Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo says it is possible for Nigeria to conquer ethnic and religious prejudices as they are crucial issues in building a unified nation.
Mr Osinbajo said this on Monday at the maiden ‘Policy Making and Good Governance Lecture Series’ of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Jos.
The title of the lecture was: “Creating a homeland for all: Nation-building in a diverse democracy.”
The vice-president said no Nigerian should be discriminated against on the basis of his tribe or religion and condemned the “weaponisation’’ of ethnic or religious biases for political purpose.
“Social integration is one of the highest ideals of Nigeria’s Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to traverse the length and breadth of this country without hindrance. The Constitution affirms the right of all Nigerians to not be discriminated against on the basis of their identity,” he stated.
Mr Osinbajo stressed that the Constitution “holds up integration as a priority,” as its framers did not intend to create an apartheid system that distinguishes between natives and settlers, “nor did they create one; they sought to create a civic nation.”
“Is it possible to conquer ethnic or religious prejudices and build a unified nation? Yes, it is. But it is a journey, not an event; and it is perhaps the most important issue in nation-building,” Mr Osinbajo explained. “As humanity seeks to build a more durable, just and sustainable civilisation, our natural prejudices and allied irredentist urges have to be disciplined and sublimated in a mutuality rooted in our shared humanity.”
The vice-president noted that there was recognition that sociocultural diversity while being a fact of life was neither a weapon nor a weakness. According to him, the most prosperous places are countries that have learned to harness diversity while building ever more inclusive institutions.
Mr Osinbajo cited Singapore and Tanzania as countries that have gone far in conquering prejudice.
“In Singapore, the statesman Lee Kuan Yew promoted policies aimed at establishing social cohesion in the racially and ethnically heterogeneous nation,’’ he said.
Mr Osinbajo said Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere desired to avoid tribal prejudice that had plagued other African countries, pointing out that the country promoted an overarching national identity by establishing Kiswahili as the national language.
“Secondly, Nyerere promoted a pan-Tanzanian history which he introduced into the primary school curriculum which taught children to regard themselves as Tanzanians,’’ he said.
Mr Osinbajo stressed that he believed that Nigeria was neither unique nor exceptional on account of her diversity. The vice-president added that Nigeria’s diversity was neither a liability nor a curse but a blessing and an asset, stating that diversity deepened the pool of sociocultural capital available to Nigerians.
“As I have long maintained, in Nigeria what is at issue is not and has never been our diversity, but our capacity to manage it with a sense of fairness, equity and justice. There is no denying that diversity can be a harbinger of friction,” said Mr Osinbajo. “It is natural as different groups from various backgrounds and with different worldviews mingle, their interaction is characterised by a degree of tension and even conflict.”
He recommended “inclusion” as a panacea because it “is essential to prosperity as we go forward.”