By Femi Fani-Kayode
I give thanks to God for bringing me back home safe after spending seven wonderful, memorable and historic days in Gusau with my friend and brother, His Excellency Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle of Zamfara state.
I was received in Zamfara with joy, love and kindness wherever I went and I was treated as if I were a son of the soil. It really was awesome and I was humbled and surprised.
The overwhelming majority of the people of Zamfara state are warm, humble and kind-hearted and I urge every Nigerian to visit the state to see it for themselves.
During the course of my trip I saw the wonderful things that Matawalle has done in the state over the last one year since he came to power and how he has restored peace in most parts of the state and brought hope, joy, strength, confidence and prosperity to the people.
Whilst there I learnt about the massive gold and diamond reserves and mines in the top soil of the state which, once the ban on mining is lifted and after proper development and extraction, will eventually propel Zamfara to be the richest and most prosperous state in Nigeria.
I also visited one of the three massive Ruga settlements that were under construction and discovered how this initiative has resulted in a lasting peace process and healing amongst the various hitherto warring communities in the state.
I saw the massive infra-structural development that is going on in the state and witnessed the strong collaboration that exists between the state and Federal Government to fight and crush the local terrorists by deploying soldiers and police in strategic locations.
I went to every nook.and cranny of the state and when I paid a courtesy call on His Royal Majesty, Alhaji Garba Tambari, the Emir of Maradun, I was warmly received and treated to a massive and sumptuous lunch at the palace which was attended by hundreds of people.
This was a great honour for me and I was touched by it. What made it all the more moving was the fact that the Emir had been in the defunct National Party of Nigeria with my father and he knew him well. We had much to talk about!
The following day His Royal Majesty, Alhaji Muhammad Makwashe, the Emir of Shinkafi, and the Shinkafi Emirate Council conferred me with the ancient and historic title of Sadaukin Shinkafi, which means the “warrior/hero” of the Shinkafi Emirate.
I was deeply humbled by this great honour and this is all the more so because I never expected it. I thank his Royal Highness and the Emirate Council for the confidence they have bestowed in me and I pledge to live up to their expectations and build bridges of peace, mutual respect and harmony between our various communities and people.
After meeting so many other leaders in the state and exchanging views and ideas with various political groups and NGO’s I spent much of the time resting, thinking and meditating about the importance of peace, bridge-building, unity and understanding in our country which are sentiments that my brother Governor Matawalle also cherishes and holds dear.
We spoke extensively into the early hours of the morning virtually every night and we agreed to build bridges between the north and the south and between members of the Christian and Muslim faith in order to save Nigeria and pull her back from the brink.
I might add that this is something that he has been in the forefront of doing well before he became Governor and I am glad to see that he has continued, with even greater zest and zeal, after he became Governor.
It could well be that this is precisely why God removed his predecessor in office and gave him power. The Lord never makes mistakes and His timing is always perfect.
In my view the path that Matawalle has chosen proves his quality and worth as a leader and I have a feeling that over the next few years he will play a critical role in the affairs of this country and will be instrumental in keeping her together.
In order to make Nigeria a just, noble, civilised, humane and equitable society that regards every single Nigerian as being equal regardless of tribe or faith we must identify those on both sides of the north/south divide that are moderate, reasonable and rational, that believe in fairness, equity, justice and equality and that understand and appreciate the importance of peace, unity, mutual respect and understanding.
Once we are in a position to identify such people we must then resolve to join forces and work with them in our quest to build a better, greater, fairer and safer Nigeria in which all of our compatriots can live in peace and harmony.
It is because Matawalle believes in this that he and I are close and have been so for years.
Thankfully there are many other leaders in the core north that think like him such as Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Governor Bala Mohammed, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi (Wambai Shinkafi), former Governor Ahmed Makarfi, Alhaji Tanimu Kabiru Turaki SAN, Ambassador Bashir Yuguda, former Governor Sule Lamido, Col. Sambo Dasuki, General Aliyu Gusau and Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim Imam.
These are reasonable, rational and enlightened men who have a deep knowledge of history, a keen sense of justice and who represent the last hope for Nigerian unity.
I say this because, unlike some that are in power in our country today, they do not believe in using violence as a means to an end and neither do they believe in or are part of any hidden religious or ethnic agenda.
They do not believe in hegemony, suppression, subjugation, tyranny or racial and religious domination and persecution and they see themselves as being Nigerians before being anything else.
These are the type of people that those of us with like minds from the south can work with, join hands with and build a new Nigeria with. We have a duty to our respective people and an obligation to our God to do no less.
Most importantly, as leaders, we must never be led, moved or motivated by hate or pain but rather by compassion, understanding and a deep appreciation of the virtues of decency, equity and justice.
We must give hope and inspire rather than encourage division and endless strife. We must attempt to heal the wounds of the past rather than attempt to inflict new and even more painful ones.
It is leaders that have this mindset, regardless of their faith or where they come from in the country, that can save Nigeria from a frightful and dangerous implosion and total collapse.
If we fail to identify and build bridges with such leaders Nigeria is not only doomed but is also destined for a long and terrible war which no sane person wishes for and which will not augur well for our people.
Worst of all is the fact that no-one will ever win such a war: we will all lose and we will all end up shedding tears for many years to come.
This is why we must build bridges no matter how difficult it may be and no matter how many hurdles may be put in our way.
We must build bridges regardless of the insidious motives and misconceptions that many that know no better and that have been poisoned, embittered and blinded by hate have attributed to those of us that have opted to indulge in such a noble gesture and exercise.
We must build bridges even though a few shallow, undiscerning, feeble-minded, misguided, naive, gullible, ignorant and politically-motivated individuals believe and see our quest as nothing but an exercise in futility and a total capitulation to tyranny and injustice.
We must build bridges even though the extremists on both sides of the divide shall hate us and cast aspersions on the character of those of us that seek to do so.
We must build bridges because everything, including the future and very existence of our people, depends on it.
The easiest path to tread in any controversy or complex situation is one of conflict, acrimony, confrontation, extremism and ultimately violence and war. We have all trod that path in the past in various degrees but, if pursued to the bitter end, it leads to nothing but mutual annihilation and utter destruction.
Both Islam and Christianity confirm the wisdom and beauty of dialogue and bridge-building and only the enlightened can appreciate the fact that dialogue does not mean capitulation.
An attempt to make peace and engender good relations with those that have like minds and similar values cannot be described as cowardice, betrayal, compromise or weakness.
As a matter of fact the opposite is the case and it is rather those that refuse to seek peace and build bridges and that refuse to even talk to those that they perceive wrongly and erroneously as their adversaries and life-long sworn enemies that are the cowards.
Followers can afford to harbour such irresponsible sentiments but leaders cannot do so because it would result in drastic and dire consequences.
I believe that it is appropriate and wise to always extend a handshake where one is offered. Only the mad and blind and those that trade, thrive and derive sadistic pleasure in the shedding of innocent blood and the destruction of lives and property refuse to do so.
Such people have no place in a civilised society or at the table of peace and we should not allow their negative rantings and cynical disposition to distract or deter us from making that peace and building that bridge.
On my 6th day in Zamfara Matawalle and I went to Sokoto state to meet with our mutual friend and brother Governor Aminu Tambuwal where we spent the night.
Again we had fruitful and productive discussions about how to move the country forward and I was once again received with nothing but love and understanding.
Contrary to the expectations of many, Sokoto is actually a very peaceful and beautiful ancient town and all those I met there treated me with love and respect.
Before leaving Sokoto and in the company of the two Governors, I paid a courtesy call on His Eminence, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar IV, the Sultan of Sokoto.
I was deeply humbled by his kind words, wise counsel, deep knowledge and insight and genuine warmth and I thank him for receiving me.
This was the first time that I had the privilege of meeting with the Sultan and I was very impressed with his deep and profound understanding of the complex issues that our country and people are faced with and his remarkable knowledge and recollection of our history.
The Muslim community in Nigeria is blessed with a truly great and wise leader who is worthy of nothing but the greatest respect and the highest honour.
I am convinced that as long as we have political leaders and traditional rulers that are ready to work together and that are prepared to communicate regularly and dialogue frankly and candidly, no matter how hard that might be and no matter what we may have said and done to each other in the past, there is still hope for Nigeria.
We must forgive one another for past hurts and slights and we must attempt to put our differences aside and recognise our common humanity. That ought to be the guiding principle and focus as from today and it shall certainly be mine.
There is no gainsaying that in all faiths, in all races and in all tribes we have both good and bad. Not one tribe or faith is free of evil men and not one is made up of solely demons or angels.
All tribes and races have both and what is reckless, dangerous, unacceptable and indefensible is for us to demonise a whole race or a whole faith simply because of the actions of a few. And to a large extent many of us have been guilty of doing that in varying degrees over the years.
I am committed to continue to resisting all forms of evil and tyranny, to speaking for the voiceless, to defending the defenceless and to stand for the oppressed just as I have been doing, at great risk to my life and liberty, for many years.
That will never change and neither will I ever compromise or prostitute my principles and values. I will never compromise with evil or betray my faith and neither will I ever bow before hegemony or tyranny.
I will never be a slave to anyone or allow others to enslave my people and neither will I ever give up on or forsake the struggle for freedom, equality, liberty and equity in our country.
I will continue to resist and speak against all forms of subjugation and injustice in the South and the Middle Belt but henceforth I will also speak up for the many victims of oppression, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, slaughter, injustice, wickedness and genocide in the core north as well.
They are also being butchered and slaughtered like flies by evil souls, bandits and terrorists from mainly outside our shores and not enough of us acknowledge or recognise this. Not enough of us really care.
Not enough of us acknowledge their sufferings or speak against the evil that they have been subjected to by uncaring leaders and vicious and barbaric terrorist organisations.
A situation where up until Matawalle came to power in Zamfara just one year ago up to 300 to 500 people were being killed every day is unacceptable. This was the case yet the rest of the country said nothing.
Wherever I see injustice and wickedness being unleashed on any Nigerian I will continue to fight it because that is my calling. I will no longer fight for just some of our people but rather for all of them.
We cannot just fight for our tribe but we must fight for all tribes. We cannot just fight for our region or zone but we must fight for all regions and all zones. We cannot just fight for our faith but we must fight for all faiths.
That is leadership. That is courage. That is righteousness and decency. That is God.
I love the people of the core north as much as I love the people of the south east, the south south, the south west and the Middle Belt.
I love the people of Zamfara as much as I love the people of Plateau, Southern Kaduna and my great in-laws in the south east who have always and will always have a special place in my heart.
We must bring peace to all our people and we must fight for all of them, both Christians and Muslims. We are after all, all God’s children.
I thank Matawalle, the man of the moment and the man of peace, for building this bridge and I would encourage other northern and southern leaders to take a cue from him and do the same.
We may disagree on many things but there can be no doubt that we all agree on the importance and benefits of peace, unity, love, mutual respect and mutual understanding.
That is the only way to make Nigeria what our forefathers wanted her to be. That is the only way to make us strong and relevant in the wider world and in the international community. That is the only way forward.
That is the only way to build and establish a new, promising, inspiring and restructured Nigeria. May God guide us.