For the umpteenth time, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has stressed that the challenges facing the country is neither ethnicity nor religion.
The minister said some elements in the country were exacerbating ethnic and religious differences to tear the country apart for their selfish reasons.
Mohammed spoke in Abuja on Saturday at the Book presentation and 75th birthday celebration of Dr Bamigboye Ogunbiyi, a re-known obstetrician and Gynaecologist.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ogunbiyi who hail from Ilofa in Kwara state is the husband to Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, a retired Supreme Court Justice from Borno.
Unveiling the autobiography titled, “Ripples of Grace’’, the minister said the things that unite the country were more and significant than those things that the divisive elements were escalating for disunity.
He said the foundation for national unity had been built a long time ago by the nation’s forefathers and what the people needed to do was to sustain it.
Mohammed gave three personal experiences to buttress his position including his days and that of the celebrant at the Government College, Keffi which he described as “a great model for the unity of Nigeria’’.
“From the book, we leant that the celebrant attended Federal Government College (FGC), Keffi and that is why I am not surprised he ended up marrying Justice Clara from Borno.
“In Keffi, we were taught at a very young age that this country is one and the same and that religion, ethnicity and social status do not matter but rather one’s academic prowess,’’ he said.
Mohammed who said Ogunbiyi was his senior in FGC, stressed that in his time, only the very best from the 13 Provinces in the North made it to the college and not by any other consideration.
The minister noted that the school was a leveler where children of peasants mixed freely with the children of the rich, adding that Christian students fasted along with those of them who were Muslims during the Ramadan.
He implored Nigerians to emulate and revive the ‘Keffi spirit de-emphasising ethnicity, religion and social status and co-exist as Nigerians.’’
The minister also gave another instance when he used the premises of St Andrews Catholic Church, Oro, his hometown for Ramadan lectures for three consecutive years.
“This is a shining example of religious harmony and peaceful co-existence that we know in Nigeria.
“For three years, a Church making its premises available free of charge for the annual Ramadan lecture.
“This is contrary to the acrimony and mutual suspicion that many religious leaders are promoting today.
“The lesson from this is that the religious disharmony that is being propagated today by some religious leaders is avoidable, and that adherents of the two major religions do not have to be enemies,” he said.
Mohammed also gave a similar account when a Church in the heart of Lagos had to shift its Sunday service forward to enable Muslim faithful celebrate Sallah when the date fell on a Sunday.
“I have been living in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, for almost 25 years and during annual Eid-el-Fitr and Eid-el-Kabir, we, the Muslims always have our open prayers at Arch Bishop Vining Memorial Church belonging to Anglican Communion.
“There was a particular year, Eid-el-Kabir fell on a Sunday when the venue will also be used for the usual Christian service.
“With this development, we all agreed that we should come very early to pray so as not to disrupt the church service.
“To our surprise, the management of Vining Memorial Cathedral rescheduled their own Sunday service to noon after we would have left the place.
“I have not seen better example of religious tolerance in Nigeria,’’ he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Prof. Emeritus, Nimi Briggs from University of Port-Harcourt said in-spite of all the challenges facing the country, Nigeria was not a failed state and should not be allowed to be one.
Briggs who is the Guest speaker at the event said: “Several Nations have had worse experiences and have returned to the path of rectitude.
“We should be encouraged by their outcome because humans are remarkably good at meeting the challenges of their environment and Nigeria will meet and overcome its present predicaments.
“What we are experiencing these days has inherited various behavioural adaptation that proved useful to previous generations’’.
On his part, the Chairman of the occasion and former Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole described the celebrant as a bridge builder and an epitome of Nigeria unity.
He said besides having the best time of his practice in Kaduna and Borno, Ogunbiyi established a top-rated hospital, Nakowa Specialist Hospital in Maiduguri where he married from.
Other dignitaries who spoke glowingly of the celebrants were Borno Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum represented by his Deputy, Umar Kadafar, Serving Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Odili and former Minister of FCT, Mohammed Abba-Gana also from Borno.
In his speech, the celebrant said he was convinced that Nigeria would remain one indivisible nation where cultural, ethnic and religious diversity would be recognised, respected and harnessed.
Ogunbiyi said cross-cultural marriage should be used as a tool of national unity and one of the powerful ways national diversity could be harnessed.
“I remain a veritable example of this conviction having married a woman from Borno, a distance of more than 1,000km from my hometown, Iloffa, Kwara.”
He noted that Borno where he had served for 40 years was not synonymous with Boko Haram insurgency.
Ogunbiyi testified that the people of Borno “are good, hospitable and the state is open to investors both indigenous and foreign alike.’’ (NAN)