Below is the full text of the Acting President’s remarks at the meeting with the Northern elders and leaders:
BEING TEXT OF OPENING REMARKS MADE BY THE ACTING PRESIDENT YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, AT THE MEETING OF THE ACTING PRESIDENT WITH LEADERS OF THOUGHT FROM THE NORTHERN STATES HELD AT THE OLD BANQUET HALL, STATE HOUSE , ABUJA ON TUESDAY, 13TH JUNE, 2017
First let me say how honoured I am, by your response to my invitation to attend this special consultation.
I’m pleased to welcome all who are here today, cross-section of elders from the Northern states of Nigeria. It is also important to point out that there are, of course people who would qualify for the same description, the description of very respected thought leaders, but certainly, we cannot have everyone.
Some we could not even reach but, more importantly we wanted to have a small number of people for this first consultation, so that we will not have an unwieldy number.
Besides, I will also be meeting with traditional leaders from the North and I will be meeting with respected thought leaders and religious leaders from the South-East.
So this will be very broad series of consultations but, let me say again that I am extremely grateful that you responded to this meeting at very short notice.
Living in a diverse country such as ours of course as most of us who are here know, is one that will give rise to unique challenges, several challenges and several issues. Most, who are here today have been witnesses to practically all phases of Nigerian History which, is one of the reasons we have asked that you come today. There is hardly anyone here who has not witnessed the most important landmarks in our history, some tragic, some joyful and, many times unable to put together.
This is one of the reasons why I thought that, this particular group of people are important to be here today.
In the past few weeks, I’m sure many of us have noticed that there have been louder noises of hate, of division, especially from the younger persons in our society. Much louder noises than perhaps had been the case in the past.
Recently of course there was the loud agitations about secession from some of the groups of some young people in the South-East, IPOB and groups that are affiliated with them but also and perhaps more recently, the call by a group of young persons from the North, who claim to have given an ultimatum to all of those who are from the South-East who live in the North to vacate the North by October 1st, 2017.
Now, there are those who may deride these sort of statements that these hate speeches that may show intolerance and promote divisions are not important, that they should be ignored.
However, I believe that we should address them quickly and that especially leaders of thoughts and elders, persons with experience, persons who have been through several phases of Nigeria’s history should be able to advice and should be able to give some directions as to how many of those in our midst, especially younger people in our midst who may believe that perhaps the way and means they are going about their frustrations or their personal grievances is the right way to go.
I want to say that our defining strength is what our constitution calls the sovereign “nation under God.” There are multitudes of people from the North and multitudes of the people from the South who live in either the South or the North. There is no homogenous society in Nigeria; the North has several people living there from different parts of the country.
Every form of violence, every form of hate speech, every stone that is thrown in the market place will hit targets that are not even intended. And I believe that the Nigerian people must be made very conscious of that, so that we do not create a crisis that is un-intended.
As part of the reasons of living together, we must know that misunderstandings and frustrations would always arise and that people would always complain that they are not getting the best part of the deal. But we must be careful to recognize that we can only even begin to talk about getting any part of anything (only) if we are together in peace.
These days, wars do not end and I am sure that all of those who have seen or experienced war in any form would not wish it on their worst enemies. This is not the time to retreat behind ethnic lines. Moments like this are not for isolating ourselves and I want to urge all of us who are here, and of cause the entire Nigerian populace, that it is a time for us to come together and to work together.
As a government, we are of cause determined to ensure the unity of the country along the lines of our constitution.
I want to say that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law. And I want to ensure that there is no doubt of the resolve of government to ensure that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause division, or that can cause violence.
Especially because when we make these kinds of pronouncements and we do things that can cause violence or disruption of lives and property, those who make those speeches are no longer in control.
So, I want to just emphasise that government will take very seriously any attempts to cause violence or to disrupt the peace of this country. That, I think is very important because we cannot control violence once it begins.
So today I am extremely grateful that you have responded to this meeting and I know that those who are around this table will be frank and constructive in all of our engagements. It is a very important engagement and I hope we will be able to get the kinds of fruit that we desire from it.
God helping us, our country will always be a place where we can always be proud of, where we can always live peacefully. And we always owe it as a duty to the next generation to hand over to them a peaceful and prosperous nation.