Ladies and Gentlemen, I did not want to leave Nigeria, at the end of a fascinating few days in the North, without just saying a few words about what I have learned from you and my impressions of the progress which Nigeria has made since I last visited your country. I can think of no more appropriate place to do so than here at Arewa House: a forum renowned for its tolerance of free speech and one of the major landmarks and symbols of Nigeria’s aspirations.
During my first visit to Nigeria, in 1990, you were trying to emerge from a period of military role. By the time of my second visit, in 1999, there had been an intervening coup and you were again emerging from military rule, under the democratic leadership of President Obasanjo. On this third visit, I have been struck by a new, confident Nigeria, sustaining its longest unbroken period of democracy since Independence. This is a record of which I know you are intensely proud. In extending the record, you are following a world-wide trend seen from Central Europe to South Africa, from Central America to South Korea. Nigeria retains the potential to be a global player and one of the world’s largest democracies. It is a right Nigeria has earned but must strive hard to sustain.
Ladies & Gentlemen, the strongest and most vibrant democracies in the World are those where the People feel a sense of ownership in the political process. Those I have met over the past two days have made one thing abundantly clear to me. As you approach next April's elections, there is a will – a determination – to see your fairest election yet. An election without violence. An election which allows one civilian government to hand over to another, for the first time in Nigeria's independent history.
Here in Northern Nigeria your role is a special one. It always has been. As you revive your rural economy, you are restoring some of the glory of Nigeria's savannah land farming of forty and fifty years ago. A revived rural economy and farming, helped by the excellent rains which you have seen this year, will generate more resources for vital local projects such as roads, health clinics and schools, and for much needed industrial development to help secure a sustainable future for you, your children and your grandchildren. In delivering industrial development it is essential, I think, to take full account of environmental issues, particularly the use of fossil fuels. Only then can we ensure that this development is genuinely sustainable. This applies not just in Nigeria, but across Africa and, indeed, across the World. There is an African saying: “We have borrowed the present from our children”. Through genuinely sustainable projects, I wholeheartedly believe that you are restoring the future to your grandchildren.
In Nigeria, as in my own country, there is no priority higher than education. Whether as Leaders of Nations or, indeed, as leaders of families, we all have a vital role to play in giving young people the skills and the confidence they need to fulfil their potential. As they believe in us, so we must believe in them. I do think that the British novelist Graham Greene captured this idea with the greatest clarity in his novel The Power and the Glory when he said: “There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in”. Thinking more broadly, education – and reading skills in particular - are also vital if people are ever to convince Banks to give them small scale credits.
I think we need to develop this thought a stage further and enhance our ability to combine classic education, or “book knowledge”, with practical expertise and vocational skills in order to develop creativity. This seems to me an essential pre-cursor to capitalizing fully on the entrepreneurial acumen which is manifest both within Nigeria and in the Diaspora. The Nobel Laureate, Mohammad Yunus, did precisely this in creating the Grameen Bank, providing micro-credit which has lifted literally millions of people – especially women – out of poverty and has helped to check the drift from rural to urban centres. There are, of course, strong parallels between the Grameen Bank and Nigeria’s Community Banks and, indeed, my own Youth Business International which has succeeded in helping more than 15,000 young entrepreneurs to create new businesses in thirty-three countries, including Nigeria.
Alongside education, I know that health is a major priority. You have been making important progress. I have been delighted to learn that, since my first visit, for example, awareness of the need for children to be inoculated has grown considerably. But this is not to make a case for complacency. In a village near Kano yesterday I was delighted to announce that the British Government’s Department for International Development ( or "Diffid" as everyone seems to know it in Nigeria) has decided to establish a permanent presence in Northern Nigeria by opening a new office. We do this as Nigeria’s long-term friend and as your Commonwealth partner. Much of Britain's development assistance will concentrate on partnership projects to help the Government improve basic health and education. We want to help you ensure that the vast majority of the next generation of farmers can read and write. We want to help you ensure that girls have enough education to determine their own future and improve their own health along with that of their children. We very much hope that this will help Nigeria to meet the challenges of the future, in this increasingly globalized world.
Of course, even the most remarkable success in all these areas will count for little if we do not address the problem of Climate Change in a coherent, co-ordinated way. I strongly believe that there is no more urgent issue facing our Planet and that we need to act, together, and now, if we are ever to stop – let alone reverse – the damage which is being done. By definition, this requires the closest international co-operation and I do urge everyone here this evening to examine carefully what positive role he or she could play – at local, national or international level – to ensure the international community rise to this challenge. I would contend that, far from draining economic resources, enlightened environmental stewardship offers unprecedented economic opportunities for innovation.
It seems to me that here, in the Northern half of Nigeria, you have the opportunity to show the way on Tolerance and Reconciliation. Recent history, earlier this decade, demonstrated the problems you face. I have been so very pleased to see, during my visit, evidence of some of the solutions which religious and community leaders have been working so hard to implement.
Ladies and Gentlemen it is not for me to offer your great country advice. But, if I may, I would like to offer the observation that as I travel around the World I am increasingly convinced that Tolerance and Reconciliation at community level are essential foundations for the success of a Nation as a whole. Nigeria now has the opportunity of sharing with the rest of the World its determination to enable communities of different faiths to live side by side in harmony. There are some heroic stories of your people working across religious and tribal divides. I know that this is the cornerstone of the work you are doing here at Arewa House (A-ray-wah House) and I want to conclude by congratulating you on all you have achieved – and all you will, I am sure, continue to achieve – to secure a peaceful, stable Nation in which future generations of Nigerians can truly flourish.