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“We are greater together than apart” – Read Ag. President Osinbajo’s Speech at #Biafra50 Forum

BellaNaija.com

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Acting President Yemi Osinbajo speaking at the #Biafra50 forum today

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has called on Nigerians not to focus exclusively on the narratives of division at the expense of uplifting and inspiring ones.

Osinbajo made this known at the forum “Biafra: 50 Years After” which held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja on Thursday.

“We are greater together than apart,” the law professor said, adding “Our argument is not that we should ‘forget the past’ or let ‘bygones be bygones’. Our strength is in our diversity.”

Recalling the civil war which began in 1967, Osinbajo said: “I recall distinctly how in 1967, passing in front of my home, almost every hour were trucks in an endless stream heading East. Some never returned. Many died. As we reflect on that event today, we must ask ourselves the same questions that many who have fought or been victims of civil wars ask. The truth is that the spilling of blood in dispute, is hardly ever worth the losses.”

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo was the guest of honour at the event which had former Permanent Secretary, Information, Education & Industry Ahmed Joda as Chairman.

Ahmed Joda (left) Former Permanent Secretary, Information, Education & Industry, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo (2nd left), Olusegun Obasanjo.

Read his full speech titled “We are Greater Together than Apart: Biafra – 50 Years After”

Introspection is probably what separates us from beasts. That ability to learn from history is perhaps the greatest defense from the avoidable pain of learning from experience, when history is a much gentler and kinder teacher. Indeed, the saying experience is the best teacher, is incomplete, the full statement of that Welsh adage is that experience is the best teacher for a fool. History is a kinder and gentler teacher.

I was ten years old when my friend in primary school then, Emeka, left school one afternoon. He said his parents said they had to go back to East, war was about to start. I never saw Emeka again. My aunty Bunmi was married to a gentleman from Enugu, I cannot recall his name. But I recall the evening when my parents tried to persuade her and her husband not to leave for the East. She did, we never saw her again.

I recall distinctly how in 1967, passing in front of my home on Ikorodu road almost every hour were trucks carrying passengers and furniture in an endless stream heading east. Many Ibos who left various parts of Nigeria, left friends, families and businesses, schools and jobs. Like my friend and aunty some never returned! But many died. The reasons for this tragic separation of brothers and sisters were deep and profound. So much has been said and written already about the “why’s and wherefores’’ and that analyses will probably never end.

This is why I would rather not spend this few minutes on whether there was or was not sufficient justification for secession and the war that followed. The issue is whether the terrible suffering, massive loss of lives, of hopes and fortunes of so many can ever be justified.

As we reflect on this event today, we must ask ourselves the same question that many who have fought or been victims in civil wars, wars between brothers and sisters ask in moments of reflection…. “what if we had spent all the resources, time and sacrifice we put into the war, into trying to forge unity? What if we had decided not to seek to avenge a wrong done to us? What if we had chosen to overcome evil with good?’”

The truth is that the spilling of blood in dispute is hardly ever worth the losses. Of the fallouts of bitter wars is the anger that can so easily be rekindled by those who for good or ill want to resuscitate the fire. Today some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed. They say that secession is the answer to the charges of marginalization. They argue that separation from the Nigerian State will ultimately result in successful smaller States. They argue eloquently, I might add that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure.

This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic, and has sometimes degenerated to fatal violence. Brothers and sisters permit me to differ and to suggest that we’re greater together than apart.

No country is perfect; around the world we have seen and continue to see expressions of intra-national discontent. Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a “mere geographical expression” originally applied to Italy. It was the German statesman Klemens von Metternich who dismissively summed up Italy as a mere geographical expression exactly a century before Nigeria came into being as a country. From Spain to Belgium to the United Kingdom and even the United States of America, you will find many today who will venture to make similar arguments about their countries. But they have remained together.

The truth is that many, if not most nations of the world are made up of different peoples and cultures and beliefs and religions, who find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Nations are indeed made up of many nations. The most successful of the nations of the world are those who do not fall into the lure of secession. But who through thick and thin forge unity in diversity.

Nigeria is no different; we are, not three, but more like three hundred or so ethnic groups within the same geographical space, presented with a great opportunity to combine all our strengths into a nation that is truly, to borrow an expression, more than the sum of its parts.

Let me say that there is a solid body of research that shows that groups that score high on diversity turn out to be more innovative than less diverse ones. There’s also research showing that companies that place a premium on creating diverse workplaces do better financially than those who do not. This applies to countries just as much as it does to companies. The United States is a great example, bringing together an impressively diverse cast of people together to consistently accomplish world-conquering economic, military and scientific feats.

It is possible in Nigeria as well. Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together as countrymen and women, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and in unity.

That, in a sense, should be the Nigerian Dream — the enthusiasm to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it, a country that does not discriminate, or marginalize in any way. We are not there yet, but I believe we have a strong chance to advance in that direction. But that will not happen if we allow our frustrations and grievances to transmute into hatred. It will not happen if we see the media — television and radio and print and especially social media — as platforms for the propagation of hateful and divisive rhetoric. No one stands to benefit from a stance like that; we will all emerge as losers.

Clearly our strength is in our diversity, that we are greater together than apart. Imagine for a moment that an enterprising young man from Aba had to apply for a visa to travel to Kano to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams, or that a young woman from Abeokuta had to fill immigration forms and await a verdict in order to attend her best friend’s wedding in Umuahia. Nigeria would be a much less colourful, much less interesting space, were that the case. Our frustrations with some who speak a different dialect or belong to a different religion must not drive us to forget many of the same tribe and faith of our adversaries who have shown true affection for us.

My God-son is Somkele Awakalu, his father Awa Kalu, SAN, and I taught at the University of Lagos. My first book was dedicated to Somkele and my two other God-children. Chief Emmanuel Dimike is almost 80, he was my father’s friend and business associate in his sawmills in Lagos. Chief has been like a father. I see him most Sundays, he worships with me at the chapel.

The individual affections and friendships we forge some even deeper than family ties, must remind us that unity is possible, that brotherhood across tribes and faiths is possible.

Let me make it clear that I fully believe that Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreement are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognize and acknowledge that necessity. And today’s event is along those lines — an opportunity not merely to commemorate the past, but also to dissect and debate it. Let’s ask ourselves tough questions about the path that has led us here, and how we might transform yesterday’s actions into tomorrow’s wisdom.

Indeed our argument is not and will never be that we should ‘forget the past’, or ‘let bygones be bygones’, as some have suggested. Chinua Achebe repeatedly reminded us of the Igbo saying that a man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. If we lose the past, we will inevitably lose the opportunity to make the best of the present and the future.

In an interview years ago, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, explaining why he didn’t think a second Biafran War should happen, said: “We should have learnt from that first one, otherwise the deaths would have been to no avail; it would all have been in vain.”

We should also be careful that we do not focus exclusively on the narratives of division, at the expense of the uplifting and inspiring ones. The same social media that has come under much censure for its propensity to propagate division, has also allowed multitudes of young Nigerians to see more of the sights and sounds of their country than ever before.

And for every young Nigerian who sees the Internet as an avenue for spewing ethnic hatred, there is another young Nigerian who is falling in love or doing business across ethnic and cultural lines; a young Nigerian who looks back on his or her NYSC year in unfamiliar territory as one of the valued highlights of their lifetime. These stories need to be told as well. They are the stories that remind us that the journey to nationhood is not an event but a process, filled as with life itself with experiences some bitter, some sweet. The most remarkable attribute of that process is that a succeeding generation does not need to bear the prejudices and failures of the past.

Every new generation can take a different and more ennobling route than its predecessors. But the greatest responsibility today lies on the leadership of our country. Especially but not only political leadership.

The promise of our constitution which we have sworn to uphold is that we would ensure a secure, and safe environment for our people to live, and work in peace, that we would provide just and fair institutions of justice. That we would not permit or encourage discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, beliefs or other parochial considerations. That we would build a nation where no one is oppressed and none is left behind.

These are the standards to which we must hold our leadership. We must not permit our leaders the easy but dangerous rhetoric of blaming our social and economic conditions on our coming together. It is their duty to give us a vision a pathway to make our unity in diversity even more perfect.

Photo Credit: Presidency

21 Comments

  1. Obzzz

    May 25, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    …and the wise have spoken!

  2. Da Don Akaolisa

    May 25, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Let me make it clear that Ap. OSINBAJO is the BEST LEADER our country has seen since this 21st century and if not since the inception of our country. This man to me is a GREATER version of Obama. We must let him know that we appreciate him!

    • Jade Edo babe

      May 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

      Osinbajo is a good leader, I like him. Tribalism is a problem but corruption, poor leadership runs across Nigeria. All tribes steal and are corrupt. . But I will say enough of these northerners who are so backward and use their evil religion to cover up. They don’t believe in advancement, building a better country. The north is so underdeveloped but the country’s stolen money lies among them. It says a lot about their mindset.
      We haven’t heard about Buhari, is he still alive?

  3. Ethio

    May 25, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    My president in every way, United we must remain

  4. jennietobbie

    May 25, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    MR. PRESIDENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. nwa nna

    May 25, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    Diversity can be a great strength if the country knows and understands how to harness its powers. However, in country like Nigeria where everything is divided down the line lines of tribal & religious sentiments, it becomes a challenge.
    Mr. VP has spoken like a true intellect, but in a country like Nigeria, intellectualism doesn’t work, unfortunately!
    You only need to read through BN comments to see the microcosm of the Nigerian society at large.

    • A Real Nigerian

      May 25, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      So what are you saying?

  6. Ijebujesha

    May 25, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    Very sound speech. But talk is cheap, reality is reality. Reality is that the Hausa-Fulanis will continue to drag this union behind. The rest of Nigeria can live together in peace and progress but for them.And there have also been many diversed nations that have come to the conclusion that living together as one would be counter-productive. India (now India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and one other country I cant recall), Old USSR also broke into several countries. To tell it as it is does not equate to spewing hatred, it is spewing reality.

    • E

      May 25, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      Yugoslavia

    • Yorubas are pretenders

      May 26, 2017 at 7:49 am

      My dear, the yorubas are actually the problem. Slimy, hypocritical bunch.

      Leave the Hausas with the SE and SS and everyone will respect themselves because we will not take rubbish.

      The yorubas pretend to be intellectuals while the hate they have for the Igbos is glaring. They are the reason we are in this mess, throwing their weight behind GMB just because of their hatred of the ibos. Their myopic minds couldn’t allow them recognize that GEJ was an Ijaw man. Let no body tell me they thought GMB was a better option because it would mean the yorubas are actually stupid with poor decision making skills.

      Now they want to force Osibanjo on us. GMB must rule till 2019.
      I used to believe in one Nigeria but 2015 changed me now I can’t stand the tribe of uncouth, lazy people called Yorubas.

      The Northerners have always been the devil we know

  7. Chinaka Moses

    May 26, 2017 at 1:57 am

    We have taken our stand. We don’t want federation any more with Nigeria. We want complete separation through a referendum supervise by United Nations. All we are asking is a peaceful separation from Nigeria.

  8. Difuse

    May 26, 2017 at 5:56 am

    what is being done’ about the barbaric threat of Islamic terrorism in the north ??! is our country to see the days of Sudan and Mali!

    Nigerians need get serious and look past 50 years ahead of her future. This isn’t some sort of British sponsored Club. This is a nation with history & cultural heritage. You all saw what those Jihadist did to Mallian cultural sights upon sight! abeg joor. the yorobanis are happily shacking up with the Hausa’s and the Muslim spreading .. #WEWANTOUT!

  9. Kayode Fakinlede

    May 26, 2017 at 6:01 am

    Our VP has spoken eloquently and said it all. I happen to live in both Nigeria and the US. Everytime I am in the US, I see the level of disaffection that exist among the different racial groups in the country.. It is immense. However, I have never heard of any American saying he wants the nation divided . They have fought battles and wars to keep their nation together. The reality is that things are not as bad in Nigeria as many want us to believe.
    As a matter of fact , Nigeria is a more blessed nation than most. We will have differences but let us remove the issue of separetion from the table. It only delimits our potentials to face a brighter future together.
    God bless our Vice President
    God bless Nigeria

    • Lacey

      May 26, 2017 at 8:41 am

      @ Kayode Fakindele The Carlxit and Texit! Please let’s not come here to display ignorance!!! Even as at 2 days ago Afenifere was talking about separation from the North!!! I am for Nigeria’s unity, but with how the North thinks it’s their right to rule and how the Yoruba’s have always betrayed Nigerians! I guess both, the North and the West can stay together, at least what need is a quiet separation, no need to kill anyone, they can go with Lagos and Abuja, we don’t really care, we will start building again, as it’s not by force to stay together!!! The $7bn they want to borrow from China and Workdbank is going to be sunk into projects in the North East and the West ,leaveing the South and East with nothing to show for years of bleeding the people in that region dry!!! It’s not a war, a revolution or a mind set!!! The dire is cast!!! To your tent ⛺️ right now!!!!

    • Omeudo

      May 26, 2017 at 11:15 am

      Kayode u are not telling yourself any truth!

      Why is it dt Nigeria only fight for the unity of Nigerians But never fight for the peace of Nigerians?
      As you said that u lived in America…have you ever seen Newyork people killing Taxes or Carifonia people? That’s why u never hear separaction from them!
      Injustice arises when equals are treated unequally!
      Everyone of biafrans wants to live as one Nigeria if and only if …justice…equity and fairness is involved!!!
      If people like you can boldly condemn the killings and Injustice to igbo people…then United will stand!
      As we claimed to be one Nigeria….but .no single international airport…sea port…or embassy in biafranland! And we are one Nigeria!!!
      Nigeria borrow billions from China to construct railway line which biafrans and other Nigerians will collectively pay back but biafran land was not included in the plan…who is fooling who!
      Thousands of Injustice to them are not mentioned here which u and I knows about!
      So with such ill-treatment how do you expect them to feel happy in Nigeria?
      If you have conscience reason what biafrans are passing through in Nigeria and judge by urself!
      Finally for justice to prevail…Nigeria must address the issue dt brought about biafra… or let them go!
      If nigeria hate biafrans why should they love to live together with them!
      Tnk u.

  10. ANGRY ME

    May 26, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I sight no Biafran represented here.

  11. Victor

    May 26, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Our able acting President,thanks for bringing this message to our generation,but we the youths,we are not happy the way things is going.

  12. LettyandMoon

    May 26, 2017 at 9:31 am

    I still blame Nnamdi Azikiwe

  13. Omeudo

    May 26, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Why is it dt Nigeria only fight for the unity of Nigerians But never fight for the peace of Nigerians?
    Boko Haram are killing people here and there! Federal government are doing nothing…rather they pay them…herdsmen are destroying killing..raping women…no single arrest…pastors wife was beheaded…victims were set free!
    Niger delta blow up their land pipeline and no body was killed federal government deployed different forces to kill them…

    Biafrans protesting peacefully the same federal government who kept claim towards herdsmen killings went ahead to shoot them… Is that how to practice one Nigeria?
    Osibanjo should address the main issue of biafrans not running around the bush!

    Injustice arises when equals are treated unequally!
    Everyone of biafrans wants to live as one Nigeria if and only if …justice…equity and fairness is involved!!!
    If people like the VP can boldly condemn the killings and Injustice to igbo people…and do right thing ..then United will stand!

    As we claimed to be one Nigeria….but .no single international airport…sea port…or embassy in biafranland! And we are one Nigeria!!!
    Nigeria borrow billions from China to construct railway line which biafrans and other Nigerians will collectively pay back but biafran land was not included in the plan…who is fooling who!

    Thousands of Injustice to Biafrans are not mentioned here which u and I knows about!
    So with such ill-treatment how do you expect them to feel happy in Nigeria?

    If have conscience let’s reason what biafrans are passing through in Nigeria and judge by urself!
    Finally for justice to prevail…Nigeria must address the issue dt brought about biafra… or let them go!
    If nigeria hate biafrans why should they love to live together with them.
    Tnk u

  14. Peaches77

    May 27, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    We all better start telling ourselves the truth!
    I have been saying this on Belle Naija; southern Nigeria wake up! Common!

  15. john

    May 27, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Someone wrote:Please share widely !!!!A Yoruba friend asked me: Under what conditions would you support “One Nigeria” and let go of the Biafra agitation and let it diedown and finally laid to rest for good?Here was my response:1. Close down Lagos ports and Open up PH,Calabar, Onitsha and Warri ports.2. Cancel all direct and major connecting flights to Lagos and Abuja airports only local connecting flights will be allowed. While this is being done, open up Enugu, Owerri, Asaba, Uyo and PH to international flights direct and major connecting flights.3. Ask all international and diplomatic missions to move their embassies and consulates from Lagos, Kano and Abuja to Enugu, PH and Calabar.4. All federal governments’ agencies in Lagos and Abuja shall be relocated to Enugu, PH and Calabar. CBN, NNPC, e.t.c shall and must relocate to PH, Calabar and Enugu.5. All multinational companies in Lagos and Abuja, shall and must relocate their offices to PH, Calabar and Enugu.6.All oil companies must relocate their head offices to PH, as the oil capital of Nigeria.7. Let the northern children gain admission into federal schools with 300 score points while the South Eastern Children should gain admission with only 20 score points .8. Let all federal road projects in the North/SW should be handled by one local companies and the one in the SE/SS should be handled by Julius Berger and foreign construction companies.If these conditions can be fulfilled and implemented for 50years , we can try one Nigeria and let see if you the North and SW will like it for a month…Meaning, Yorubas and Hausas needing to get international visas shall travel to PH, Calabar or Enugu to do that. Same with flying or connecting flights, same with shipping and importing their goods, etc., etc.The Yoruba friend replied: You can’t be serious, this is wickedness and I said…Really? Don’t you think South Eastern part ofNigeria have been suffering and enduring this very same wickedness for over 50 yrs?He was quiet for a few seconds and said: Wow, you are right but it never occurred to me. I said, that’s the problem with One Nigeria, those who are benefiting from it, love it and would love to maintain the status quo.Let each region develop at her own pace, with Airport, Seaports, industries, major projects open to be developed in any part of Nigeria without government interference or strangulation due to tribalism and nepotism!Let Nigeria be fair to ALL irrespective of tribe, religion, and place of birth.Let there be true federalism and resources control, with the elimination of quota systemand federalism character in Nigeria.Let’s have equal respect for one another irrespective of where the person is coming from in Nigeria.That is what Biafra agitation is all about.

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