A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, other speakers at the 2021 National Unity Summit on Wednesday called on Nigerians to appreciate and embrace the country’s diversity so as to achieve peace and unity.
The 2021 National Unity Summit was organised by the National Prosperity Movement, a socio-political group.
A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega in his keynote speech, presented unity as a desirable goal that is uneasy in a diverse setting like Nigeria.
He said the country’s desired unity can be “deliberately forged, nurtured and entrenched through citizenship mobilisation, sensitisation and education.”
“There is in present-day Nigeria, evidence of remarkable erosion of national unity and seeming whittling down if not abandonment of yesteryears lofty projects of national integration.
“The resurgence of, and violent activism by, insurgents and irredentist militants with a clear agenda for dismemberment of Nigeria, is indicative of the sorry state of national unity. So is the increasingly indifferent and apathetic disposition of teeming youth with regards to serious national affairs, which ordinarily would require their active engagement.
“Indeed, many young men and women are so frustrated that they are diverting their energies to aggressive behavior and creativity to all sorts of criminality. Some have even given up on Nigeria and are merely looking for opportunities to ‘check-out,” Jega said.
Jega who traced the origin of division to the country’s post-independent leaders who campaigned for ‘forgetting’ our differences rather than ‘trying to understand’ them, listed terrorism, ethnoreligious sentiments, hate speech and fake news as threats to Nigeria’s integration.
The Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi who was the only guest of honor that attended the event out of the five invited state governors, said Nigeria’s diversity can be managed with sincere leadership and willing citizens.
“In the face of some of our recent challenges, I have often shuddered at the spectacle whereby some among us who have been entrusted with leadership responsibility very easily slide into the role of ethno-regional champions, xenophobes, and zealots.
“While it is normal that leaders must have their ears to the ground and feel the pulse of the people who have elected them- imbibing, reproducing, and spilling out raw and crude bile and pushing scorched earth solutions crosses the line of representation to become an exercise in the shirking of responsibility.
“Unlike the bulk of their followers, leaders are positioned and privileged to know that in matters of nation- and state-building, the world is far more complex than the simple and many times simplistic binary divisions that are frequently deployed to oppose black and white. Leaders must truly lead by using the broader, more complex, and better nuanced understanding they have to help moderate and modulate seasons of deep division in the polity, rather than becoming the ones who add fuel to a raging fire,” he said in his speech.
A political scientist Amina Salihu, who was part of a panel discussion at the event, lamented the systemic exclusion of women and youth in governance, arguing that a call for a united nation may not be achieved if women and youth remain sidelined in the process.
“A lot of the time we paid lip service to the issue of women’s rights, the issue of youths’ rights. But in this same country, we know that women make up 49.7% of the population, 50% of the population so to say.
“Just take a look at our National Assembly. And look at the number of senators we have out of 109, we have about seven and it’s no better in the House of Reps. It is worse at the state level, whether the state legislature or executive.
“Now we’re talking about nationhood, and we talk about social investment. Where exactly does our social investment lie? It’s definitely not going to people who need a voice to participate. And so if I feel excluded, which is the exact opposite of inclusion, if I do not feel affirmed or respected, then I do not feel a shared affinity,” she said.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Abubakar III who was represented at event by the Emir of Keffi, Shehu Yamusa III said in order to attain a united Nigeria, the conversations have to be driven by facts and figures rather than ignorance and emotions.
He emphasized the need to embrace individual diversity rather than encourage hatred.
“The discourse has to be an informed one driven by facts and figures, otherwise we would find ourselves boxed into dialogue of the daft where no one understands the other.
“We also have to avoid confusing unity with uniformity; we don’t have to be uniform to be united. The length of our fingers are not the same because each finger has a unique role to perform.
“We should try to understand diversity and indeed celebrate it. This can only happen if we ask our scholars to lead the debate. Some of us that went to unity schools and served in the military find it difficult to understand the unnecessary hatred it comes from,” he said.