1. On behalf of the Government and People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I warmly welcome you all – our highly esteemed guests and distinguished parliamentarians from across Africa and beyond, to Abuja, for this very important First African Legislative Summit.
2. Let me, at the outset, thank the leadership and honourable members of the two Houses of the Nigerian National Assembly – the Senate and the House of Representatives and other sister Parliaments in Africa, for this laudable initiative which, indeed, reveals a new vision, a new confidence and renewed vigour in legislative development and peer review in Africa.
3. This first-ever Africa legislative summit which is coming at a crucial moment in the transformation of the African continent will undoubtedly contribute to the attainment of our collective vision of a new Africa that must not only be committed to democracy, but relentlessly seek strategies to deepen its relevance, and strengthen its institutions.
4. The scope and agenda of this summit goes to the heart of the critical issues facing not just African parliaments but the totality of the continent’s democratic and developmental experience.
5. These include issues of quality of governance, capacity-building, networking and matters relating to the core representational, law-making, oversight responsibilities of parliaments, processes of legislation, legislative autonomy and effective communication tools.
6. Such factors are certainly very essential to the deepening and consolidation of democratic practices and norms. I therefore commend our various parliaments for playing a leading role in stimulating discussion around these important issues that affect the daily lives of our people. Our hope and expectation is that, having recognized the importance and symbolism of this gathering, the leaders of our parliaments will work tirelessly to ensure that it is fully institutionalized as a platform for fostering legislative collaboration and development in Africa.
7. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, a few years ago, the African political landscape was characterized by military dictatorships and single party rule. There can be no doubt that the retarded development of a strong legislative tradition in Africa is for the most part, directly traceable to the scourge of military dictatorships in the continent between the 1960s and the 1980s.
8. The legislature, a symbol of representative democracy, was often the major casualty of frequent unconstitutional changes in government, and this worked to decimate its law-making role for the welfare of society and its mandate as a check and balance on the executive arm of government, hence Africa was denied for decades, the effective contributions of the legislature to the growth and development of many of our Nation States.
9. Happily, Africa has now cast off its image of a continent of military despotism and unconstitutional government, and embraced the logic of progressive democratic governance for the good of its people. With the comprehensive subjection of the military across most of Africa to civilian democratic control, and with the unquenchable zeal for democracy now burning in the hearts of African leaders and peoples, the continent is now beginning to witness the uninterrupted growth and development of parliamentary institutions as a vital and integral part of constitutional governments.
10. Today, the political landscape in Africa has changed significantly. Military dictatorships have given way to elected governments in much of Africa. Vibrant and responsibleParliaments have replaced Ruling Military Councils. In the last four decades, we have never had as many countries being ruled by popularly elected governments as we have today. Steadily, the democratic tradition is gaining ground. Successful parliamentary and presidential elections have continued to be held in several countries, including Nigeria and African leaders will continue to do all within their powers to ensure that this trend becomes the norm on the continent.
11. The progress that African Parliaments have made in these times is quite remarkable. African legislatures are now rebuilding, rebranding and re-asserting their legislative imperatives.
12. Democratic progress has also brought exciting economic prospects on the continent. Our economies are growing by leaps and bounds. We have been described as the last frontier of growth by development specialists, and the figures coming out of the continent in the last few years have been very encouraging.
13. Our young democracies have heralded a greater commitment to human rights on the continent. In compliance with the African Union’s Constitutive Act, Member States are more willing to take a strong, unified position and action against unconstitutional changes of government, impunity, political assassinations, acts of terrorism and subversive activities.
14. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), are also complementing efforts to promote democratic principles, good governance, transparency, accountability and anti-corruption efforts on the continent.
15. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, while we have definitely moved on from the era of one-party states and authoritarian regimes, we need to situate our democratic evolution within the context of our history in order to appreciate the level of progress we have made so far.
16. State formation in the Western World did not follow the same pattern as we have in Africa. Africa was in its own process of state formation, built along historical, cultural, political, economic and military contexts, when the twin scourge of slave trade and colonialism disrupted the emerging patterns in our development.
17. We experienced the misfortune of being treated purely as a factory for slaves and raw materials, and for the convenience of the colonial power, the building blocks of state formation were upturned and juggled up, leading to a further fragmentation of the society.
18. Even though we have gone through different stages of self-governance and political independence, most African countries are still struggling to achieve true nationhood and our perpetual battles with ethnic and political conflicts have significantly stunted our progress.
19. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there is no greater task before the present generation of African leaders than to win the war against ethnic biases, religious intolerance and political instability. At this gathering and at other fora we must continually reaffirm Africa’s resolve to make democracy work for its people.
20. In the mission of making democracy work, the legislature is particularly critical because that is where you have the most diverse representation of the people. If democracy is to transform Africa into a land of freedom, peace and economic prosperity, our Parliaments must be supported and encouraged in the interest of good governance and development.
21. Legislations, oversight functions and appropriations must also stimulate economic growth and foster political cohesion and stability. Stronger and better collaboration between the executive and legislative arms of government needs be further encouraged across the continent as we work to build more inclusive governments.
22. Mr President, in spite of the progress we have made, there still exist threats to democracy and good governance. Recent experiences in Mali, Niger, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic (CAR) serve as a reminder of these challenges, and indicate that we must all remain eternally vigilant to avoid a resurgence of the ugly past.
23. Africa also remains vulnerable to other major threats. Terrorism, cross-border organized crime, drug trafficking and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons could disrupt social equilibrium, stall democratic progress and destabilize the entire region.
24. These interlinked challenges must be addressed jointly and comprehensively through legislative and executive action in the interest of our people.
25. In the last 13 years, we in Nigeria have been working assiduously towards strengthening our democratic experience through the legislature and ancillary institutions.
26. I have from my first days in office as President done everything possible to make the legislature strong, independent and vibrant. I have refused to interfere with the affairs of the National Assembly preferring to adopt consultative and collaborative strategies to get things done.
27. Working on the principle that Separation of Powers is not Separation of Government, we are building a relationship with the National Assembly that has stabilized the polity and strengthened democratic governance in our country.
28. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as our parliaments work to make laws that promote good governance, and create a stable and secure society, they must also strive to address threats to electoral systems, and design an appropriately progressive and mature relationship with other arms of government.
29. The imperatives of democratic governance require us to run open governments; to respect the rights, liberties and freedoms of all our citizens, as guaranteed by constitutions; and to tirelessly pursue programmes that will improve the living conditions of our people.
30. This summit marks a watershed in Africa’s march towards collaborative approaches to resolving common challenges and I want to urge all participants, resource persons and analysts to seize the opportunity of such a unique platform, to objectively evaluate Africa’s problems and challenges, exchange ideas and information, and offer insightful and pragmatic solutions on how to make Africa a much better place for all of its people.
31. The whole of Africa looks up to us – leaders and their representatives – to make the continent a better place, a land of immense opportunities for all our people, united by our common bonds and shared values of freedom, human dignity, peace, social stability and inclusive growth. Let us always bear in mind that the success of democracy rests on the courage, right choices and vision of leaders and citizens, and upon our collective and individual willingness to always promote the public good.
32. I wish you very successful deliberations as you strive to build bridges of understanding among our various parliamentary institutions, and as you seek and find ways to cement the partnerships between all sectors of our societies, and develop empowering agendas on all socio-economic fronts.
33. It is now my great privilege and pleasure to declare this Summit open.
34. I thank you.