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Tension In Nigeria Caused By The Elite, Says Osinbajo

"When you hear a person say that my tribe has been marginalized usually what he is saying is appoint me. The ethnic card is an effective bargaining tool." "...when people are charged with looting public funds they quickly find a counter-narrative. It is because I am Yoruba, Fulani or Igbo; or the Christians or Muslims are after me."

The acting President, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo has blamed the resurgence of ethnoreligious agitation in the country on the elite class. The acting President said this on Friday at the graduation ceremony of Senior Course 39 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State.

In his speech at the event. Mr. Osinbajo said unity and disunity in Nigeria are promoted by the elite, who later conscript the vast majority of the Nigerians to whichever one they are pursuing.

The symptoms of disunity, he noted, have been bolder in the last few years, encouraging people to see identification in terms of race and geopolitical zones. This, he said, is threatening to leave a legacy of parochialism previously unknown.

"The rise of ethnic chauvinism rode on the wings of several agitations. The narrative of most agitations centers around alleged marginalization and fears of the dominance of one faith over the other.

In the 2015 elections, the ruling party repeatedly tried to cast the opposition as a party of Islamists determined to Islamize Nigeria. The expression "Janjaweed party" took root," stated the acting President. 

He noted that most ethnic agitations focus on getting a larger share of the national cake or more favoured placement in the food chain because they are essentially elite claims. According to Osinbajo, the majority of the populations of the ethnic groups that win some concession or the other hardly benefit.

"So, the mere fact that a South-South person became President did not necessarily translate to prosperity for the tribe, neither was it the case when a President from the North-West emerged, nor one from the South-West.Aside from a few individual beneficiaries of some appointments or the other, there is usually nothing to show for the ethnic group of those who emerge in Nigeria's numerous ethnic contests for power. Yet, the contests of the tribes are heightened by the elite, usually for personal political or commercial ends," Mr.Osinbajo observed.

He explained that when Nigerian politician says his ethnic group has been marginalized, what he is saying is that he needs to be given a government appointment, using the ethnic card as a bargaining tool.He warned that a major problem of ethnic chauvinism is related to the way it is used to mask wrongdoing and promote impunity.                            

"Notice that when people are charged with looting public funds, they quickly find a counter-narrative. It is because I am Yoruba, Fulani or Igbo or the Christians or Muslims are after me. Appointments in the public service are no longer even judged on merit. The question is how many are from my own ethnic group," he said.     Mr. Osinbajo described this as a terrible affliction that impedes merit in every facet of national life. He wondered why Nigerians do not care about the ethnic groups of the players in the country's football teams.                  

The most lethal of these afflictions, said the acting President, are hate-filled agitations for secession or autonomy, which he said has recently escalated through a reckless deployment of hate speech and the loud expressions of prejudice and hate, name calling of those of other ethnicities and faiths.        

He noted that more divisive words, expressions, and actions designed to cause fear have also been freely used.   

"Young people in the South-Eastern states, under the aegis of IPOB, issued a stay at home order as part of actions to prove support for their agitations for secession. In the Northern states young people under the aegis of the Arewa youths, issued an ultimatum to Igbos living in the Northern states to vacate before the 1st of October. The problem with hate-filled and divisive speech is that they tap into some of the basest human instincts, bringing up irrational suspicions, fear, anger, and hatred and ultimately mindless violence," said Mr. Osinbajo.

He recalled that the violent feelings that resulted in the Rwandan genocide were stirred by hate media, especially the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), which encouraged the public to phone-in and participate in radio broadcasts.

"Some of our youth groups urging secession already are deploying hate media, using radio and social media. The language on those media are inciting, provocative and insulting to the individuals who are named, and to the beliefs of others," said Mr.Osinbajo.

While maintaining that the country will remain committed to freedom of expression and the tenets of a free press, he warned that a line must be drawn between freedom that enhances the health of the country's democracy and that which endangers it

Mr. Osinbajo insisted that Nigeria must remain one because she is the pre-eminent power on the continent in terms of population, market size, natural resources and economy. Nigeria, he added, is a factor in world politics. Mr. Osinbajo explained that there were doubts about the viability of Italy and India as nations, as they were viewed as mere geographical expressions. 

"Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the often 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," disclosed Mr. Osinbajo.

He explained that Nigeria can overcome its current challenges and thrive like India. India, he said, has over the last couple of decades built itself into a technology and software powerhouse and has also made impressive strides in nuclear and space technology, thereby creating a counter-narrative to that of ethnic and religious division. Italy, he added, has made its mark in fashion and automobiles

"What the stories of these countries tell us is that we do not need to be a perfect union before we can be a great country and there is no better example of that than the United States of America – a country that thrives, not in spite of its diversity, but because of it. It is my respectful submission that the responsibility for a similar kind of greatness here in Nigeria lies in our hands as the country’s elite. We must rise above unproductive ethnic and religious sentiment," Mr. Osinbajo counseled. 

 He advised the Nigerians to develop the emotional intelligence required to cope and adapt in a constantly changing world and acquire a global mindset that seeks to learn from the experiences of other countries.

He cautioned against wars, which he noted have shredded Somalia, Syria, Yemen, the Central African Republic, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Contemporary wars, he observed, are extremely easy to start, but difficult to end.