The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, former Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Alhaji Lateef Okunnu (SAN), former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Usman Bugaje and a Political Economist and Founder, Centre for Value in Leadership, Prof. Pat Utomi have urged Nigerians to uphold the unity of the country.
According to them, tribalism, religious sentiment, hate speeches and fake news are among issues threatening the existence of Nigeria
They along others spoke at the 26th Pre-Ramadan Lecture of the University of Lagos Muslim Alumni (UMA).
The themed is Though Tribe and Tongue May Differ: Interrogating Nigeria’s Nationhood.
Alhaji Mohammed said his ministry realised in 2017 that fake news and hate speeches were threatening the unity of the country, hence organised a National Council and Information Summit to discuss it.
“We followed it up in 2018 by launching Campaign Against Hate Speech. We know it is not limited to Nigeria, but we have tried to sensitise Nigerians about the danger of hate speeches and fake news,” he said.
Okunnu, who chaired the event, said the country has never been this divided on ethnicity lines as being witnessed in the country today.
Okunnu said there was no case of ethnicity in the history of Nigeria, but today it has been injected into the politics by some elements for their personal gains and attempt to break up the country.
While citing examples of leaders who have governed the country in different capacities, Okunnu said, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe became influential in the country without promoting ethnicity.
He said: “We knew nothing about ethnicity when I was born regardless of our origin. When I was growing up as a schoolboy, I followed politics before I clocked ten. I read newspapers in the restroom.
“Ethnicity could not divide us. In fairness to Awolowo, he did not use Egbe Omo Oduduwa to govern the Southwest. Nnamdi did not use Igbo Union to govern when he was the Premier and same for Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello. The Nigeria I grew up in premised on unity. We must not allow ethnicity to divide us.”
Dr. Bugaje, stated that competency should be the driving force that can take Nigeria to a greater height.
He opined that national consensus as a panacea to the issues arising from conflict.
Bugaje urged the ruling class and elite to focus attention on the next generation as statesmen think of their next generation.
“The issues ahead of us are that of food, education, employment, infrastructure. How can we be competitive in all of these to grow our economy?”
“We need to put policies in place to help us re-orientate Nigerians through the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to change people’s mind-sets of hatred and animosity,” he said.
Prof. Utomi reminded Nigerians that permanent crisis stalls development and that there’s no action without theory.
“And there cannot be development if we are not thinking things through. It makes us make mountain out of molehill. In our country, we seem unable to have rational public conversation because we are captive of emotions. And we have a moral duty to elevate our country beyond what we have currently.
“As it is, Nigeria is travelling in the wrong direction and leadership will determine the commitment we give to education. Knowledge and sense of service are required to have quality leadership as Nigerian state is captured. We must rethink our democracy,” he advised.
The Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof. Afiz Oladosu identified the various challenges confronting the nation and called for a guided restructuring.
UMA’s President, Alhaji Shuaib Salis reminded everyone of the fact that Nigeria has been a blessing to humanity.
“In solving South Africa apartheid and other nations’ crises, we are always there to play positive roles; though we have issues that we need to fix but not to break up but fix the gaps,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, commended the leadership of UMA and all members for the great initiative and impact.
He promised to continue to support every move to take the University forward while praying for peace in Unilag and the whole country.
National Orientation Agency (NOA) Director-General Dr Garba Abari gave a round down of activities of the agency in curtailing hate speeches and fake news.
Dr Abari said the agency has an advocacy programmes to sensitise community and traditional rulers.
According to him, NOA has visited 88 higher institutions to engage the youth to cultivate good value.