Nigeria’s unity is sacrosanct and non-negotiable, and persons or groups mulling its division are wasting their time, governors of the 36 states, declared, yesterday.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, who spoke to journalists, on behalf of his colleagues, after the meeting convened by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, as part of ongoing consultations to resolve ethnic tensions in parts of the country, said Nigeria has more to gain when it is united.
“We cannot afford to break, and anybody thinking of that is wasting his time,” he declared against the backdrop of separatist agitations by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the three-month eviction notice by Arewa youths to Igbo to leave the north by October 1.
“We have all agreed to work together to educate the people. Any time you have agitation, usually there will be poverty, there will be unemployment, there will be hardship, and so we should address fundamentally these areas of poverty, unemployment and hardship.
“Nigerians are by nature a united people, nobody cares whether you are from the north, south or the east.
“We cannot play with the unity of this country. The consensus has been that there must be unity. The message is for Nigerians to work more together and collaborate. We have more to gain when we are united… All of us are unanimous about that.”
Ajumobi appealed to the media to concentrate on stories that unite rather than sensationalism.
He said: “If we fight, everybody will lose. Have you ever seen a country that fought civil war and remain the same? We don’t want to be another Rwanda and Somalia and all these places. The government is doing its best (to ensure Nigeria remain a united entity).”
Earlier, Prof. Osinbajo had challenged leaders, especially governors, to speak more forcefully to counter divisive speeches or any kind of war mongering. He said failure to do so could be disastrous.
“If the leaders do not speak up forcefully enough, if for any reason matters are allowed to degenerate, not only does leadership lose their legitimacy, they run the risk of things going completely out control,” he said in his opening remark, before the meeting, attended by 22 governors and four deputies, went into closed door, at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja.
Her appealed to governors to resist the temptation to play politics, especially with matters of security, and also reminded them of their roles in instilling peace and protecting lives and properties in their areas.
He said they were critical in the whole process as none of the agreements reached with the other stakeholders could hold without their endorsement.
The acting president noted that even though some of agitations were fair, there was need for the government to draw lines between orderliness and disorderliness and bring down dissenting voices and hate speeches that could degenerate to crises.
He reiterated the resolutions of former consultations that upheld the indivisibility of the country and its sovereignty in line with the 1999 constitution.
“We must not allow the careless use of words, careless expressions that may degenerate into crisis. We are a people that like to talk and we express ourselves loudly, but it is expected for us to recognise that it is those same words that can cause conflagration that can unfortunately lead to calamity.
“We must be careful of how we express ourselves. What we have seen in recent times is that some of the languages used have tended to degenerate badly and I think that we must begin to speak up against some of these things and ensure that we protect our democracy and our nation from the hands of rhetoric that may just divide us.
“From all of the consultations we have had, we agreed that Nigeria’s unity should not be taken for granted; no one wants to see us go down the path of bloodshed or war.
“We also agreed on the permanency of the Nigerian constitution, that the 1999 constitution is the basis for our unity. It is the basis for the legal contract that exists between all of us. Our meetings were frank and open, as I hope this will be. We were able to agree on most of the critical issues that were discussed and in most cases, changed perceptions that may have been long embedded in their minds.
“We also agreed that under no circumstances should we condone hateful speeches, and that government should take all steps necessary to bring to book all those who preach violence, in particular the kind of expressions of dissent that can cause violence.
“We also agreed that we need to do more to engage our youths productively, create some jobs, multiply the economic opportunities available. More importantly, we agreed on the need for leaders to speak out forcefully to counter divisive speech or any kind of warmongering.
“We agreed that leaders at all levels speak out forcefully against any kind of divisiveness or divisive speech. And we expect that our political leaders will do so without waiting to be prompted. All of those who spoke felt that sometimes, when leaders do not speak up promptly, it always results in degeneration, no matter what the problem may be.
“This applied to both the statement made by the young people in the South-east as well as the youths in the Northern states. We discovered there was a need for much greater resonance in the way that these things are done and for the leaders to speak up more forcefully. We believe that if the leaders do not speak up forcefully enough, if for any reason matters are allowed to degenerate, not only does leadership lose their legitimacy, they run the risk of things going completely out control.”
He commended the leaders from the North and South for their openness at the consultations stating that they were extremely responsible even in their criticisms of what they felt were issues that should have been better handled.
“I think that their criticisms were fair and balanced. I must commend them for their sense of responsibility and their leadership.
“Going back to some of what was said, some of the issues that came up, and I hope that we will discuss in greater details, are the issues around the herdsmen and farmers crisis, especially the way that some of these have resulted in flash point across the country.
“We started those discussions during the consultations we had, and I believe that we will be able to deepen those discussions in our meeting and possibly hold a more expanded meeting where we will be able to take a closer look at it. It is absolutely important that we are able to make lasting and satisfactory solutions to these problems.
“Of course, the problems are multi-dimensional, but the states have a very important role to play, especially because they are in control of land in their territories.
“I must say that I trust that all of us appreciate the need to show greater unity of purpose and the determination to work together to resolve various challenges that arise on a constant basis for the benefit of all Nigerians regardless of party affiliations.
“We must resist the temptation to play politics especially with matters of security, but to reach for simplistic narratives that might be originally expedient and satisfying but false, deceiving and sometimes unhealthy to proper understanding of the issues.”