Jimmy Carter photo

Toasts at a State Dinner in Lagos, Nigeria

April 02, 1978

GENERAL OBASANJO. President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Carter, distinguished guests:

It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, Mr. President, to once again welcome you and Mrs. Carter to Nigeria on behalf of the Government of Nigeria and in the name of the entire people of our country.

Your presence with us, historic in itself as the first state visit ever undertaken by a President of the United States of America to this part of the world, is of unique significance.

It is also gratifying that you are visiting Nigeria so soon after my own visit to your great country, thus affording us the opportunity to reciprocate, even in a modest way and in the traditional African manner, the warmth of the reception, the generosity, and the meticulous care and attention which were accorded me and my delegation during our visit to your country.

In the conduct of international relations today, direct, personal contacts and consultations among those who are charged with the responsibilities of guiding the affairs of their respective nations are a vital instrument for promoting international understanding and respect for one another's views and positions. We are pleased for this opportunity, offered by your visit, to continue the dialog and exchange of views on the various matters of mutual interest to our two countries which were initiated in the course of my visit to the United States.

Our discussion then, as now, centered on our joint search for international peace and stability; the restructuring of interstate relations to ensure freedom, understanding, and justice, as well as a more equitable economic quota between the rich and the poor nations; the improvement of fundamental human rights and the dignity of man everywhere, whatever his race, color, or creed.

We believe that in our efforts to attain these goals, every nation has an obligation to fulfill and a contribution to make, irrespective of size, circumstance, or geopolitical status. To many of us in Nigeria, and, if I may venture to say, in Africa generally, the United States as a nation evokes sentiment of admiration, since your country has come a long way from casting away the yoke of colonialism to building a relatively free, united, and strong society, where the freedom of the individual and his rights remain supreme.

This strength of your society lies not merely in the breathtaking capacity of its astronauts, nor in America's unequaled mastery of the skills of science and technology, not even so much in the quality of life, but, above all, in the constant endeavor to live up to the ideals of its Founding Fathers.

I believe many will accept and agree that herein lies the greatest attribute of the American society.

Besides, Mr. President, the continuing American aspiration and contribution to the noble ideals of social justice and human liberty, at home and abroad, have made its influence felt within your borders and across the vast seas and far-flung frontiers of states.

The search for these noble ideals is a never-ending process, whether in developed societies like yours or in developing societies like ours.

Your personal commitment to decent human values and service to mankind is not in doubt. We remember with admiration that your mother, Miss Lillian, at the age of 70, did serve with the Peace Corps in India in 1968, long before you became the President. This deep-rooted family concern for humanity has provided the inner strength of your own personal sincerity on matters of human and civil rights and underlies the understanding of our two Governments on issues affecting the life and dignity of the black man.

Mr. President, we consider it, therefore, a logical development that Africa should now occupy its rightful place in the heart of America's foreign policy.

In your brief stay in this capital city of Lagos, you will perhaps already have gained some impression of some of the urgent and critical problems with which we are coping in our endeavor to build up Nigeria into a progressive and virile society, not only with a strong economic base but one founded on respect and dignity for human values.

We have assiduously embarked on the implementation of a political program that will lead to a stable, dynamic, and elected democratic political system where the weak and the strong will equally feel secure and protected.

On the economic front, our program is designed not only to provide a firm and strong industrial base but also to progressively gain control of the commanding heights of our economy and to spread the fruits of development evenly through our society.

In this challenging enterprise we have always welcomed and we will continue to welcome the understanding and active cooperation and collaboration of all genuine friends from outside our borders. And we will continue, as we have done in the past, to ensure security of all investments made in our economy, in accordance with our laws and our regulations.

We share in common with the rest of the developing world the usual disabilities of inadequate food and shelter, weak economic structures, poor health facilities, mass illiteracy, lack of an adequate technological base, and an unflattering human environment—all mainly caused by colonialism.

While we count our own modest achievements in our struggle for development, we can only do so in marginal and relative terms. Besides, our low level of development stands out in bold relief, because we live in a continent where poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, disease, and squalor are the rule, rather than the exception, and where a majority of the least developed nations in the world are found.

The development objectives and achievements of Nigeria, therefore, cannot be viewed in isolation from continental obligations and situations on the one hand, and internationally acceptable definition of development on the other.

On the political plane, Mr. President, one outstanding and most welcome development in contemporary relations between Nigeria and your great country, particularly since the inception of your administration, as I had occasion to say when I welcomed you in Dodan Barracks, is the growing contact and consultation between us.

As a result of this development, you are now, no doubt, better equipped to understand the reason for our persistent reference to the grave threat to international peace and security caused by the explosive situation in the southern part of Africa.

For obvious reasons, and by virtue of our position, we cannot remain indifferent while the racists in southern Africa oppress, repress, and subject to inhuman degradation the overwhelming majority of the indigenous people of the area and deny them the most basic human rights and elementary freedoms.

You will, no doubt, understand and appreciate, therefore, our uncompromising insistence on dismantling the present inhuman systems in southern Africa in favor of a fair and just society.

From all indications our two Governments share identical views in this regard, which I believe is perfectly understandable, judging by your own country's great struggles, soon after its foundation, for the attainment of these same ideals.

In our endeavors to achieve these goals, our choice of means and methods and our precision of timing may differ. But from our exchange of views from this visit, we are convinced that our common desires and dedication to the task cannot be called in doubt. On our part, we shall therefore continue to extend all necessary moral and material assistance to the victims of injustice, oppression, and apartheid in southern Africa.

I believe, also, that it is pertinent to mention our deep concern about the present level of foreign collaboration with the South African regime, particularly in economic and military matters, which tend to sustain the apartheid machinery of repression and persecution of the majority, indigenous African population. Your country's little gestures of disengagement in this regard are welcome, and we hope, Mr. President, that they mark the beginnings of a realization that, put together, black Africa as a whole offers wider economic possibilities as an alternative choice than South Africa alone, and that without a peaceful change of policy of apartheid now, any investment in South Africa is a risky and insecure investment.

In Zimbabwe, your country and the British colonial authority have, over the past 1 year, embarked together on a search for a durable, just, and acceptable settlement, leading to an early transfer of power to the majority population of the land.

We have joined those who believe that the Anglo-American proposals for a peaceful settlement ought to be given a chance, and we were quick to say so. This we have done because we believe that these proposals contain sufficient positive elements to serve as bases for bringing about true independence in Zimbabwe, and we think it will not be wise to throw away the baby with the bath water.

We expressed our concern when it appeared to us that these proposals were not being pursued with as much candor and enthusiasm as Africa had hoped. With total rejection of the so-called internal settlement of Ian Smith by the world community, and your personal continued support for the Anglo-American proposals, we are gratified to note that the proposals are back on the rails once again.

We assure you of our positive support in the search for an early establishment of unqualified democracy in a truly independent Zimbabwe. Similarly, in Namibia, we are encouraged to note the positive role which the United States of America is playing in collaboration with other Western powers to usher in an era of independence and so end South Africa's illegal military occupation.

We stand firmly by SWAPO in their struggles for the freedom of their fatherland, and we also pledge to work ceaselessly to see that peace and justice return to that part of our continent in the context of true independence.

We believe that a truly independent Namibia and a South Africa, rid of the inhuman policy of apartheid, can live together as good neighbors in harmony and cooperation.

As you will be fully aware, our newly independent states in Africa have not been spared the ordeal of spending their meager resources in the prosecution of fratricidal and often futile wars, in many cases with encouragement by powers from ideological camps outside the continent who are seeking ideological, economic, and strategic spheres of influence.

It is Africa's desire to settle her own disputes our own way, if necessary under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity.

While we are naturally preoccupied with peace and security in the African continent in the first instance, I believe the point is worth emphasizing here that Africa is equally interested in the current efforts at detente between East and West, as this is the only dependable means of ensuring peace and stability in the world and development all around, especially in new states. For the same reasons, we are vitally interested in an early restoration of just and durable peace in the Middle East.

On the question of world peace, Mr. President, what applies to Africa in terms of congenial atmosphere and conditions for development applies equally to the rest of the developing world generally. The problems of development of these countries are of such immense dimensions that they demand global perspectives and strategies because, as we have all seen, the conventional and piecemeal approach of donors and receivers of aid and technical assistance has proved itself totally inadequate. A completely fresh approach, therefore, may serve to emphasize the interdependence of our resources and, hopefully, also stem the tide of deep frustration that now pervades the underprivileged half of the world and which the developed world sees as lack of opposition of their efforts.

We believe in this regard that what we require is a fundamental restructuring of the international economic system to modify drastically and modernize the rules governing international trade, access to markets and development capital, the unimpeded flow of technology, and a demonstration of a greater sense of commitment and political will on the part of all concerned to concretize the demands of a new international economic order.

Unfortunately, there has so far been no demonstrable evidence of that sense of commitment or even of concern at international forums, where discussions are currently proceeding on relief for the least developed countries, or agreement on an acceptable form of common fund to provide a mechanism for ensuring uninterrupted and regular flow of earnings for the exports of the Third World.

Your country, Mr. President, has the necessary capacity and the influence and is well placed to play a leading role in this regard. We can bring the developed and developing worlds together in the harmonious cooperation to inspire reforms and to adopt new development initiatives.

We share your concern about the dangerous, high level of armament and about the enormous economic resources consumed by the armament race.

We continue to follow the progress of the strategic arms limitation talks, and we hope that there will be an early agreement that will lead to a reduction in the production and stockpiling of armaments and subsequent freeing of more resources of the world for social programs that will directly lead to improvement of quality of life, especially in developing countries.

Mr. President, let me end by saying once again what a great pleasure it has been for the Nigerian Government and people to welcome you and Mrs. Carter. We hope that even in spite of its brevity, your visit has nevertheless offered you some closer, personal insight into our conditions and our way of life.

As you leave our shores after this historic visit to Africa, you do so, Mr. President, with the sincere good wishes of the Government and people of Nigeria and the appreciation of the value of your memorable visit here.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you to kindly join me in drinking a toast to the United States of America, to the strengthening of relations and friendship between the Nigerian and American peoples, and to the personal good health and well-being of President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Carter.

THE PRESIDENT. General Obasanjo and distinguished officials of the Military Government of Nigeria, officials from other countries, including our own, and ladies and gentlemen, and friends:

Yesterday I had an opportunity to speak at your great civic center to several thousand people assembled there by the Institute on Political Studies. I spelled out the position of our own Nation as it relates to the interrelationship between ourselves and Nigeria, and to Africa, in particular, among the other continents and communities of the world.

So tonight, I would like to refer more personally to my impressions of the visit that I have had with General Obasanjo.

I noticed when the entertainment was introduced, the first statement made was, "No one knows where we go when we die." General Obasanjo and I have discussed our future when we die as political leaders in a few years, and— [laughter] since we both come from great peanut-producing nations, we decided we would go into a farming partnership. [Laughter] I'll share my farm with him in Georgia, and he'll have to share some farmland with me in Nigeria. And we'll have a chance to travel back and forth to learn to like each other even more and to get better acquainted even with the people in our two countries.

I also noticed that the ancient custom of not being able to tell an oba bad news is one that I would really appreciate as President of the United States. [Laughter] The only problem is I'm afraid that no one would ever have a chance to talk to me about anything, because bad news is all I have a chance to talk about as President of our country. [Laughter]

We have formed a good relationship, a friendly one, one based not just on serious things but on discussions that show that we are at ease with one another. And we share the responsibilities of leadership of two of the great nations of the world.

Today when I was getting ready to leave for Tin Can Island, I invited General Obasanjo to go with me on the trip. He said he couldn't stand to go and look at how much money Nigeria was spending on new port facilities. But when I got there and saw the tremendous new capabilities that Nigeria has now opened up to trade with the rest of the world, I realized what a wise government Nigeria has and how the present investments will pay rich dividends in the future.

Your growth has been extraordinary, very rapid. And I know, even from a nation that has been in existence now for more than 200 years, how difficult it is to deal with rapid change and rapid growth and a yearning among our people for a better life, a proper distribution of wealth and opportunity. And these are the kinds of things that we learn, one from another.

As I mentioned in church this morning, I first began to learn about Nigeria more than 40 years ago, as we studied in a small Baptist church in my town in Georgia about the common religious faith that aroused our interest as Christians in your country. We are a highly diverse nation with a wide range of religious beliefs, as are you. But there is a fundamental faith in a higher authority on which we've predicated our laws, our customs, our beliefs, and our hopes and confidence in the future.

This is one thing that binds us together, and it has done it for many ages in the past, and it will be a basis for a common purpose and a common sharing of life in the future.

We've had a chance during the few hours we've been here—1, my wife, my little daughter—to learn about the ancient culture of Nigeria, much more advanced than ours, beautiful artifacts of 2,000 or more years ago, where you had an already existing culture, well based on the intelligence and the beauty of your people's minds, that has existed down to the present day. And I believe it's accurate to say that when a county is dynamic, is growing, is struggling, is challenged on occasion—as Andy Young said yesterday, it's when we learn to appreciate our ancient culture, our roots, and our past even more.

You have much to be admired, and we have new things as well from which we can learn and teach one another. There is a growing participation of your people in government, and I've never known a more idealistic approach to the future in government than the one that now is being considered by your constitutional body as you write a set of permanent laws to guide your nation toward absolute, true democracy very shortly in the months ahead.

This will indeed be an inspiration to the whole world. You've also had a common experience with us of overthrowing colonial rule, and even after that, as did we, experiencing a very tragic civil war.

I doubt that there's been a case in history when, after a deeply divisive war, more immediate and successful attempts were made to bind a nation back together and to heal the wounds of that division. And all the people in this room, and particularly the leaders of the military government, can be congratulated for the recovery from your tragic war.

This is something that we've shared and we know very well in the southern part of the United States. I think your national motto, ahead of me on your emblem, "Unity. and Faith," is a very fine, constant reminder of what you have cherished in the past, what you have in the present, and what you will have in the future.

There's another thing that we share-us with a newness and you, also, with a newness of approach—and that is tremendous international influence. You are a powerful nation. You are a strong nation. You're a large nation. And you have a very influential nation.

I think the fairness and the benevolence of your attitude is increasing on a daily basis the confidence of other leaders of the world in the Nigerian leaders. It's obvious that in spite of your strength, your relative wealth, your military prowess and force, and the size of your population, you have nothing but a good attitude toward your immediate neighbors and the other countries of Africa.

And it's indeed a reassuring thing for me, as a President of the United States, to have a sense of partnership and an opportunity to have the counsel and advice from the leaders of your great country. We have discussed in the last 2 days some of the most difficult areas of the world, where peace and good will does not exist, but where our influence, combined with yours and others, might correct those defects in the relationship among neighboring peoples.

We've discussed our talks with the Soviet Union. We've discussed our efforts in the Middle East to bring the Israelis and the Arab countries and peoples together for a permanent peaceful settlement. We've talked about the Horn of Africa, where you, again, are playing a leading role. We've discussed Zimbabwe—as General Obasanjo has already described—our efforts and the British efforts jointly, working under the principles of international law and the United Nations, guided by the frontline Presidents, by General Obasanjo and others, to do the right thing in Africa, constantly being reminded of the need for rapid action and learning from you how that rapid action might be ensured. This is very beneficial to us, to you, to all the countries in Africa, indeed, the world.

We've also learned a great deal about the attitude of people in Namibia, your closeness with SWAPO and its leaders, our influence, along with other Western nations, in inducing South Africa to deal fairly with the people in Namibia under the auspices of and in compliance with United Nations resolutions. And our abhorrence of racial prejudice, discrimination, and apartheid has been demonstrated again here, and our strength of commitment against this blemish on Africa has been renewed and strengthened by our discussions with the great Nigerian leaders.

Together, I believe we can bring a change that will make all of us proud in Africa in the months and the years ahead.

The last thing I would like to say is this: The bilateral relationships with your country is of great benefit to the United States. You're .one of our most important trading partners. And as I spoke at the Institution on Political Affairs yesterday, the director of that Institute told me afterwards, among the 3,500 or so people there, that more than half of them in the audience had had at least part of their education in the United States. We learn as much from you as you learn from us.

In the field of agriculture, we see a new era of additional consultation, mutual work, mutual learning, mutual benefit. So, the tremendous potential of your country can be used not only to feed your own people but to export to an increasingly hungry world, because land can no longer be wasted, and your tremendous natural resources in land, with which God has blessed you, can be used much more efficiently in the future and will benefit not only us but others who look to you for meeting their growing needs.

We are a great technological nation, highly advanced, and only with the investment of our technology in growing nations like your own can we benefit economically in the future. This is important to us as well.

And, of course, our mutual trade gives our own people a better life, materials which we must have for a good life for American citizens and, in the process, makes it possible for you to prosper again economically.

I'm particularly proud at the personal friendship that has been shown to us by the people of Nigeria. We arrived here in the middle of the night, and we were surprised and deeply moved at the number of average, happy, welcoming Nigerian people who stood along the highway to let us know that they cared for me, cared for the United States and what our Nation stands for. It's an experience which I shall never forget.

And this has been mirrored in countless encounters between myself and your people, my wife Rosalynn and your people, and my little daughter, Amy, and your young people, which has meant so much to us already.

This is a trip that I will never forget the rest of my life. I hope that I might come back again. And I hope that General Obasanjo can continue to share with me his wisdom and his judgment, derived from you, and his knowledge of this great country and this great continent.

In closing, I would like, on behalf of the people of one of the greatest nations on Earth, the United States, to propose a toast to a great leader, General Obasanjo, and to the people of one of the greatest nations on Earth, the people of Nigeria.

Note: The exchange began at 9:15 p.m. at the Federal Palace Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts at a State Dinner in Lagos, Nigeria Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244855

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