Jonathan pledges national dialogue to heal 'divided' Nigeria
01 October 2013, 14:15
Lagos - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday
promised a national dialogue to heal what he said was an ethnically and
religiously divided nation, and urged his compatriots to unite against
extremism to avoid the fate of Syria.
Jonathan struck a sombre tone in a televised speech to mark
Nigeria's 53rd year of independence from Britain.
"These may not be the best of times ... Our people are
divided in many ways - ethnically, religiously, politically and materially. I
cannot hide from this reality," he said.
"We have a duty as Nigerians, whatever may be our
differences, to always put Nigeria first."
His speech followed an attack on a college by suspected Boko
Haram militants, who want to turn the northern half of Nigeria into an Islamic
state, that killed 41 students. Many were shot dead as they slept in
"This act of barbarism is a demonstration of the extent
to which evil forces will go to destabilise our nation. But I assure you, they
will not succeed," Jonathan said.
Nigeria's nearly 170 million people and 250 ethnic groups,
split roughly evenly between Islam, which dominates in the north, and
Christianity, prevalent in the south, mostly live side by side in peace. But
the country suffers bouts of bloodshed over land where the two religions meet
in the middle.
The oil producing Niger Delta is a haven for criminal gangs
who steal oil and kidnap, while the Boko Haram insurgency has killed thousands
and destablised swathes of the north.
"Reflect on the fact that Syria ... once a peaceful,
thriving, multicultural nation ... has today become a theatre of human misery
of unimaginable proportions as a result of the activities of extremist
forces," Jonathan said.
The United Nations says more than 100 000 people have been
killed in Syria's civil war and millions displaced.
Nigeria suffered its own civil war in the late 1960s.
Jonathan announced the formation of a committee to host a
national dialogue for Nigerians to try to come together to resolve their
Boko Haram and spin-off Islamist groups like the al-Qaeda-linked
Ansaru have become the biggest security threat in Africa's second-largest
economy and top oil exporter.
Jonathan declared a state of emergency in some northern
states in May and ordered in extra troops to combat Boko Haram. The operation
dislodged the militants from their bases but scattered them into more remote
areas from where they have engaged in reprisal attacks that have killed several
hundred people, mostly civilians.
The president faces challenges to his authority from a split
within his own ruling party, largely along north-south lines, over his alleged
intention to run again in the 2015 election. He declines to say whether he will
Northerners point to an unwritten rule that the presidency
rotates between north and south every two terms. Others are unhappy with his
record on corruption and security.
Jonathan said: "Those who are elected to govern ...
must focus on improving the lives of our people, not selfish ambition."