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Speeches at the Conference

SPEECH AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON “NEHRU’S WORLDVIEW AND HIS LEGACY – DEMOCRACY, INCLUSION & EMPOWERMENT” VIGYAN BHAWAN, NEW DELHI Former President of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obsanjo

Your Excellency, Madam Sonia Gandhi,
The President of Indian National Congress,

A Great leader deserves to be celebrated with all the honour and accolade that we may be able to accord him. Let us identify some land mark achievements and underlying qualities that make them possible. The end of the Second World War increased the tempo of agitation for Independence under the leadership of Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and others. Part of the price paid for that achievement of Independence by Nehru was going to prison nine times. I was put in prison once for 3 and half years and believe you me, it was a sad experience.

He acknowledged those who worked with him. And I want to bring out the personal character and qualities that underpinned the achievements of Independence and multiple prison experiences of Nehru. Those who worked with him and made sacrifices with him, he paid due tribute to them and said:

“Mahatma Gandhi had instilled courage and manhood in his people and discipline and endurance and the power of joyful sacrifice for a cause and with all his humility pride.” How he reacted to his prison and other experiences, his un-objectless, he said:

“The true joy in life is to align ourselves to a great purpose to throw ourselves into it heart and soul to forget your little self for the realization of that purpose.”

He focused on what had to be achieved and without counting the cost he achieved it with the achievement of Independence, that was his vision and expectation for India. He laid the foundation for industrialization and development of India in agriculture, steel production, power, Nuclear and space program and defense. More importantly he envisioned an egalitarian democratic society within a multi religious environment. He said:

“All of us, to whatever religion we may belong are equally the children of India, with equal rights, privileges and obligations.”

He was a man of the people with a common touch. All his action was focused on eliminating discrimination, segregation, poverty, disease and ignorance. He said:

“Poverty anywhere is a danger to prosperity everywhere. To have some infectious disease somewhere may be danger to healthy conditions elsewhere. I have come in contact with vast masses and because I am receptive to them I can make them somewhat receptive to what I say”. He stood for peace and new world order. He said:

“Peace can only come when nations are free and also where human beings everywhere have peace and security and opportunity. Peace and freedom therefore have to be considered both in their political and economic terms.”

He enunciated principles of peaceful coexistence and his principles are as relevant today as they were when he first enunciated them. The lessons of Independence of India and the role of Nehru were not lost to African leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Democreata of Australia, Kwame Nkrumah of the then Gold Coast of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, then Tangayika , Kenneth Kaunda of Maraudasia and all the other British colonies. Nationalist leaders in French colonies such as Bambella Nigeria of Kotuva, Senego of Senegal, Modibo Keita of Mali, moved closely with their counter parts in the British colonies. Nehru’s India was both an example, and an inspiration for colonial Africa in its struggle for liberation and independence.

By action or words, Nehru was the inspiration in Africa; He said: “There would be no yes men in struggle in Asia or Africa. We value the friendship of the great countries but we can only sit with them as brothers.”

Ten years after India’s independence, Gold Coast under Nkrumah became the first of Saharan African countries to gain independence in 1957 with the avalanche of liberations and Independence following in 1960.The Non-Aligned Movement headed and formed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of then Gold Coast, now Ghana and Indonesia’s Sukarno and others in late 1950s, was happily embraced by all independent countries in Africa and Nehru became a formidable instrument of third world voice and vitality. For the Non-Aligned Moment, Nehru had this to say:

“Non-Alignment does not mean passivity of mind or action. Lack of faith or conviction, it does not mean submission to which we consider evil. It is a positive and dynamic approach to solve problems that confront us. We believe that each country has not only the Right to Freedom but also to decide its own policy and way of life”.

Again Nehru saw a need and he sought men of like minds to fulfil that need in the birth and sustenance of Non-aligned movement.

Let me now come home with Nehru’s India and Nigeria, my own country. India was one of the first countries to open a diplomatic mission in Nigeria in 1958, two years before Nigeria officially became independent. India supported Nigeria in its admission to the UN and gladly welcomed Nigeria into the Commonwealth. At the UN, Commonwealth and the Non-aligned Meet Nigeria and India always consulted and worked together; India as the largest country in the Commonwealth and Nigeria as the largest African country in the Commonwealth. The state visit of Prime Minister Nehru to Nigeria in 1962 and in the following year 1963, only three years after Nigeria’s independence led to India being invited to establish for Nigeria a defense academy. It was significant then that of all the commonwealth countries India was chosen for such important and sensitive undertaking. It was a great measure of confidence and trust; I personally became a beneficiary of that confidence and trust, between Nigeria and India in 1965, when I was nominated to attend the Indian Defense Staff College in Wellington, Ooty in South India.

What lessons can we learn from the life, work and achievement of Jawaharlal Nehru? He achieved greatness by dint of hard work, commitment, courage and the great determination. He said:

“To hell with the man who cannot walk fast, it serves him right if he gets out of the ranks and falls out. We want no sluggards. I want work and work and work.”

That was the man we are celebrating. He knew what he wanted and how to get it for his country and for the world at large. He was a source of blessing at home and abroad an object lesson. His legacy should continue to be preserved and his message should continue to be echoed.

Thank you.