I have just received and read the pictorial book commissioned by the Embassy of Nigeria in the United States of America celebrating 50 years of friendship between Nigeria and the United States of America and titled – ‘The United States and Nigeria; Celebrating 50 years of Friendship & Progress in Pictures’. Several exchanges between Nigerian leaders and U.S Presidents over the past 50 years were detailed in this book and it has been uplifting to my spirit to read some of these which I would like to share with you so we can learn from our past.
On the 2nd of October, 1961, in a message to the then Governor General of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe, congratulating Nigeria on her first independence anniversary President John F. Kennedy said “The first year of your nationhood has been a highly auspicious one…it has seen the emergence of wise and far-reaching plans for the social and economic betterment of the Nigerian people”. President Kennedy was talking here about The first Nigerian National Development Plan which had as cornerstones the Kainji dam construction and the development of the lower Niger River. That plan was a good plan, but unfortunate events which occurred mid way into its implementation affected the plan and it could not be implemented as originally envisaged. The message here is that Nigeria has to make plans and stick to the plans to fruition because as is commonly said when you fail to plan you plan to fail.
Then on October 11 1977, while receiving General Olusegun Obasanjo at the South Lawn of The White House, President Jimmy Carter remarked that ” Historically Nigeria has been a friend of our country. A nation of about 80 million people…..There is no doubt this is one of the most important nations economically in Africa”. President Carter made this comment at a time when we had a population of about 80 million people. Today, it is said that Nigeria has a population of about 150 million people. We can not continue to speculate about our population. We must have the discipline and the mutual respect to carry out a honest and thorough census so that we can say with certainty that this is our population and this will help us make exact plans as we prepare for the future.
And it has not just been a one way traffic. On visits to Nigeria by U.S Presidents, they have had cause to listen to addresses by Nigerian leaders and these interactions have influenced U.S policy to Nigeria, Africa and the world. In fact when General Olusegun Obasanjo said to President Jimmy Carter on April 2, 1978 when he reciprocated General Obasanjo by visiting Lagos that “This visit will afford you Mr. President….and through you the majority of the American people a closer understanding of Africa today and African aspirations” few knew that those words and that visit would have far reaching implications for consequent U.S policy towards nations like Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) South Africa and a host of others.
Also the August 2000 visit by President Bill Clinton led to a greater understanding between both countries and the discussions at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa Abuja during that visit eventually sowed the seeds that led to the debt relief package Nigeria benefited from between 2000 and 2005.
By and large this book is a delight to read as it serves as a reminder that over the years Nigeria has indeed achieved a number of things that are worthy of celebrating and I commend our Ambassador in Washington DC, Professor Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye and his team for a job well done. Once again, long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. GEJ