Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida
By Chuks Okocha and Paul Obi
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, Sunday took on Ijaw leader and former Federal Commissioner of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, for indicting him over the activities of Boko Haram.
Babangida, in a statement by his media aide, Kassim Afegbua, referred to Clark as a ‘loose cannon’ in public discourse, who deserves pity.
Describing Clark’s statement as not only misguided but senseless, Babangida said that having contributed to the unity of Nigeria, he cannot have anything to do with the terrorism that Boko Haram has unleashed on the nation.
Clark, who was a guest lecturer at a symposium organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in Abuja last Wednesday, had said Babangida and former military head of state, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s silence on the Boko Haram crisis was not golden and amounted to a tacit support for the group.
“IBB should have spoken on the Boko Haram issue long before now, why has he been silent all this while? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has visited Maiduguri, why have IBB and General Buhari not visited the place?” he asked.
The elder statesman, at another occasion in Abuja at the weekend, however extolled the cordial relationship between the South-south and the Middle Belt, which he said had strengthened Nigeria’s unity.
Babangida, in the statement, said having left the political turf for the younger generation, people like Clark should not drag him into unnecessary controversy on national issues.
“The former President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and civil war hero does not and will not have a hand in anything untoward against the unity and stability of the Nigerian state.
“Having seen it all in life, and now enjoying his retirement in Minna, Niger State, General Ibrahim Babangida has paid his dues by serving his fatherland to the best of his ability at various times in the history of the country.
“Having invested so much in the unity and stability of the country, to the extent of fighting in the civil war to keep the country together, it is out of place for anyone, least of all an old man of Edwin Clark’s nomenclature, to input directly or indirectly that the great IBB should prove his innocence on the Boko Haram menace.
“We want to believe that Chief Edwin Clark was quoted out of context, but if indeed he did say what was credited to him, we are forced to accept the conclusion that on account of his age, his senses have since departed him. He needs our empathy and not sympathy.
“We have since known Chief Edwin Clark to be a lose cannon in public discourse. He deserves our pity,” the statement added.
Babangida said rather than crucify him (Babangida), Clark should advise President Goodluck Jonathan to undertake more consultations with former presidents, opinion moulders and leaders of thoughts nationwide to find lasting and integrated solutions to the nation’s problems.
He also threatened to take legal action against Clark, should his name be dragged into the Boko Haram crisis, saying,
“Let it be noted that further implied statements and misplaced accusations from Chief Edwin Clark would be greeted with litigation. A word is enough for the aged.”
According to him, “With the ethnic mindset of Chief Edwin Clark, we can understand why the country appears fixated and why there has been no nationally accepted approach to combating this Boko Haram menace.
“Anyone who sees the Boko Haram menace as strictly a Northern affair would be exhibiting crass ignorance about leadership in a multi-ethnic configuration like Nigeria.
“The earlier we begin the patriotic process of viewing challenges as a collective responsibility, the better it would be for finding solutions to the problem.
“When ethnic jingoists speak and reason in the manner that Chief Edwin Clark did, then we have a huge problem on our hands.”
The former president also advised Jonathan to use some respected Muslim clerics in the North as intermediaries to reach to members of Boko Haram and to appeal for calm and understanding in the interest of the unity and stability of the system.
“Needless to state that government is a huge institution with several options open to it. And the earlier we discard this old method of reactionary approach and adopt a proactive one in handling sensitive situations such as the one under reference, the better it will be for the country.
“General Ibrahim Babangida has offered several approaches and methodologies to addressing the precarious situation both in public and private, and had stated without equivocation that dialogue would serve as a better tool than this militant approach which is not yielding appropriate results,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Clark at the weekend, in Abuja, described the political alliance between the people of the South-south and the Middle Belt as the pillar on which the political unity of Nigeria stands.
He said at a reception to mark the 70th birthday of former Military Administrator of Plateau State, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd), that the two regions’ alliance during the 2011 election, under the auspices of Congress for Equality and Change, helped to ensure that all Nigerians have an equal political status to aspire to any political position.
“The movement reinforced the confidence of Nigerians in the political system that guarantees the opportunity for any part of the country to realise its political aspirations,” he said.
Clark also praised the contributions of the Middle Belt in unifying not only Nigeria but the West African sub-region through the efforts of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), in the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), adding that the sub-regional body has remained a rallying point for peace and economic development within the sub-region.
Chairman of the occasion and former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, said Suleiman would remain a role model throughout the country because of his excellence, achievements and leadership style.
Also speaking, Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, lauded the attributes of the celebrant and described him as one of the most popular governors that had ever ruled Plateau State because of the development he brought to the state.