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Nigeria marks 42nd Independence Day - 2002-10-01

Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is calling for tolerance and reconciliation as Nigeria marks its national day today. Mr. Obasanjo was speaking in a nationwide broadcast. Our reporter in Abuja says the President warned Nigerians about what he called a looming political tragedy.

Meanwhile, political tension is growing in Nigeria following threats by the National Assembly to impeach President Obasanjo. Also of concern is the spate of politically motivated attacks and killings ahead of crucial elections next year. President Obasanjo says the upcoming elections could define Nigeria's political future. In a broadcast address this morning he warned of serious problems that could occur if politicians and their supporters do not play according to the rules. "I would however like to remind all politicians throughout this country of the amount of apprehension that has been expressed, within and without, about the possible risks which the forthcoming elections could pose to our nascent democracy. The world regards elections as a game of politicians, because politicians are seen as having the highest stake in losing or winning. Thus, the successful outcome of the elections depends entirely on how politicians chose to play the game. On the other hand, we should pray and work hard to ensure that the electoral process moves to a climax without a tragedy. Democracy in Nigeria is the ultimate winner in successful elections."

Previous elections conducted by elected administrations in Nigeria have precipitated crises leading to military interventions. President Obasanjo also reached out to the National Assembly for reconciliation. The legislature is threatening to impeach him and last week turned down his request to address it on the occasion of Independence Day. He promised to improve conditions between the presidency and other arms of government. "I am convinced that much of the acrimony and antagonism of recent weeks are the result of a sluggish and inadequate communication system. This is a weakness, which has frequently led to the temptation to attribute the lowest and basest possible motives to leaders in all branches of government, and at all levels of the party. Let us debate, let us dialogue, let us even agree to disagree, but let the task of running the affairs of Nigeria continue unhindered, and let us have all hands on deck for the rebuilding of Nigeria. We must avoid the political paralysis of our nation."

President Obasanjo said the critics of his administration are those incensed by his quest to ensure prudent public spending and abolish frivolous pay-offs and patronage. "The real opponents of our government are those who previously enjoyed or who are currently enjoying enormous and inordinate economic and political power, and who now sense the closing down of the avenues from which they have hitherto amassed are presently amassing ill-gotten wealth."

The Nigerian leader said to ease the tension and acrimony caused by the sharing of national revenue and resources, it is necessary to work towards increasing the size of the national cake. Reaction to the speech is generally positive. Most people say the president is being pragmatic in reaching out to the national assembly, while not sounding too patronizing. Today has been declared a public holiday, but not much is planned in terms of official celebration.