From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has told royal fathers to counsel, “misguided youths” who believe they could say anything and go scot-free.
He said government would not hesitate to unleash security agencies on those who continued to threaten the sovereignty of Nigeria or lives and livelihoods of fellow Nigerians living in any part of the country.
He charged anybody with grievances to express them without scorn or disdain.
He spoke, yesterday, at a meeting with traditional rulers from northern states, as part of consultations to douse ethnic tensions in the country.
The tensions climaxed when Arewa youths issued a three-month quit notice to Igbo living in the region, after a sit-at-home exercise called by pro-Biafra secessionists on May 30 to mark 50 years of defunct breakaway Republic of Biafra in the South-east.
Osinbajo who spoke before the meeting, which lasted for about two hours, went into closed door, acknowledged that there were frustrations and grievances, but said they should not degenerate to the type of crisis being witnessed in the country.
He assured that government would ensure a conducive environment for every ethnic or religious group to thrive peacefully.
“As royal fathers and leaders, I think you will agree with me that we all have a role to play in countering the voices of divisiveness, and the elements who seek to take us down a bloody path.
“Let us continue to counsel the misguided elements among our youth, who think that ethnic confrontation is a game and that words can be thrown around carelessly without repercussion.
“Having said this, let me say that we are not deaf to the legitimate concerns and frustrations arising from around the country. Every part of Nigeria has its own grievances.
“But these have to be expressed graciously and managed with mutuality rather than with scorn and disdain.
“As royal fathers and traditional leaders, your place and your role in our society and nation are significant. You are the custodians of our cultures and traditions, and living embodiments of our rich heritage.
“You are, by virtue of your vast knowledge, wisdom and experience, both a vital link with our past, and an important guarantee for the success of our future. This is why your role in national affairs is critical.
“The reason for these series of meetings is well known to all of us: it became necessary in the wake of a spate of divisive statements, in recent months and weeks, pitting the Southeast against the North.
“We are all aware of the so-called ‘ultimatum’ issued by a group of northern youths, asking that all Igbo living in the North vacate the region.
“Before then, there was the clamour – and it’s still ongoing – by some South-eastern youths, operating as IPOB and affiliated groups, demanding secession from Nigeria at all costs and by any means.”
According to him, in the previous meetings with other stakeholders, it was agreed that the best thing was for the country to remain together.
“In all our previous engagements with Northern and South-eastern leaders, we all came to the consensus that Nigeria is stronger and better together, and that these hate-filled and divisive rhetoric and agitations are unjustifiable, unacceptable and often times illegal. And I would like to reiterate that today.
“Nigeria has seen enough violence and bloodshed in its history, the price of our unity has already been paid in the blood and lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians.”
Osinbajo assured the royal fathers that government was available to listen to suggestions and answer any question “and very importantly, to reassure everyone that we are committed to the unity of Nigeria, and that upon the foundation of that unity we can together build a prosperous and great country.”
He said no one should take the nation’s diversity for granted as it is an instrument for binding the country together.
“We must never take our diversity for granted; the fullness of our strength actually lies in that diversity. And we must wield that diversity, not as divisive tool, but instead as a binding agent.
“As we round up these consultations tomorrow (today) with a meeting with governors, it is clear to me that we are all resolved to by words, conduct and action, promote the unity of our dear nation.”
The meeting with northern traditional rulers was earlier schedule for Monday but had to be called off because only Muslim traditional rulers led by Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad III were invited.
The postponement was ostensibly to enable necessary arrangements to be made to get other relevant northern royal fathers to the meeting.
“On our part as government, let me say that we will ensure that the entire apparatus of government is deployed to ensure that no one threatens Nigeria’s territorial integrity, that no one threatens the lives or livelihoods of any Nigerian living anywhere in the federat