Remarks By Acting President, Federal Republic Of Nigeria, His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, At A Consultative Meeting With State Governors Held At The Old Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja On June 21, 2017
“But there is a point where a line has to be drawn, and that is when conversations or agitations degenerate into hateful rhetoric, where the narrative descends into pejorative name-calling, expressions of outright prejudice and hatred”
First let me begin by thanking all of your Excellencies for making the time to come. This is the last but by no means the least of the consultations that I have been having along with the Service Chiefs and Ministers with several groups especially from the Northern States and the Southeast States.
We’ve had very fruitful and very frank discussions with the various groups and many of course have spoken about the various issues which concern them and we’ve more or less been able to come to some agreement as to common principles and if you like consensus, and I will come to that shortly.
But today’s meeting is one which I hope will be able to seal all of the discussions we’ve had with the different groups, with the traditional rulers, the leaders, the elders and I hope that we will be able to seal that because obviously the Governors are critical in this whole process and it’s impossible of course to get anything done or to even implement any of the ideas or suggestions we may have without your Excellencies being the primary movers of whatever it is that we agree to do.
I think that most will agree with me that important issues that we are faced with today are issues that center around unity in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and very diverse country. And as it’s always the case, we need to handle all of these issues carefully because at various times there are attempts to play up those fault lines.
There are attempts by various groups, individuals, sometimes by politicians to play up those fault lines and to create tension sometimes for purely selfish reasons but at other times for even genuine reasons. I think that it’s our duty as leaders, especially as elected leaders to really make a difference in the way that these conversations and interventions go.
In recent weeks, there have been some worrying agitations and expressions of discontent and I am sure we are all familiar with them.
We need not repeat the tensions that have been created; not only over questions of secession and those who have been agitating for secession in the Southeastern States and of course the response of some young people in the Northern States and ultimatums that have been issued saying that persons of Southeast origin should leave the North and those sort of agitations.
I think it’s important that these responses and counter-responses are put in the right perspective and that they are dealt with in a manner that enables us to be able to resolve the issues and go forward properly as a nation.
There is a part of all of these agitations and statements that are made that is fair and may well be considered as freedom of expression. Clearly, we are all allowed to express our views and there’s a part of this that is expected in any healthy and robust democracy: people arguing and disagreeing, sometimes stridently.
But there is a point where a line has to be drawn, and that is when conversations or agitations degenerate into hateful rhetoric, where the narrative descends into pejorative name-calling, expressions of outright prejudice and hatred.
We must at some point ensure that even in the use of words, we are careful especially because the kinds of problems that we’ve seen, the conflagration that we’ve seen all over the world, even in our own society starts by the use of words.
So, words can carry a lot of weight, and it so important that the responsible use of words, the responsible expression of dissent is taken as priority. We must not allow the careless use of words and expression that may degenerate into conflict and crisis.
Our constitution guarantees freedom of expression and we are a people who like to talk. We express to ourselves very loudly, in an agitated fashion in some cases. But it is important for us to recognize that it is those same words that can cause conflagration, alarm and can ultimately lead to calamity. We must be careful with the way we express ourselves.
What we have been seeing in recent times, and this is what has brought a lot of the concern, is that some of the language and expressions that have been used have tended to degenerate very badly and we must begin to speak up against some of these things and ensure that we protect our democracy and nation from the kinds of rhetoric that may not just divide us but ultimately result in a great deal of trouble.
I think that from all of the consultations we’ve had, all agree on certain principles; the first is that we’re all agreed that Nigeria’s unity should never be taken for granted, and that no one wants to see Nigeria going down the path of bloodshed. There is clarity as to that from all the conversations and consultations we’ve had with all of the leaders.
We also agreed on the primacy of the Nigerian Constitution, that this is the ultimate basis for our unity. The 1999 Constitution is the basis upon which we were elected into office and the basis for the legal contract which exist between all of us as citizens of this country not only amongst ourselves but also with our nation.
The Constitution guarantees the equality of all Nigerians before the law, and their freedom to live and work anywhere in the country, in peace and safety, without fear of discrimination or prejudice.