Dignitaries, eminent religious and political leaders, including the former Head of State and Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Mohammadu Buhari, National Chairman of the party, Chief. John Odigie Oyegun, APC Presidential Campaign Director-General and Governor of Rivers State, Rt Hon. Chibuike Amaechi; as well as other distinguished personalities across all faith and walks of life, Sunday, 4th January, 2015, joined the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, to celebrate this year’s Annual Thanksgiving Service in Lagos.
In his welcome address at the occasion, which also had in attendance members of the State Executive Council, retired and serving members of the state public service, among other dignitaries at the open grounds of the Lagos House, Governor Fashola advocated focus on the common humanity of all Nigerians as the platform for national unity saying dwelling on the differences that exist among the citizens would only fuel destabilization.
Governor Fashola told the multi-congregational gathering which also included the former governors of the State and leaders of other religious faiths, that such differences as languages, religion, ethnic origins among others, are accidents of birth and not the essential content of humanity adding, “We must focus on our common humanity, and those things that we share together and focus less on those things that are different about us”.
He declared, “If our Creator wanted us to be the same it is not difficult for Him to do so. Your faith is not better than mine, and if you think it is, I cannot quarrel with your opinion. You must respect my right to practice mine”.
Governor Fashola said the reason that informed the over a decade old Thanksgiving Service in the state was in order to engender unity among all the different ethnic, religious, cultural and language groups in the state adding that residents of the state have led from the front to demonstrate what Nigeria should be.
The Governor maintained that because God has been faithful in keeping Lagos in peace and prosperity, “We gather today in the Centre of Excellence every year to thank and praise God together, Christians of different denominations, Moslems with different affiliations and traditionalists, because we are all grateful. That is the Spirit of Lagos.
“As for me, I have said repeatedly that I do not see ethnic groups, I see Lagosians, who contribute to the development of their state, but I cannot change the way people choose to see themselves”.
He appealed to all Nigerians “to see the cup as half full instead of half empty”.
Noting that Nigeria and Lagos State are part of the Earth that God created, Governor Fashola declared, “Yes, men may have passed laws and given names to territories, but the Earth is the Lord’s. So, let men be men, and let God be God, because His will shall be done”.
The Governor, who advanced some reasons why all thanks must be given to the Almighty God, said considering the different calamities that befell the country last year such as the kidnap of some girls from Chibok, the numerous explosion of bombs that killed thousands of Nigerians, among others, the only reasonable thing for those who have survived the year to do is to thank God.
“It was just like yesterday that we all gathered here on 5th January 2014 to give thanks in an annual tradition that has now survived one and a half decades. Today, 364 days after, when girls have disappeared without trace, bombs have exploded in mindless orgies of violence, Nigerian towns and villages have been sacked, our brothers and sisters have been displaced from their homes, young children have died in stampedes while looking for jobs, some of our brothers and sisters in the military have lost their lives while trying to defend you and I and the Fatherland, I ask you all what else we can do than to give thanks, express our gratitude and praise God for surviving”, he said.
According to the Governor, “We are alive not because we are better, we are alive because of grace and mercy, and we must never take it for granted. Our appreciation must be reflected in our attitude of gratitude”.
Giving other reasons for thanking God, Governor Fashola recalled that in some parts of West Africa today, government has been forced to declare a lockdown of people and restrict movement even in this season of festivity because of an infectious disease caused by the Ebola Virus which is still ravaging the countries.
He declared, “These countries are smaller than Lagos, Lagos is in fact bigger than many of them combined. Yet the same virus afflicted us, we sadly lost 13 lives, but today we are not under lockdown. We can sit side-by-side, we can shake hands and we can move freely. Again there was grace, there was a coming together across ethnic, religious and government levels to address a common problem”.
Wishing Lagosians and all guests at the occasion a happy and prosperous New Year, Governor Fashola, who noted that the occasion would be the last he would attend as Governor of the state, thanked all Lagosians for their support and cooperation with his administration in the last seven and half years and enjoined them to vote wisely in the next elections for continuity.
In his remarks, former Head of State and APC Presidential Candidate, General Mohammadu Buhari, enjoined all Nigerians to work in unity of purpose to realize the Nigeria of their collective dream which, according to him, “is the one where we can all sit like this and rejoice together and thank God together”.
General Buhari, who was accompanied to the venue by his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie Oyegun; and the Lagos State Governorship Candidate of the party, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode as well as other party chieftains, noted that this year’s Thanks Giving Service, though a Christian Service, has brought together Nigerians of all faiths and religion just to thank the Almighty God.
“This is as it should be. Religion must never be used as a means to divide or to oppress or gain undue advantage over other Nigerians”, he said adding, “All my life I have expressed the belief that all Nigerians must be free to worship God according to their beliefs”.
Insisting that the duty of government is not religion, the APC Presidential Candidate declared, “The duty of government is to ensure peace, security for all Nigerians regardless of tribe, race or religion. This is the commitment we must all make, especially in this day of Thanksgiving”.
In his exhortations, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, enjoined all Nigerians to embrace God and ask for his mercies for Nigeria adding that it is the only way to ensure continued peace and harmony in the country in the face of numerous ills that face the nation.
He prayed for the continued peace and unity of Nigeria particularly the conduct of the next general elections asking that the Almighty God should grant the nation the grace to conduct peaceful elections that would produce credible leaders for Nigeria.
Programmes which also featured at the well attended event included the various readings from the Holy Bible done by the First Lady of the State, Dame Emmanuella Abimbola Fashola; the state Deputy Governor, Hon. (Mrs.) Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire; Chief Judge of the state, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade; and wife of the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mrs. Mayowa Ikuforiji.
Others were special prayers for the Governor and his family; Lagos State Government; Lagos civil servants; local governments and legislative services; security services; Nigerian children and youths and for peace to reign during the general elections, among others as well as performances by the RCCG and DayStar Mass Choirs.
Among the prominent personalities present were some members of the state Executive Council, including the state Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Mr. Ben Akabueze; First Governor of the State, Brig. Gen. Mobolaji Johnson; and other former state Governors, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu; General Overseer of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Bishop Mike Okonkwo; other prominent religious leaders such as Most Reverend Samuel Chukwuemeka Kalu, Dr. (Mrs.) Mercy Ezekiel and wife of the RCCG General Overseer, Pastor (Mrs.) Folu Adeboye, among other prominent dignitaries and government functionaries.