Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
Waheed Shittu writes that the prescription of the Odi solution by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Boko Haram menace is unrealistic
The recent recommendation of the Odi solution by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a way out of the Boko Haram insurgency in some parts of Northern Nigeria calls for a critical evaluation. The former President who spoke recently at a public event in Warri, Delta State, was quoted as having said that the Boko Haram menace would not have escalated so much if President Goodluck Jonathan had taken a cue from how he (Obasanjo) handled the Odi incidence thirteen years ago.
For the benefit of readers, Odi, a small rural community in Bayelsa, South-south of Nigeria was invaded by hundreds of armed soldiers on November 20, 1999 on the order of the then President. The event preceding that invasion was the cold blood murder of twelve police men by some youths within the vicinity of Odi on November 4 and 5 of the same year. The eventual invasion of the Ijaw community resulted in the death of thousands of locals; most of them women, children and aged men. At the end of the raid, none of the youths who allegedly perpetuated the criminal act was apprehended by the soldiers.
Rather, according to reports by several civil society organizations and human rights groups, residential buildings and economic concerns were razed by the rampaging soldiers while the siege lasted. The aftermath of what has come to be known as the Odi massacre is a further militarization of the Niger-Delta region resulting in almost a decade of bombings, killings and kidnappings before the amnesty programme.
It was, therefore, sad and certainly disheartening that the former President under whose tenure the country witnessed series of violent communal and religious clashes in different degrees could refer to the ordering of troops on innocent civilians as an act of “strong leadership”. It will be recalled that while many states in Northern Nigeria boiled in years 2000 and 2001 as a result of the introduction of the Sharia Legal system by some state governments, former President Obasanjo refused to apply the use of force to solve the problem claiming that it would soon fizzle out and termed it political Sharia.
Obasanjo even refused all entreaties to approach the Supreme Court and challenge the legality of the introduction of Sharia Legal System by these states of the federation; describing it as unnecessary and diversionary. Yet, this was a man whom a year or two earlier had ordered troops into a small community of Nigerians and has not even regretted the loss of lives among unarmed civilians.
Why did the former President’s vaunted courage fail him in dealing with problems in the Northern part of Nigeria which threatened the corporate existence of the Nation and suddenly found forceful expression in matters dealing with the minority? Would the former President cede out any other part of Nigeria in the North or even the South-west as he did to Bakassi as a means of making the international community happy about his botched third term agenda? These are some of the questions that many Nigerians would want the former President to respond to if he actually wants to be taken seriously about his prescriptions on the Boko Haram insurgency.
For now, it does appear that the actual desire of Obasanjo is to portray President Jonathan as incapable of solving a problem, which is apparently being curtailed by the proactive policies of Mr. President and professional conduct of security agencies.
This act is clearly unbecoming of a statesman and suggestive of some hidden agenda, which may not be totally unconnected with Obasanjo’s desire to dictate the pace in the national politics of 2015. Our candid advice is that rather than heat up the polity with these kinds of utterances, the former President should have some moment of sober reflection on the Odi massacre and seek necessary restitution with God and man. Nigeria has witnessed enough shedding of innocent blood and must start behaving as a member of an international community, which respects the rule of law and sanctity of human life.
*Waheed is a member of the civil society organisation in Abuja