In an inspiring speech, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN yesterday evening argued that despite the nation’s current challenges, Nigerians must avoid drifting towards voices that appeal to darker impulses but instead counter fear, despair, and division with inspiring faith, creative optimism, and solidarity.
He specifically called on the elites to act in solidarity and build a consensus to settle contending issues in the nation and enlarge the circle of opportunity, especially for the young people.
In the same vein, the VP said the nation’s political, economic, and religious leaders must shun divisive narratives so as to bring all Nigerians together, heal rifts between communities and build bridges across divides.
He stated this on Thursday evening in Abuja during his keynote address at the Leadership Conference and Awards on the theme: National and Regional Insecurity: The Role of Political and Non-Political Actors in Stabilization and Consensus Building.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar was Chairman at the event attended by some State Governors and members of the Federal Executive Council including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.
Referring to the phrase, “Noblesse Oblige” which in English means “nobility obligates,” the VP stated that it conveys the idea that nobility extends beyond mere entitlement and requires people of noble status to fulfill social responsibilities.
Explaining, he noted that “the highest office and duty of the elite is sacrifice, sacrifice, and more sacrifice,” the VP urged the nation’s elites to “be prepared to tell our constituencies the truth even if it hurts our political fortunes or our popularity.”
The Vice President also called on the nation’s elites to stop depending on or promoting tribal and religious fault lines for legitimacy, noting that “the external reasons we cite as reasons for our problems cannot thrive without severe internal weaknesses in our society.”
He added, “we must be able to say to the young men and women who say secession is the only way or that we should break up into little nations that that is the way of extinction not development. We must, as religious leaders, be able to tell our adherents that people of other religions are not their enemies, they are brothers and sisters and that they must not allow those who will benefit by division and strife to tell them differently.”
The VP stated further that all Nigerians must endeavour to promote civilized values – including affirming the value and sanctity of human life, rather than violence, ethnic and religious fault lines to drive national change.
While he emphasized the need to reform institutions for law and order to thrive, the VP also noted the importance of building consensus and mediating elite competition and conflict in “finding an acceptable ‘middle ground’ among contesting options to the resolution of issues.”
Emphasizing the importance of “corporate social responsibility, good corporate citizenship” and what he termed ‘transformational elitism’ in nation-building, the VP stated that, “in times of crisis, the elite must broaden its horizons beyond their specific disciplines and sectors. Accordingly, business leaders understand that it is not enough to focus on making profits; businesses need a healthy society within which to operate and make profits. This is why there are now such concepts as corporate social responsibility and good corporate citizenship.”
Addressing how elites can drive national transformation, the Vice President added: “the Media elite must recognize that they have a responsibility to exercise discernment in the deployment of their platforms and must reflect upon whether they are amplifying the most insensate, intemperate, and incendiary voices in our midst while marginalizing voices of reason.
“The Political elite must accept through policies and actions, that the purpose of power must be to better the lives of those we serve and give the young great hope for the future. Once we put on the lens of social responsibility, different and higher imperatives come into play. This is what transformational elitism looks like.”
The Vice President, who is also a lawyer, had a word for his colleagues in the legal profession. According to him, “legal practitioners understand that the imperative of transformative leadership in the legal sector today calls for the Bar and the Bench to insist on the integrity of our system of justice, to insist on speed in the dispensation of cases and to call out anyone who compromises the system.”
He then turned to the attendees at the Leadership Newspaper Conference, saying “those of us in this conference are by virtue of our pedigree and status, members of a privileged minority. The contrast between our exceptional circumstances and the material conditions of the majority of our compatriots imposes a moral obligation on us to work for the common good, towards a society that works for all by spreading the circle of opportunity.”
Highlighting how the nation’s elites are integral to the process of deepening national unity, the VP said, “in times of crises, we learn and relearn lessons in solidarity and in the value of pulling together.
“In times of adversity, societies buffeted by uncertainty and anxiety are tempted to drift towards voices that appeal to our darker impulses, to those that traffic in fear, despair, and division. Elites such as those gathered here today must counter such voices by inspiring faith, creative optimism, and solidarity”, Prof Osinbajo counselled.
Speaking of himself, he assured that “I remain unyielding in my belief that we will prevail over adversity by the strength of our togetherness. The present moment is crying out for leaders that can bring our people together, heal rifts between communities and build bridges across divides.”
While calling for compromise and broad-based constructive engagements on national issues, the VP reiterated the need for all Nigerians, regardless of tribe, ethnicity, or religion, to come together for nation-building purposes, stating that, “the recognition that the system is not working optimally for many of our people should inspire a broad-based movement for reform that works to recalibrate the present order and attune it more to the aspirations of our people.”
He urged Nigerians to resist temptations of being led astray by those with ulterior motives in pushing particular agitations.
According to him, “it is also understandable that we may find that some of these agitations resonate with us. We may consider them legitimate causes and identify with them as such. However, the temptation is that our sympathy with legitimate causes blinds us to the destructive and illegitimate means employed by those that pursue these causes. This is a temptation that we must resist.”
Backing up his assertion, Prof. Osinbajo quoted Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said, “Destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.”
He continued: “In a country as diverse as ours, the aim of our national conversations should be to promote a consensus for progress rather than to promote discord and disharmony. We must be committed to continuing this tradition of renewing our nation through the tried and trusted means of conciliation, compromise, and consensus.”
The VP further said, “there is no doubt that our country is going through times of trial and testing. Many of our people are dealing with adversity on several fronts. It is understandable for discontent to emerge and inspire agitation. In a democracy, agitation – the act of making our voices heard in respect of our concerns – is entirely legitimate. What is profoundly problematic is when we employ destructive and illicit means in pursuing agitation.
“Our system is not perfect, but it does prescribe the ways in which discontent can be channeled through constitutionally-guaranteed rights to vote, to associate, to protest, and to express ourselves. Change is possible through the system, but only if we engage it rather than destroy it. Thus, while the current system is not perfect, it can only be improved as more of our people engage in it,” the VP declared.
He then explained that “no project of social renewal and transformation can succeed without the involvement and leadership of elites” or “in a climate of socio-political instability”, adding that “the task before us is that of renewing the social contract, creating more inclusive institutions, growing the economy and generating opportunities for our population.”