As vocal regional groups continue to beat the drums of war and division, Nigeria’s Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has adopted a tack of dialogue and consultations.
Osinbajo kicked off a series of engagements this week with leaders of thought from the Northern and Southeastern states of Nigeria. He first met on Tuesday with thought leaders from the North and then on Wednesday he held a separate meeting with those from the Southeast. He has said he intends to meet as well with traditional leaders from the regions, state governors, and then hold a joint session with leaders from the two regions.
In the two meetings, Osinbajo pointed out that the recent calls for violence by some youth in the North and the calls for secession in the South East do not bode well for the country. He said that Nigerians ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively as we cannot bury our heads in the sand and expect the storm to blow over of their own accord.
“In the past few weeks, I’m sure many of us have noticed that there have been louder noises of hate, of division, especially from the younger persons in our society. Much louder noises than perhaps had been the case in the past.
“Now, there are those who may deride these sort of statements that these hate speeches that may show intolerance and promote divisions are not important, that they should be ignored.
“However, I believe that we should address them quickly and that especially leaders of thoughts and elders, persons with experience, persons who have been through several phases of Nigeria’s history should be able to advice and should be able to give some directions as to how many of those in our midst, especially younger people in our midst who may believe that perhaps the way and means they are going about their frustrations or their personal grievances is the right way to go,” he told the Northern leaders on Tuesday.
The acting president said that “every form of violence, every form of hate speech, every stone that is thrown in the market place will hit targets that are not even intended. And I believe that the Nigerian people must be made very conscious of that, so that we do not create a crisis that is un-intended.”
Even though misunderstanding is to be expected in a diverse nation as ours, Osinbajo said Nigerians must recognize that we can only even begin to talk about getting any part of anything (only) if we are together in peace.
“This is not the time to retreat behind ethnic lines. Moments like this are not for isolating ourselves and I want to urge all of us who are here, and of cause the entire Nigerian populace, that it is a time for us to come together and to work together,” he said.
He further warned that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law.
“We’ve survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, we’ve emerged even from a long and bloody Civil War. All of us here have seen close-up what violence can do to a country. I believe I speak for us all when I say that no one here is keen to see Nigeria embroiled in violence or bloodshed of any kind. Especially not when we are only just emerging from a brutal insurgency that has consumed more than 20,000 of our brothers, sisters and children, as well as the better part of a decade in the Northeast of Nigeria.
“One thing is clear – violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. They are terrible and they mean no good. They are easy to start but near impossible to end,” he told the Igbo leaders.
Speaking further, Osinbajo said sometimes wars do not start with bullets but with words, with “hateful, incendiary speech, opening floodgates of blood. The tongue, like the pen, is often mightier than the sword – because it is what pushes the sword into action. When we throw words like stones in a marketplace we do not know who or what it will hit.”
The Acting President called on Nigerians to never tolerate, excuse or justify hate speech or hateful conduct of any kind.
He said the government will do all within its power to guarantee the free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the country, as well as full residence rights for every citizen in all and any parts of the land of their choice. He said it is also the aspiration of the Constitution to ensure a country in which, “loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”