Abuja — Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar on Monday lamented the slow pace of development in the country, 59 years after the attainment of political independence.
Atiku, who decried Nigeria democratic experiment in a statement issued to mark the nation's 59th independence anniversary, said Nigeria's founding fathers would be disappointed at how bad things have turned, despite the end of military rule in 1999.
The statement read: "On October 1, 1960, our nation's founding fathers could never have fathomed that 59 years after birthing the largest black nation on earth, we would be facing a situation where we do not have a free press, our judiciary being under attack, and our youths and activists, who should ordinarily be the future of Nigeria, would be facing the very real threat of arrest and intimidation should they speak out about the state of the nation.
"My dear citizens of Nigeria, I could go with the flow and the cliche and say all is well with Nigeria, but as the late Chinua Achebe once wrote, 'when an adult is in the house, the she-goat is not left to suffer the pain of parturition on its tether".
"I could call for prayers, as others would indeed call for today. I could also call on Nigerians to show more understanding, as indeed many have said in the past and will undoubtedly say again today. But I am mindful of the fact that the time for rhetoric has long since passed and now is the time for all lovers of Nigeria to take concrete steps to aid Nigeria's progress, by not just praying and showing understanding, but also to take democratic action to ensure that the ideals of our founding fathers - Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress - are not set aside on the altar of tyranny."
The ex-Vice President also lamented what he called the persecution of judges even as he blamed political leadership for the depth of poverty in the land.
"All is not well when judges are persecuted for enforcing the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens. All is not well when Nigeria is now officially the world headquarters for extreme poverty and out of school children, yet the cost of maintaining those in government continues to grow, while the needs of the governed are not being met.
"And certainly, all is not well when the media cannot freely express itself without the fear that those who wield the big stick would use it on them for saying things as they are.
"So, rather than just call for prayers today, I am calling on all Nigerians to believe in Nigeria's betterment, to work for Nigeria's betterment, and to insist that no one in Nigeria, no matter how highly placed, shall be bigger than the laws of our land,"
Despite the pains he pointed out, Atiku urged Nigerians to be hopeful, saying the glorious days of yore would return if they continue to believe in the possibility of a greater Nigeria.
"It is not all gloom and doom, however. There is still hope, much hope. I took time to listen to a recent remark made by the Emir of Kano, HRM Muhammed Sanusi II about why we need to pay more attention to the issue of girl-child education. It is an age-long truism that women are the teachers of a nation. I make bold to say that the greatness of our country, Nigeria has much to do with how well we educate our children, especially the girl-child.
He also lauded some Nigerians for daring to be different in their efforts at making a positive difference.
"My commendation goes to Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State for leading the way by massively investing in public education.
"I also specifically want to cite the example of Chief Allen Onyeama and his public spiritedness which saw him offer relief to Nigerian citizens who were victims of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
"By repatriating hundreds of Nigerians back home, at his cost, Mr. Onyeama and Air Peace, have revived hope in the Nigeria of our founding fathers' dream.
"I would like to quote Mr. Onyeama. When the first plane of repatriated Nigerian citizens landed at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Mr. Onyeama said: "When I stepped inside the aircraft to welcome them, they mobbed me and started singing the Nigerian national anthem. There was nobody there singing about separation. They felt proud to be Nigerian; they rose in unison, that drew tears from me," he said.
Nigeria, he stressed would attain the level of expectations when the people are united irrespective of ethnic or religious beliefs.