Within the last week, Nigeria’s Acting President has set up wide consultations with key leaders of thought in Nigeria. All of which signal that the federal government is paying more attention to the divisive rhetoric by ethnic groups and it plans to nip it in the bud.
The first impression gotten from these meetings with the acting president is that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable and it seems as though he may have gotten his audience to agree to an indivisible Nigeria. “All of us have agreed that our nation must remain one… I think that there is clarity as to that one thing, that our country ought to remain, must remain, a united country,” said Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
The acting president is not denying that there are challenges that come with the co-habitation of people in a multi- ethnic, cultural and religious entity like Nigeria. “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.”
In another speech while addressing governors, he acknowledged that there is a part of all these agitations and statements that are relatively fair and may well be considered as freedom of expression. He also noted that there is a point where a line has to be drawn, and that is when conversations or agitations degenerate into a hateful rhetoric where the narrative descends into pejorative name-calling, expressions of outright prejudice and hatred.
Those selected to partake in the discussions fall under a category of people Osinbajo believes can tackle the flow of prejudiced and hateful comments and he has put them to task. He challenged traditional rulers from the northern and south eastern states to counter the voices of division.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The acting president has also adopted the same proposal with the state governors. He has promised to unleash the full weight of the law on anyone threatening the unity of Nigeria.
The vice president’s hands on approach to these meeting have been commendable despite other concerns. Many suspect that the approach could also trigger another series of consultations aimed at addressing grievances of groups such as IPOB that think Nigeria no longer serves the interest of the Igbos.
These consultations by the vice president have also gone some way to reassure Igbo settlers in northern Nigeria of the safety of their lives and properties following the quit notice issued early on by Arewa Youths.
However, if the federal government is immovable on the subject of secession, then it should begin to open talks on the clamour for restructuring the country. Regions are demanding greater control of their resources and a decentralization of the security apparatus. This could go a long way to quiet Biafra agitators.