Vanguard Lagos Clifford Ndujihe
Displayed with permission from allAfrica.com

Immediate past Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has urged the country’s politicians to shun conducts and comments that could hurt Nigeria’s unity and harmony.

Giving the keynote speech at the annual Merit Awards Dinner of the Nigerian Lawyers Association, NLA, of the US, weekend, in New York, Dr Jonathan, who also urged Diaspora lawyers to help preserve democratic institutions in Nigeria, stressed the need to ensure freedom of speech to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.

He said: « No matter what any critic said about me, I ensured that there was both freedom of speech and freedom after the speech. Under my watch, not a single Nigerian was sent to prison because of anything he or she wrote or said about me or about the administration that I headed. Not only did I take a stance to allow people express their opinions without let or fear, we also enacted the Freedom of Information Act and by that, we tore the veil of secrecy covering governance, » he said in the 52-point speech themed: « Diversity As Our Bridge To Tomorrow. »

The speech, which was streamed live on his Facebook page, followed his successful outing at the Oxford Union on Monday October, 24.

The former President, who was also honoured for his efforts to promote democracy by the City of New York, which issued a proclamation honouring him as a democratic icon, thanked Nigerians in the Diaspora for their contributions the country’s economy through remittances.

He described the NLA as an asset to Nigeria adding that exploits of the members « add value to the Motherland of which you are worthy ambassadors here in the United States. Through you I see a brighter future for Nigeria. No Nation can achieve greatness without the inputs of her Learned People and that is why if there is any crop of professionals who has made Nigeria proud over the years, both at the continental and global levels, it will be you all. »

While urging all to work for the unity of Nigeria like our founding fathers, he said « Nigeria is great not because of the crude oil we produce but because of the size of our country, its resilient population and the diverse ecological zones. In both the people and the environment, Nigeria exhibits high diversity. The amalgamation is a blessing except we decide to make it a curse.

« The strength and potential of an individual is not due to his or her tribe, religion, language or ethnicity, but largely due to the brain and the application of our mental capacities. As patriots, we must strive to both explore and deploy our individual God given talents and abilities to develop our country and build our nation. »

Jonathan, who used the platform to reel out his achievements as president said: « Every Nigerian must believe that Nigeria is for all Nigerians. We must resist the pull of ego that may make us want to pursue a regional or narrow agenda and should be willing, if necessary, to shut out regional irredentists who signal to the public that they are fighting our battles.

« As you all know, most of my principal aides in government hailed from different ethnic nationalities. My Administration established 12 universities, out of which nine were cited in the Northern part of the country and three in the South. The same spirit guided our construction of 165 Al-Majiri schools to cater for the disadvantaged children in the North. »

He continued: « I am proud to say that while we were conscious of the Federal Character as our constitutional guiding principle, we never placed ethno-religious interest above merit or individual values Accordingly, diversity could remain a strength only when all interest groups in the society feel safe and secured, in their day to day activities.

« That is why no matter what any critic said about me, I ensured that there was both freedom of speech and freedom after the speech. Under my watch not a single Nigerian was sent to prison because of anything he or she wrote or said about me or about the Administration that I headed.

« Nigeria had no political prisoners under my Administration and we certainly did not have any prisoners of conscience because we ourselves ensured that we acted according to our conscience in all we did. You in the diaspora can attest to the fact that Nigeria had no political exile.

« Not only did I take a stance to allow people express their opinions without let or fear, we also enacted the Freedom of Information Act and by that, we tore the veil of secrecy covering governance.

« Nigerians deserve to know how their government functions. I am proud to say that we gave them knowledge, and that is a genie you cannot put back to the lamp. We gave institutions unlimited freedom and ensured that the Nigerian Bar Association and other professional unions, fraternities and guilds were completely devoid of any governmental influence.

« Finally, we enacted the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, one of the most progressive criminal justice acts ever signed in Nigeria. The provisions of this Act are geared toward ensuring that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of all criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, and protection of the rights and interests of the victim of crime and the suspect. The Act, along with other institutional reforms, will help our country in fighting corruption and other crimes.

« I am also proud of my records as a democrat. We gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), unconditional freedom and ensured by deliberate actions that elections were free, fair and transparent. We ensured that the transition from one government to the other was peaceful.

We achieved this because in constituting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) we ensured that the appointments were not based on personal relationships. This gave the Commission credibility and earned the confidence of the electorate. The Chairman, Prof. Jega, whom I appointed, was a person I had never met in my life. The same sense of patriotism and profound desire to put my country’s interest first influenced the critical decisions I made as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

« The 2014 National Conference was a platform for all Nigerians, men, women, old and young, from all walks of life, and of diverse backgrounds, to have a conversation about our shared challenges, strengths and weaknesses, with the aim to strengthen our unity.

« It was not designed to promote the political ambition of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The Chairman of the Conference, Justice Kutigi, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) has stated publicly that I never called him or sent anyone to him to influence any of the Conference decisions or recommendations. They were to discuss everything except the sovereignty of Nigeria. My sole interest and total commitment was the unity and advancement of our country.

« Remember that despite their differences of opinions and philosophies, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello, two fine sons of Nigeria enjoyed mutual respect and civility. I would like to see our political leaders, chairpersons of our various political parties, irrespective of their differences, get together to discuss our unity and development instead of exchanging uncomplimentary words.’..

« Our diversity is our source of strength and bridge for the development of our tomorrow. So, let us all re-programme our thinking. Let us have no hidden agenda except the Nigerian agenda. I urge you, Nigerian lawyers in the United States and those in the Diaspora at large, to do your best to support the democratic institutions we have built. »

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