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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Lagos
"The president did not gloss over Nigeria's many failures since independence"
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Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Obasanjo pledge to transform Nigeria
Nigeria's 40th anniversary celebrations
Nigeria's leader says there is little to celebrate
Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has called for fundamental reform in his country to rid it of its image of corruption and instability, as Nigeria marks the 40th anniversary of its independence from Britain.

In a broadcast speech that pulled no punches, Mr Obasanjo said the birthday should be an occasion for "sober reflection" among Nigerians, pointing out that the country is now regarded as the most corrupt on earth.

The whole world regards us as 'born scammers'

President Olusegun Obasanjo
But he said the natural "exuberance and boisterousness" of Nigerians could be harnessed to build a great African democratic country that was united, stable and prosperous.

For most of its 40 years of independence, Nigeria has been under military rule and millions of Nigerians live in poverty, despite the country's vast oil wealth.

President Obasanjo - himself a military ruler until 1979 - pointed out that Nigeria is now ranked as the 13th poorest nation in the world. In 1979, it was the 48th most properous, he said.


The 40th anniversary celebrations got under way with a midnight fireworks display over the central Eagle Square in the capital, Abuja.

It was to be followed later in the day by a parade and fly-past, as well as cultural displays and dancing.

Mr Obasanjo welcomed South African President Thabo Mbeki as guest of honour for the ceremonies, which were expected to be attended by several heads of state and dignitaries.

'Fool at 40'

Saying that a 40th birthday is a significant landmark in any person's life, Mr Obasanjo reminded Nigerians of the saying that "a fool at 40 is a fool forever."

President Olusegun Obasanjo
Clean-up: Nigeria's leader wants to get rid of the country's corrupt image
Mr Obasanjo, who returned the country to democracy in May 1999, said there was little for the country to celebrate.

Nigeria is now perceived as the most corrupt nation in the world. "The whole world regards us as 'born scammers'," he said.

But Mr Obasanajo said this could change, if Nigeria embraced a new vision: "To build a truly great African democratic country, politically united and stable, economically prosperous, socially organised, with equal opportunity for all."

Chaos and corruption

Only then would the name of Nigeria cease to conjure up images of "chaos and confusion, military coups and instability, corruption... violation of human rights, drug trafficking and business fraud," he said.

In the run-up to the anniversary, the BBC Lagos correspondent says that Nigerian newspapers have devoted page after page to analysing what has gone wrong with the dream of independence.

However, he says people are thankful that civilian rule has been restored.

Nigerians are also proud that their country has survived as one political entity, despite numerous occasions when ethnic and regional differences have threatened to pull it apart.

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See also:

29 Sep 00 | Africa
Nigerian anti-corruption action
13 Sep 00 | Africa
Nigeria tops corruption chart
10 Jun 99 | Africa
Nigeria purges military
01 Oct 00 | Africa
Nigeria: Hope after 40 years
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