President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday canvassed the need for Nigeria to remain as an indivisible entity despite its diversity, saying that way, it will be a better and stronger nation.
The president also dismissed agitation for breaking up Nigeria and restated his administration’s commitment to keeping the country as one.
Buhari, in a speech he delivered virtually at a colloquium in Kano to mark the 69th birthday anniversary of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, described the celebrant as a consistent advocate of unity and cohesion in the country.
Like the president, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje; and Tinubu also harped on the need for unity and national integration.
Buhari said: “Despite occasional inter-ethnic tensions in our national history, it seems to me that we have all agreed on one point that, notwithstanding our diversity of ethnicity, culture, language and religion, Nigerians are better together; even stronger together.”
According to him, his experience of working in all parts of the country showed possibilities of a strong, united nation.
“I can also relate personally to the ideals of one Nigeria. As a military officer, I have served with great comrades from all the nooks and crannies of our country. I have seen over and over again that their goodness or failings did not depend on ethnicity or religion. In the course of my career, I have also been opportune to serve in all parts of Nigeria, seeing first-hand, the enticing possibilities of a strong, united nation,” he said.
He referred to the civil war in which he fought as a young officer and commander and warned of the horrors of war.
“I fought for the unity of Nigeria during the civil war of 1967 to 1970, and I saw first-hand the unspeakable horrors of war, not just on fellow soldiers on both sides, but on the civilians: innocent children, women and elderly citizens that they left behind,” he recounted, adding: “As we all know, the peace-building, recovery and reconstruction that followed could also not have succeeded under an atmosphere of inter-ethnic animosity.”
Buhari asked Nigerians to count their blessings and see in them the crucial factors of peace and unity.
According to him, “Our very best course of conduct both as leaders and citizens is to now ensure that justice and harmony reign in Nigeria till we devote the resources of our country solely for its development and benefits of our citizens and, in the process, ensure that every Nigerian feel comfortable in every part of Nigeria.
“We all have a stake in the Nigerian project and while playing our respective parts in its unity, peace and progress, we must constantly keep faith with the promise of a greater Nigeria.”
Buhari paid tribute to Tinubu, saying he has been a consistent politician since he ventured into politics during the aborted Third Republic.
He said: “This has been a constant factor in his outstanding political career, from the time he served in the short-lived Senate of the Third Republic to his involvement in the struggle for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate of the late Chief MKO Abiola, to his much-acclaimed period of service as governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007.
“The ranks of Asiwaju’s political collaborators, whether as party members, comrades in the struggle, members of his cabinet, or his advisers, assistants and political associates have always reflected a pan-Nigeria attitude. I believe all of us here can also confirm that the same outlook of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and other like-minded Nigerians eventually made possible the coalition of four political parties into what we now see as our great party, the All Progressives Congress.”
He noted that the objectives of the 12th edition of the annual colloquium, which seeks to provide answers to national issues, reflect the personal principles of Tinubu in promoting the unity and welfare of the country.
He stated that the colloquium is a fitting reflection of the service that Tinubu has given, not only to Lagos State but to Nigeria and Africa; as well as his continuing commitment and influence, as one of the great pillars of the APC.
Buhari also gave kudos to all those who have kept the colloquium culture alive, making it a rich source of wisdom in the common quest for a better world and a greater Nigeria.
Osinbajo urged those calling for Nigeria to break up to have a rethink, saying that now is an opportunity to increase the number of a new tribe of men and women of all faiths, ethnicities committed to a country run on high values of integrity, hard work, justice, and love of country.
He said the new tribe of people should consist of professionals, businessmen, politicians, religious leaders and all others who believe that the new Nigeria is possible.
He warned that if Nigeria breaks up, visas may be needed to travel to places like Kano.
The vice president said: ”For the purveyors of breaking-up into small components, into small countries, perhaps they should be reminded that we would not have been able to accept Governor Ganduje’s offer to come to Kano at a short notice since we would all have needed visas to come to Kano.
”We are here today to engage at another of those crucial points in our national journey at a time when a combination of challenges worsened by the fallouts of a global pandemic has created a storm of socio-economic problems. The default mode of some at times like this is to stoke tendencies viewpoints and opinions that threaten the federation and our unity.
”Our theme focuses on peacebuilding and national cohesion. We intend to interrogate from a national and regional perspective innovative strategies for sustaining peace, and prosperity in a heterogeneous society.”
The vice president said the initial plan was to hold a virtual event but Ganduje offered to host a physical one to run alongside the virtual one.
“By this gesture, Governor Ganduje has helped us to tell two stories; this is the first time that the colloquium is being hosted outside Lagos and Abuja, the [federal] capital city. And it is befitting that Kano should be that place, this city of radical and progressive ideas and ideologies, a city whose leading political lights have been left off the centre, which is the dominant tendency within our great part, the APC,” he stated.
Osinbajo eulogised Tinubu for his leadership style.
“Tinubu has become an institution in the country because he has paid his dues politically and has continued to do both in-kind and action,” he stated.
According to him, Tinubu’s leadership style is such that he is comfortable engaging across ethnic, religious, and partisan divides.
In his remarks, Tinubu stressed the need for peaceful co-existence among Nigerians and praised Ganduje for championing the cause of national cohesion by allowing his daughter to marry a Yoruba.
Ganduje’s daughter, Fatima, is married to Abolaji, the son of a former governor of Oyo State, the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi.
According to him, for Ganduje, a Fulani man to give out his daughter to a Yoruba man was an indication of his belief in Nigeria’s unity.
He said Nigerians are better off together, faulting secessionists groups’ agitations.
He said: “Why are we in Kano? It is to demonstrate to Nigerians at this critical time. It is because there is a Fulani man, a herder man who gave his daughter to a farmer, Yoruba man. And that Fulani, that Yoruba and some people are agitating wrongly.
“If we can encourage support to go and spend a couple of days with my brother an in-law in Kano and demonstrate that he has not quarrelled with me, he has not seceded from Nigeria, I didn’t need a passport or visa to get to Kano, maybe others will have peace of conscience, live in peace and harmony and be loving to one another. That is what Ganduje and I are showing to Nigerians and that is the purpose of this colloquium.”
Tinubu also urged Buhari and the National Assembly to end austerity measures and introduce stimulus expenditure.
He cited the recent stimulus package by the United States to reflate its economy in view of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world and also lamented Nigeria’s unemployment rate.
“Your own unemployment rate is 33 per cent and you ask us to keep on fasting. The one we are fasting spiritually is involuntary. We have been fasting for so many years,” he said.
He added that since sovereignty belongs to Nigeria, only the federal government has the sovereign power and must use it to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.
The celebrator also called on the government to employ more youths in the security sector.
“We are under-policed and are competing with armed robbers and bandits to recruit from the youths who are unemployed.”
Tinubu advised the Federal Government to recruit at least 50 million youths into the Army to aid the fight against insecurity.
“Recruit 50 million youths into the army,” he stated, adding that “what they will eat – cassava, corn, yam, will grow here.”
He said the recruitment process should not emphasise education or literacy but willingness to fight criminals.
“Don’t call them illiterate; anybody that can handle guns is capable of handling tractors on the farm. We can create the jobs,” he said.
Ganduje said national integration was low and called on Nigerians to rededicate themselves to national unity.
“The theme of this year’s colloquium has exposed the level of national integration. The level of national integration is very low if a study would be conducted. It is a challenge to the politicians, elites and even ordinary Nigerians to come together to strive for national integration,” Ganduje said.
The governor stated that unless Nigerians are committed to change the situation, tribalism, religion, ethnicity, sectionalism, suspicion, among others, would bring the country down.
Ganduje commended Buhari for his commitment to keeping Nigeria peaceful and united, noting that the president could not do it alone as he needed the cooperation and support of all the citizens.