February 25, 2010
Good Evening and Welcome to the Residence of the American People here in Nigeria. It gives me great pleasure to play host to my third National Day event in Nigeria, which we celebrate in Nigeria during the historic month of February because it has seminal meaning for the American people reflecting our emphasis as a nation to strive for good governance, good leadership, belief in the future, and respect for all humankind no matter the race, no matter the creed, and no matter the religion. February serves as the month for this event tonight because of the legacies of two profound Presidents of the United States of America – Washington and Lincoln - who left their indelible spirit on American values because of their love of country and their respect for democracy.
In addition, February is also African American History month, underscoring that diversity has its key place in any society, in any democracy. All of these things: transparent governance (free of corruption), good leadership, belief in the future, respect for humankind are truly lofty goals, lofty values that certainly are not easily attainable.
But how do you get there? How do you strive to obtain and cherish these lofty values, these lofty goals because no one and nothing is ever perfect?
These are the questions that bring me to the central theme of my remarks this evening – “Striving to be a More Perfect Union,” which comes from the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America.
I chose this theme because of the shared values of the U.S. and Nigeria. But, what are the elements of this theme? What are the elements that make you strive to be a more perfect union?
In our case in the United States we strive – one step at a time, one moment in time, and as one people to remain faithful to the democratic ideals of our nation: transparent leadership, credible elections, fighting corruption, reducing poverty, and respecting religious differences. We do not have it right all the time, as America is still truly a work in progress, but we continue to strive toward the legacies of our founding fathers.
I know that it did not go unnoticed that I mentioned transparency in leadership and governance and credible elections. This is intentional. The President of Nigeria, who we all wish well, has returned to the country and we hope that his health improves, but we also hope that no one or set of persons around him are putting Nigeria’s democracy at risk. Nigeria is an extraordinary friend of the United States of America, and therefore we want the best for the nation, for our friend. But, this can only come with transparency not only in governance but government, particularly now during these uncertain political times when adherence to the spirit of your constitution is so important.
You know fate is a really interesting thing as it can test your resolve as a nation when you least expect it. Nigeria faces one of its most uncertain times as a democracy, as it enters the year of its 50th anniversary. All eyes are on you for that reason. We hope that all those in responsible positions during these trying times do the right thing by putting the legacy of the nation first over personal gain.
So what do you want that legacy to be what will you strive for as a nation at 51, at 52, or even at 60 years of independence? Former Secretary of State Rice was here in Nigeria the other night, an eminent African-American woman. She, like Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama to me embody what true democracies can achieve if the values of a nation are really implemented are really believed. The former two eminent women had opportunities – after our country struggled with racial and gender equality - finally coming to grips with respect for diversity, and the importance of providing a level playing field for all its citizens. For President Obama, it was also because of all of these things, but moreover because of the tradition of credible, transparent elections. Even if we stumble from time to time, and we have, we still strive to get back on track.
So Nigeria, in your 51st year, next year, what will you want to say about your democracy?
Will you be able to say that there was transparency in government or that you held credible elections in 2011 or earlier, keeping in mind that democracies do not always get everything right but the point is they strive to do so? They strive to be more perfect nations more perfect unions. America is your friend, your partner and we are willing to and want to be supportive of your efforts to hold credible elections. Nigerians have told me how much they want an election that they can be proud of in 2011 that is conducted in a transparent way.
We all know there are road blocks in Nigeria today to credible elections that exist within the leadership of INEC, that block anti-corruption efforts and that block development, particularly in the Niger Delta. Thus, just like in the U.S. it is for the people of Nigeria to decide how to address these issues how you see your future and what you want for Nigeria we can help if you so desire as Nigeria deserves a record of credible elections.
But it is for you to chose, to act, to commit so that the many, many, many generations who follow you will look back at the strong democratic, foundations with transparent government and credible elections that You laid down in your 50th year, and say “it has been this way in our nation for generations, and so it will be for generations to come.” Each nation keeps its own vigil over its own destiny and America wishes all Nigerians well as you chart the way ahead through these troubled waters. That is what friends are for.
For America, the way ahead is to maintain its traditions, and its values, and to continue to “strive to be a more perfect union.” To my fellow Americans, particularly Team Nigeria, this is also your evening this is your night as we have come together to celebrate the 234th year of the independence of the United States of America. I want to salute you for your service for your commitment to being part of my Team but most of all for your love of country.
I want to thank everyone for coming this evening -- enjoy the celebration tonight in the spirit of shared values but most of all because of the friendship that exist between our two great nations, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the United States of America. Good evening!