• Eminent Nigerians gather in Enugu, chart course for national cohesion, peaceful co-existence
From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Not a few Nigerians believe that the country at the moment is more divided than ever. So, the critical issue is how to foster national cohesion, unity and peaceful coexistence among the citizenry.
One of such efforts aimed at attaining national unity was the second edition of the “Handshake Across Nigeria” project in Enugu, Enugu State, on Friday, April 28, 2023.
Eminent Nigerians from different ethnic nationalities including presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi; Tor Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse; Chairman, Ekiti State Council of Traditional Rulers, Oba Gabriel Adejuwon; Chairman, South Council of Traditional Rulers, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu and Obi of Obi-Orodo, Eze Samuel Ohiri. Deji of Akure and Aare Onakankanfo of Yoruba, Iba Gani Adam were represented.
Other dignitaries included Deputy Governor, Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku, representative of Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala and Senator Shehu Sani. Chief Mike Ozekhome delivered the keynote address: “Building Bridges of a New Nigeria.” Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was the host.
Igbo think-tank, Nzuko Umunna, the organiser, had in the past also staged “Handshake Across the Niger.” The event was used to launch a book “Nzuko Umunna Chronicles” and inaugurate the new executive of the group, led by former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo.
Tor Tiv, Ayatse, who chaired the occasion, urged Nigerians to strengthen existing bridges of love, peaceful co-existence and mutual trust while eschewing bitterness and hatred: “The existing bridge that binds us together as a nation are embedded in the historical and socio-cultural ties of the different tribes and ethnic nationalities in the country.
“We have started building these bridges a long time ago and we must continue and strengthen it for the mutual benefit of all, especially our younger generation. Nigeria as a nation need continuous bridge building and the need for us to further understand ourselves as one, just as the Nzuko Umunna has called us all from various parts of the country together.
“The challenge of the country is the failure to continue on this bridge building processes and strengthen existing ties we have over the decades and centuries. We needed a country where we share mutual love and understanding; where our common resources are shared fairly among all Nigerians. There must be equity and fairness as well as a spirit of tolerance.”
Chairman, Board of Trustees of Nzuko Umunna, Prof. Pat Utomi, spoke virtually. He too, challenged leaders and elders in the country to strive to build bridges of love, peace and progress of the country for “the benefit of the future of Nigeria children.
“Despite the challenges, a new and prosperous Nigeria is possible. We needed warm brotherly handshakes across the length and breadth of the country.”
Ozekhome said: “The country needs a brand-new constitution, which would reflect the wishes and aspiration of the people. There is a need for the rule of law to be supreme and for authorities to obey the law and defend the law always and not when it suits them.”
Obi unveiling the book said: “People did not vote for me, but they entrusted their hope and future on me. We want to build a better Nigeria and make it a country where we can live and be proud of by kicking out all forms of poverty.
“A new Nigeria is possible and we can achieve it if we persist since the people benefiting from the old system that brought us where we are today will not easily walk away.”
For Sani, the bridges being talked about are not physically constructed bridges, but that of friendship, brotherly love and mutual respect for all in the country: “We needed to imbibe the spirit of tolerance and being our brother’s keepers in the country and being patriotic always.”
Nebo said “Handshakes Across Nigeria” is a channel for the continuous engagement of their partners in the new Nigeria project and they shall continue to oil this vehicle.
In his acceptance speech, he said the group would intensify efforts in its bridge building across the country and continue to build understanding and harmonious living of all Nigerians: “We will work for the economic integration of Igbo people and continue to encourage friendship among Nigerians.
“We will be there to engage the business community, civic leaders, religious leaders, traditional, political leaders, and the youths. We will be humble in our approach and deploy strategic engagement as our mode of operation.
“Our major focus will be the economic integration of the South East and Igbo speaking areas. We will work with Ohanaeze Ndigbo to provide channels for cohesive engagement. We will do our best to do heavy lifting in areas of economic integration, health and education advocacy and sustaining national alliance with our partners.”
He commended the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) for standing up when it mattered the most. There was the conferment of “Enyi Ndigbo” (Friend of Igbo) award on personalities including Ozekhome, Sani, Tanko Yakasai, Deji of Akure, Tor Tiv and Isaac Balami.
Balami, an emerging leader from Borno State described the Enyi Ndigbo award as a rare honour and privilege, urging Nigerians to harness the strength in unity in diversity: “I am very proud that Nzuko Umunna has given me such high honour which is now an addition to my chieftaincy title as the Ochiriozua 1 of Ibeagwa Nike in Enugu, a title bestowed on me about eight years ago.
“This event was very impactful, bringing together Nigerians from different parts of the country and creating a pathway for a better Nigeria.”
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