Let me first say how deeply grateful I am that you have responded so well and so quickly at very very short notice to this invitation.
Yesterday I kicked off a series of consultations and engagements with Leaders of Thought from the Northern States of Nigeria. It was a very useful meeting and today’s meeting is the second in the series with you, the Leaders of Thought from the Southeast.
After this, I will meet with Religious and Traditional Leaders again from the Southeast and on Monday I will be meeting with Religious Leaders also from the North. And then in the final consultations next week, I will be meeting both with state Governors and finally with all of the groups that I have met with from the North, the South and we’ll be joined I hope then, by the Governors also and we all hopefully be in the same room for further engagement and consultations.
I want to say again a very very big thank you for your making the time to come to this particular meeting.
These consultations are extremely necessary, and important, especially because of the recent events in our country and I’m sure that most of us have followed this quite closely.
You are all aware that there have been loud and sometimes hostile agitations by young people in the Southeast calling for secession from Nigeria. And then there was the recent ultimatum issued by a group of young people also from the North, asking all persons of Southeast origin living in the North to leave by October 1 this year.
Both of these expressions and agitations from both sides, have been attended with some controversial and very hateful approach including patently illegal and violence-inducing remarks.
I firmly believe that we ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively. Burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storm to blow over of their own accord is not an option.
But equally not reasonable is falling for the temptation for any kind of tit-for-tat whether it is in the language used or it is in the kinds of gestures that have been expressed. This has never worked or moved anyone closer to a peaceful or sensible resolution.
And so it’s in our bid, as government, to deal with these pressing issues and grievances, that we’ve convened these series of consultations, with various groups. It’s the right and responsible thing I think for us as leaders not to shy away from the responsibility to ensure and uphold peace and security in our country.
And it’s my view that the responsible role of those of us who are privileged to be leaders in our society is to chart progressive and lofty courses for our people, for the ordinary people. As leaders, we carry the burden to secure the peace, progress and prosperity of our people. And that is why our voices ought to be heard and heard loud and clear at moments like this in the defense and articulation of what is truly beneficial to the nation and the people, and what is right and patriotic.
Our dear nation has gone through very m any difficult times. We’ve survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, we’ve emerged even from a long and bloody Civil War. All of us here have seen close-up what violence can do to a country. I believe I speak for us all when I say that no one here is keen to see Nigeria embroiled in violence or bloodshed of any kind. Especially not when we are only just emerging from a brutal insurgency that has consumed more than 20,000 of our brothers, sisters and children, as well as the better part of a decade in the Northeast of Nigeria.
One thing is clear – violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. They are terrible and they mean no good. They are easy to start but near impossible to end.
In fact, history has shown us especially contemporary history that wars today hardly ever end. They just simply go on. Indeed, you’re all aware of the Igbo proverb that says that “a man who rushes into battle does not realize that battle entails death.” We are witnesses to the unspeakable devastation that war continues to inflict across the world. No one who has seen the horrors of war – even merely on television – would wish it on their worst enemy.
It is also clear that wars sometimes start, not with bullets, but with words. Hateful, incendiary speech, opening floodgates of blood. The tongue, like the pen, is often mightier than the sword – because it is what pushes the sword into action. When we throw words like stones in a marketplace we do not know who or what it will hit.
Knowing this, under no conditions whatsoever should we tolerate or excuse or justify hate speech or hateful conduct of any kind, especially where such is illegal. Let me of course acknowledge that as part of living together in this space called Nigeria, misunderstandings and frustrations are inevitable. Because resources are limited there will always be a striving to get what is perceived as the best seat at the table.
All of that is normal and to be expected, especially in a democracy, like ours. A healthy democracy ought to be a theatre of energetic striving by all parties and stakeholders. But things should never descend to a level where mutual suspicions override the desire to live together in peace and harmony.
Yesterday I made it clear, very clear 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 say it again today that let there be no doubt whatsoever of the resolve of government to ensure that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause division especially violence. We will take very seriously any attempts to cause violence or to disrupt the peace of Nigeria and it will certainly not be tolerated.
And the reason why it cannot be tolerated is that the very many innocent men, women, children and the vulnerable amongst us deserves safety and security and our own emotions must not be allowed to run wild in such a way as to endanger the lives of so many. And I believe that all are clear that we’re resolute in our determination as government to protect every Nigerian, everywhere in the country. Everywhere in this country, it is the primary duty of government to ensure the security of lives and property and we take that duty very seriously indeed.
We will do everything within our power to defend and uphold the terms of our constitution, which declares that we are one nation under God.
It also guarantees the free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the country, as well as full residence rights for every citizen in all and any parts of the land of their choice. It is also the aspiration of the Constitution to ensure a country in which, and I quote, “loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”
And it is the responsibility of the Government to create the conditions for the attainment of these ideals. There is something that President Buhari is fond of saying, and he’s repeated it am sure so many of us have heard it: that without peace and security there can be no development. That the first obligation that we owe if we want to develop, is to ensure peace and security. We cannot develop a country that is not in the first place safe and secure for all people. For this reason, we take extremely seriously our constitutional responsibilities as your government.
Those responsibilities also include listening to, consulting, and engaging with you; giving every citizen and every part of the Federation a sense of belonging and significance. And that is why we are here today.
I expect that our conversations here today will be frank and constructive, open and that all our deliberations will go towards ensuring that our country is a better place, a more peaceful place to live in. This is an important moment for all of us and for our country, and I hope that at the end of it we will all be satisfied that we have accomplished something significant not just for ourselves but for the future.
By the grace of God, we will leave to coming generations a peaceful, secure and prosperous nation; a nation in which all citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religious affiliations, or their ages or gender will feel deep and enduring pride.
Thank you very much again for making out time to come and I hope that our deliberations will be very fruitful and like I said, please let us be as frank as possible
God bless you.