THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 26, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN ADDRESS TO JOINT ASSEMBLY
House of Representatives Chamber
National Assembly Building
3:15 P.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Mr. President of the Senate, the Speaker, Mr. Deputy President and Deputy Speaker, members of the Assembly. It is a great honor for me to be here with members of my Cabinet and government, members of the United States Congress, mayors of some of our greater cities, and my daughter. And we're glad to be here. (Applause.)
I must say, this is the first time I have been introduced as President in eight years, speaking to parliamentary bodies all over the world, where they played a song before I spoke. (Laughter and applause.) I liked it a lot. (Laughter.) It got us all in a good frame of mind.
Twenty-two years ago, President Jimmy Carter became the first President ever to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he arrived in Nigeria, saying he had come from a great nation to visit a great nation. (Applause.) More than two years ago, I came to Africa for the longest visit ever by an American President to build a new partnership with your continent. But sadly, in Nigeria, an illegitimate government was killing its people and squandering your resources. All most Americans knew about Nigeria then was a sign at their local airport warning them not to fly here.
A year later, Nigeria found a transitional leader who kept his promises. (Applause.) Then, Nigerians elected a President and a National Assembly and entrusted to them -- to you -- the hard work of rebuilding your nation and building your democracy.
Now, once again, Americans and people all around the world will know Nigeria for its music and art, for its Nobel Prize winners and its Super Falcons, for its commitment to peacekeeping and its leadership in Africa and around the world. In other words, once again, people will know Nigeria as a great nation. (Applause.)
You have begun to walk the long road to repair the wrongs and errors of the past, and to build bridges to a better future. The road is harder and the rewards are slower than all hoped it would be when you began. But what is most important is that today you are moving forward, not backward. And I am here because your fight -- your fight for democracy and human rights, for equity and economic growth, for peace and tolerance -- your fight is America's fight and the world's fight. (Applause.)
Indeed, the whole world has a big stake in your success -- and not simply because of your size or the wealth of your natural resources, or even your capacity to help lift this entire continent to peace and prosperity; but also because so many of the great human dramas of our time are being played out on the Nigerian stage.
For example, can a great country that is home to one in six Africans succeed in building a democracy amidst so much diversity and a past of so much trouble? Can a developing country, blessed with enormous human and natural resources, thrive in a global economy and lift all its people? Can a nation so blessed by the verve and vigor of countless traditions and many faiths be enriched by its diversity, not enfeebled by it? I believe the answer to all those questions can, and must be, yes. (Applause.)
There are still those around the world who see democracy as a luxury that people seek only when times are good. Nigerians have shown us that democracy is a necessity, especially when times are hard. The dictators of your past hoped the hard times would silence your voices, banish your leaders, destroy your spirit. But even in the darkest days, Nigeria's people knew they must stand up for freedom, the freedom their founders promised.
Achebe championed it, Sunny Ade sang for it. Journalists like Akinwumi Adesukar fought for it. Lawyers like Gani Fawehinmi testified for it. (Applause.) Political leaders like Yar'Adua died for it. (Applause.) And most important, the people of Nigeria voted for it. (Applause.)
Now, at last, you have your country back. Nigerians are electing their leaders, acting to cut corruption and investigate past abuses, shedding light on human rights violations, turning a fearless press into a free press. It is a brave beginning.
But you know better than I how much more must be done. Every nation that has struggled to build democracy has found that success depends on leaders who believe government exists to serve people, not the other way around. President Obasanjo is such a leader. And the struggle to build democracy depends also on you, on legislators who will be both a check on and a balance to executive authority and be a source --(applause.) You know, if I said that to my Congress, they would still be clapping and standing. (Laughter.)
And this is important, too -- let me finish. (Laughter.) In the constitutional system, the Legislature provides a check and balance to the Executive, but it must also be a source of creative, responsible leadership, for in the end, work must be done and progress must be made. (Applause.)
Democracy depends upon a political culture that welcomes spirited debate without letting politics become a blood sport. It depends on strong institutions, an independent judiciary, a military under firm civilian control. It requires the contributions of women and men alike. (Applause.) I must say I am very glad to see a number of women in this audience today, and also I am glad that Nigerian women have their own Vital Voices program -- (applause) -- a program that my wife has worked very hard for, both in Africa and all around the world.
Of course, in the end, successful political change must begin to improve people's daily lives. That is the democracy dividend Nigerians have waited for.
But no one should expect that all the damage done over a generation can be undone in a year. (Applause.) Real change demands perseverance and patience. It demands openness to honorable compromise and cooperation. It demands support on a constant basis from the people of Nigeria and from your friends abroad. That does not mean being patient with corruption or injustice, but to give up hope because change comes slowly would only be to hand a victory to those who do not want to change at all. (Applause.)
Remember something we Americans have learned in over 224 years of experience with democracy: It is always and everywhere a work in progress. It took my own country almost 90 years and a bitter civil war to set every American free. It took another 100 years to give every American the basic rights our Constitution promised them from the beginning.
Since the time of our revolution, our best minds have debated how to balance the responsibilities of our national and state government; what the proper balance is between the President and the Congress; what is the roll of the courts in our national life. And since the very beginning, we have worked hard with varying degrees of success and occasional, regrettable, sometimes painful failures, to weave the diverse threads of our nation into a coherent, unified tapestry.
Today, America has people from over 200 racial, ethnic and religious groups. We have school districts in America where, in one school district, the parents of the children speak over 100 different languages. It is an interesting challenge. But it is one that I am convinced is a great opportunity, just as your diversity -- your religious diversity and your ethnic diversity -- is a great opportunity. In a global society, growing ever more intertwined -- a great opportunity if we can find unity in our common humanity; if we can learn not only to tolerate our differences, but actually to celebrate our differences; if we can believe that how we worship, how we speak, who our parents were, where they came from are terribly important, but on this Earth, the most important thing is our common humanity, then there can be no stopping us. (Applause.)
Now, no society has every fully solved this problem. As you struggle with it you think of the Middle East, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the ongoing tragedy of Kashmir. And you realize it is a formidable challenge. You also know, of course, that democracy does not answer such questions. It simply gives all free people the chance to find the answers that work for them.
I know that decades of mis-rule and deprivation have made your religious and ethnic divisions deeper. Nobody can wave a hand and make the problems go away. But that is no reason to let the idea of one united Nigeria slip away. After all, after all this time, if we started trying to redraw the map of Africa, we would simply be piling new grievances on old. Even if we could separate all the people of Africa by ethnicity and faith, would we really rid this continent of strife? Think of all the things that would be broken up and all the mountains of progress that have been built up that would be taken down if that were the case.
Where there is too much deprivation and too little tolerance, differences among people will always seem greater, and will always be like open sores waiting to be turned into arrows of hatred by those who will be advantaged by doing so. But I think it is worth noting for the entire world that against the background of vast cultural differences, a history of repression and ethnic strife, the hopeful fact here today is that Nigeria's 250 different ethnic groups have stayed together in one nation. (Applause.) You have struggled for democracy together. You have forged national institutions together. All your greatest achievements have come when you have worked together.
It is not for me to tell you how to resolve all the issues that I follow more closely than you might imagine I do. You're a free people, an independent people, and you must resolve them. All I can tell you is what I have seen and experienced these last years as President in the United States and in working with other good people with similar aspirations on every continent of the globe. We have to find honorable ways to reconcile our differences on common ground.
The overwhelming fact of modern life everywhere, believe it or not, is not the growth of the global economy, not the explosion of information technology and the Internet, but the growing interdependence these changes are bringing. Whether we like it or not, more and more our fates are tied together -- within nations and beyond national borders, even beyond continental borders and across great oceans. Whether we like it or not, it is happening. You can think of big examples, like our economic interconnections. You can think of anecdotal examples, like the fact that we now have a phenomenon in the world known as airport