A timely intervention

Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo with Traditional Rulers from Southeast Nigeria, at the State House.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has intervened to douse the tension in the land accentuated by a three months quit notice served on the people of the South East living in the North. It was a wise and timely step. He moved promptly to check the festering of tempers and the attendant loathsome air of the emerging environment. He has met with traditional rulers and leaders of thought from the South East and the North. The governors of the 19 northern states also met on Tuesday in Kaduna. Before their formal meeting of Tuesday, the chairman of their forum, Shettima of Borno had dissociated the governors from the northern youth ultimatum to the South Easterners to vacate their region.

In the same vein, the office of the Special Assistant to the President on Youth and Student Affairs also organised a gathering of those described as regional youth leaders. This gathering was addressed by Femi Ojudu, Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs and the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan.

The Acting President is also billed to meet with the leaders, political, traditional or from the elite circles, all together after the on-going separate meetings. Although I have not read anywhere that there were meetings behind closed doors subsequent to the televised ones, it is to be assumed that there will be a mega one with leaders of thought and traditional rulers from across the whole country. South West and South-South have not featured so far. I want to believe that these are all efforts to calm frayed nerves and that the meetings are exploratory. There is fire on the mountain and it must be put out first.

Addressing the traditional rulers, Osinbajo said: “You are, by virtue of your vast knowledge, wisdom and experience, both a vital link with our past, and an important guarantee for the success of our future. This is why your role in national affairs is critical. The reason for this series of meetings is well known to all of us; it has become necessary in the wake of a spate of divisive statements, in recent months and weeks, pitting the South East against the North.

“We are all aware of the so-called ‘ultimatum’ issued by a group of Northern youths, asking that all Igbos living in the North vacate the region. Before then, there was the clamour, and it’s still on-going, by some South-Eastern youths, operating as IPOB and affiliated groups, demanding secession from Nigeria at all costs and by any means.

“In all our previous engagements with Northern and South- Eastern leaders, we all came to the consensus that Nigeria is stronger and better together, and that these hate-filled and divisive rhetorics and agitations are unjustifiable, unacceptable and often times illegal. And I would like to reiterate that today.”

And to the leaders of thought, he said: “Moments like this are not for isolating ourselves and I want to urge all of us who are here and of course the entire Nigerian populace that it is a time for us to come together. 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.” He said the warning was very important because “we cannot control violence once it begins.” He likened hate speech to throwing a stone in the market. It would hit people for which it was not intended.

It is doubtful if the Acting President will claim to have proffered solutions to the myriads of problems afflicting the country, principal among which is the national question. They are not problems that can be wished away or swept under the carpet. They can be suppressed but only for a while; and after a few years and with a new generation at the village square, the problems would raise their ugly heads again. It was because they would not go away that Obasanjo had to put together a conference chaired by Supreme Court Justice Tobi. It was because they would not disappear that made Jonathan to organise the 2014 National Conference. And once the present Administration settled down calls for restructuring of the country began to ring out. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has courageously been crisscrossing the land pressing for the restructuring of the country, seeing it as the veritable vehicle to unite the country and for her to make progress, be it economically, socially and politically. He has just stated, commenting on the latest development in the land, that the number one problem the country faces today, contrary to widely held belief, is not corruption but unity. In all his speeches, he has predicated this unity on the restructuring of the country, the age-long sing-song of the South-West.

The restructuring fever has caught on and it is now being vigorously canvassed by the South-South. The Southern and North-Central zones see the answers to the various agitations including the threat of separation by the Biafran youths as well as the restructuring in the 2014 National Conference Report. It is foolish to say because we have issues with Jonathan we then throw away the baby with the bath water. As this column has said in the past, those who are loud in mounting opposition to the implementation of the Report have not read it and they should not be allowed to throw pebbles in the country’s wheel of progress. The pre-occupation of the Acting President, understandably, would seem to be, even to jaw-jaw, we require an atmosphere of peace. He is right. There is nothing that can be achieved in an environment of chaos and confusion.

Fortunately, the Senate has called for the Report. That Report reveals the following which are bound to catch the attention of the senators. The number of solid minerals in Plateau and Taraba states alone is higher than what obtains in the whole of Asia which encompasses the Arab countries, China, Japan, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the whole of the Middle East, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The two states have huge deposits of gold and diamond and shares in uranium deposit with Benue. Waiting to be tapped in commercial quantities are gold which is obtainable in 10 states of the Federation; coal in eight states; salt in 12 states; bitumen in five states; marble in 11 states; clay in 16 states; kaolin in 15 states and limestone in 15 states as well. Of the 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List in the constitution, only 10 are now left. The Conference has sent 58 of them to the Concurrent List. It is now such that the states or group of states can now build their own railways, build ports and incorporate companies and register organisations. There is provision for state police to shore up and collaborate with the Federal security arrangement. The Federal allocation to the centre has been reduced from 52 per cent to 42 per cent. The states will now be entitled to 58 per cent to run their states and local councils. Since the 42 commercially viable minerals cannot be exploited just with the blow of the whistle, the Report approves the establishment of Solid Minerals Development Fund of five per cent of the Federal yearly budget to jump-start the tapping of the solid minerals lying buried in the ground. That is to allay the fear of economically weak states as of now that they might be left unsupported to stand on their own two feet.

The leaders in the South-East are being blamed for the sit-in that occurred to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. The right attitude ought to be to separate the agitation for the revival of the Biafra from the experiences of a people. Here are a people who were at war for three years in which estimated three million people died. General Gowon once said that if Ojukwu had not declared the Republic of Biafra there would have been no war. True, but there was a war in the end. It is natural therefore for people to gather to remember, to reflect, to wail, to bite lips and gnash teeth with or without Nnamdi Kanu. Is it conceivable that such an emotional anniversary marking a monumental event and there would not be an instinctive, collective mourning day? Let’s forget what may have caused the war. I want to believe there was no family untouched by the fire of war, and there is nothing the leaders in the region could have done.

Every year the Jews mark what they call Holocaust Remembrance Day. Two years ago, it was 70 years. To illustrate the undying anguish of a people who have gone through this kind of horrific experience, here is an excerpt of a report published by MailOnline/AFP in April 2015: “Israeli Jews stood in silence as sirens wailed across the country on Thursday marking Holocaust Memorial Day and 70 years since the liberation of Nazi death camps. Traffic came to a halt and pedestrians stood at attention for two minutes as the siren rang out. Commemorations began at sunset on Wednesday and were to continue Thursday with Israeli leaders attending official ceremonies at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, parliament and elsewhere. Until sundown, radio and television stations broadcast programmes on the genocide and played music, while places of entertainment were closed.”

The report was illustrated with photographs from Reuters, AP and AFP showing President Reavan Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laying wreaths; Israelis standing still on the Tel Aviv seashore observing the Day…when a two-minute siren sounded in Tel Aviv. Traffic was parked and the occupants all came out to observe the two-minute silence. The theme of that year’s observances was “Anguish of Liberation and the Return of Life: 70 years since End of World War 11.”

All our efforts in this country must be never to go through a war again. Professor Yemi Osinbajo has commendably demonstrated leadership in this regard. We do not have to agree with the content of his address. His message to the nation is: War? Never again. In support of his message we must avoid all thoughts of war; we must watch our actions which include speeches and see that we do not give cause to painful and regrettable effects in the future.



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