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  • …we do not need to be a perfect union before we can be a great country – Osinbajo
  • Speech at the Graduation Ceremony of Senior
    course 39, The Armed Forces, Command and
    Staff College, Jaji
    I am especially pleased and indeed privileged to
    share this special day with you the staff,
    graduands and proud family members of the
    graduands of Senior Course 39.
    We must give glory and thanks to the Almighty
    God by whose mercy and grace we are able to
    witness this celebration of achievement.
    You have made a success of this course after 48
    grueling weeks. Congratulations. Of course we
    must specially commend all the spouses of our
    graduands here, but for whose sacrifices and
    personal deprivations there would have been no
    celebrations for many here today.
    It is also gratifying to note that amongst the 187
    graduating students are 10 students from sister
    African countries, and 5 senior members of Staff
    from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Defence
    Intelligence Agency, Nigerian Defence Academy,
    Nigeria Police Force and the Federal Road Safety
    I must commend the governments of Cameroun,
    Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, The Gambia
    and Togo who nominated their officers to attend
    this course. By so doing they have strengthened
    the brotherhood we share as Africans but more
    so they have shown great foresight on the issue
    of our common security concerns on the
    The occasion of the graduation of the elite corps
    of our Military, armed services, intelligence and
    Foreign Service members is one that offers an
    opportunity for reflection on national issues.
    We are the identifiable public service elite of our
    nation, paid for with taxpayers money, and so
    we must be its foremost think-thank. So, permit
    me to address you for a short while on the
    subject — We can build a new Nigeria.
    The last two decades in Nigeria have witnessed
    the quickened retreat of the Nigerian elite to their
    ethnic and religious camps.
    I would like to emphasize the fact that this was
    essentially an elite phenomenon — unity and
    disunity are promoted by the elite to which the
    vast majority of the Nigerian people were only
    later conscripted.
    In these past few years, more and more, we
    began to hear expressions such as Nigeria’s
    ethnic nationalities; we began to see more
    identification by race and geopolitical zones,
    Ndigbo people, Arewa people, the Yoruba
    people, South-South, North-East, South-West,
    North-West and South-East; and other parochial
    description that were hitherto unknown.
    The rise of ethnic chauvinism rode on the wings
    of several agitations. The narrative of most
    agitations centres around alleged
    marginalization and fears of dominance of one
    faith over the other.
    In the 2015 elections, the ruling party repeatedly
    tried to cast the opposition as a party of
    Islamists determined to islamize Nigeria. The
    expression Janjaweed party took root.
    Most ethnic agitations are centered around
    getting a larger share of the national cake or
    more favoured placement in the food chain
    because they were essentially elite claims: the
    vast majority of the populations of the ethnic
    groups that win some concession or the other
    never really benefit.
    So, the mere fact that a South-South person
    became President did not necessarily translate
    to prosperity for the tribe, neither was it the case
    when a President from the North-West emerged,
    nor one from the South-West.
    Aside from a few individual beneficiaries of some
    appointments or the other, there is usually
    nothing to show for the ethnic group of those
    who emerge in Nigeria’s numerous ethnic
    contests for power. Yet, the contests of the
    tribes are heightened by the elite, usually for
    personal political or commercial ends.
    When you hear a person say that my tribe has
    been marginalized usually what he is saying is
    appoint me. The ethnic card is an effective
    bargaining tool.
    A major drawback of ethnic chauvinism is the
    way that it is used to mask wrongdoing and
    promote impunity. Notice that when people are
    charged with looting public funds they quickly
    find a counter narrative. It is because I am
    Yoruba, Fulani or Igbo; or the Christians or
    Muslims are after me.
    Appointments in the public service are no longer
    even judged on merit. The question is how
    many are from my own ethnic group. A terrible
    affliction, when you consider that what we are
    looking for are men and women of integrity and
    talent to run our economy and create a future
    for our children. Why is that when we want to
    win at football we don’t ask which ethnic group
    the players are from? But perhaps at its most
    extreme and dangerous are hate-filled agitations
    for secession or autonomy.
    In the past few weeks we have as a nation
    witnessed the escalation of such agitations
    usually couched in deliberately intemperate and
    provocative language. The reckless deployment
    of hate speech and the loud expressions of
    prejudice and hate, name calling of those of
    other ethnicities and faiths is a new and
    destructive evil in our public discourse. But
    even more divisive words, expressions, and
    actions calculated to create fear and uncertainty
    have also been freely used.
    Young people in the South-Eastern states under
    the aegis IPOB, issued a stay at home order as
    part of actions to prove support for their
    agitations for secession. In the Northern states
    young people under the aegis of the Arewa
    youth, issued an ultimatum to Igbos living in the
    Northern states to vacate before the 1st of
    The problem with hate-filled and divisive speech
    is that they tap into some of the basest human
    instincts, bringing up irrational suspicions, fear,
    anger, and hatred and ultimately mindless
    violence. People who have lived together as
    neighbours and friends suddenly begin to see
    each other as mortal enemies.
    The tensions that led to the killing of over
    800,000 Tutsis and Hutus considered Tutsi
    sympathizers in the Rwandan genocide, were
    roused by hate media. The most notorious was
    the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines
    (RTLMC), which became immensely popular as a
    young, hip alternative to the official voice of the
    government. It played popular music, and
    encouraged the public to phone-in and
    participate in radio broadcasts. Amongst its
    listeners, RTLMC attracted the unemployed
    youth and Interhamwe (Canadian NGO). The
    station also became notorious for its covert and
    overt naming of Tutsi individuals who it claimed
    deserved to be killed.
    General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the
    UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda at the
    time of the genocide, said: “Simply jamming
    [the] broadcasts and replacing them with
    messages of peace and reconciliation would
    have had a significant impact on the course of
    Fortunately the purveyors of this tragic hate
    media did not escape unpunished. The ICC in
    Arusha eventually sentenced the owners of the
    hate radio stations and newspapers to long
    prison terms.
    Some of our youth groups urging secession
    already are deploying hate media, using radio
    and social media. The language on
    those media are inciting, provocative and
    insulting to the individuals who are named, and
    to the beliefs of others.
    While we must remain irrevocably committed to
    freedom of expression and the tenets of a free
    press, we must draw the line between freedom
    that conduces to healthy democracy and that
    which threatens and endangers the entire
    democratic enterprise. It is an important balance
    that we must strike. Failure in any way will be
    The truth is that our nation and national unity is
    worth preserving and protecting. We are the pre-
    eminent power in Africa today in terms of
    population, size of our markets, natural
    resources and economy.
    We are a factor in the geopolitics of the world
    and no one can ignore a nation-state that is
    home to one in every four black persons.
    Smaller is weaker not stronger today.
    Your Excellency, distinguished ladies and
    gentlemen, history and experience has shown
    that countries can alter their destinies. Italy,
    India and Nigeria — to use just three examples,
    share one thing in common: at one point early
    in their existence people questioned their
    viability as nation-spaces; spoke of them in
    terms of being no more than mere geographical
    Indeed not many Nigerians seem to know that
    the often quoted line about Nigeria being a
    “mere geographical expression” originally
    applied to Italy. It was the German statesman
    Klemens Von Metternich who dismissively
    summed up Italy as a mere geographical
    expression exactly a century before Nigeria
    came into being as a country. Churchill
    describing India said it was no more a nation
    than the equator, (which is just an imaginary
    geographical line.)
    But what fate saddles a country with, and what
    that country makes of itself, we have since
    learned, can be two very different things. India
    for example has over the last couple of decades
    built itself into a technology and software
    powerhouse, and has also made impressive
    strides in nuclear and space technology. It has
    successfully created alternative narratives to a
    narrative of ethnic and religious division.
    Italy on its own part has made its mark on the
    world in fashion and in automobiles; so that
    when people think of it today they are more
    likely to think of its venerable cuisine and
    fashion houses than its still-very-real fault
    What the stories of these countries tell us is that
    we do not need to be a perfect union before we
    can be a great country and there is no better
    example of that than the United States of
    America — a country that thrives, not in spite of
    its diversity, but because of it.
    It is my respectful submission that the
    responsibility for a similar kind of greatness
    here in Nigeria lies in our hands as the
    country’s elite. We must rise above
    unproductive ethnic and religious sentiment.
    We must develop the emotional intelligence
    required to cope and adapt in a swiftly and
    constantly changing world. We must adopt a
    global mindset that seeks to learn from the
    experiences of other countries, far and near, so
    that we do not waste valuable time repeating
    mistakes that we should have learned to avoid.
    One of those lessons is that today’s wars never
    really end. This should be a sobering lesson to
    us all in Nigeria, as we contend with the forces
    who seek to stoke violence and bloodshed in
    our country.
    Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and closer home, the
    Central African Republic, Libya and the
    Democratic Republic of Congo; these wars have
    raged for years. Some of them have in fact gone
    on so long that they have been tagged as
    ‘forgotten wars’. Contemporary wars, we have
    learnt, are extremely easy to start, but difficult to
    Another lesson is that in the 21st century the
    theatre of war is increasingly shifting to
    cyberspace. Terrorist organizations, purveyors of
    hate speech, all of these and many more who
    seek to destabilize the world are busy staking
    out territory on the Internet, and scoring
    significant victories and conquests for
    themselves. As members of the Armed Forces,
    with a mandate to protect Nigeria from all forms
    of internal and external aggression, you will
    increasingly be judged as much on the basis of
    your success online as on your successes on
    the conventional battlefield.
    The Internet has altered or disrupted every
    industry we know of: Politics and Elections,
    Business and Commerce, Governance; and is
    changing the very nature of warfare. Websites
    teaching on how to make and use IEDs and
    other explosives are numerous.
    Today a great deal of the threats facing Nigeria
    are being nurtured and cultivated in the vast
    spaces of the Internet. The rumblings of
    secession, the dangerous quit ultimatums to
    ethnic groups, the radio stations and blogs that
    spew divisive speech and exploit our fault lines;
    all of these are now to be found online.
    This means that the military and its officers and
    men must itself devote resources and talent to
    these new battlefields, where mindless verdicts
    on the continued unity and existence of Nigeria
    are daily being delivered.
    As you make your way out of the hallowed halls
    of this institution, into the ‘field’, as you would
    describe it, you have huge roles to play in the
    way Nigeria turns out in the years and decades
    Even though the days of military rule are now
    well behind us as a nation, the role of the
    military is still as critical as ever — and not just
    in the traditional areas of deterring threats and
    protecting lives and property.
    The Military of the 21st century must realize that
    it has a role to play in supplying reinforcement
    to the good side in the clash of ideas that today
    define the world: ideas of moderation, tolerance
    and sensibleness versus ideas of extremism,
    xenophobia, and terror. The Boko Haram
    terrorism is a perfect example of the types of
    scourges that the world faces.
    The battle is not just to defeat the terrorists, the
    greater battle is to defeat the ideology and
    mindset that feeds the madness and to cut off
    its oxygen, money and publicity.
    The great challenge and the wonderful
    opportunity for this generation of the Nigerian
    elite is to build a new Nigeria. Out of the rubble
    of cynicism, division and suspicions we can
    build a new nation.
    A new nation built on trust, consensus, love for
    one another and love for our country is
    possible. A nation where the rulers do not steal
    the commonwealth, where every Nigerian is safe
    to live and work, where the State takes
    responsibility for the security of each and every
    Nigerian, where the state knows every Nigerian
    by name and can find and locate each one of us,
    a Nigeria where the Ibo or Ijaw man can live
    peacefully in Sokoto, and the Fulani man can
    live peacefully in the Niger Delta.
    But building is an act of the human will. It is a
    practical, routine, sometimes dirty, sometimes
    frustrating enterprise. This is why no great
    nation was ever built overnight or without the
    sacrifice of group compromise, the pain of not
    getting all you want, the feeling that your ethnic
    or religious persuasion could be treated better,
    that is the sacrifice of nation- building, give and
    take; a little here, a little there. No one group
    can have it all.
    Our leadership must be courageous. Courage
    means willingness to be abused and insulted by
    our own people. The humiliation of being
    heckled for making concessions is the price of
    the privilege of leadership. The greatest leaders
    are those prepared to take unpopular decisions
    or make compromises unpopular with their
    constituencies but crucial for long term goals.
    Yes, they may be unpopular in the short run but
    their greatness eternally is guaranteed. Nelson
    Mandela after years in prison and decades of the
    inhumanity and oppression of apartheid, to the
    shock and amazement of his black constituency
    preached reconciliation. An unpopular move in
    the short term but no contemporary political
    figure is as revered as he is even in death.
    The opportunity to go down in history as
    builders of the new Nigeria, now beckons. I trust
    that you will heed its call.
    I pray that your road henceforth will be laden
    with favour and grace in Jesus name.

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