Osinbajo: Ethno-Religious Suspicion Nigeria’s Greatest Problem

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Yemi Osinbajo

Gboyega Akinsanmi, Segun James and Solomon Elusoji

The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday lamented the incessant use of ethnic and religious cards to win votes in the country, noting that tribal and religious suspicions had been Nigeria’s greatest problem from the First Republic till date.

Amid the growing level of suspicion across ethnic, religious and political divides, former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), appealed to all Nigerians to unite against all divisive tendencies currently threatening the country’s peace and security.

The two leaders expressed grave concern about the rising spate of insecurity nationwide yesterday at the unveiling of former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba’s autobiography, Battlelines: Adventures into Journalism and Politics, held in Lagos.
Eminent Nigerians including the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu; President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan; Bayelsa State Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson; Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, among others, attended the unveiling of Osoba’s memoir published as part of activities to mark his 80th birthday.

Osinbajo synoptically reviewed the autobiography in the context of Nigeria’s political history, thereby drawing a conclusion that the subtext of Osoba’s autobiography, Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics,” is the tragedy of ethnic and religious jingoism in Nigeria.

He lamented: “Religious or ethnic card is pulled out regularly to win the argument or the votes. The problem is that the resort to our fault lines is a cover-up for the failure of a vision and a genuine programme to address the real concerns of the millions of our countrymen and women.”

The vice president argued that such divisive tendencies often “break our ranks and prevents the pursuit of our real enemies, poverty and its causes and manifestation, poor education and healthcare, violent extremism, among others.”
Osinbajo, specifically, lamented that the collapse of the country’s national achievements and attainments at every stage of her socio-political history “has been that Achilles Heel, the tribal and religious suspicions.”

He cited the inability of its leadership, at crucial moments, to bridge the gaps of ethnic and religious prejudice, which according to him, had resulted in grave situations that its scars and fractures “still remain with the country.”

He said: “So, from the execution of the coup of 1966, the countercoup, later that year, and the Civil War, starting in 1967, it is clear that these tragedies occurred because the once united military wing of the Nigerian elite, finally gave way to its basest instincts – ethnicity and tribal prejudices.”

He also cited how the political elite played the ethnic card “to defeat, what would have been a national struggle for democracy; the struggle to restore MKO Abiola’s mandate won by votes enthusiastically given by men and women of all tribes and faiths across the country, including the Kano home state of his opponent.”

At that time, however, the vice president noted that it was not difficult “to begin a process of delegitimising it. The tactic is the same and the consequences devastatingly effective: ethnicise it. And so, they did.”
He said: “The northern governors of the National Republic Convention (NRC), the party that lost the election, issued a statement, saying that Abiola should be advised to give up his campaign for the restoration of the June 12 mandate.

“The NRC governors, also, advised that any such restoration should begin with the restoration of the sacred mandate given to Alhaji Shehu Shagari and forcefully taken from him in the wake of the 1983 military coup.”

Osinbajo pointed out the position of the eastern NRC governors, who equally issued a statement threatening a secession of the eastern states from the rest of the country, if the annulment of the June 12 election was reversed.

He explained how the military dictatorship took advantage of the ethnic divisions to make it seem like a South-west struggle for one of its own, rather than a struggle for democracy and justice, in the process imposing one of the most fearsome repressions of liberties anywhere in the world.

Osinbajo said: “There are, for example, those who for political reasons, promoted the point of view that violent extremism of Boko Haram was the brainchild of the APC and its putative presidential candidate, a plot to Islamise Nigeria.

This wicked lie was only debunked when then Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was attacked by the same Boko Haram, he barely escaped with his life and he lost seven close aides and relations. Not long after, the same group attacked the Emir of Kano who sustained serious injuries.”

Before the 2019 elections, the vice president noted that similar accusation on the Boko Haram insurgency, the Fulani herder and farmer clashes was made.
He, thus, said the attempts by the political elite “to delegitimise the government by the suggestions that it promotes insurgency are, of course, dangerous mainly because they help the insurgents by weakening the opposition to them.”

Amid the divisive tendencies the vice president used Osoba’s memoir to illustrate, Abdulsalami urged all Nigerians across the divides “to put their hands on deck to ensure that there is peace and security in this country.”

Abdulsalami, who chaired the public presentation of Osoba’s autobiography, cited his five-decade relationship with Osoba as an example for all Nigerians to follow to build a country that works irrespective of ethnic and religious background.

According to him, “Osoba and I have come a long way. Our relationship started in the 1960s. When I was a young officer in the Nigerian Army, I enjoyed smooth relationship with Chief Osoba. We regarded ourselves as brothers. This must be a lesson for all of us.

“While he is a Christian, I am a Muslim. While he is from South-west, I am from the North Central. While Chief Osoba is a general in his profession, I am a general in the Nigerian Army. While he was the Governor of Ogun State, I was Head of State.

“Despite our differences, we have some things in common. We both have deep interest of our country at heart. We both want the best for our country. We both want Nigeria to remain a blessing for Africa. We want Nigeria to move higher worldwide. We want Nigerians to believe in their nation.

“With self-belief and trust in one another, these are achievable. All Nigerians should cultivate mutual relationship. As Osobas and Abubakars see themselves, so should all Nigerians see themselves.”
Also, at the book presentation, the Senate president, Lawan, said Osoba’s autobiography is full of lesson for all Nigerians, which he said, all leaders across the country’s political divides should learn from.

He observed: “Nigeria is blessed and rich in diversity. This diversity is meant to be our strength. Nigeria needs unity. As Nigerians, we need to express faith in our country. We, at the National Assembly, have shown what we can achieve with unity.

“This was demonstrated in our elections as principal officers in the National Assembly. Senators across ethnic, religious and political divides voted for us. In the way, Nigeria must unite. We must reduce suspicion and mistrust among us.

“No country develops with disunity and suspicion. We cannot be different. As leaders, we must demonstrate quality for trust to occur. We are in one country, and we are meant to be one. We cannot continue to think as though we were in a different country. We must stand on brotherhood.”

Like other speakers, Tinubu warned against divisive tendencies currently threatening the country’s peace and security.
He lamented that instead of using the country’s diversity for prosperity, the elites use it for division, ethnicity and religion.

Tinubu gave insight into Osoba’s contribution to the establishment of the APC, noting that even when he was sick, Osoba’s main concern was the struggle for Nigeria and the APC.
The APC leader noted that Osoba made major contributions to the APC constitution, saying he introduced disciplinary mechanism and insisted that there should be party discipline.