Tribalism, religious sentiment, hate speech, fake news have been identified as factors threatening the existence of Nigeria.
This was the submission of discussants at the 26th Pre-Ramadan Lecture organised by the University of Lagos Muslim Alumni (UMA).
Dissecting the theme, ‘Though Tribe and Tongue May Differ: Interrogating Nigeria’s Nationhood’, the eminent scholars and stakeholders called on Nigerians to uphold the unity of the country.
They also arrived at a conclusion that, neither religion nor ethnicity could move the country forward and united, admitting that only a united country could be of greater advantage to the citizenry.
The scholars who spoke at the virtual event held on Sunday April 11, were Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; former Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Alhaji Lateef Okunnu (SAN); former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Usman Bugaje and a Political Economist and Founder, Centre for Value in Leadership, Prof. Pat Utomi among others
Alhaji Mohammed said his ministry realized in 2017 that fake news and hate speech were threatening the unity of the country, hence, organised a National Council and Information Summit to discuss it.
His words: “We followed it up in 2018 by launching Campaign Against Hate Speech. We know it is not limited to Nigeria, but we have tried to sensitise Nigerians about the danger of hate speech and fake news”.
Chairman on the occasion, Alhaji Okunnu, said the country has never been this divided on ethnicity lines as being witnessed in the country today.
According to him, there was no case of ethnicity in the history of Nigeria, but today, it has been injected into the politics by some elements for their personal gains and attempt to break up the country.
While citing examples of leaders who have governed the country in different capacities, Alhaji Okunnu said, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe became influential in the country without promoting ethnicity.
“We knew nothing about ethnicity when I was born, regardless of our origin. When I was growing up as a schoolboy, I followed politics before I clocked ten. I read newspapers in the restroom.
“Ethnicity could not divide us. In fairness to Awolowo, he did not use Egbe Omo Oduduwa to govern the Southwest. Nnamdi did not use Igbo Union to govern when he was the Premier and same for Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello. The Nigeria I grew up in premised on unity. We must not allow ethnicity to divide us,” he lamented.
Dr. Bugaje, stated that competency should be the driving force that can take Nigeria to a greater height, reasoning that, national consensus is a panacea to the issues arising from conflict.
Bugaje therefore urged the ruling class and elite to focus attention on the next generation as statesmen think of their next generation.
“The issues ahead of us are that of food, education, employment and infrastructure.
How can we be competitive in all of these to grow our economy? We need to put policies in place to help us re-orientate Nigerians through the National Orientation Agency (NOA), to change people’s mindset of hatred and animosity,” he said.
Prof. Utomi reminded Nigerians that permanent crisis stalls development and that there’s no action without theory.
“And there cannot be development if we are not thinking things through. It makes us make mountains out of molehills. In our country, we seem unable to have rational public conversations because we are captives of emotions. And we have a moral duty to elevate our country beyond what we have currently.
“As it is, Nigeria is travelling in the wrong direction and leadership will determine the commitment we give to education. Knowledge and sense of service are required to have quality leadership as the Nigerian state is captured. We must rethink our democracy,” he advised.
The Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof. Afiz Oladosu identified the various challenges confronting the nation and called for a guided restructuring.
UMA’s President, Alhaji Shuaib Salis reminded everyone of the fact that Nigeria has been a blessing to humanity.
“In solving South Africa’s apartheid and other nations’ crises, we are always there to play positive roles; though we have issues that we need to fix, not break up but fix the gaps,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, commended the leadership of UMA and all members for the great initiative and impact.
He promised to continue to support every move to take the University forward while praying for peace in UNILAG and the whole country.
National Orientation Agency (NOA) Director-General, Dr Garba Abari gave a rundown of activities of the agency in curtailing hate speech and fake news.
Dr Abari said the agency has advocacy programmes to sensitise community and traditional rulers.
According to him, NOA has visited 88 higher institutions to engage the youth to cultivate good values.
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