On this Democracy Day 2005 let us give gratitude to our Creator, Almighty God for sparing our lives, keeping us from disaster, guiding our paths, and for continuing to bless our dear country. We have traveled a long way together as a people. We have faced some travail but we must thank God that our soils have remained fertile, our economy is making progress, our society is at peace, and our people are healthy and blessed by God.
I thank God that our critics remain mature and active. It is a sign of the strength and robustness of our democracy and tolerance. Almighty God has also used our country and her leaders to assist other African states especially those facing political and economic turmoil and those engulfed in leadership crises. We thank God that we have, as a people and nation, been able to make some positive impact in the areas where we have intervened.
Let me also thank you all, citizens of Nigeria, for your support, prayers, understanding, and patriotism. The singular fact that you have stood by the government across all divides and made sacrifices in support of our comprehensive reform agenda is evidence of our collective commitment to reposition Nigeria for peace, stability, harmony, growth, development and democracy. I thank you also for your very enthusiastic endorsement of, and support for, our all-out war against corruption in all its manifestations. Corruption brings a nation and people no good. Rather, it kills innovation and creativity, compromises public morality, contaminates individual and collective dignity, distorts national plans, and erodes commitment to hard work and the dignity of labour. As your government, we shall not be deterred, we shall continue the fight, and with your usual support, we shall surely win.
Our reforms are yielding positive results and I urge you to continue to support our policies and programmes especially now that we have gone over the most difficult times. But we must never forget where we are coming from and must not assume that it is absolutely impossible to return to those dark days. May God forbid. But it is only through constant prayers to God, hard work, commitment to reform and patriotic disposition to the nation that we can overcome our current challenges and ensure that the past remains the past. This is why I urge you all to remain vigilant and rededicate yourselves to those democratic values of tolerance, inclusion, social justice, fair competition, dialogue, negotiation, and accommodation. This is the way to ensure the consolidation of our democracy and steady economic progress.
You will all recall that in May 1999 when the present Administration came to power, it inherited a nation that was replete with a number of economic, political, religious and social contradictions and constraints. The major macroeconomic fundamentals were at their lowest levels while a mood of despair permeated the polity. The growth rate of the GDP for the three previous decades was below 2.5 per cent per annum, while the population growth averaged 2.8 percent. These became the major challenges of the present Administration.
I can proudly say that, together, we have achieved a lot in the past few years. Our GDP growth rate is now well over 5%, agriculture is growing at about 7%; our strategic grains reserve is at an unprecedented high of over 150,000 tons; crime is down as we have invested heavily in security; we are rapidly fixing our roads; and investments in education, health, and water is at an all-time high. Though we still have problems with the power sector, we have passed a bill that will unbundle NEPA and we are making rapid progress in the independent power generation area while Government remains for now the leading investor in the sector. To be sure, we are not yet where we would like or plan to be. But if we do not take stock, appreciate our achievements, and learn from our mistakes, we cannot move forward as a people and a united and stable country. In the last six years, we have achieved a lot and turned around all our economic indicators in a positive way. We have collectively rescued Nigeria from collapse,
blunted our most intolerant critics, and set our country on the path of peace and progress. Nigeria is turning out to be the preferred destination for foreign investors and tourists.
Some of the decisions that we have taken require boldness, courage, perseverance, hard work, and sacrifices. We have to do some of the things that we have done because you cannot reverse deterioration, decay, distortion and dislocation without courage and perseverance. There is no short cut to peace, growth and development. We either decide to make progress together by fighting those factors and forces that militate against development or we don't. For this Administration we are committed to moving forward, that is the mandate of the ruling party and the Nigerian people.
In addressing the obstacles to progress and in taking on those interest groups that are used to the status quo; a status quo that has bred inequality, pain, corruption, and all sorts of indiscipline, malpractices and rascality, we have been transparent and we have tried to avoid double standards and favouritism. Many with hidden agenda or selfish anti-people interests have criticized us for trying to establish a level playing ground and taking measures to support the survival of our people. We shall continue to work for equity and social justice for all.
We are in a world that is shaped and driven by electronics, GSM, Internet, satellite, laser, remote sensing and other complex scientific initiatives. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that the world does not know what we are doing by trying to cover up the impossible or trying to subvert or undermine salient issues of transparency, accountability, fair competition and due process. We are respected, honoured and dignified as a nation and people when we commit to, and are seen to be committed to values of dignity, integrity, honesty, transparency and accountability as the foundations of our developmental goals. We must all appreciate the fact that transparency, accountability, fair competition and the promotion of peace are now intricate parts of the definition and operationalisation of democracy and our own version of democracy cannot be different. I commend you all for the growing evidence of your interest in democratic values and practice.
Let me use this opportunity to assure all Nigerians, our friends and development partners as to our conviction that with the gains of reform, our commitment to democracy, and our hopes that leaders of integrity, quality, patriotism and commitment to the people will emerge and guide our future, our reform agenda can be fully guaranteed. The following reasons can be advanced in this regard.
First is the irreversibility of economic reform in Nigeria. On this aspect, it is important to understand the background of the reforms that was characterized by corruption, waste, mismanagement, profligacy, inefficiency, fiscal indiscipline, arrogance of power, the suffocation of civil society, lack of policy coordination, plan indiscipline, and marginalisation in the global order.
Our on-going economic reforms, which involve the right sizing and strengthening of the public sector, a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign, privatization, and deregulation, service delivery, transparency and accountability are geared towards correcting the structural imbalances within the economy. The reforms are aimed at achieving wealth creation, poverty reduction, employment generation and value re-orientation.
Similarly, in the realm of politics, the whole idea of sustainability of democratic principles is gradually catching on. Our people are getting more familiar with democratic processes and imbibing its virtues and values. There is more emphasis across class, gender, youth and community on issues of transparency, accountability, fair competition, due process, social justice, positive leadership, rule of law, fundamental rights and popular participation. These positive developments have been reinforced by a number of landmark judgments, which have rekindled hope in the efficacy of the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
The reform in the Local Government Administration is geared towards repositioning the
local governments to deliver on their mandates as the closest arm of government to the grassroots.
The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) is carrying out a reform of its structures, institutions and procedures while the on-going National Political Reform Conference is designed to give all communities, constituencies, organisations and stakeholders the opportunity to be part of articulating a path to a continued united, stable, free, dynamic, progressive and prosperous Nigeria. The articles of political faith in Nigeria are unity, stability and accountability. We shall all continue to subscribe to these principles and values as we have no alternative. It is what can give our country a chance to grow in stability, security, predictability, equity and prosperity.
Secondly, the process of putting the reforms together has enjoyed wide consultation and popular participation. For instance, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) is the product of the most consultative and inclusive process in the history of Nigeria. The reforms have also been founded on a clear vision, sound values and enduring principles. They derive from the long-term objective of building a solid foundation for the attainment of Nigeria's vision of becoming the largest and strongest economy in Africa and a key player in the world economy. It is no longer good enough to cast undeserved aspersions on the Reform Agenda. Since it is not cast in stone what we require are suggestions, solutions, and options rather than opportunistic political and academic grandstanding. I urge all Nigerians to study, understand and support the reform agenda. It is available to the public in hard copy, abridged version, and on the Internet.
Thirdly, is the durability and sustainability of the reform policies and programmes. Let me inform that where necessary these are being backed up by legislation that are currently at various stages of being passed into laws. On completion, these laws will provide sufficient basis for a strong measure of irreversibility of these reforms considering the processes of effecting amendments on legislation at the National Assembly.
The fourth point is that the people of Nigeria are beginning to own the reforms as they express support, individually and collectively for the various policies, institutions and programmes. We must develop a corps of serious and committed Nigerians, professional and independent and not political jobbers, who will own the letter and spirit of the reform, propagate it, defend it and sustain it. They must see the horizon of hope in Nigeria and make it happen. They must lead and widen the crop of reform minded Nigerians. As they begin to enjoy the full benefits politically, materially, psychologically and in terms of service delivery, they would be the ones to collectively defend the reform and make them sustainable well into the future.
Finally, is the diversification of the economy which is a priority for this Administration. The intention of Government is to diversify the productive base of the economy away from oil and foster a market-oriented private sector driven economy with high local participation. Government has redefined its role which is now limited to that of a facilitator, an enabler, and a provider of conducive environment. Emphasis is being placed on medium and small-scale enterprises in order to create jobs and generate wealth and thus expand purchasing power for all. In addition, in order to create the necessary enabling and conducive environment for local and foreign investors, Government has made substantial investments in the improvement of infrastructural facilities especially electricity, water and roads; privatization, liberalization and deregulation of the economy; rationalization and harmonization of a number of agencies and operators in the areas of the nation's ports, airports, telecommunications facilities and streamlining the number and quality of incentive schemes for potential investors.
The establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC); and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) is also meant to sanitize the business environment and make Nigeria a preferred investment destination. Between these agencies, and a very much-improved security system and agencies such as the police, the customs and the immigration, the business environment has changed for the better. It will be easy for local and foreign investors to take full advantage of the incentives, guarantees, protections, and opportunities available.
It is appropriate to report to the nation at this juncture the injustice, unfair, illegal seizure and direct efforts by the Swiss authorities to undermine the Nigerian anti-corruption and transparency drive and crusade. We have done everything the Swiss authorities have asked us to do. They have even resorted to blackmail to the ridiculous extent of giving conditions for us to repatriate Nigerians alleged to have run foul of their laws before releasing our money. Instructions have been given that bona fide Nigerians in that category should be repatriated but this is yet to be done. Yet, the Swiss authorities have refused to obey their own Supreme Court which has asked them to release $458 million out of the funds unconditionally.
Under whatever laws, there can be absolutely no connection between the return of stolen funds and the repatriation of offending nationals and it is most embarrassing that a resort should be made to such indefensible positions.
The total amount of money involved is over $500million. I have, in my recent address at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris called on all men and women of good will and honest disposition in the world to condemn the hypocritical action of the Swiss authorities. I hereby call on all Nigerians to prevail on the Swiss authorities to stop the act of hostility, injustice and oppression heaped on Nigeria and we should remain relentless until our legitimate fund is returned to us and our rights respected. We have fulfilled all conditions raised by the Swiss for the monitoring of the way the fund would be spent including involving the World Bank in the monitoring exercise.
Let me touch briefly on the issue of ethnic and religious conflict largely because of the stereotypes and misinformation out there about Nigeria. You will all agree with me that the situation is no longer what it was in 1999. The various conflict zones and spots have calmed down, aggrieved communities are in negotiation and dialogue, and interest groups are now adopting political and legal rather than violent methods for addressing their demands.
But let me point out that making demands is one thing but contributing to the stability, wealth and development of the nation is another. Previous neglect and marginalisation is no excuse for damaging the name of the country, instigating innocent people and communities to violence, undermining laid down rules and institutions, and using language unbecoming of persons that live in civilized society.
Our country has always been safe for visitors and investors and we must keep it that way. I urge all Nigerians to embrace tolerance, inclusion, love, harmony, peace, and unity. This is the way to enable leaders to perform at their best and thus bring about development in tandem with the people.
Dear fellow Nigerians, let me assure you again, that this Administration is focused on its goals, committed to its vision, and fully determined to reposition Nigeria's political economy to serve the interests of the Nigerian people, Africa and the world. We are committed to putting the past behind us and using lessons drawn from that experience to shape our direction for the future.
We are determined to make life better for all and to ensure that those who contaminate and compromise our national integrity do not get away with it, no matter how highly placed they are. Let us reach out to one another, appreciate our pains and sacrifices, work together, plan together, pray together, and hold our heads high as proud Nigerians, believing in God Almighty for a greater and brighter future.
Text of President Olusegun Obasanjo's speech to mark the 6th anniversary of the present democracy.