â€¢ Osinbajo to Sâ€™East leaders: We canâ€™t afford more violence
â€¢ Nigerians call for unity, rally against drumbeats of war
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The federal government Wednesday assured Nigerians that it was on top of situation in the country and encouraged the people of the South-east zone to disregard the ultimatum given to them by a coalition of Northern youths.
The youths had given Igbos an ultimatum to leave the North before October 1 or face the consequences.
Their ultimatum, which triggered widespread condemnation, was followed by similar threats by groups in the South-east.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of Wednesdayâ€™s weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said the federal governmentâ€™s commitment to nipping the matter in the bud was the reason acting President Yemi Osinbajo met with Northern leaders on Tuesday and South-east leaders Wednesday.
He also said Osinbajo would in the same vein meet with traditional rulers from the South-east Friday and on June 22 hold a consultative meeting with all groups from the two zones, including traditional rulers, religious leaders and leaders of thought.
â€œWith regards to what we know is agitating the minds of Nigerians, that is, calls for secession, calls for certain parts of the country to relocate to their regions, generally, we have been hearing disquieting voices.
â€œWe want to assure Nigerians that the federal government is on top of the situation and yesterday (Tuesday), the acting president addressed the leaders from the Northern part of the country and at 4 oâ€™clock today (Wedneday), heâ€™s going to address leaders from South-east.
â€œOn Friday, heâ€™s going to address South-east traditional rulers and leaders of thought. On 22nd of June, there will be a joint consultative meeting of all the groups, that is, traditional rulers, religious leaders and leaders of thought from both the South-east and the other parts of Nigeria.
â€œThe idea is not just to assure Nigerians that we are doing something about it but to give comfort to all Nigerians that this matter is under control; to assure Nigerians that any Nigerian anywhere in Nigeria is safe.
â€œThe security authorities are completely on top of the matter and they will deal decisively with any group of people whose conduct is going to create instability in the country.
â€œSo there is no need for anybody to panic. There is no need to move from any part of the country. The security agencies are on top of the situation and there is no reason for anybody to panic,â€ he said.
Asked why the federal government had failed to swear in the two ministerial nominees from Kogi and Gombe States confirmed by the Senate since April, Mohammed who said he was not sure that the Senate had communicated its confirmation of the nominees to the presidency, added that he would confirm the status of the nominees from the acting president.
Meanwhile, in furtherance of his meetings with leaders of the two regions affected by calls for secession and ultimatums for relocation, the acting president met with leaders of the South-east zone later Wednesday and reiterated the resolve of the government to ensure that anyone who beats the drums of war would be duly punished under the weight of the law.
On Tuesday, Osinbajo had met with Northern leaders and warned against divisive and hate speech, threatening that anyone who engaged in such acts would be dealt with decisively.
Addressing the South-east leaders, Osinbajo informed them: â€œAfter this, I will meet with religious and traditional leaders from the North and from the South-east on Friday and Monday, respectively.
â€œAnd then, in the final consultation next week Thursday, all of us from the 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 Governorsâ€™ Forum.
â€œThese 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 youths in the South-east, calling for secession of the region from Nigeria.
â€œThen there was the recent ultimatum issued by a group of youths from the North, asking all South-easterners living in the North to leave by October 1 this year.
â€œ`These expressions and agitations from both sides have been attended with some controversial and hateful vituperations, including patently illegal and violence inducing remarks.
â€œI 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 its own accord is not an option.â€
The acting president, who further stated that those who had been privileged to be leaders in the society must be agents of peace and progress, observed that Nigeria had gone through turbulent times, a path he said the country could not afford to tread again.
According to him, the country had survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, a long and bloody civil war, adding: â€œAll 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.â€
He informed the gathered that preparing the grounds for more violence when Nigeria was just emerging from a brutal insurgency, which he said had consumed more than 20,000 Nigerians, would be ill-conceived.
â€œOne thing is clear â€“ violence and war are terrible things. They are easy to start but near impossible to end. Indeed, youâ€™re all aware of the Igbo proverb that says that â€˜a man who rushes into battle does not realise that battle entails deathâ€™.
â€œWe are witnesses to the unspeakable devastation that war continues to inflict across the world. No one who has seen the horrors of war â€“ even just on television â€“ would wish it on their worst enemy.
â€œIt is also clear that wars sometimes start, not with bullets, but with words. Hateful, incendiary speech, opening floodgates of blood.
â€œThe 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,â€ he added.
He recalled how on Tuesday, he had â€œmade it very clear that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the lawâ€.
â€œI 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.
â€œWe 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,â€ Osinbajo said.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi, who spoke on behalf of the delegation, described the meeting as a wonderful one, explaining that the forum was not about the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), but about the security of lives and property of Nigerian citizens, as well as the imperatives of a united, honest, fair and equitable Nigeria.
According to him, the meeting offered hope for a united and peaceful Nigeria with emphasis on the need for everybody to avoid making hate speeches and for pre-occupation with expressions that could bind all and sundry together.
â€œThat was what the meeting was about,â€ he stated.
He added that while every citizen reserved the right to agitate, such agitation must be peaceful.
â€œEven you agitate; your wife agitates at home that the feeding money is not enough. So it is a fundamental right, but it is the manner you go about it (that matters). So it is not an issue that cannot be resolved,â€ Umahi stated.
Present at the meeting were Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Chief of Defence Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabriel Olonishakin and Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris.
Also present were all South-east governors, namely, Umahi (Ebonyi), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Willy Obiano (Anambra) and Rochas Okorocha (Imo); President-General of Ohanaeze-Ndigbo, John Nwodo; Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; former Senate President, Ken Namani; Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; former Ebonyi State governor, Sam Egwu; Awka Catholic Bishop Okoye; Catholic Archbishop of Nsukka, Igwebike Onah; Senator Joy Emordi, former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Onwuliri; and other ministers, among others.
In a related development, Nigerian professionals from all works of life and all sections of the country Wednesday came together to declare their belief in the indivisibility of the Nigerian nation and called on all sections of the country to reject the drumbeats of war and divisiveness.
In a statement signed by scores of Nigerian professionals and civil society leaders, they said they were driven by their faith in the potential of Nigeria and their appreciation of the value that each and every Nigerian has in making it a country everyone can all be proud of.
They also stressed that they were bonded 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.
â€œWe are, to put it simply, all Nigerians,â€ they said.
They, however, acknowledged that the recent drums of division, violence and intolerance beating across the federation underscored the growing frustrations of Nigerians everywhere.
The statement added: â€œA peculiar brand of toxic communication has enveloped our public affairs, threatening to pollute the relationships of people and communities that have â€“ despite occasional challenges â€“ largely co-existed in relative peace with one another.
â€œVoices 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.
â€œAll 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 institutionalised inequities, rising hate and deepening division.
â€œThe 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.
â€œThese 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.
â€œThe 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.
â€œTroubled by the state of affairs in our country we wish to state that:
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Government at all levels, including federal, state and local governments, 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.
â€¢ Government at federal, state and local levels has the primary duty to secure public safety and wellbeing 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.
â€¢ Civic groups, including those founded on identity such as faith or ethnicity, have a particular responsibility to discourage hate, division and violence. Together with the media, including social media, we all have a duty to amplify voices of reason over and above the voices of division. We must not subscribe to or sustain the emergence of a single narrative of strife and hate amongst Nigerians. There is an urgent need to promote and amplify narratives that bring us together and encourage improved engagement across ethnic and religious divides as well as collective action against bad governance wherever it exists in the country.
â€¢ In the immediate future, these problems of national cohesion could easily spiral out of control if we do not prepare adequately to meet the challenges of Nigeriaâ€™s rapidly growing population and the accompanying crisis of social exclusion among our youth population. To meet this challenge, government at all levels should prioritise effective investment in academic and vocational education, enlightenment, innovation and skills on a sustained basis. For this purpose, Nigeria needs to urgently roll out an inclusive national plan on education, innovation and skills that is both fit for purpose and implemented effectively. Such a plan should be built on partnership with private and voluntary sectors, with room for complementary investments from Nigeriaâ€™s international partners.
â€¢ None of this can be achieved unless we commit at all levels to zero-tolerance for impunity by improving the performance and credibility of the institutions and processes of accountability, including the police, judiciary and security agencies.
â€¢ At this time more than ever before, we urgently call all leaders, including elected, appointed, community, traditional, civic, and faith leaders, to show true leadership and transcend divides of partisan politics, religion, origins, geo-political zones, or hemispheres of north and south. Nigeria is our home and the only country we have. Every Nigerian owes it as a duty to work for the best interest of this country. Many of us already know first hand that Nigeriaâ€™s diversity is a valuable resource and source of strength but we need millions more to realise this and we can only do this if we are willing to constructively engage these issues that challenge us as a country.â€
The signatories of the statement resolved to work together to advocate these values and called on all Nigerians who share these values to stand firm and speak out loudly in favour of peace, equity and social justice in the land.
â€œWe call on them to speak out in favour of meaningful dialogue, which alone can bring lasting resolution to the multi-faceted issues that threaten to consume us.
â€œWe ask them to speak up and take back our destiny from those who believe that what differentiates us is more important than what unites us and the great potential we have to achieve more together.
â€œWe owe it to ourselves to create the enabling environment and structures for peace, prosperity and development and we cannot do this if we continue to disdain each other.
â€œWe call for calm and mutual respect across peoples wherever we are so that, living and working together, what we dream of for ourselves and our children can be achieved,â€ they added.
The statement was signed by Ambassador Fatima Balla, Prof. Adele Jinadu, Fatima Wali-Abdurrahman, YZ Yâ€™au, AVM Andy Giwa Tsakr (rtd.), Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Ayo Obe, Dr. Chris Kwaja, Femi Edun, Saka Azimazi, Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), Prof. Awwal Yadudu, Kola Awodein (SAN), Ayisha Osori, Innocent Chukwuma, Dr. Kole Shettima, Yemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), Ini Abimbola, Musikilu Mojeed, Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Col. Kingsley Umoh, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, Hubert Shaiyen, Ibim Semenitari, Dr. Ayesha Imam, Dr. 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 and Solomon Uwaifo.
Others signatories were Mohammed Sabo Keana, Hassan Usman, Ifeoma Malo, Segun Olukoya, Udo Jude Ilo, Ige Igeoluwa, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abiodun Baiyewu, Prof. Mohammed Yahaya Kuta, Ozolua O. Giwa-Amu, Prof. Mohammed Kuna, Chido Onumah, Prof. Sam Egwu, Dr. Clement Adibe, Barnabas Omali, Nike Desouza, Dr. Amina Salihu, Dr. Jude Ohanele, Mohammed Alfa, Oladayo Olaide, Idayat Hassan, Orode Doherty, Fidelis Duker, Ifeoma Fafunwa, Sutura Aisha Bello, Wole A. Akande, Kunle Ajagbe, Atose Aguele, Gbenga Sesan, Hamza Grema Mohammed, Prince Paul Adelabu, Chris Enete, Roz Ben-Okagbue, Martin Obono, Hamza Atta, Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, Akeem Baiyewu, Omu Obilor, Dapo Olorunyomi, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, Ifiok Babatolu, Clement Nwankwo, Fawzia El-Nur, Mohammed Bello Tukur, Nnanna Ude and Aisha Waziri Umar.