By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, asked Ndigbo not to panic over the quit notice given them by a coalition of Arewa youths to leave the 19 Northern states on or before October 1, saying the Federal Government has made adequate arrangements to protect every citizen of the country.
In line with the assurance, Professor Osinbajo, who vowed that the government will defend Nigeria’s constitution, will be meeting with the leaders of all ethnic groups in the country and stakeholders to discuss issues bordering on the continuous unity and existence of the country, next Thursday.
This came as a host of eminent Nigerians, including former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu and Dr Sam Egwu, urged the government to deal with agents of hate, who fan the embers of discord and disharmony in the country.
Addressing Ohanaeze leaders, governors of the five South-East states, National Assembly members and stakeholders from the South-East, Osinbajo said the Federal Government will not shy away from its responsibilities and vowed that the government will do everything within its power to defend and uphold the terms of the nation’s constitution, which declares that Nigeria is ‘one nation under God.’
In his opening remarks before going into a private session, Professor Osinbajo told the South-East leaders that violence and war were terrible, stressing that they were easy to start but near impossible to end.
He further stated that one of the reasons for the consultative session was to find a way of addressing the agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively, adding, “burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storm to blow over on their own accord is not an option.”
He said: “One thing is clear – violence and war are terrible things. They are easy to start but near impossible to end. Indeed you’re all aware of the Igbo proverb that says that “A man who rushes into battle does not realize that battle entails death.” We are witnesses to the unspeakable devastation that war continues to inflict across the world. No one who has seen the horrors of war – even just on television – would wish it on their worst enemy.
“Yesterday, I kicked off a series of consultations and engagements with Leaders of Thought from Northern Nigeria. It was a useful meeting. Today’s (yesterday) meeting, the second in the series, is with you, Leaders of Thought from the South-East.
“After this, I will meet with Religious and Traditional Leaders from the North and from the South-East, on Friday and Monday, respectively. And then, in the final consultation, next week Thursday, all of us, from North and South, will come together in the same room, for further engagement and consultation. I also plan at some time in between to meet with the Nigerian Governors Forum.
“These consultations are necessary and important because of recent events in the country. You are all aware that there have been loud and sometimes hostile agitations by youth in the South-East, calling for secession of the region from Nigeria. Then, there was the recent ultimatum issued by a group of youth from the North, asking all south-easterners living in the North to leave by October 1, this year.
“Both of these expressions and agitations from both sides, have been attended with some controversial and hateful vituperation including patently illegal and violence-inducing remarks.
“I firmly believe that we ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively. Burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storm to blow over of their own accord is not an option.
“But equally not reasonable is falling for the temptation of tit-for-tat. It has never worked or moved us closer to a solution or resolution.
“And so it is in our bid, as government, to deal with these pressing issues and grievances, that we have convened this series of consultations, with various groups. We will never shy away from the responsibility to ensure and uphold the peace and security of Nigeria. It is in my view the role and responsibility of those privileged in society to be leaders to chart a progressive and lofty course for the ordinary people.
“As leaders, we carry the burden to secure the peace, progress and prosperity of our people, and that is why our voices ought to be heard and heard loud and clear at moments like this in the defence and articulation of what is truly beneficial to the nation and the people, and what is right and patriotic.
“Our dear nation has gone through some really difficult times. We have survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, and emerged from a long and bloody civil war. All of us here have seen close-up, what violence can do to a country, and 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 and sisters and children, as well as the better part of a decade.
“It is also clear that wars sometimes start, not with bullets, but with words. 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.
“Knowing this, under no conditions whatsoever should we tolerate or excuse or justify hate speech or hateful conduct of any kind, especially where such is illegal. Let me of course acknowledge that as part of living together in this space called Nigeria, misunderstandings and frustrations are inevitable. Because resources are limited there will always be a striving to get what is perceived as the best seat at the table.
“All of that is normal and to be expected, especially in a democracy, like ours. A healthy democracy ought to be a theatre of energetic striving by all parties and stakeholders. But things should never descend to a level where mutual suspicions override the desire to live together in peace and harmony.
“Yesterday, I made it very clear that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law. I will say it again today: Let there be no doubt whatsoever of the resolve of government to ensure that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause division or violence. We will take very seriously any attempts to cause violence or to disrupt the peace of Nigeria. And we will not tolerate such.
“We are also resolute in our determination to protect every Nigerian, everywhere in the country.
We will do everything within our power to defend and uphold the terms of our constitution, which declares that we are one nation under God.
“It also guarantees 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. It is also the aspiration of the Constitution to ensure a country in which, and I quote, “loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties…
“I expect that we will be frank and constructive in all our deliberation and discussion. This is an important moment for all of us, and I hope that at the end of it we will all be satisfied that we have accomplished something significant.’’
Among those at the meeting were the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo; his deputy, Dr. Sylvanus Obigwei; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Willie Obiano of Anambra.
Also present were Chairman of South-East Senate caucus, Enyinnaya Abaribe, his counterpart from the House of Representatives and Deputy Minority leader, Chukwuka Onyeama, Senators Joy Emordi, Dr Sam Egwu, Senator Ken Nnamani, Senator Adolphus Wabara, former Managing Director of Daily Times, Onyema Ugochukwu, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Onwuliri among others.
The Acting President had also met with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN before the meeting with the Igbo leaders.
Everybody has the right to agitate, but…. – Umahi
Fielding questions from journalists after the meeting, Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, said that it was within the fundamental human rights of people to agitate but what mattered most was the way the person goes about it.
Noting that the meeting was not about the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, but on the unity of the country, Governor said: “It was a wonderful meeting and the message we are taking back is that there is hope for a united and peaceful Nigeria and everybody should work hard. We emphasised the need for everybody to refrain from making hate statements. We should be making statements that will be binding us together, statements of love, statements of unity, and statements of hope and of course we should also work very hard.”
Issues under control – FG
The Federal Government has also explained that the series of interactions with stakeholders in the Nigeria project that started on Tuesday, will be rounded off on June 22.
Briefing journalists after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, yesterday, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the idea behind the Acting President’s consultative meetings with critical ethnic stakeholders was not just to assure that the administration was doing something about the quit notice to the Igbo to vacate the North before October 1, but also to assure that the situation was under control.
His words: “On the 22nd of June there will be a joint consultative meeting of all the groups, that is the traditional rulers, religious leaders and leaders of thought from both the South eastern part of Nigeria and the northern part of Nigeria.
“The call for people from certain parts of the country to relocate to their region is generally very disquieting. We just want to assure Nigerians that the Federal Government is on top of the matter.
“So there is no need for anybody to panic, there is no need for anybody to move from any part of the country. The security agencies are on top of the matter and there is no reason for anybody to panic.”
Deal with agents of hate – Odinkalu, Egwu, others
Affirming hope in the country and declaring that “we are all Nigerians,” Professor Chidi Odinkalu, human rights activist; Dr Sam Egwu and 71 other eminent Nigerians urged the government to deal firmly with those who promote hate and violence.
Lately, Nigeria has been on the cusp of ethnic tension. While pro-Biafra campaigners are calling for an independent state, some northern groups last week asked the Igbo resident in the North to leave the area within three months.
In a statement, yesterday, the 73 distinguished Nigerians said the recent drums of division, violence and intolerance being beaten across the federation underscored the growing frustrations of Nigerians everywhere.
“A peculiar brand of toxic communication has enveloped our public affairs, threatening to pollute the relationships of people and communities that have – despite occasional challenges – largely co-existed in relative peace with one another,” the statement read.
“Voices of agents of violence and division now command the most attention from both within and beyond government. A growing sense of uncertainty and fear begs for immediate action to reassure Nigerians that there is a clear pathway to equity, unity and security.
“All these take place at a time when our country is going through a difficult period of uncertainty. Communities live with a sense of deepening insecurity while citizens feel an equal threat to their livelihoods, together leading to pervasive sense of institutionalized inequities, rising hate and deepening division. The frustrations triggered by these challenges can easily get out of hand or be exploited by the recklessness of desperate politicians and identity entrepreneurs or their agents. This cannot be allowed.
“These developments are the cumulative result of leadership failures and poor choices over the years at various levels, including government, political parties, security agencies, business, traditional institutions, communities, places of worship, schools, and civil society across the country.
“The consequences of these failures now confront us as a people with an existential threat of potentially profound significance. Inspired by this realisation, we believe it is important to evolve an agenda of urgent steps to address these rumblings of discontent and division.
“Against this background, we the undersigned Nigerians, driven by our faith in the potential of Nigeria and our appreciation of the value that each and every Nigerian has in making it a country we can all be proud of, have come together to make this statement. We are bound together by shared values of belief in unity, equality, justice, responsible citizenship, the inherent worth of every human being and, most importantly, by commitment to shared bonds of friendship and citizenship which transcend religion, ethnicity or other narrow identity. We are, to put it simply, all Nigerians.
“Troubled by the state of affairs in our country we wish to state that: The Federal Republic of Nigeria is richly endowed and all communities found in it belong to it. All citizens and communities as well as succeeding generations of Nigerians, without discrimination on any grounds such as political or other opinion, origins, religion, gender or status have an equal stake in sustaining and improving the many bonds that connect us.
“Government at all levels, including federal, state and local government, must take urgent steps to address the prevailing economic situation and stem the growing patterns or perceptions of chronic inequity, alienation and discontent across the country.
“Government at federal, state and local levels has the primary duty to secure public safety and well-being and show that Nigerian lives matter. Accordingly, it must enlist the full support and participation of Nigerians everywhere in confronting the underlying causes and growing incidents of violence, division and hate wherever these occur. Individuals or groups who by their words or other conduct constitute threats to lives and property of Nigerians or to our collective coexistence should be dealt with swiftly, firmly, lawfully and without discrimination on any grounds such as political or other opinion, origin, religion, gender or status.”
Here is a full list of Nigerians who signed the statement: Fatima Balla, Adele Jinadu, Fatima Wali-Abdurrahman, YZ Y’au, Andy Giwa Tsakr, Jibrin Ibrahim, Ayo Obe, Chris Kwaja, Femi Edun, Saka Azimazi, Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), Awwal Yadudu, Kola Awodein, Ayisha Osori, Innocent Chukwuma, Kole Shettima, Yemi Candide-Johnson, Ini Abimbola, Musikilu Mojeed, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Kingsley Umoh, Hussaini Abdu, Hubert Shaiyen, Ibim Semenitari, Ayesha Imam, Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Mabeiam Gloria Ballason, Abdulkhalid Ali Baba, Mohammed Sani, Habiba Balogun, Adeshina Oke, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Usman Abdullahi, Franklin Acho Nlerum, Niyi Yusuf, Jaye Gaskiya, Solomon Uwaifo, Mohammed Sabo Keana, Hassan Usman, Ifeoma Malo, Segun Olukoya, Udo Jude Ilo, Ige IseOluwa, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abiodun Baiyewu, Mohammed Yahaya Kuta, Ozolua O Giwa-Amu, Mohammed Kuna, Chido Onumah, Sam Egwu, Clement Adibe, Abiodun Baiyewu, Barnabas Omali, Nike DeSouza, Amina Salihu, Jude Ohanele, Mohammed Alfa, Oladayo Olaide, Idayat Hassan, Orode Doherty, Fidelis Duker, Ifeoma Fafunwa, Sutura Aisha Bello, Wole Akande, Kunle Ajagbe, Atose Aguele, Gbenga Sesan, Hamza Grema Mohammed, Paul Adelabu, Chris Enete, Roz Ben-Okagbue, Martin Obono and Aisha Waziri Umar.
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