Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) Federal Republic of Nigeria
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SPEECHES
January 25, 2023
Honourable Minister of Works & Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola.

Religious And Tribal Tolerance: Panacea to Peaceful Co-Existence in Nigeria - The Rev. Euba Example, Being the Text of The First Reverend William Benjamin Euba Memorial Lecture 110th Founders Day Celebration

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank you all for the honour of inviting me to speak at this year's Founders Day celebration of the Eko Boys High School and in particular for inaugurating this Memorial lecture in honour of the visionary Reverend William Benjamin Euba now of very blessed memory, who founded this school.

I know that in 1955 when the Premier of the Western Region inaugurated the free primary education program across the western region, the prevailing condition was one of mass illiteracy.

While many of our people are now literate in numeracy and letters, and they can now operate a telephone, this literacy that we have come to take for granted, was unthinkable on any scale in the western region in 1955.  Large numbers of people simply could not put meaning to numbers and letters talk less of reading or writing.

One of the permanent businesses of that time, was that of a professional letter writer. Yes, in case you did not know or you have forgotten that was a business that once thrived in Nigeria and which happily by the vision and execution of Awolowo, is now history, because the monopoly of knowledge by a few has been democratised by the leadership provided by one man and his team.

But my intervention is not about Obafemi Awolowo but rather about William Euba.

But it is important to put matters in context by emphasising how difficult things were in 1955 when Awolowo intervened, which is just 68 years ago.

You can therefore imagine perhaps how much more difficult the Euba era was, back in January 1913 when he opened the doors of Eko Boys High School to the public to get Educated.

That was 110 years ago today and approximately 42 years before free education started; and interestingly, both events occurred in January.

On a lighter note, and for those who have recently been involved in the debate over who is the greatest of all time between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, I do not intend such a debate between Euba and Awolowo.

Rather, I seek to celebrate the farsightedness of their vision about the importance of education and knowledge to nation building, peaceful coexistence and information management for rational choices.

This school, founded by Reverend Euba, and the many more that have come after it have in my view been the glue that has bound our people together in more ways than we have either acknowledged or appreciated.

This is the background to my discussion of the topic of this lecture: Religious and Tribal Tolerance: Panacea to Peaceful Coexistence in Nigeria - The Reverend Euba Example.

The example of Rev. Euba remains iconic because he set up a school that opened its doors to people from all walks of life, in our diverse country.

The importance of this educational tolerance to peaceful coexistence is easy to miss, if we do not understand how strong identities are, and how even more strongly people cling to their tribal, ethnic, and religious identities.

For those who want to delve into the matter of identity more deeply, I recommend, “IDENTITY: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” by Francis Fukuyama.

But for the purpose of today, it is simply important to stress how strongly those identities magnify our suspicions about one another, inflame myths about others in our minds and expand fault lines that overshadows the common bonds of humanity that we all share.

It is the very early work and initiative of men like Reverend Euba and other missionaries of the time to open access to formal education for African and Nigerian children on a non-discriminatory basis that has helped in no small way to bridge those gaps that are being widened by manipulation of our ethnic and religious diversity.

As I have had cause to argue on occasion, if our creator has demonstrated the capacity to create diversity, certainly nothing could have prevented him from making us all the same other than his infinite wisdom that our diversity would better enrich us and make our planet a more exciting place.

Regrettably this is what a few people (and I insist that they are few) choose to weaponize and deny us of the richness and excitement that the creator intended for us.

Clearly, Reverend Euba saw through their chicanery many years before it matured. He chose education as his weapon to put those few people in their place.

A place of irrelevance and ignominy, supplanted by the training of a large army of young people who have the understanding of both religions, who accept the minor differences between them and who decide to embrace the fundamentals of a common good and a common humanity.

Those young people, by virtue of the opportunity they got to attend the same school, sit in the same classrooms, eat together and participate in sporting activities together have learned that we are not different from one another even if we speak different languages.

Afterall, as Bishop Desmond Tutu of blessed memory argues in his book "God is not a Christian," that the languages we speak and the faith we profess are not divine; on the contrary they are products of where we were born and to whom we were born.

Those accidental circumstances should not define our essence. They should not be points of discord or discontent. Rather they should serve as sources of strength and richness which in fact they are.

It is to the eternal credit of Reverend William Benjamin Euba and others like him that they saw these sources of strength and richness and exposed young men and women to them through education.

This has turned a generation of young men and women into a large army of adults who have overcome religious and ethnic differences to contribute to national good and development.

Permit me to illustrate this phenomenon, by telling you a story that is only one example of many uncountable stories, which keeps the very few peddlers of division in check in our country.

On the 16th day of December 2022, I was invited to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School premises to open an e-learning centre at the school premises in Bariga area of Lagos.

The centre had 300 computers, high speed broadband internet, fully equipped IT lab, for students and many other facilities for librarians and teachers. It was not built by the Anglican mission nor was it built by a Christian.

It was built by a Muslim, Senator Olugbenga Bareehu Ashafa, a two-term senator and now the Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority.

It was built in part because he was an old boy of that school. The Anglican mission did not shut him out about 50 years ago when he sought admission there, on the grounds that he was a Muslim.

On the contrary, they opened their doors to him, and interestingly while still a student, the school gave him a special permission to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca as his parents wished and he returned to complete his education.

As I said, at the occasion, what is a Bareehu doing amongst Anglicans? Only the farsighted vision of missionaries and men like Reverend Euba could have found a place of comfort for a Bareehu amongst Anglicans, and for me a Raji in Eko Boys High School. Yes, I passed through this school for one year.

Ladies and gentlemen, Reverend Euba’s place in Nigeria’s quest for peaceful coexistence is legendary. We cannot thank him enough. May his kind, generous and visionary soul continue to rest in peace and may his example continue to inspire our nation.

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