The acting president, who said the federal government was committed to the course of unity and peace of Nigeria, said anyone caught in the web of offensive and divisive speech would be made to feel the full weight of the law.
The meeting, which was a follow-up to his earlier meeting at the weekend with service chiefs when he instructed them to ensure adequate protection of lives and property of Nigerians, was attended by Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Also present at the meeting were the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olanishakin; Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and former Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Comassie; a member of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi; and a former Sokoto State Governor, Aliyu Wamako.
The meeting marked the beginning of the acting president’s scheduled separate meetings with Northern and South-eastern leaders over the recent ultimatum issued by a coalition of Northern youths to the people of South-east to vacate the North by October 1 or face dire consequences, and the equally divisive response by groups in the South-east region, including pro-Biafra agitators.
Osinbajo will meet with South-east leaders Wednesday and Northern emirs over the matter on Friday.
The acting president, who said he knew that misunderstandings and frustrations might arise among the people, was swift to add that such situations must be carefully managed to ensure they don’t degenerate into a monumental crisis.
He said those who had witnessed war in the past would dread the same experience, even for their worst enemies, insisting that this was not the time for anyone to play the ethnic card.
Noting that hate and divisive statements could lead to violence and destruction of human lives and property, the acting president vowed that anyone who resorts to making volatile speeches capable of plunging the nation into sedition or violence would be adequately dealt with.
“Every form of violence, every form of hate speech, any stone that is thrown in the market place will hit targets that are going to be deadly.
“So I need us to be fully conscious of that and the Nigerian people must be made to be fully conscious of that so that we do not create a crisis that is not intended.
“As part of living together, I know that misunderstandings and frustrations will always arise and people will always want to get the best part of the deal, but we must be careful to recognise that we can only begin to talk about any part of anything if we are together in peace.
“These days, wars do not end and I am sure that those who have seen or experienced war in any shape or form will not wish it for their worst enemies.
“This is not a time to retreat behind ethnic lines, moments like these are not for isolating ourselves. I want to urge all of us here and for the entire Nigerian populace to come together and work together.
“As a government, we are determined to ensure the unity of the country along the lines of our Constitution and I want to say that hate and divisive speech or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law.
“And I want to ensure that there is no doubt at all that it is the resolve of the government that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause sedition or that can cause violence, especially because when we make these kinds of pronouncements and do things that can cause violence or lead to the destruction of lives and property, we are no longer in control. Those who make those speeches are no longer in control.
“So I want to emphasise that government will take very seriously any attempts to cause violence or disrupt the peace of this country. And that is very important because you cannot control violence once it begins,” he warned.
Osinbajo had at the weekend ordered the security agencies to ensure adequate protection of lives and property of Nigerians in different parts of the country.
According to a tweet by his spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, earlier Tuesday, Osinbajo gave the order when he met with security chiefs at the weekend.
He also said the acting president Tuesday began a series of separate meetings with Northern and Eastern leaders with a view to nipping the matter in the bud.
“The acting president will start a series of consultations with leaders of thought from Northern and Eastern regions of this country this afternoon.
“The acting president met over the weekend with security chiefs and gave firm instructions on the need to protect lives and property of all Nigerians always, everywhere.
“Acting President@ProfOsinbajo will first meet each group separately on different days this week and then meet them together,” Akande tweeted.