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At THISNIGERIA 1st lecture, insecurity, unity topped discourse

By David Lawani and Dennis Mernyi Abuja
On an auspicious day, the quest for Nigeria’s unity dominated national discourse in the nation’s capital, the governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigeria’s Governor’s Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, bemoaned the hopelessness and challenges pervading Nigeria.

Speaking on Wednesday as the chairman of the first ThisNigeria Newspaper Annual Lecture and Gold Prize held at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja, Fayemi said all hope is not lost and that Nigerians must continue to search for the right solutions to the plethora of issues confronting the nation.

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Also speaking as the guest speaker on the lecture with the theme: “National Cohesion for Sustainable Growth and Progress: The Nigerian Dilemma,” the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev Fr. Mathew Hassan Kukah, said the most important pillar of a country’s unity is its constitution. Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah described the constitution as the most important pillar of the country’s unity.

Fayemi said: “Our country is going through enormous challenges. How will we wake up the sleeping giant’? Of course, we must agree that indeed Nigeria is sleeping. And agree that it is a giant. “And when you have a giant, you can approach the giant from all sides. It is like an elephant. And I believed we must approach the Nigerian state like we are approaching an elephant.”

The progressive Ekiti State governor added: “The Nigerian state is not in its most healthy state. There is no debate about that, regardless of political persuasion, ethnic consideration, or regardless of economic opportunities available to individuals.“Our country is in the doldrums. But clearly, in every adversity, there is always an opportunity, and it is our ability; to identify those opportunities that would take us further in this nation-building journey anywhere in the world that doesn’t happen by happenstance. “It is a long and tortuous and hazardous process. It is not a 60-year process. Many countries have been at it for centuries and they are still in search of a more perfect union like the American constitution will put.”

According to Fayemi, the search for the perfect mix for the nation’s integration and development must continue.He, however, stressed that “we must see signs of progress along the way. We must be able to identify little income that will become tall hopes, sooner, rather than later, because for those of us who saw that good Nigeria relatively speaking, we have a sense of what that country should be. “We have a sense of what is expected of the largest country in the world with black people. And, we also have a sense of the expectations that the world has of us which we have clearly not lived up to.’’

Continuing, Fayemi said, “I hope in today’s conversation, we will also be in the position to identify those things that we will require t build a country where truth and justice shall prevail. “Because to the writers of those second stanza of our national anthem, I am sure there must be something in his mind when they wrote the lines. Because we can talk about unity as much as we like. We can talk about national integration as we like. And we can lionize patriotism. And ask not what the country can do for us, but what we can do for it.

“You cannot build a country based on inequity, injustice, lack of fairness, and expect unity to prevail. I know Father Kukah and I can guess what he will say to us. And, he will say it with the right humour, He will say wit with characteristic humour.“He will say with magisterial certainty. Full of wit and candour, insight into where he believes our nation should be. And he sees possibilities all the time even when we are at the nadir of hopelessness.”

Fayemi sees the conclusion of the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State as a metaphor of what summarises the tendency in the Nigerian state. “What just happened in Anambra was a near miracle. Because many of us had concluded that Anambra was going to be bedlam. We had concluded that there was going to be a bloodbath. And, at the end of the exercise, we saw what transpired.
“We must give kudos to the national peace committee, of which Father Kukah himself is a key player, led by our former Head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.). And I think more kudos should go to the people of Anambra, and to INEC,” he noted.

The Ekiti governor commended the publisher of ThisNigeria newspaper, Mr. Eric Osagie, saying he had known him right from his early days in journalism. Fayemi said he was particularly delighted that the lecture was held “so that it will be an avenue to continue the conversation on how to re-fashion and re-model the solutions to the challenges in Nigeria.”
“This is the first lecture that ThisNigeria has put since the publication came into existence. And for those who have come across ThisNigeria since inception, you will know that its motto: Know the truth’’, and of course, what the Bible sayeth about that is that, know the truth, and it shall set you free,” he said.

Fayemi added: ‘’I have known Eric since his early days in Journalism, up to the time he rose to the peak of his career in The SUN establishment. He also made a foray into public service when he went to serve my brother, former chairman of our party in Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, as a Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs” he stated.

He maintained that the publisher is always in stellar performance whatever he sets out to do. “And, therefore, many of us here have come out to grace this occasion. He has also chosen one of the speakers of this event, a very erudite and prolific Nigerian who in all ways also represents the conscience of our country, Father Kukah. Some of us stopped calling him father Kukah because that is what we know him for years ago.

“But he has been transformed into a Bishop in the Catholic Church, and he is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese in Sokoto. He is more than just a Catholic Bishop to many of us, and many Nigerians. “He is a foremost public intellectual. You can disagree with him. You can dislike or like him. You can be in all of him. But what you cannot do is ignore Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah. And by the time he speaks, you will know why. And for those who are hearing him for the first time.”

Delivering his lecture, Kukah said: “I do not know how the National cohesion can be achieved, but I know that the most critical pillar has to be the quality of the constitution. “The constitution does not necessarily solve our problems, but it offers a moral insight into how things can be put for the benefit of the country and its citizens. This conversation is not new. The real challenge is Nigeria’s leadership with the right disposition and our leaders’ quality of understanding.”

Going down the memory lane, Kukah added, “Americans addressed the issue of taxation and even ideological disposition and how people were feeling about the new country. There were issues of inter-state trade and external aggression. “How do we keep our country protected? So, they had a constitutional convention that helped them reconcile these disparate, conflicting perceptions about what the future of the country was going to look like.”

According to the Catholic bishop, Nigerians are now angrier “and they will get nostalgic about the past.” “They think the past was better. It was not that the past was better. We just had less capacity to interrogate the system, and we were less educated. Now, we are better educated, and we are traveling more, and we are seeing more,” he noted. “Nigerians are rightly becoming impatient. The real challenge is leadership with the right disposition. Critical to our conversation is the quality of leadership and the depth of understanding of those who are our leaders,” he stressed.

Nigerians, Kukah added, are rightly becoming impatient, because “the real challenge is leadership with the right disposition.” According to him, “Critical to our conversation is the quality of leadership and the depth of understanding of those who are our leaders. From 1914 till date, even after 61 years of independence, we are still not in agreement about the nature of our constitution.

“The debates have become acrimonious, frustrating, and what has been very interesting about the debates is the perception, quality, and calibre of people that have always been sent to the constituent assembly.”

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“I was lucky that in 2005, I was appointed secretary of the National Political Reform Conference. I know what I saw. I know the calibre of people I saw. I mean no disrespect, but there were a lot of people who had absolutely no idea of why they came.

“In 1977, one thing was very interesting. During the Sharia debate, most southerners said they were hearing about the word “sharia” for the very first time. At the end of the debate in 1978, it was interesting that subsequent discussions on the Nigerian Constitution, the hottest part of the debate were the status of Sharia.

“A participant, Christian from the North, said those of us that defeated Sharia went back to tell our people that if you don’t vote for us, sharia will come. The Muslims who thought they lost Sharia, went back to their people, and said if you don’t vote for us, we will not get back Sharia,” Kukah said.

On the question that he was divisive in his presentation as noted by the Director-General of Pa Michael Institute of Labour Studies, Issa Aremu, the Catholic Bishop said no one should pretend that all was well in the country.

His words: “Are you going to pretend that you don’t know that there is iniquity in this country, that we have never suffered psychological trauma like we are suffering now? Did people sit for exams and fail?

“I don’t think anybody is ever going to govern this country with this kind of blatant, unacceptable literally criminal partisanship. So, when you talk about Bishop Kukah making divisive comments in what sense?

The vocal bishop also noted that, presently, Nigeria is so terrible that it is better to be a northern first than to be a Nigerian.

On his controversial Christmas homily that caused trouble with the federal authorities last year, Kukah said, ‘’When I delivered my Christmas message, people were running riot, Bishop Kukah, this Bishop Kukah that, when people don’t want to hear what you are saying in Northern Nigeria, they say you are dividing Christians and Muslims.

“There must be a reason why we agree to be in this place called Nigeria and clearly, I stated in my Christmas message unambiguously. I said it was more important to be a Muslim and a northerner than to be a Nigerian under the procedure for appointment in this country.

The bishop lauded an Ogoni leader, Ledum Mitte, who according to him, raised a very fundamental question, posing, “will we continue to govern this country by numerical advantage?

“Because I come from a small ethnic group, therefore, I must be penalised. It has never been this bad, my brother, it has never been as bad as it is now. Infrastructure by itself is not enough. When people talk about Wike, he is here; it is not about infrastructure alone, people are sleeping peacefully.

“A certain kind of feeling, here in the north that you claim you are part of. Have you ever had this kind of situation we are having now? Are you saying we cannot interrogate this? It is not possible. The question is justice. The point is that we are living in a society that has become so dysfunctional, so much so that it is an embarrassment to be a Nigerian. I can tell you, outside this country, I don’t think anybody can question my credentials about where I think this country should be.”

Politicians, religious clerics, activists, academia as well as legal luminaries, and journalists gathered in large numbers at the main bowl of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation in Abuja to witness the lecture.

Former Director-General (DG) of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Prof. Tonnie Iredia, who chaired the paper discussion session, did very credible work.

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In his address, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said it is sad that while Nigeria is not working, some people would not want others to speak against those injustices being meted daily on Nigerians.

According to the governor, “We can’t talk about national cohesion when we are still talking about ethnicity and religion in our polity. I am not controversial but only insist that the provisions of the constitution must be implemented.

“I have challenged the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the past on several irregularities in the elections conducted, but now I commend them in the Anambra State elections. If the Anambra situation continues throughout the country, Nigerians will be happy,” Wike stated.

He added, however, “Sadly, when I stood on the issue of Value Added Tax collection, some other people turn it to issue of ethnicity and religion, but I stand on the path of truth.”

While commending on the publisher of ThisNigeria newspaper, Mr. Eric Osagie, for focusing on the truth with newspaper organisation, he said, “it is your duty, to tell the truth.”

Earlier in his welcome address, the Publisher of ThisNigeria, Mr Eric Osagie commended the guests for committing their very precious and committed schedules to grace the event.

Guests took turns to dissect what is needed to reshape the country by addressing critical issues affecting citizens.

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Challenges of insecurity, lack of trust and confidence among citizens, as well as poor governance and ways of addressing them, dominated discussions and contributions by speakers.

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