What eminent Nigerians said at the Southern Senators' Summit with the theme: National Unity and Restructuring, in Calabar as recorded by our Correspondent, David Odey
Senate President, Bukola Saraki:
I congratulate Senator Hope Uzodimma, Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, the Executive and entire members of the Forum for the vision, commitment and dogged determination that made possible this retreat. I have no doubt in my mind that, with the inspired leadership at its helm, the Southern Senators Forum will remain a strong, clear voice that speaks forcefully in the interest of the region.
This retreat is a very commendable initiative, and the timing is extremely well-judged. As a nation, unity is a prerequisite for development, stability and greatness. Unity is the first focus. Without unity, we can achieve nothing. And yet we know that, since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, our unity has never been more challenged than at the present time. There are agitations across the length and breadth of this country that threaten our unity. And this time round, the threats are multi-faceted, and the vagaries of modern times have made the issues even more challenging than in the early post-independence era.
However, it must be emphasised that Nigeria is not alone in this predicament. In Africa and the rest of the world, similar agitations are causing governments and those they rule over to question their continued co-existence, amid new and persistent threats to their unity. The ripples of Catalonia's failed referendum bid are still being felt in Spain. In other parts of the Western hemisphere, the rise of right wing populism - amid concerns about immigration and illegal migration - is fuelling suspicion and injecting an element of the unpredictable into once stable societies.
Indeed, unity must exist before you can even talk about restructuring or reform. And so, Distinguished Colleagues, one of my messages to you today is this poser: How Do We Stay Together?
Firstly, today, there is no group of people better placed than members of the 8th National Assembly to steer the debate on the way forward, because they are political leaders elected by the people. Secondly, by virtue of our constitution, no restructuring can take place without the National Assembly. By the grace of God, lawmakers will define the Nigeria of tomorrow and many generations to come.
So, how do we do this? How do we deliver on the task entrusted in us at this critical time? As I see it, the only way is for us to see ourselves, first and foremost, as Nigerians. Not as a language – or tribe – or religion – or region – or any other consideration out there that serves to deflect our attention from the quest for national unity. We must see ourselves as Nigerians first.
In seeking to carry out any reform or restructuring, it is worth bearing in mind that the founders of our country, in their wisdom, had laid down some guidelines, making clear that it cannot be done by a simple majority, but rather by a two-thirds majority. To this end, we must all be on the same page. We cannot bully or browbeat others into accepting our point of view or positioning. Whatever we do, must be by consensus, with the buy-in of all critical stakeholders in the debate.
To my mind, what stops us from striving for consensus is the fear of the unknown. But we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by fear; it only drags us backwards, impeding our march towards greatness. If truly we love this country, then we must overcome that crippling fear of the unknown.
Distinguished Colleagues, it is our responsibility as legislators to find the clarity to allow substance to override parochial consideration and crude sentiment. Whatever makes sense, to transform Nigeria as a country, must of necessity override the fear of the unknown. Always, we should be thinking of the good of Nigeria – that should be our guiding principle. Doing nothing is not an option.
Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto (Abridged presentation):
We are becoming increasingly aware of our differences. I am chairman of the Governing Council of the Nassarawa State University and the only prayer we pray in all our meetings is the second stanza of our National Anthem which is as good a prayer as anything. We have become nervous talking about this restructuring business and as usual it has become a source of division. We live in a binary nation where everything is either black or white, Christian or Muslim. Somehow we are not able to hold a lot of our conversations together. As I said at a book launch, when I was a young priest, and that was many years ago, one old man approached me and said he wanted me to celebrate a mass for him because they wanted to renew their vows having been married for 50 years. And I said to him, 'well, I wasn't there when you got married. Why won't you look for an older person who actually was there when you got married?' But I remember also saying to him jokingly that after 50 years what was there again to renew? You are stuck with one another. I don't think anybody is going anywhere. But it took me many years to realize the significance of the event of this nature. When the ceremony got underway after the mass, it was very emotional to hear the old man admit that their lives had not been a wonderful bed of roses. They said they had had difficulties. They had had challenges and that they were convinced that they needed to remind themselves of the graciousness of God towards them. And more importantly, the fact that the blessings of their marriage surpassed all the difficulties that they had had. And that this consciousness, this awareness that they can now look at their great, grandchildren, their own children, how they have become successful in life, it makes them feel more confident and happier.
For me that is actually a metaphor in my understanding of restructuring.