in respect of the outcome of the 2016 legislative re-run elections in Rivers State?
As recently demonstrated in Kenya, a truly independent and assertive judiciary can effectively serve as the bastion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
Regrettably, 57 after independence,our judiciary constantly suffers from systemic intimidation and denied the strength to act with courage and conviction to defend the constitutional rights of Nigerians to freelyelect their leaders through free and fair elections.
It is obvious that for so long as the Federal Government continues to weaken the nation’s democratic institutions, in including the judiciary our democracy will continue to stutter and Nigerians would never have the genuine chance to effectively exercise their constitutional right to freely and fairly elect the right leaders to move the country forward.
Apart from its visible involvement in election rigging, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)of the Nigerian Police has ironically and manifestly become the most serious threat to the security of lives and property in Rivers State. So many people who have been victims of criminal extortion, robbery, kidnapping and torture continue to recount their ordeals from this criminal gang masquerading as security operatives in the State.
While we commend the efforts of the Nigerian Police to ensure the security of lives and property across the country, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that a bad apple spoils the bunch. Therefore, instead of being dismissive and intolerant of public criticism on this issue, we are constrained to once again express our disappointment over the failure of the Inspector of Police to investigate the swelling public outcry against the criminal activities of SARS and do justice to the victims.
Fellow countrymen and women
These are extraordinary times for our country made worse by our failure to successfully redefine and restructure the country towards a progressive path since independence. We know that the ashesfrom the old fires that threatened the stability of our country continue to smoulder unabated.
Yet the future holds great promises for the nation and for its entire people just as the cry for a new Nigeria is loudest now than ever before.The unity and indivisibility of Nigeria has since been settled and no person or group of people has the right to threaten the foundation of our existence with force. Violence is not an option because it is an invitation to greater violence and total disaster.
We must therefore all unite behind the national flag by setting aside the narrative of division, violence and hate and replace them with the narrative of peace and unity as aptly captured by our founding fathers on our coat of arms, be proud of our diversity and build a fairer and just nation for the present and future generations.
We have the innate capacity to overcome all the challenges confronting us, including the inevitability of restructuring the nation, devolving more powers and resources to the States and securing the wellbeing and prosperity of all.
Above all, each and every Nigerian has the key to a peaceful, united and better Nigeria. We must therefore all commit ourselves to sincere leadership, socio-economic justice, fiscal federalism, the rule of law, free and fair elections, respect for human rights, eradication of poverty, access to quality education, full employment and the guarantee of peaceful existence.
Thank you for your attention as I wish you a happy Independence Day!!!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
May God bless our dear Rivers State.
Nyesom Ezenwo Wike CON, GSSRS
Governor of Rivers State.
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