Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Tuesday assured Nigerians that the federal government would address the grievances being expressed by the different ethnic nationalities in the country.
Osinbajo equally said that the government was not deaf to such genuine demands, but counselled that every demand should be expressed graciously and managed with mutuality rather than with scorn and disdain.
Osinbajo’s promise to Nigerian came on the heels of a similar one by Senate President Bukola Saraki who has asked citizens to submit petitions against all forms of injustice to the Senate, promising them that their grievances will be thoroughly investigated.
The acting president made this remark while giving a summary of his recent consultations with leaders of thought, traditional and religious rulers from the South-east and North over their respective agitations for secession and the quit notice to Igbos in the North, governors and media executives.
He recalled that “the meetings were convened to provide a platform for frank and open discussions between the concerned stakeholders and by extension the Nigerian public on issues relating to the unity, peace and security of country”.
According to a statement by his media aide, Mr. Laolu Akande, the acting president said the government would “continue to actively engage with different segments of the Nigerian population at different stages and format in the near future”.
He added: “The meetings were convened to provide a platform for frank and open discussions between the concerned stakeholders and by extension, the Nigerian public on issues relating to the unity, peace and security of country.
“The meetimgs touched on various issues relating to the ethnic agitations that have manifested most recently in a call for secession by some groups of youth from the South-east, and an ultimatum by Northern youths for south-easterners living in the North to leave the region by 1st October 2017.
“The meetings established common grounds on a number of issues, as follows: condemned all the hateful and divisive rhetoric by the concerned groups of Northern and Southeastern youths.
“Affirmed the primacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the ultimate basis for the unity of Nigeria. That Constitution guarantees freedom of residence and of movement for all Nigerians anywhere in the country, without fear of discrimination or prejudice.
“Affirmed the need to draw a line between the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution and the degeneration of such expression into hateful rhetoric, prejudice and hatred. Under no circumstances will government condone or tolerate hate speech in any way or form.
“Affirmed the necessity of confronting all grievances and frustrations head-on, however uncomfortable that might seem now; instead of ignoring issues and allowing them to fester.
“Affirmed the need for all leaders and elders, regardless of political or ideological persuasion, to speak out more forcefully to counter divisive and hate speech and any form of warmongering.”
The statement added that Osinbajo expressed appreciation to all the leaders for their time and commitment to the unity, peace and progress of the Nigerian nation.
It added: “He also assures the Nigerian people of the determination and resolve of the Buhari administration to ensure their well-being and security at all times.
“The federal government will continue to actively engage with Nigerians of all shades and opinions in its bid to move the country forward on a path of socio-economic development and ultimate greatness.”
Akande recalled that the acting president at the consultative meetings cautioned that “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”.
He further quoted Osinbajo as stating: “We are not deaf to the legitimate concerns and frustrations arising from around the country. Every part of Nigeria has its own grievances.
“But these have to be expressed graciously and managed with mutuality rather than with scorn and disdain.
“All of us have agreed that our nation must remain one… I think that there is clarity as to that one thing, that our country ought to remain, must remain, a united country.
“It will be wrong of us to approach our grievances by threatening to disobey the laws or by threatening the integrity of our nation.
“I firmly believe that we ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively. Burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storms to blow over of their own accord is not an option.
“One thing is clear – violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. They are easy to start but near impossible to end.
“We are witnesses to the unspeakable devastation that war continues to inflict across the world. No one who has seen the horrors of war – even merely on television – would wish it on their worst enemy.
“Our emotions must not be allowed to run wild in such a way as to endanger the lives of so many.”
Also, Saraki yesterday urged Nigerians to submit petitions against all forms of injustice to the Senate, assuring them that their grievances would be investigated and addressed.
Saraki, speaking in a video interview published on the official twitter handle of the Senate, @NGRSenate, said the Eighth Senate was committed to addressing all petitions brought before it.
He added that it was necessary that Nigerians were aware that they could get justice through the parliament by submitting their petitions through the lawmakers representing them.
“We represent Nigerians, we are voted for that. The difference between democracy and military rule is the parliament. In my constituency, Kwara Central, if anybody feels there has been injustice against him anywhere in the system, it is me that he comes to and says you are representing me, fight for me, these are my issues,” Saraki said.
The Senate President, in the video, which was less than two minutes long, added that the Eighth Senate has already been at the forefront of addressing all forms of injustice against Nigerians with the finalisation of 70 petitions in the two years of its existence.
This number, Saraki noted, was more than the total number of petitions addressed by some of the preceding assemblies.
“Over the years, nobody attended to as many petitions but we have treated 70-something petitions in two years. I know a Senate that treated only five petitions. So there is an avenue now for Nigerians to go to if they feel there has been injustice,” he said.
He cited the example of a petition addressed by the Senate: “We had a gentleman who was unfairly relieved of his duties in one of the agencies. He then died, the widow was left in anguish for so many years,” he said, adding that the matter was eventually brought to the Senate’s attention through a petition.
The Senate heard the petition and directed the agency in question to pay the late man’s entitlements, including death benefits to his widow and the children, Saraki recalled.
With this, the widow was able to start a business to support the family, he added.
“That is what we are here for, those are the opportunities we create, Nigerians should know that there is somewhere they can run to so that they can get justice individually or collectively or as a community,” the Senate President added.