From Fred Itua and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Raging issues threatening Nigeria’s unity, yesterday, dominated discussions as the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, and former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Attahiru Jega, decried the poor attention being paid to it by politicians.
The duo spoke at different fora in Abuja.
At a summit on national unity organised in Abuja by National Prosperity Movement, Fayemi said: “To be sure, unity cannot endure where injustice, exclusion, inequity and marginalisation are embedded in the practice of governance. I have often shuddered at the spectacle whereby some among us who have been entrusted with leadership responsibility very easily slide into the role of ethno-regional champions, xenophobes, and zealots.”
The Ekiti governor submitted that fostering unity in a context of multiple diversities requires fulsome attention to equity, justice, fair play, and merit.
Fayemi advised that “while it is normal that leaders must have their ears to the ground and feel the pulse of the people who have elected them – imbibing, reproducing and spilling out raw and crude bile and pushing scorched earth solutions crosses the line of representation to become an exercise in the shirking of responsibility.
“Unlike the bulk of their followers, leaders are positioned and privileged to know that in matters of nation- and state-building, the world is far more complex than the simple and many a-times simplistic binary divisions that are frequently deployed to oppose black and white.
“Leaders must truly lead by using the broader, more complex, and better nuanced understanding they have to help moderate and modulate seasons of deep division in the polity, rather than becoming the ones who add fuel to a raging fire.”
Delivering the Keynote address, Jega berated all civilian administrations since 1999 for not doing enough to promote national unity.
“In any case, the attention paid to the question of national unity and integration by successive military regimes has not been matched by successive civilian administrations. Except for sloganeering in the third republic, when former civilian president, Shehu Shagari as National Party of Nigeria’s presidential candidate, and subsequently as president, popularised the slogan of ‘One Nation, One Destiny’, subsequent civilian administrations, especially since 1999 seem to have, more or less, presided over the undermining if not destruction of the bases and foundations of national unity and integration in Nigeria.”
Jega submitted that national unity would only best be promoted through tolerance and accommodation of each other’s differences, opinions, ethnic, religious and communal or even regional identities.
He believed that “at the core of national unity are non-discriminatory relations whether at the personal or official levels. The sad thing is that in contemporary Nigeria, all these are in dire short supply.”
Speaking at another forum, Governor Fayemi, also passed a damning verdict on the nation, saying not only is it in most unhealthy state, but also in the doldrums.
“First, we have to agree that indeed, Nigeria is sleeping and also agree that it is a giant. And when you have a giant, you can approach that giant from all sides. It is like an elephant. And I believe that is only the perspective from which many of us will approach the Nigerian state.
“But the Nigerian state is not in its most healthy state. There is no debate about that regardless of political persuasion, regardless of ethnic consideration, regardless of economic opportunities available or unavailable to individuals, our country is in the doldrums,” he said at ThisNigeria annual lecture and Gold Prize in Abuja.
Fayemi, however, said in every adversity, there is always an opportunity, adding that it was the ability of Nigerians to identify what those opportunities were that would take Nigerians further in the nation-building journey.
The NGF chairman also said nation-building anywhere in the world does not happen by happenstance, saying it is a long, tortuous and arduous process.
“And it is not a 60-year process. Many countries have been at it for centuries and they are still in search of a more perfect union as the American constitution will put it. And that search must continue. However, we must see sights of progress along the way; we must be able to identify those shoots, those little incomes that will become tall oaks sooner, rather than later because for those of us who still, at least, saw that good Nigeria relatively speaking, we have a sense of what that country should be. We have a sense of what is expected of the largest country with black people in the world. And we also have a sense of the expectation that the world has of us which we clearly have not lived up to.”
Fayemi said he was sure there was something in the mind of the writer of the lines in the second stanza of the national anthem when he put them together.
He stated that Nigerians can talk about unity as much as they liked, talk about national integration as much as they wanted and can lionise patriotism, but cannot build a country on the basis of iniquity, injustice, lack of fairness and expect unity to prevail.
Fayemi noted that Nigerians see possibilities all the time even when they are at the verge of hopelessness. He stated that what recently took place in Anambra was a miracle because many Nigerians already had come to the conclusion that Anambra was going to be a bloodbath but it turned out the other way round.
He gave kudos to the National Peace Committee convened by Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, and chaired by former military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, including the people of Anambra and INEC.
Delivering a lecture entitled: ‘National Cohesion for Growth and Progress: The Nigeria Dilemma’, Kukah said the conversation was not about the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but to achieve national cohesion.
He said to achieve national cohesion, Nigerians needed to have a reliable constitution which is encompassing.
“Nigerians are angrier now more than before but we get nostalgic about the past, thinking Nigeria was better before now. But the truth is, we were less educated or exposed before now.”
While decrying the decline in the quality of leadership in the country, Kukah added that patriotism was not a product of exchange.
“We have never suffered from psychological trauma than now. I have a moral duty to know what is right and wrong. It has never been this bad in Nigeria.”
Kukah also said going by happenings in the country, it was more important to be a Muslim than to be a northerner in terms of appointment.
“We want peace. Even criminals want peace. But we are in despair in Nigeria. Something is wrong with Nigeria,” Kukah also said.
Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of ThisNigeria Newspaper, Eric Osagie, said the newspaper was set up to tell Nigerians the truth and at the end of the day, give Nigerians a platform to express their views.
“We are not partisan, we are neither North nor South, we believe in Nigeria passionately, we believe Nigeria should be run very well, we don’t believe in ethnicity, we don’t believe in any tribal sentiments, we are a newspaper for the people, by the people and for the people. That is why we are called ThisNigeria,” Osagie said.