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Nigeria can overcome ethnic prejudice

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By Usman Oladimeji

Constitution of Nigeria upholds the right of all citizens to freely move.

The Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo has emphasized that it is feasible for Nigeria to overcome its ethnic and religious prejudices, considering the fact that these are essential factors in the process of building a unified nation. He made this declaration at the first edition of NIPSS’s ‘Policy Making and Good Governance Lecture Series’ in Jos. The lecture was titled, “Creating a homeland for all: Nation-building in a diverse democracy.” This comes as most Nigerians are engaging in ethnicity and religious prejudice which is mostly seen on social media following the elections outcome.

V.P. Osinbajo spoke out against the “weaponization” of ethnic and religious biases for political benefit, arguing that no Nigerian should be discriminated against on the basis of tribe or religious faction. According to him, the Constitution of Nigeria upholds the right of all citizens to freely move about the country and promotes social integration as a top priority. He said that the Constitution guarantees that no Nigerian may be discriminated against because of who they are.

Differences in culture are neither a strength nor a weakness.

The Constitution also places a strong emphasis on integration, given that its makers did not set out to establish a system that differentiates between natives and newcomers and did not establish such a system. Rather, they aimed to establish a civic nation. Osinbajo believes that Nigeria can overcome its ethnic and religious divisions to become one nation. Although it is not simply an easy task to accomplish, it is perhaps the most crucial factor to consider in the process of building a nation.

“As humanity seeks to build a more durable, just and sustainable civilization, our natural prejudices and allied irredentist urges have to be disciplined and sublimated in a mutuality rooted in our shared humanity” Osinbajo said. The Vice President continued, saying that while differences in culture are an undeniable feature of life, they are neither a strength nor a weakness. He claims that the most wealthy nations are those who have figured out how to use their diverse populations to their advantage by creating more and more inclusive frameworks.

Nigeria is neither extraordinary nor exceptional despite differences.

Moreover, Osinbajo pointed out that countries like Singapore and Tanzania have come a long way in eradicating discrimination. He said Singapore’s statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, had successfully established social cohesiveness despite the country’s racial and ethnic diversity. While in the case of Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere also took steps to prevent the tribal prejudice that had afflicted other African countries, noting that the adoption of Kiswahili(Swahili) as the official language had helped foster a sense of national unity.

In addition, according to the Vice President, Nyerere was responsible for incorporating a pan-Tanzanian history into the curriculum of elementary schools, which encouraged children to identify themselves as Tanzanians. Osinbajo reiterated his position that, despite the country’s many cultural and ethnic differences, Nigeria is neither extraordinary nor exceptional. He stated that rather than being a detriment, Nigeria’s extensive cultural diversity should be regarded as a benefit because it increased the country’s stock of sociocultural capital.

It’s true that diversity often precedes conflict.

He stressed that the issue at hand in Nigeria is not and never has been the country’s diversity, but rather our ability to manage it fairly and justly. And it’s also true that diversity often precedes conflict; when people from various backgrounds of life and perspectives come together, it’s only inevitable that tension and even open hostility will arise. He thus recommended “inclusion” as a solution given that it is essential to prosperity as the country continues on its move for further growth.

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