Nigeria’s unity and hate speeches dominated a joint plenary session by the Speakers of the 36 state houses of assembly held in Owerri, the Imo State capital yesterday.
The lawmakers, who sent a strong message to purveyors of hate speech and separatist groups in Nigeria, deplored calls for secession by some champions of ethnicity, adding that the unity of Nigeria cannot be sacrificed for group or individual ambitions.
They aligned with the Federal Government’s stance that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable.
The lawmakers reiterated their commitment to the unity of the country, adding that “as representatives of the people, we owe the nation the responsibility of rising up to the occasion in these trying times and condemn the manner the various groups have been carrying on with their agitations.”
They warned such agitators to seek redress to their grievances within the purview of the law, stressing that hate speeches and secession threats are major threat to the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians.
Earlier in his address, the President Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Acho Ihim, said the gathering was a call “to chart a course for our people’s happiness through concise legislative policy formulation on the unity of our country’s component units to forestall the obnoxious enemies and promoters of hate speeches from further dividing us. We the Lawmakers must take central role in ensuring lasting peace in Nigeria.”
He stated further that “Nigeria is today enmeshed in a recurring roar of tidal wave of prejudice, hate speeches, discriminations and agitations that have resulted in a gathering dark cloud and sombre situation that are now taking a disturbing turn.
“Hate speeches have a serious adverse mental effect on the health of its victim. We should ensure that the words that come out of our mouths are not hurtful to anybody, group or institution.”
He further described hate speech as a time bomb that “will do no one any good.”
The Speakers, in a resolution passed after the session, condemned the approach adopted by the ethnic groups in pursuing their demands.
The resolution reads: “The violent approach adopted by members of the various ethnic, political and religious groups whose actions are threatening the unity, oneness and territorial integrity of Nigeria is hereby condemned.
“Any ethnic group or persons that have complaints or grievances should channel such complaints or grievances through their elected representatives at the federal or state levels.
“All Nigerians have the inalienable rights to reside in any part of Nigeria and do their businesses without fear of intimidation, molestation, injury or seizure of moveable or immovable property.”
It reads further: “The Federal Government, the state governments, local governments and traditional council rulers should be alive to their responsibilities of protecting the lives and property of all citizens and improving governance.
“The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is urged to direct all security agencies to monitor the activities of the groups and ensure that perpetrators of violence and breach of the peace are promptly and decisively dealt with in accordance with the law of the Federal Republic.”
Earlier, the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, commended the Speakers for “coming together for the sake of the nation’s Unity.”
The Imo State governor gave the commendation when the Speakers paid him a courtesy call at the Government House Sam Mbakwe EXCO Chambers, saying that there are no better persons to speak against hate speeches than speakers and members of the Houses of Assembly.
His words: “It is not common to host speakers of states in your own state. When this occurs, it must be for a very serious reason. Reasons that must be for national development.
“When the speakers speak, it means that all Houses of Assembly have met and agreed on the bill against hate speeches, and it equally means that all the people of Nigeria have met, because the House members are the genuine representatives of the average Nigerians.
“I want to congratulate you for your coming together to speak as one on issues concerning Nigeria’s unity.”
He added: “Again, the reason for your joint session, which is against hate speeches, is apt considering the obvious challenges being faced by the nation now.
“There are no better persons to speak about this than members of the Houses of Assembly because you truly represent the very grassroots and the real movers and shakers of our democracy.”
He noted: “My Speaker poured encomiums on my administration and the works we have done. Believe me, we would have achieved nothing without the unflinching support of the House of Assembly.
“The House of Assembly can make or mar any government. So, it’s wisdom on the side of the governor to carry the members along in ensuring that dividends of democracy are delivered to the people.
“Today, as you have come, I want you to borrow a leaf from the Imo State House of Assembly that has exemplified unity of purpose in its legislative duties and relationship with the executive arm of government.
“Free education, massive infrastructural development in the state were made possible because of the collaboration with the House of Assembly.”