IT is now only four days to the senatorial election next Saturday, 7 July, 1979. It is the first in the series of five elections which will usher in civilian rule.
It has been a long way since Independence on October I, 1960. For Nigeria, and for all of us, it has been nineteen years of chequered, troublous, and heart-rending historical procession. I can claim, without fear of thoughtful contradiction, that of all the five presidential candidates, I stand out as the only articulate dissenting voice in that unedifying procession. The others were willing and active participants.
I made my voice heard quite loudly and clearly right up to the time when I was silenced by incarceration. Even as I stood at the threshold of that deep but eloquent silence, I did not hesitate to make four declarations which further angered my opponents and aggravated their intense hatred for me. Standing before the trial judge, at one of the most crucial moments of my life, I declared that if I was imprisoned:
- the crisis which was only about fifteen months old would escalate and become protracted;
- the invaluable services which I could render to the country would be lost though only for a season; and
- the existing twilight of democracy would change into utter darkness which would be followed by a glorious dawn.
- that whatever my adversaries might wish or say or do, I would not die in prison.
That day, on 13-9-63, I spoke for Nigeria: the crisis escalated, took unexpected tragic turns, and lasted much longer than anyone had dared to imagine; at least constitutionally, Nigeria wandered aimlessly until my book, which supplies the inspiration for our new Constitution was published; the twilight of democracy, which most people did not perceive at the time, did change into a prolonged utter darkness; and in spite of design to kill me in prison, which was publicly disclosed by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, I am still alive today to continue in my endeavours to render invaluable services to our fatherland.
This afternoon, therefore, I am speaking to you and to all other Nigerians not here present, in a dual capacity: as the leader and presidential candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and as your faithful, devoted, steadfast, and tested servant and friend.
For 42 years, I have served Nigeria in and out of season. I served as a leader of the Nigeria Youth Movement: this was the first real attempt at a countrywide political organisation; but it was smashed by Dr Azikiwe for personal aggrandisement. I served as a nationalist, using all the talents which God gave me to possess, to agitate with others successfully for the termination of British colonial rule. I served as Leader and head of Government in the old Western Region of Nigeria for eight years and set up there records which time can only, hallow but cannot obliterate. I served as Leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament; and, in this capacity, I constantly and relentlessly warned the Government of the day against its manifest anti-social acts and gross mal-administration.
Even in prison, I continued to serve by devoting all my time there to cogitating over our country’s problems, and finding solutions for them. Most of my constitutional and socio-economic solutions have been fully endorsed and incorporated in our present Constitution.
Finally, I served in Gowon’s administration and, along with others, left no stone unturned in keeping Nigeria One. In this connection it is apposite to recall that in 1967, 1968 and in 1969, I had the honour to lead Nigeria’s delegation respectively to the OAU Conferences at Kinshasa and Algiers and to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London. At these Conferences I fought strenuously and successfully to prevent other countries from interfering in our internal affairs, and, at the same time, to win the sympathy and support of these bodies for Nigeria’s cause.
Look at the books which I have written, the lectures which I have given, and the many speeches and statements which I have made. You will find that there is no problem confronting or about to confront Nigeria to which I have not given thought and for which I have not proferred intelligent and reasoned solutions.
In and out of office, I have always lived among you, not away from you. I am familiar with your sufferings and privations; and I have always identified myself with the deepest yearnings of the vast majority of our people. Besides, in these 42 years of my public career; I have never deceived you; and I have never let you down. I always regard my promise as a solemn pact, and my word as my bond.
From the mouths of many witnesses since 22-9-78, you have been told, again and again what the UPN stands for, what it will do if it receives your mandate to govern this country from 1979 to 1983. But, for emphasis and the avoidance of any doubt, I consider it my duty to the Nigerian electorate to use this opportunity to recapitulate as many of them as time now permits.
- Free education at all levels will now commence at the beginning of the next academic session in September. Immediately after my election in August, I am to make a statement appealing (a) to all the authorities concerned to admit all eligible pupils and students without the payment of tuition fee or any fee by whatever name called; (b) to all the booksellers concerned to supply the required textbooks and stationery on credit to the various institutions for supply to pupils and students until October when the cost will be fully paid; and (c) to the banks to give, where necessary, credit accommodation to booksellers who are accredited by the school authorities.
- All loans given to students for the purpose of pursuing their education, which remain unpaid by 1-10-79, will be written off.
- As from 1980 – (a) secondary education will become compulsory, so that all pupils leaving primary schools will not have to take any entrance examination to secondary schools, as it will be compulsory for them to go enmasse to secondary schools. (b) the shift system in school attendance will be abolished. (c) the phasing out of the boarding system will begin in earnest, and, in the process, no pupil will have to go for more than five kilometers to get to secondary school. (d) free adult education will commence, and arrangements will be taken in hand for the establishment in 1981 or 1982 of an Open Air University, to enable those who are willing to do so to pursue post-secondary education at home.
To be continued