As the country commences its centenary celebrations today, President Goodluck Jonathan has declared that he feels the full weight of Nigeria’s 100-year history, adding, however, that he feels no frustration of disillusionment, but “a great pride and great hope for a country that is bound to overcome the transient pains of the moment and eventually take its rightful place among the greatest nations on earth”.
Jonathan, who stated this in a nationwide broadcast Wednesday to kick-start the centenary, said that the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 was not a mistake, assuring Nigerians that in the next 100 years, Nigeria will remain as a united, prosperous and politically stable nation, which will be the pride and glory of Africa and the entire black race.
The country’s centenary, which will kickoff today at the Eko Hotel in Lagos with a charity ball in which 100 Nigerians will be honoured, will be graced by at least 28 heads of state, including French President, Francois Hollande.
Other major highlights of the celebration would include a security summit to be graced by the heads of state, which is auspicious given the increasing attacks by Boko Haram in Borno and Adamawa States and Tuesday’s slaying of dozens of students of a Federal Government College in Yobe.
Speaking on the country’s centenary, Jonathan said he considered himself especially privileged to lead the country into its second century of existence, adding, “I have often expressed the conviction that our amalgamation was not a mistake. While our union may have been inspired by considerations external to our people, I have no doubt that we are destined by God Almighty to live together as one big nation, united in diversity.”
According to him, while the occasion of the centenary undoubtedly calls for celebration, it is also a moment to pause and reflect on Nigeria’s journey of the past 100 years, to take stock of the past and consider the best way forward for the country.
“We are a nation of the future, not of the past and while we may have travelled for a century, we are not yet at our destination of greatness,” he said.
The president, who paid glowing tributes to the founding fathers of Nigeria and commended the armed forces for keeping Nigeria as one entity, stated that Nigerians “can surely build a newer, stronger, more united and prosperous Nigeria in the next century that will be an authentic African success story”.
Jonathan explained that his call for the National Conference in this first year of the second century is to provide the platform to confront the country’s challenges.
“I am confident that we shall rise from this conference with renewed courage and confidence to march through the next century and beyond, to overcome all obstacles on the path to the fulfilment of our globally acknowledged potential for greatness,” he said.
The president said the National Conference should not be about a few privileged persons dictating the terms of debate but an opportunity for all Nigerians to take part in a comprehensive dialogue to further strengthen the union.
“I am hopeful that the conference will not result in parochial bargaining between competing regions, ethnic, religious and other interest groups, but will engage in an objective dialogue about the way forward for our nation and how to ensure a more harmonious balance among our three tiers of government,” he said.
Speaking on the security challenges, Jonathan said it remains a major concern for the country.
He, however, assured Nigerians that “we will continue to do everything possible to permanently eradicate the scourge of terrorism and insurgency from our country.
“We recognise that the root cause of militancy, terrorism and insurgency is not the strength of extremist ideas but corrupted values and ignorance.”
He explained that the counter-terrorism strategy was not just about enforcing law and order that the security forces have been equipped to do.
“It also involves expanding economic opportunities, social inclusion, education and other measures that will help restore normalcy not just in the short term, but permanently,” he said.
Jonathan declared that terrorism, strife and insecurity in any part of Nigeria are abhorrent and unacceptable.
He recalled the massacre of students by Boko Haram in Yobe State on Tuesday, saying efforts would be made to address all the matters that led to the rise of terrorism and other forms of violence.
The president observed that all great nations went through the same challenges Nigeria was going through, even as he expressed confidence that the country would still grow fast to become the leader of Africa, maintaining that his government remained committed to crush the terrorism fostered on the country by Boko Haram.
In the meantime, more than 12 heads of state arrived at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, yesterday ahead of the centenary celebrations.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the heads of state were received at the airport by some members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
Those who were received at the airport included Presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and Prosper Bazombaza of Burundi.
President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia and Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the former Secretary General of OAU, who led the Tanzanian delegation, also arrived Abuja yesterday for the celebration.
Other dignitaries who arrived the federal capital were the President of Mauritania, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, Ethiopian President, Mr Hailemarian Desalegh, and the European Union President, Mr Jose Manuel Barroso.
The Zambian Minister of Defence, Mr Edgar Lungu, will represent the Zambian President, Michael Saata.
Israel will also be represented by its Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Yair Shamir.
The world leaders were hosted by the president at the Transcorp Hilton later Tuesday.
Also, US President Barack Obama yesterday announced that he was sending a two-man presidential delegation to represent him at Nigeria’s centenary celebrations.
Although a low key delegation comprising Hon. Thomas Shannon Jr., Counselor of the US Department of State, and Hon. James Entwistle, US ambassador to Nigeria, the American president who is yet to confirm his invitation to Nigeria, has maintained his commitment to the war against terrorism.