My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank immediate past President for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Many Nigerians have taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, ever so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, Nigeria has carried on not simply because of the dexterity or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Nigerians.
That we are in the midst of abundance is now well understood. Our nation is at peace, against a far-reaching network of violence, peace, love and hatred. Our economy is holding strong, an evidence of the selflessness and responsibility on the part of some, but also our collective success can be guaranteed only if we can make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Although we are not without some defects, homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered and lost through the mischievous act of greed and irresponsibility of some. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many while gaining low on the standards; and each day brings further evidence that our dependency on crude oil strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that although Nigeria stands aloft, if we are not responsive to changes; decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, Nigeria: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things and religious differences. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labour — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
For us, they have stood for their freedom, even on death grounds; sweating tears and blood, confronting the powers that be, the inferior at heart, the gullible, the naïve who out of naivety tagged the golden plains of African the Buddha continent, who for the fear of the unknown, the unimaginable devised to cage our prowess, for the inability to understand the spiritual which is supreme, called us fetish, who out of their myopias could not see that we are all equal and the aura of dexterity in us… men who with their blood tinkling fought to regain the priciest gift of all, Freedom.
For us, they toiled and tilled hard earth in the griming sun and fought their own battles neglecting ethnic differences, even when they were not negligible; endured the lash of the whip and battled for their differences with the sole aim of uniting again to create the great Nigeria we are all proud of today.
For us, they fought and died, in the frontline of Biafra, from Enugu, Ogugu – Ogunga axis to Calabar, Gakem – Obudu axis; sometimes settling their ethnic differences with guns in places like Sokoto, Lagos and the plains of Jos.
Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw Nigeria as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive, with bite and energy for success than when we began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of making Nigeria the trigger point of Africa, and the most desirable portion of this planet.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done, let’s not be deluded with the progress we have made so far. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science and keep it on the part of growth and in its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age, knowing that we are one with God. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us in time past no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s nairas will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we re-affirm the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but the crisis we have experienced in the past has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, signing the dotted lines with their colonial master to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village of Atan-Nla where I was born: Know that Nigeria is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to continue in the lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced ups and downs coup de tat and the greed, and insolence of the military that lead to the Biafran Civil war, not just with missiles, B26 and B25, locally made rockets and bombs, but with enduring convictions we were brought together again. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly sustain the peace that has been borne in the Niger-Delta, and forge a hard-earned peace in other nations of the world. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the threat our diverse actions have caused, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Traditionalist and Herbalists — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that Nigeria will play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on others: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it, because only those who respond to this changes stands to survive the test of time.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Nigerians who, at this very hour, patrol distant lands and enclave, mountains, valleys and hills in the Diaspora, for a better patch to perch on, we praise your entrepreneurial spirit, your guts and your determination to get the best out of you, because gone are the years, when home was nothing to think about. Thank you for keeping the flags aloft. And for our past heroes, who endured their sojourn in strange lands, exiled for standing out and standing tall, a voice for the weak and defeated, your exploit have something tell us today, just as the fallen heroes like Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose action whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the Nigerian people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job that saw us through our darkest hours. It is the fire-fighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every Nigerian, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a amenable task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man who less than 20 years ago, would have been denied Visa into Europe or North America at the embassy can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled amidst toils and disappointments, with conflicts edging from our diversity, the Nigeria, as it is known today, has one homogeneous country, for it’s widely differing peoples and tribes. This obvious fact notwithstanding, we decided to keep the country one in order to effectively control her vital resources for the economic interests of her people.
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of tropics, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
Nigeria. In the face of our common dangers, in the season of our hardship and even seemingly obvious abundance, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the cold currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in Peace and Unity
(My version of Obama’s innagural speech for a Nigerian President of the future [BabaOlowo])