Political, ethno-religious leaders, including other Nigerians from different walks of life, attended the recent inaugural lecture of ‘ThisNigeria’, the newspaper published by ace columnist and former Managing Director of the Sun Newspapers, Mr. Eric Osagie. At the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, the focus of the lecture was centred on discussing ways of rallying citizens to achieve unity and growth.
Under the chairmanship of the governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, the event drew a large gathering of media practitioners, politicians, among others. Also at the gathering were the governor of Rivers State, Barr Nyesom Wike, and the Director General, Michael Imodu Institute of Labour Studies, Comrade Issa Aremu.
In his opening remarks at the event, the Ekiti governor said that Nigeria was experiencing enormous challenges.
He said, “We have to agree that Nigeria is sleeping and also agree that it is a giant and when you have a giant, you can approach that giant from all sides. It’s like an elephant and I believe that is purely the perspective that so many of us would approach the Nigerian state. But the Nigerian state is not in its most healthy state.
“There is no debate about that regardless of political persuasion, regardless of ethnic consideration, regardless of economic opportunity 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 what those opportunities are that take us further in this nation building journey.”
Guest Speaker of the Occasion and Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, spoke on the theme: ‘National Cohesion for growth and progress: The Nigeria dilemma.’ For those conversant with the scholarly cleric whose capacity to deliver intellectually on any issue is never in doubt, rose to the occasion and spoke to the issues.
Within a short time, guests were wrapped in thought and, at the end of the 20-minute presentation, rose to applaud him for precisely interpreting the myriad of challenges plaguing the nation’s dream of attaining cohesiveness for national growth.
Not discouraged by those who have always tagged him as someone engaged in speaking too many times on politics, the Bishop noted, “I think the actual thing that has been missing in our conversation about Nigeria, which speaks to the nature of the politics that we play is that our political affiliations and feelings are always so divisive that we end up living in little cubicles.
“Even those who vilified me in the past are now coming back to me to say Bishop all the things you said are all coming to pass, what did you see that we did not see and I told them that I did not see anything but I have a feeling that there are certain parameters that good governance has to meet”.
The erudite and irrepressible Bishop was quick to add that the conversation is not about the APC or President Muhammadu Buhari: “I don’t know but I think the critical pillar has to be the quality of the constitution that a country has. A constitution doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems but it offers us a moral pillar around which to hang debate and expectations.
“Nigerians are angrier now than they have always been but we painstakingly get nostalgic about the past and we think the past was better. Really, it was not that the past was better, we had less capacity to interrogate the system, we were less educated and now that we are better educated and we are travelling more and we are seeing more and Nigerians are rightly becoming inpatients, so the critical question for me is that the conversation we are having now are not new. The real challenge is the leadership with the right disposition”.
To Bishop Kukah, engaging in robust debate in improving our constitution remains the only option in promoting inclusiveness and cohesion. “What I am saying is that something as fundamental as the constitution, a debate and the issues that ought to form a kernel of our governance have never been subjected to intellectual rigour as required. We have never debated our constitution based on peculiarities”, the Bishop noted.
Until we are able to pull through the intellectual debates over matters, Bishop Kukah would always insist, understanding issues that confront our nation will continue to elude us as a people. He adds that no society can be cohesive and inclusive when it is ignorant of why poverty remains pervasive in a nation and injustice an operating button.
Subjecting the constitution to further debates in line with existing realities to confront challenges becomes an indispensable option. In summary, Kukah’s sees cohesion as a myth and impossibility as long as deeper issues of justice and equity are left unaddressed.
Kukah made it clear that there has never been any form of conflict between Christianity and Islam. What is contentious, the Bishop explains, is the rift created by politicians who whip up sentiments to achieve their selfish interests as demonstrated in the criminal partisanship as currently being displayed by those in the corridor of power.
Comrade Aremu disagreed with Bishop Kukah and notes that his paper is out of tune with the theme of the gathering. The former unionist noted: “In spite of the challenges and there are many challenges as we are actually building a nation and I think, guest speakers, discussants should help to bring inclusive narrative or exclusive, not divisive narratives.
“What is the lesson? I think it is time for us to amplify some of these successes as citizens. This is a time that Nigerian patriots must make proper discussions in a way that we can have proper dialogue. We should celebrate that we have gotten an uninterrupted democratic transition with all the shortcomings that come with it and for me this is the kind of narrative we should be bringing out.”
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, who was awarded the Gold prize for public service, appreciated the newspaper for honoring him. He told the guests that the commission welcomes constructive criticism and promises to do everything within its capacity to deliver on transparent polls.
The Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, also one of the awardees who received a gold prize in public service, reiterated the resolve of the Board in working harder for national development.
Governor Wike, who also received Gold Prize for exceptional leadership in public service, laments the manipulation of ethnicity and religion in frustrating the emergence of a cohesive nation for unity and development across ethnic and religious divides.
The Publisher of ‘ThisNigeria’ reminded the audience that the nominees for the awards have been carefully chosen to reflect transparency and integrity in public service. Osagie further noted that the newspapers shall continue to be the voice of all Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides. He vowed that the media outfit shall continue to focus on Nigeria and provide a platform for national discourse for an all-inclusive society founded on justice.
In a clear reference to the manner many media organisations that are now engaged in organising awards for prominent citizens and political office holders, the former Director General of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Prof. Tonnie Iredia, warned media platforms to be cautious of those they give awards to. As those who hold office holders accountable to the society, the media should not be giving awards to people that are undeserving of such awards.
Without doubt, the inaugural lecture by ‘ThisNigeria’ provided a platform to deepen the conversation on how best to rally citizens to ensure cohesion for national growth. The needless irritations thrown by Aremu may have elicited angry responses, but it was obvious that the message of the Guest Speaker was not lost as guests stood up for resounding applause.
While it remains a major challenge that yesterday’s critics once appointed into public offices automatically metamorphose into hailers, those in the corridors of power must be wary of these critics who readily turn into fawners in order to protect their appointments.