1) Fellow Abians, it is with great joy that I address you today on the occasion of the 2023 Democracy Day Celebration, a day set aside to celebrate the heroes of our democratic journey as a people, honour their sacrifices and reflect on how far we have come from the dark days of military rule to this present day where elections, smooth transition of power and public participation in governance have become regular events.
2) Our democracy remains flawed and I would be the first to acknowledge that because I have been a victim of the many aberrations of it.
3) While it would not be entirely true to claim that no progress has been made, we must also be honest enough to acknowledge that what we have now in terms of social and economic progress is still a far cry from what the men and women we celebrate today gave their energy, material resources and life for.
4) Truly, it must be admitted that we have not done enough to justify the commitments and sacrifices made by several celebrated and millions of unsung heroes to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria.
5) Even then, we must at least be comforted by the consciousness that across Nigeria today, there is an unspoken consensus that democracy remains the best governance and administrative vehicle to drive our nation to the dreamland of abundant prosperity and security for the greater majority.
6) It is now beyond dispute that we cannot contemplate any other system of government outside democracy. Our job therefore is simple; we either commit more to the development of the democratic in the country for our own good or we perish.
7) We cannot celebrate Democracy Day in Nigeria without remembering in a very special way, the individuals and groups who held back nothing in the fight to restore to us, the right to have a say in who leads us, how we are governed and how decisions are made on our collective behalf.
Chief M. K. O Abiola and his dear wife Kudirat, and Pa Alfred Rewane paid with their lives that we may enjoy the rights and privileges of living in a free society because they understood that at the very foundation of democracy is freedom. They did not dread death for the singular conviction that life itself loses its substance when freedom becomes negotiable.
9) Our return to democratic governance in 1999, six long years after the annulment of an election deemed the freest and fairest in our history, as unfortunate as that was, could have been delayed even further without the sacrifices, courage and fearless dispositions of great minds like Prof. Wole Soyinka, Frank Kokori, Anthony Enahoro, Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Beko Ransom-Kuti, Abubakar Umar, Ayo Opadokun, Alao Aka-Basorun, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Tunji Braithwaite, Shehu Sani, Authur Nwankwo and many other professionals including lawyers, doctors, journalists, university lecturers, leaders and members of various labour and trade union bodies.
10) The list of heroes of Nigeria’s democracy would be incomplete if we fail to mention three dear sons of Abia. These are Rear Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, Comrade Chima Ubani, both of blessed memory, who gave their all in the collective and nationalistic efforts to return Nigeria to the path of popular democracy. The third is the Octogenerian Ochiagha, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, former Chief of General Staff. We salute all of them.
11) We must also acknowledge the many unsung heroes, market men and women, artisans, students and youths who joined countless hours of protests, who insisted, without seeking or drawing attention to themselves, that Nigeria must again become a land of the free.
12) While we celebrate these distinguished individuals and groups for all they sacrificed to drive political usurpers out of the nation’s political leadership, it is more important for us to be inspired by their acts of courage, belief in democracy and generosity of spirit, especially when it hurts most.
13) Our democracy is still work in progress; some encouraging steps have been taken but again, we must bear no illusions as to where we are vis-à-vis where Chief Abiola et al., wanted us to be.
14) Democracy is essentially about development but unfortunately, we are still far from genuine development on several fronts. Scores of millions of our youths without jobs would surely have genuine misgivings about democracy and its promises just as victims of rigged elections and political violence across the country would keep wondering if what we have here is the same type of democracy that ushered several countries of the world to enduring prosperity and security.
15) Nigerians are understandably disappointed and it would be cruel to dismiss their angst and frustrations. Our fathers, brothers and sisters could not have died that political opportunists and charlatans should rule over us. They could not have sacrificed so much just to have us become serfs, wallowing in poverty while a few privileged individuals appropriate our commonwealth to themselves.
16) Today offers us an opportunity to think again, to reflect and ask very important questions. It is easy to blame someone else for where we are. If I have learnt anything in my life, it is the fact that blames and finger pointing don’t solve problems.
17) I am however glad, as we saw from the interests in the last elections that Nigerians, especially the youths are beginning to make that critical connection between political leadership and public welfare. It is gratifying to see that unlike in the past when issues of political participation were restricted to just certain demographics, many young people today are stepping forward, challenging in the political turf and insisting that leadership must become a collective responsibility, driven by accountability and sustained by active participation of the followers.
18) We cannot address the roots of our frustrations with democracy in Nigeria by isolating ourselves or watching from the sides. We must all get involved because by being indifferent to the process, we unwittingly subject ourselves to leadership systems that offer poor or no solutions to the social and economic problems confronting us.
19) As a government elected by the popular will of the people, we are very conscious of the expectations of our youths, mothers, fathers and all demographic categories who worked so hard to see that the seed of democracy blossoms in Abia State; the individuals who insisted that we deserve better than we got over the past 24 years.
20) I appreciate your sacrifices, your commitments and abiding belief in democracy. Thank you for not growing weary, for keeping the faith, and for fighting until victory was won. All lovers of democracy in Nigeria and across the world are very excited about what we collectively achieved in the last election cycle and the onus is on us not to disappoint them. We shall work round the clock to see that we reasonably meet your expectations.
21) As you can see from the ongoing cleanup exercises in Aba and Umuahia and on the testimony of what had been achieved so far, we are committed to solving problems; excuses and lies shall have no place under my leadership. We shall at the end of the emergency phase of the exercise evolve a sustainable and more robust framework for managing our household and industrial wastes.
22) In the same vein, the feedbacks available to us indicate that our traders, artisans and MSME operators are happy with our efforts at streamlining the process of revenue collection and IGR management in the state.
23) It is our determination to see that the environment is made as conducive as possible for genuine businesses in the state to thrive without harassment, multiple taxation or any of the many bad behaviours which frustrated our hardworking men and women in self-employment and entrepreneurship before now.
24) I am glad that across board, our appointees are working diligently to see that the gains of democracy, denied our people for so long, are restored within a very reasonable time. We may not always meet our own lofty targets for reasons of factors beyond our control but never will it be said that we turned our back on the people.
25) As I conclude, may I remind us again that we are a land of heroes, of men and women who have a long history of confronting and overcoming adversity, of individuals who are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve what they want.
26) The contributions of our sons and daughters to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria, our resilience in moments of great adversity and our ultimate triumph when many must have written us off, point us to what we are capable of achieving as a people.
27) We are therefore invited to remain collectively committed to consistently doing all we need to do for the sustenance of our democracy, taking full responsibility for ensuring that the fruits of social and economic liberty which democracy promises are extended to all people, and to every community.
28) Be assured that we shall be the generation that would restore the pride of our people and deliver to future generations, a society that embodies the ideals and fruits of genuine democracy.
29) It is no easy task but as our journey has demonstrated, we are never scared by difficulties, setbacks or disappointments. As we have done repeatedly, we shall do all that we need to do to recover what had been lost and set a clear example for all to see, especially in this part of the world, that democracy remains the most preferred form of government because it aligns with our values of progress, freedom and the dignity of the human person.
30) Happy Democracy Day Umunne m, Ndi Abia.
Dr. Alex Otti, OFR,
Governor, Abia State.