Former President Goodluck Jonathan says he convened the 2014 National Conference with the intention to create an environment for Nigerians to address issues pushing citizens towards divisive politics and sowing the seeds of discord.
Jonathan stated this in his remarks at the “2nd Igbo Nsukka Zik Annual Merit Award”, in memory of the first Nigerian President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, on Tuesday in Abuja. The event was organised by Igbo Nsukka United Front.
At the event, Jonathan was honoured with “the Zik’s Merit Award”.
He said the inability to manage Nigeria’s diversity was a major stumbling block to the nation’s socio-economic development.
“When I convened the 2014 National Conference as President, my intention was to create an environment that would enable our citizens to dispassionately address those issues that are pushing us towards divisive politics and sowing the seeds of discord in our polity.
“I believe that, in a complex and diverse country like ours, the journey of nationhood and march to greatness is not a sprint but a marathon.
“However, to get it right, we need to do much more to unite our people and integrate our society, in order to build a nation of selfless patriots and citizens, citizens as defined by the Greek philosophers.
“That is the type of country envisioned by our nationalists.
“That is the only way to turn our huge population, rich diversity and the outstanding resourcefulness of our people into a positive force that would transform and enhance the greatness of our dear country.
“I have no doubt in my mind that God Almighty has deposited in our land and in our citizens, the indefatigable spirit and creativity to unite, work and relate in a harmonious way and make our country great,” Jonathan said
The former president stressed the need for Nigerians to come together and agree on how to strengthen mechanisms and institutions that would promote the harmonization and functionality of their diverse people.
Jonathan said that would ensure equitable distribution of resources and opportunities and inspire harmony, patriotism, justice, peace and sustainable development.
He expressed his belief that Azikiwe’s ideals, philosophy and wisdom were very relevant at this particular time, as Nigerians sought to chart a way forward for the country.
He added that Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and other great nationalists did their best to lift the image of our country.
“The nation owes Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria who was in office from 1963 to 1966, a debt of gratitude.
“His outstanding role while working with other great nationalists to secure the independence we enjoy today was legendary.
“Nigerians of different generations will continue to remember his extraordinary efforts towards keeping Nigeria one, and his belief in Nigeria’s greatness anchored on equity, justice and inclusion.”
Jonathan said that as an indigene of Eastern Nigeria, born in Northern Nigeria and established in Western Nigeria, Azikiwe had a cosmopolitan life experience and disposition that prepared him for his role in the society.
This, according to him, enabled Azikiwe to envision a progressive Nigeria, whose diverse tribes and tongues would blend to produce a great nation to lead the rest of Africa.
“Whether as a political leader, author, journalist and media owner, Zik was sincere in his consistent rhetoric about freedom and economic emancipation.
“He spent most of his life fighting for the progress of this country and the well-being of her people.
“It is, therefore, a thing of great significance that this group chose this very special day to evoke the nationalist spirit and principles of Azikiwe and restore to our consciousness, those ideals that raised our optimism about a cohesive and peaceful nation.
“A nation that would draw its strength in ethnic tolerance and accommodation and project to the world the beauty of unity in diversity.
“In those early days, Azikiwe never minced words on his fervent belief and optimism in the great potentials of our uniquely diverse society.
“He lived and died for one Nigeria, believing that what binds us is greater and more beneficial than what divides us as a people.
“While most political pundits insist that the potentials for Nigeria’s greatness remain potent, our nation has continued, since independence, to grapple with the consequences of poor management of our diversity and differences.
Jonathan commended the group for organising the dialogue on the 117th birthday of Azikiwe and for making efforts to preserve his legacies for national unity, in these challenging times.
Jonathan also appreciated the solidarity and warm reception he always received from the people of the South East of Nigeria.
“The unconditional solidarity South Easterners have always accorded me, reinforces my hope in the fact that we can truly fraternize with one another as citizens of one country, no matter our tribe and tongue.
“It also shows that Ndigbo have accepted me as one of their own, in spite of the fact that I come from the creeks of the Niger Delta.
“When my grandmother named me Azikiwe, she probably had no inkling of the meaning of the name, other than the fact that she was enamoured with the achievements of the great nationalist, the Great Zik of Africa.”
“I have come to understand that the name symbolizes peace, understanding, greatness and solidarity in unity,” Jonathan added.