AN ADDRESS BY GOVERNOR NYESOM EZENWO WIKE ON THE OCCASION OF NIGERIA’S 61ST INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY, 1ST OCTOBER, 2021.
My dear people of Rivers State; fellow Nigerians
Today, we have gathered to celebrate the 61st independence anniversary of our beloved nation, Nigeria. For 61 years we have existed and lived together as one independent nation with our destiny in our own hands.
2. But at 61, it does not seem to me that there is anything worthy of our celebrating except, perhaps, the fact that we have remained independent and managed to struggle with our existence for all these years.
3. At independence, we were not only and still the most popular black nation on earth; we have been the most influential country in Africa, our proud and beautiful heritage, and where we have made tremendous and immeasurable impact as the big brother.
4. At independence, we were and still a rich nation, the largest economy and market in Africa; notably wealthy in human and natural resources, with immense agrarian lands and related endowments that are more than adequate to feed ourselves and the rest of Africa, if properly harnessed.
5. At independence, we were at par and even better in resource endowments and potential for development with our contemporaries like Malaysia, Singapore and several other countries.
6. At independence and even now we are a nation blessed with very hardworking and resourceful people. Our youths are some of the smartest people in the world, doing great exploits, flying our flag and making us proud across the world in music, dance, acting, culture, arts, sports, academics and our unique expressions and community ways of live.
7. At independence, our Universities were among the best in the world; our public institutions were strong, effective and accountable to the people in service delivery.
8. At independence, our judicial system was not just efficient and effective; it served justice to the common man, and our judges and judgments were recognized, respected and adopted internationally.
9. Our part to independence was charted by great, patriotic, visionary, knowledgeable, compassionate, caring and inspirational leaders.
10. Our founding leaders not only loved Nigeria and worked hard for its independence; there singular vision and commitment was to build a united, peaceful and prosperous black nation that would lead Africa to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the civilized world within the shortest possible period.
11. They embraced and worked for the entrenchment of democracy, the rule of law, judicial independence and true federalism where the constituent sub-nations will be free and independent over their affairs with their own constitution.
12. Yes, we had Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great Zik of Africa; we had Chief Obafami Awolowo, the sage and unmatched transformational pace-setter, and we had Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto – a consummate transformer and manager of peoples and resources.
13. Individually and collectively, they all labored and led to their last days and laid the foundations for the progress of their respective regions and the development of Nigeria.
14. Indeed, there was a country, respected and admired the world over for its enormous natural endowments, quality of leadership, great potential and acknowledged as the undisputable leader of Africa.
15. Suddenly, the military intervened and the country not only snapped; it was set on a reverse course from the pressure and frustrations of military adventurism.
16. The interventionists not only dismantled our democracy and distorted our federal system by balkanizing the country into politically inspired, inequitable and unviable and dependent states and local government areas; they also succeeded in creating so many fault lines and ocean of injustices, which have continued to blunt, hunt and debunk the basis of the nation’s existence as one indivisible country with one destiny.
17. However, the restoration of democracy in 1999, after a protracted and bloody struggle and sacrifice, again, raised so much hope about the future of Nigeria and the aspirations of our people for a better deal from the government.
18. With democracy, Nigerians expected the timeless values of the rule of law, judicial independence, inclusiveness, social justice, transparency and accountability to be the basis of governance and transformation.
19. With democracy, Nigerians expected its political leadership to harness the country’s resources to drive economic growth, manage our diversity, promote national unity, provide basic infrastructure, protect lives and property and advance well-being of everyone, including the less privileged and vulnerable ones.
20. With democracy, Nigerians expected a national Assembly that would be loyal to the people, make good laws and render strong and effective oversight over the executive devoid of ethnic, regional, party or political sentiments.
21. With democracy, Nigerians expected a judiciary with capacity, strength, and courage to protect its independence against executive intimidation and effectively use its powers to be the bastion of democracy, the rule of law, and social justice as the last hope of the common man.
22. With democracy, Nigerians expected strong national institutions, the bureaucracy, the security institutions and the Independent National Electoral Commission to be loyal only to the constitution, the law and the people.
23. But today, after 61 years of independence and 22 years of unbroken democracy, it only seems there’s not much to be excited about Nigeria except our notional sense of independence and unity that had endured this long in the face of sustained fratricidal assaults to its existence.
24. Let us make a candid assessment of the situation of our country, especially in the last six years, and tell ourselves some hard, undiluted truths.
25. First of all, we cannot deny that most of the countries that started with us 61 years ago are far more advanced and developed with superlative standards of living for their people than Nigeria.
26. Our democracy is being weakened and put to enormous stress and jeopardy with the continuous violation of our constitution by the Federal Government and other public institutions.
27. The National Assembly has literarily abandoned its constitutional checks and balance role over the executive arm of government and become a slavish appendage to the Federal Government as rubberstamp Assembly.
28. Neither is the situation and postures of the nation’s judiciary any better, where only a few judicial officers can stand the test of judicial courage, integrity and commitment to substantial justice in the performance of their constitutional responsibilities, while the entire judiciary, especially at the national level, has been bullied to nervousness to the detriment of our democracy, the rule of law and social justice.
29. The Federal Government claimed to be fighting corruption but public corruption has amplified out of control before their very eyes; while bigotry, hypocrisy, abuse and misuse of public office and power and the manipulation and politicization of everything, including ethnicity is now the hallmark of governance at the centre so much so that Nigeria is more divided today than ever.
30. In the last six years, our economy has been in tatters and gasping without any realistic hopes for meaningful recovery in the nearest future as high inflation rates and massive unemployment continue to push more and more people into dehumanizing misery and abject poverty.
31. They therefore told lies when they say that our economy is growing and doing well when no one is feeling the benefits of an improving economy, if any.
32. Unable to mobilized sufficient domestic revenues, Nigeria is now one of the most indebted countries in the world, yet the Federal Government’s appetite for more loans remains high even as we are approaching the twilight of its tenure. The effect of this is to mortgage the progress and wellbeing of future generation of Nigerians with billions of debts burden in hard currencies.
33. We know and we agree that there is no country without one form of security challenges or the other. But truth be told, despite repeated assurances, nothing has demonstrated in the last six years that Nigerians can enjoy improved security of lives and property any time soon.
34. Rather, the facts continue to show that no one or nowhere in Nigeria, including educational institutions, worship places, women and children, is safe anymore with the unending Boko harm insurgency, the rapid killing instincts of bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers and the apparent lack of will and wits on the part of the Federal Government to protect Nigerians from becoming almost daily prey to destruction, killings and gender-based violence.
35. As we therefore celebrate our independence today, we must both reflect on the state of our country and the direction it is wrongly headed and move more quickly with all seriousness and sense of responsibility to rescue this nation of ours before it becomes too late.
36. There is no doubt that we are greater and better together as one indivisible nation than going our separate ways.
37. And although our challenges are multiple and varied, they are not beyond redemption. What is needed is the courage and commitment of our leaders and everyone to find sustainable solutions to these challenges and lay the groundwork for a new peaceful, united and prosperous Nigeria through national dialogue and on the basis of justice, equity and accommodation.
38. Above all, we must defend the basic structures of democracy and good governance by rising up to protect our right to free, fair and credible elections by demanding for the immediate incorporation of electronic voting and simultaneous transmission of results into our electoral system, which the nation’s electoral management body has repeated said, it has both the capacity, commitment and infrastructure to effect, if only the National Assembly would allow.
39. The National Assembly stands condemned before God and the people of Nigeria should they fail to yield to this overwhelming demand by Nigerians for electronic transmission of election results. This is not a matter of politics of sentiments; it is a matter of the survival of our nation, which is superior to all other considerations.
40. For us in Rivers State, our commitment to one Nigeria is irrevocable but we will never cease to demand the remaking of the country to reflect true and fiscal federalism, devolution of more powers and resources to States and local governments and the total reformation of the repressive police system to allow for effective Governor’s oversight, control and funding at the State level.
41. Ladies and gentlemen, as I had repeatedly sad, Rivers State belongs to Nigeria and all those who live in it. We therefore have no reason to discriminate against any person or deny any resident the benefits of our services and good governance.
42. We have spent the last six years in laying the most concrete foundations for rapid economic growth and put the entire State on the path to a prosperous future.
43. Our economy has grown far beyond the national average and is expected to accelerate even further in the coming years with the measures we have put in place, including fiscal discipline, improved revenue generation and massive provision of infrastructure as long as the nation maintains appreciable level of macro-economic stability.
44. It is not by chance that Rivers State is today ranked as the most fiscally improved and responsible State in Nigeria that can survive independently on its own internally generated revenues. This is as a result of the fiscal discipline, reduction of corruption in the procurement process and our expanding capacity to mobilize funds from domestic sources to fund our development agenda.
45. We conceded that there is still more to do across the State in the provision of all-season roads, bridges, quality healthcare, education, water, electricity, housing, food security, full employment and social security for citizens.
46. But one thing we do have is the will and commitment to serve our State and deliver quality socio-economic infrastructure to better living conditions and wellbeing of everyone.
47. This we have evidently demonstrated with the construction of over 700 kilometers of roads in the last six years, including over 20 dual-carriage express ways and nine flyovers to ease the movement of goods and services and drive socio-economic development.
48. Our commitment to the development of the State is also evident in the sheer number and quality of basic primary and secondary schools we have reconstructed and equipped, the quality of hospitals, including the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, the multi-billion-naira Dr. Peter Odili Cancer and Cardiovascular diseases centre, we have either delivered or under construction and the outstanding turnaround of the entire judicial infrastructures and other public institutions, including our tertiary institutions, abandoned public buildings and other assets.
49. Days ago, we approved funding for the execution of several more projects, including the dualization of the 27 kilometers Chokocho-Igbodo road, the Oyigbo – Afam road, the Rumuokurushe – Elimgbu flyover, the Nabo Graham-Douglas campus of the Nigerian Law School, the new Magistrates Court complex, and the Rivers State Judicial Institute to further consolidate on our development agenda for the State.
50. We are building the Rivers State Judicial Institute to complement the services of the National Judicial Institute in providing regular training and retraining of our judicial officers, magistrates and other senior judicial staff to advance effective and efficient administration of justice in the State, which as you know, is pivotal to peace, security and socio-economic development.
51. Also, we have been able to transform several of our rural communities with improved infrastructure, including internal roads, water, while many more communities are due to be similarly provided with in the coming months and years to improve rural economic activities and better conditions of living.
52. Our commitment to protecting lives and property remains strong. For us, the provision of security, despite the federally imposed challenges is our primary duty and we are happy with the success we have recorded so far to ensure the security and safety of citizens across the State.
53. We assure you that we will not give any breathing space to criminals to freely operate in the State, hence will continue with the demolition of shanties and other hideouts used by criminals to terrorize the State, businesses and our people.
54. As you know, we now live in a digital world and Rivers State cannot remain indifferent to the digital revolution, if we must accelerate our development.
55. Accordingly, we have since started the digitization of the State with the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service, the State’s Judiciary and some public institutions, including the Ministries of Commerce, Justice as well as Lands already operating on the digital platforms.
56. We are going to also digitalize other important ministries and public services to expand our tax base, e-commerce and the provision of education and healthcare services to remote areas, reduce corruption and increase internal resource mobilization to fund government development projects.
57. We have implicit faith in the youth of Rivers State and their capacity to achieve whatever they set out to achieve with quality education and economic opportunities and support. That is why in addition to advancing access to quality education at all levels, we have provided the Real Madrid Football Academy and other platforms for them to acquire live skills to create wealth, live a responsible life and contribute to the development of our State and the nation.
58. We know that entrepreneurship is key to achieving sustainable prosperity. We will therefore continue to support the development of small and medium business as well as partner with the private sector to set up agriculture and manufacturing clusters to advance economic growth, create jobs and eliminate poverty among our people.
59. Fellow Nigerians, at this time and on this occasion of the nation’s 61st independence, we commit to the service and development of Rivers State with new pledges and aspirations, which no challenge or obstacle can prevent us from fulfilling.
60. We believe in the prevailing unity of purpose and the strength of our resources, capabilities, skills and talents to effectively defend our rights and freedoms and advance our collective peace, progress and prosperity within a united and just Nigeria. So, help us God.
61. May God bless our country, Nigeria
62. May God bless our dear Rivers
63. I wish Mr. President and all Nigerians happy 61st independence!
AN ADDRESS BY GOVERNOR NYESOM EZENWO WIKE ON THE OCCASION OF NIGERIA’S 61ST INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY, 1ST OCTOBER, 2021.