SHORTLY after the public presentation and launch of his 80th birthday commemorative book, A Duty To Speak: Refusing to Remain Silent in a Time of Tyranny, Ambassador Walter Carrington (former US Ambassador to Nigeria) chatted with ENCOMIUM Weekly on his joy, advice on how to advance Nigeria and his greatest aspiration at 80.
How do you feel with all that is happening today?
I feel overwhelmed! It’s hard to put into words the way I feel. It is so great to be back in Nigeria among so many friends and to hear all of these wonderful things that they had to say. And I’m happy to be here with my family and especially my wife, Arese, who was every step with me all the way and to have our children, Thomas and Kemi also here.
Looking at the Nigerian democracy today, what advice can you give?
I think that we must develop leaders, who put the needs of the people before their own. As I said about Balarabe Musa, we must develop people who leave office no richer than they were before they came. Public office must be seen as a public trust and one must be open about the revenue that they receive so that the people can judge. That’s why I’m so happy that this celebration is in Lagos, which is such a progressive state under such a progressive governor, and that we also have another progressive governor, the Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko. These are two places that can shine as an example of what the rest of the nation could do and should do.
With your experience of Nigeria, what do you think is Nigeria’s greatest challenge and how best do you think it can be overcome?
Its greatest challenge is to find a way to make the revenue that comes out of all of these oil that Nigeria produces available for improving the lot of the ordinary citizens of Nigeria. That’s why transparency is so very necessary, so that the people know where every kobo goes. I think that is the most important thing. Once you have that, I think the chances of democracy really flourishing and the people feeling that the government is their government because they elected them. And once they elect people, such people have to be able to do away with fraudulent elections that have taken place in the past.
What advice do you have for Nigeria as we go to the polls next year?
I think the new INEC chairman (Prof. Attahiru Jega) is dedicated to doing the right things. If they have the kind of resources they need, then I think it will be possible to organize free and fair elections. But the people must always be vigilant, they must monitor every step of the elections, to make sure that the will of the people is respected.
Having lived most of your life as an activist, what more do you aspire strongly to achieve?
I will continue to do what I have been doing in the past. I will never retire from it. I mean, how can I do anything else? This is what I believe and really do, so I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing.
‘Why both of us keep waxing strong’
- Arese Carrington
MRS. Arese Carrington, the graceful Itsekiri wife of former United States ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, shared with us her hopes for Nigeria, her love and feelings for her octogenarian hubby and her preferred solutions to the challenges confronting our country…
What are your hopes for Nigeria?
I hope there will be great respect for all the basic human rights. I hope that starting from now, different groups of the grassroots people will begin to reclaim what is theirs in Nigeria. It doesn’t belong to just a group of people, it belongs to everyone and we will take example from the good governance we have here in Lagos State, which is a government for the people. Take what you have in Ondo State and state by state, the people who are governed should demand from the people who are governing them, make them accountable to you. You are not to beg for what is yours.
How does it feel being married to a great man?
He’s my husband and I love him. It’s great to be married to him and the fact that we share the same passion. He’s my soul mate and that makes it much easier because when you believe in the same things which your spouse believes in, you will be able to move ahead in unison and that is what we are doing. We understand each other, we complement each other and I am always encouraged and inspired by his greatness. I admire him, I appreciate him and I love him very much.
What do you think is Nigeria’s greatest challenge and how best can we go about it?
Nigeria’s greatest challenge is leadership and governance throughout the nation. But gradually, it’s beginning to happen. State governments are beginning to see that their jobs as elected people is to serve and not to loot. And as we carry on, state by state, things begin to catch on. I think a time will come when the people of Nigeria will begin to feel that this country belongs to them and they are reaping the dividends of democracy. I also feel that education is very important; knowledge is power. We need to give knowledge to the people, and not continue to keep them in darkness. I think once the people begin to realize this, they’ll begin to realize their rights as Nigerians and they’ll begin to demand and fight for those rights.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, 27, 2010