We must not allow ethnicity to divide us, say speakers at UMA lecture

THE University of Lagos Muslim Alumni (UMA) has urged Nigerians to shun the idea of prioritising ethnicity, tribalism and religion over competency, describing it as a threat to national development.

Speaking during the 26th pre-Ramadan lecture of the UMA themed ‘Though Tribe and Tongue May Differ: Interrogating Nigeria’s Nationhood’, a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr Usman Bugaje, stated that competency in governance was the only force that could take Nigeria to a greater height.

Bugaje urged the ruling class and the elite to be statesmanlike by focusing attention on protecting the interest of the next generation.

“The issues ahead of us are those of food, education, employment, infrastructure. How can we be competitive in all of these to grow our economy?

“We need to put policies in place to help us reorientate Nigerians through the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to change people’s mindsets of hatred and animosity,” the ex-lawmaker said.

He implored the elite to unite and create a national consensus of moving the country to greater heights “because conflicts are not coming from our diversity but from lack of understanding and good leadership.”

The chairman of the occasion, a former Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Alhaji Lateef Okunnu (SAN), said the country had never been as divided along ethnic lines as was being witnessed today.

Okunnu said there had been no case of ethnicity in the history of Nigeria, but today it had been injected into the politics of the country by some elements for their personal gains and attempt to break up the country.

Okunnu, who gave examples of leaders that had served Nigeria meritoriously in different capacities, said Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe became influential in the country without promoting ethnicity.

He said: “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 10. 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 South West. Azikiwe did not use the Igbo Union to govern when he was premier.

“There is still a debate on who won the election in 1954. The debate still continues. Whatever side you take, the two leaders did not use ethnicity to govern the country. The then Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello, held conferences in Ibadan.

“The Nigeria I grew up was in prioritised unity. We must not allow ethnicity to divide us.”

Also speaking at the event, a political economist and founder of the Centre for Value in Leadership, Professor Pat Utomi, reminded Nigerians that permanent crisis stalls development and that there is no action without a theory.

He said: “There cannot be development if we are not thinking things through. It makes us make mountain out of molehill. In our country, we seem unable to have rational public conversation 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.”

The Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Professor Afis Oladosu, identified the various challenges confronting the nation and called for a guided restructuring.

In his welcome address, 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, although we have issues that we need to fix, not to break up but fix the gaps.

“Our lessons of Ramadan must go beyond the spiritual but make us embrace ourselves across the various divides to build a Nigeria of our great dream together,” he said.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, commended the leadership and all members of the UMA for “the great initiative and impact.”

He promised to continue to support every move intended to take the university forward while praying for peace in UNILAG and the whole country.

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