Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was the Keynote Speaker at a ‘Biafra at 50’ colloquium, held in Abuja on May 25, 2017. The event had a congregation of eminent statesmen and women gather to reflect on the hereafter of the beginning of the unforgettable three year hostilities. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, John Nnia Nwodo, Professor Pat Utomi and Dr Oby Ezekwesili were other notable members of the assembly.
But it was the presence and speech of the Acting President which, to some extent, gave the certification of ‘validity’ to the event. Organised by the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Foundation on Public Policy, the Presidential presence brought the very necessary National focus to the commemoration, ensuring the Biafra discourse breaks through a wrong confinement to supposed ‘Easterners who refuse to move on.’
In his speech, the Vice President delivered all expected deliverables. Those who witnessed it firsthand felt the momentousness more than those of us who have had to rely on transcripts, but that’s not a bad thing at all. A little digestion and breakdown show us just why there is so much buzz about the articulate and calm meditative man.
He brought the Osinbajo substance
It is alluded to in every article or commentary. The Osinbajo substance is that c-a-l-m and composure in sensitive matters, somewhat difficult to versify. Some say it is all about the man’s upbringing, others say it’s his learning; many others attribute it to his religious occupation, a hidden minority somewhere think it has something to do with being the lucky husband to a classy grand-daughter of Obafemi Awolowo. Taken individually, it is possible to make connections. But the ability to steer the course of controversial discourse without stirring strife is clearly a fusion of all factors, refined and directed by consciously cultivated personal convictions. He has led with his persona without appearing patronizing, caressed with his words without seeking to cajole, and at all occasions, sought to drive home the substance of the subject. At the colloquium, he did that ever more perfectly.
He defined The Nigerian Dream
This may be the most important aspect of this event. Not that what he said about Nigerians’ seeking to understanding each other had not been said before, but we are tired of hearing that from people who preach it and not practice it. The Vice President, in one of his lines, gave what the Nigerian Dream should be:
“Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together as countrymen and women, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and unity”
This will, of course, take serious commitments to research and detailed delving into sociological and anthropological studies that go beyond Sardauna-Awo-Zik pre-Independence studies, to the origins of the extent to which our cultures have mixed, through, for example, the many similarities in our languages. (You can begin with ‘enu’ – ‘onu’, ‘ka ma lo’ – ‘ka mu lawa’)
There was a slice for the pro-plebiscites
On social media, members of IPOB and sympathizers of a Biafran State saw the main positive in one of Osinbajo’s statements to be the validation of their call for a Referendum. Osinbajo said:
“Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreements are fundamental aspects of democracy. Debate and disagreement are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognize and acknowledge that necessity”.
But, there was a quick rejoinder. The easy way, he posited, was to let ourselves be carried away by the angers of the past, or even by the temptations of the present, to blame new sores on old fights. Rather than begin a break-up that will not end, seeing that “we are, not three, but more like three hundred or so ethnic groups within the same geographical space”, we should seek to take advantage of “a great opportunity to combine all our strengths into a nation that is truly, to borrow an expression, more than the sum of its parts”. We really should learn from history, if we are wise, than wait to be bitten twice by the recurrence of experience, a portion that should be reserved for fools only, per the Welsh saying.
Characteristically, he taught his students
Remember one of those Interviews with Honourable Obahiagbon, where he recollects ‘Papa Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo’ tagging Nigeria as a mere geographical expression? Well, Papa was not the first to use that phrase, as we’d learn from Daddy YO. “Not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a ‘mere geographical expression’ originally applied to Italy… exactly a century before Nigeria came into being as a country”
Now, you’ve been schooled.
…And Prof was impressed with Banky and Adesuwa
“For every young Nigerian who sees the Internet as an avenue for spewing ethnic hatred, there is another young Nigerian who is falling in love…” The sentence did not end there, but what else could we want to hear on that?
“The journey to nationhood is not an event but a process, filled, as with life itself, with experiences some bitter, some sweet. The most remarkable attribute of that process is that a succeeding generation does not need to bear the prejudices and failures of the past” Yemi Osinbajo, 25th May, 2017
Feature Image: Prof Yemi Osinbajo (via twitter)