About fifteen years ago, our nation found itself at the cross roads of political determination, its stability and progress threatened, and pushed to the limit. Fear, uncertainty and a near total loss of hope took over the minds of our people. It appeared we were close to losing our way in the struggle of building a united, prosperous and democratic nation.
2. At that time, it was the political class that rose to the challenge of rescuing the Nation and steering it back, onto the path of state building and productive enterprise. This courageous struggle for our democracy was fought across ethnic and religious divides, by politicians and statesmen, who put everything at stake, including their lives, to bring back hope to Nigerians and to the Nigerian State.
3. Nigerians will still recollect the courageous struggle waged by various political associations and pressure groups notably – the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), the AFENIFERE, and the G-34, among others. Though different in style and ideological inclinations, these political associations, advocated and converged on one central objective: relaunching the country on the path of true democracy and the preservation of its corporate existence. This they did, irrespective of tribal, ethnic, ideological and political differences. In the process, quite a number of these gallant men and women paid the ultimate price in restoring the nation to a democratic path. This marked the birth of the Fourth Republic.
4. Thus, on May 29 1999, we not only celebrated our newly won democracy, but also the labours and struggles of these heroes, living and dead, in the struggle for the restoration of our democracy. We also celebrated the rebirth of a nation and the renewal of our collective commitment, towards a stable and self-sustaining statehood.
5. In the past 15 years of the Nigerian 4th Republic, several milestones have been recorded, in our political development. Our electoral processes have been transformed, strengthened and subjected to guiding principles of universal electoral standards. With greater election credibility, our democratic image has been enhanced and the culture of separation of powers and respect for the rule of law, deepened.
6. Perhaps unsung, is the fact that Nigeria has operated and maintained, one of the most robust, effective and decisive electoral justice systems anywhere in the world. Procedures and provisions for seeking judicial redress have always been fully utilized by politicians and political parties before, during and after elections. Till date, every court or elections’ tribunal decision, has been respected and obeyed to the letter, by all parties, whether in or out of government.
7. With the growth of our institutions, and the rightful positioning of our ombudsman as proper interface in public governance and service delivery, Political Parties and party politics have become entrenched as the anchor and basis of democracy in Nigeria.
8. The Media, as the Fourth Estate, has also continued to play its role unhindered, as the watch dog. It is not in doubt that Nigeria has one of the freest media in the whole world, operating within fundamental freedoms and rights, unrestricted by the State. Lately this freedom of expression has also been robustly and exuberantly embraced by the social media. Today, freedom of association, assembly and expression, within constitutional provisions, is largely taken for granted.
9. Our democracy has witnessed unbroken political transitions and successful successions of government from 1999 to the present date. However, Nigeria’s social stability and democratic consolidation will be greatly undermined, if by a complacent and indifferent attitude by critical national political stakeholders, it is wrongly presumed that the nation’s democratic system has become invincible and can therefore be taken for granted without constant and careful monitoring.
10. There are still very remorseless anti-democratic forces operating in the political system, ever ready to exploit lapses in the management of the political and electoral processes. Some of these forces may, indeed, view the forthcoming elections as their last stand to truncate the nation’s hard won democratic liberty. But, dear compatriots, with respect to the 2015 elections in particular, and our journey as a Nation in general, we must never allow these negative forces to prevail.
11. The onset of the 4th Republic, under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, brought the institutionalization of inter party mechanisms, domiciled in the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter – Party Affairs. The concept of inter – party relations and collaboration presupposes that even though political parties may differ in ideologies, processes and structures of governance, they must remain united in the common objective of preserving and consolidating the nation’s unity and its democratic foundation.
12. Political party affiliates must, thus, relate with one another and conduct themselves with responsibility and statesmanship focused on positive inputs into governance, whether they be in power at present, or not.
13. Inter -Party relations and collaboration make it incumbent on the party in power, at any level or section, to govern in recognition of the beneficial voices and views of opposition parties. And vice-versa for the parties out of government, to proffer issue-based engagement, geared towards improved performance in governance, and service delivery to the people. This is only possible through a rancour free relationship among political parties, in their conduct, acts and utterances.
14. Nigeria’s political history since independence is replete with examples of viable collaborations among political parties, in and out of government. In the first Republic, the ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) had an alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which allowed the leader of the latter, the late Right Honourable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to become the President of Nigeria.
15. In the Second Republic, a unique alliance between the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) made it possible for the NPP, which did not have a majority in the House, to produce the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
16. At the commencement of the 4th Republic, on invitation by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), members of opposition parties were appointed Ministers, Special Advisers to the President and into other positions in government. Indeed, the first Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs, the late Senator Mahmud Waziri, was the founding National Chairman of the then opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
17. In furtherance of its role, the Inter – Party office has continued to promote cordial and positive relationship among all political parties, which culminated in the establishment of an Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), a structure recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
18. Consequently in 2011, all political parties agreed and committed to a Code of Conduct for political behaviour. Article 7 of the Code states that: “No political Party or candidate shall during campaign, resort to the use of inflammatory language, provocative actions, images or manifestation that incite violence, hatred, contempt or intimidation against another party or candidate or any person or group of persons on grounds of ethnicity or gender or for any other reason. Accordingly, no Political Party or candidate shall issue any poster, pamphlet, leaflet or other publication that contains any such incitement”.
19. However, dear compatriots, the current national political outlook with regard to inter -party collaboration is less than salutary. Indeed, the conduct and utterances of leading politicians at home and abroad are rapidly creating and spreading unnecessary tension in the country. Unguarded utterances on their part, fester the embers of discord, bitterness and rancour. Such unfortunate developments play into the hands of extremist elements, waging a vicious campaign of terror against the Nigerian State.
20. The recent mindless bombings and killing of innocent Nigerians in Nyanya in the Federal Capital Territory, Jos in Plateau State, the killing in Adamawa State including that of the traditional ruler as well as the heartless and criminal abduction of over 200 school girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno state are better addressed by a political class which is united in its commitment to defend the polity irrespective of political differences. We must never politicise the fundamental and core imperative of defending the State. To do so can only embolden the terrorists and other enemies of our Republic who will seek to exploit any perceived political and social divisions for their nefarious ends. We must never give them such opportunity. Our political parties must remain positive and constructive engagement as we seek to build a virile, strong and stable nation that can compete with other states in the world.
21. This Summit today by all political parties in Nigeria therefore offers the opportunity for political parties and, indeed, politicians to reflect and review the possible consequences their actions, conduct and utterances in the recent past have had and could have, on our polity, national security and corporate existence. This Summit must be an occasion for political rejuvenation and re-orientation. Its outcome must be a common stand against all and any anti-democratic forces that are currently waging a vicious and mindless war against the State.
22. Fellow compatriots, we must first build a nation before engaging in arguments on how best to run it. The system is not yet so shockproof to withstand all unguarded and careless political statements and actions. If our state enterprise fails, no political party or politician will be spared from the consequences.
23. Hence, at a time such as this when our existence as a nation is threatened by anti-democratic forces we, politicians and political parties, must rise to the higher moral ground in defence and protection of our existence as one nation and one people. Our role should not be limited to the struggle to win elections and acquire political power, but also to handling the demands of patriotism and statesmanship, and restoring hope to the Nigerian people.
24. In all these, it is exigent that the acts, conducts and utterances of all political stakeholders reflect, to the highest level, a commitment to the defence and preservation of our social cohesion, our political stability and our sovereignty as a nation. We must reinforce, and recommit our various supporters across the nation to the Nigerian Project, irrespective of party affiliation, ideological differences and alliances.
25. History will not judge us kindly if this country fails as a result of our actions, or inactions. Let us bear in mind that no advantage or benefit can be gained by any political party, over the other, if our democracy fails. We have no choice but to work together and, that time, is now.
26. I must express my profound gratitude to all the political patties that answered this clarion call today. You have indeed demonstrated statesmanship and patriotism as well as the willingness to put partisanship aside in the collective fight to preserve our nationhood.
27. Finally, I commend the Offices of the National Security Adviser and the Special Adviser on Inter-Party Affairs, for organizing this all-important Summit, which couldn’t have come at a better time. I sincerely hope that the Summit will indeed mark a turning point in our democratization process. I wish you all fruitful deliberations.
28. I hereby declare this Summit open. Long live Nigeria! May God bless you all.