Abuja – Delegates at the National Conference on Wednesday called for the removal of issues that had brought about distrust and divided the citizens along ethnic, sectional and religious lines.
They made the call in Abuja when they continued deliberations of the President’s speech which emphasises unity and peaceful coexistence of all the components that make up Nigeria.
Alhaji Yusuf Daibu, representing Kwara, said that one of the country’s greatest problems was the gross mistrust among the various ethnic and religious groups.
“This mistrust is an issue we must address strongly if we want to move forward as a nation. No nation can survive under an atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion.
“At this forum, we must individually and collectively see ourselves as bridge builders across ethnic and religious divides that presently exist,” he said.
Daibu urged Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of give and take because “we cannot always have our ways and no country can survive where religious bigotry thrives”.
Another delegate, Alhaji Dalhatu Bashir, representing Jigawa, said in the nation’s history, people had lived outside their ethnic zones and were voted for by their hosts to represent them.
“We know that Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe, an Ibo man born in Northern Nigeria, won election in the heartland of Yoruba land.
“The Tiv People invited Ibrahim Imam from Borno to contest election in Tiv land to go and protect and promote the interest of the Tiv people and there was no problem.
“Bagudu also from Nupeland won election in Ibadan. Ladan from Nupeland won election in Onitsha twice and recently in Kano, Sikiru a Yoruba man won an election,” he said.
Bashir said that was the Nigerian spirit, and urged the conference to find solutions to the dichotomies of ethnicity, religion and resource control that currently divided the people.
Dr Magdalene Dura, representing Benue, regretted what she called the arbitrary state creation and boundary demarcation which had balkanised some ethnic groups.
She said that the issue of indigene/settler dichotomy must be addressed by the conference to give all Nigerians the right to live where they wanted, vote and be voted for.
In her position, Maryam Abdullah, representing the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations, blamed the elites for manipulating religion, ethnicity and sectionalism for their selfish interests.
“Why we have been fighting along ethnic, regional and religious affiliations for years is caused by the elites competing for the control of political and economic powers.
“The ordinary Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Ibo people do not have problems with one another; they wake up every day and struggle for their daily bread without relying on the government.
“But because of competition among the elites, they instigate the people to fight one another while the elites convert the resources of the nation for their personal benefits.
“We can only experience peace, unity and progress once the elites stop seeing personal loss as that of their tribes, regions and religions, and I hope this conference will address the issue,”she said.
Prof. Olu Ajakaiye, representing Nigeria Economic Society, said the dwindling economic fortune of the country was responsible for the divisions among the people.
“If the opportunities are there, if what you want is available, you will not remember who is Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Christian or Muslim; you will think about Nigeria.
“So, it is because of scarcity that we are Ibos, Yoruba and Hausas. If we reduce the issue of scarcity, nobody will bother whether you are Christian or Muslim,” he said.
Ajakaiye, therefore, challenged the delegate to evolve a working governance structure that would usher Nigeria into prosperity.
A representative of the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Obinna Ekpe, regretted that the rights of the minorities, whether ethnic or religious, were not adequately protected.
“In many parts of the North, Christians are in minority but they have not committed any crime by being Christians.
“Nigeria must ensure that the rights of the Christians are protected without infringing on the rights of the Muslim majority.
“In many parts of the South, Muslims are in minority; Nigeria must evolve a way of protecting their rights without infringing on the rights of the Christian majority,” he said.
Ekpe, who is an Ibo Muslim, regretted that he was the only Igbo Muslim in the conference in spite of the large population of Igbo Muslims.
“The minorities are under-represented. I am the only Muslim Igbo in this conference and there are many Igbo Muslims which must be protected and represented,” he said. (NAN)