•PDP, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Southern, Middle Belt leaders back former president
•Yakassai faults content of letter
By Our Correspondents
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday expressed concern over the spike in cases of killings and kidnappings in Nigeria and called on President Muhammed Buhari to pull back the country from plunging into an abyss of insecurity.
Obasanjo, in an open letter to the president, released in Abeokuta, warned the president that Nigeria was on the edge of the precipice and urgent steps must be taken to find lasting solutions before Nigeria witnesses the Rwandan-type genocide or turn to another Yugoslavia.
His letter, which detailed the security challenges confronting the nation and his suggestions on how to resolve them, including a national conference, elicited varied reactions from some critical stakeholders.
The leadership of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF); pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere; and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) aligned with Obasanjo’s position, calling on Buhari to take the former president’s warning seriously before it is too late.
But a former Liaison Officer to Second Republic President Shehu Shagari and a founding member of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, dismissed the content of Obasanjo’s letter, describing it as not only selfish but also unpatriotic, ill-conceived and a clear invitation to national disaster.
When THISDAY contacted one of the presidential spokesmen, Mallam Garba Shehu, via telephone yesterday, he said he was working on a statement conveying the president’s reaction to the letter.
“I’m working on a statement. Thank you,” he said in a text message.
However, as at press time, he had not issued it.
Obasanjo, in the letter dated July 15, 2019 and addressed to Buhari, a copy of which was made available to journalists in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, by his media aide, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi, said security challenges could no longer be ignored, treated with nonchalance, swept under the carpet or treated with levity.
Obasanjo told Buhari that if there was failure, the principal responsibility would be that of the president and no one else, adding that the blame game among Buhari’s appointees must be avoided.
He said: “The issue is hitting at the foundation of our existence as Nigerians and fast eroding the root of our Nigerian community. I am very much worried and afraid that we are on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay.
“Without being immodest, as a Nigerian who still bears the scar of the Nigerian civil war on my body and with a son who bears the scar of fighting Boko Haram on his body, you can understand, I hope, why I am so concerned. When people are desperate and feel that they cannot have confidence in the ability of government to provide security for their lives and properties, they will take recourse to anything and everything that can guarantee their security individually and collectively.
“For over 10 years, for four of which you have been the captain of the ship, Boko Haram has menacingly ravaged the land and in spite of the government’s claim of victory over Boko Haram, the potency and the activities of Boko Haram, where they are active, remain undiminished, putting lie to government’s claim.
“The recent explanation of the Chief of Army Staff for non-victory due to lack of commitment and lack of motivation on the part of troops bordering on sabotage speaks for itself. Say what you will, Boko Haram is still a daily issue of insecurity for those who are victimised, killed, maimed, kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery and forced into marriage and for children forcibly recruited into carrying bombs on them to detonate among crowds of people to cause maximum destructions and damage. And Boko Haram will not go away on the basis of sticks alone, carrots must overweigh sticks. How else do you deal with issues such as only about 50 per cent literacy in North-east with over 70 per cent unemployment?”
According to Obasanjo, herdsmen/farmers crises and menace started with government treating the issue with cuddling glove instead of hammer.
“Today, it has developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and killings all over the country. The unfortunate situation is that the criminality is being perceived as a ‘Fulani’ menace unleashed by Fulani elite in the different parts of the country for a number of reasons but even more unfortunately, many Nigerians and non-Nigerians who are friends of Nigeria attach vicarious responsibility to you as a Fulani elite and the current captain of the Nigeria ship. Perception may be as potent as reality at times. Whatever may be the grievances of the Fulanis, if any, they need to be put out in the open and their grievances, if legitimate, be addressed; and if other ethnic groups have grievances, let them also be brought out in the open and addressed through debate and dialogue,” the former president added.
He identified poor management and mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity as being responsible for the current spate of security challenges in the country.
“The main issue, if I may dare say, is poor management or mismanagement of diversity which, on the other hand, is one of our greatest and most important assets.
“As a result, very onerous cloud is gathering. And rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome. Nothing should be taken for granted, the clock is ticking with the cacophony of dissatisfaction and disaffection everywhere in and outside the country.
“The Presidency and the Congress in the US have signalled to us to put our house in order. The House of Lords in the UK had debated the Nigerian security situation. We must understand and appreciate the significance, implication and likely consequences of such concerns and deliberations.
“With the death of Funke, Chief Fasoranti’s daughter, some sympathetic Nigerian groups are saying “enough is enough”. Prof. Anya, a distinguished Nigerian merit Laureate, has this to say “We can no longer say with certainty that we have a nation.
“Niger-Delta leaders, South-Eastern leaders, Middle-Belt leaders and Northern Elders Forum have not remained quiet. Different ordinary Nigerians at home and abroad are calling for different measures to address or ameliorate the situation. All the calls and cries can only continue to be ignored at the expense of Nigerian unity, if not its continued existence,” he added.
The former president expressed worries about the inability of Buhari to tackle the challenges headlong, raising the alarm that the president might have abandoned Nigeria to be at the mercy of criminals whom he said were all suspected to be Fulanis.
“To be explicit and without equivocation, Mr. President and General, I am deeply worried about four avoidable calamities: abandoning Nigeria into the hands of criminals who are all being suspected, rightly or wrongly, as Fulanis and terrorists of Boko Haram type; spontaneous or planned reprisal against Fulanis which may inadvertently or advertently mushroom into pogrom or Rwanda-type genocide that we did not believe could happen and yet it happened; similar attacks against any other tribe or ethnic group anywhere in the country initiated by rumours, fears, intimidation and revenge capable of leading to pogrom; violent uprising beginning from one section of the country and spreading quickly to other areas and leading to dismemberment of the country,” Obasanjo said.
In the letter, Obasanjo urged the president to rally the people towards forging consensus that could engender national unity, stability, security, cooperation, development, growth and progress.
He called on the federal government “to open up discussion, debate and dialogue as part of consultation at different levels and the outcome of such deliberations should be collated to form inputs into a national conference to come up with solutions that will effectively deal with the issues and lead to rapid development, growth and progress….”
In addition, he urged the president to work towards birthing a “nationally accepted strategic roadmap that will not change with whims and caprices of any government.”
“It must be owned by the citizens, people’s policy and strategy implemented by the government no matter its colour and leaning,” he said.
However, in forging the consensus and achieving a “nationally accepted strategic roadmap,” Obasanjo said Buhari should mobilise the support of former heads of state, former governors, traditional rulers, past heads of service, former heads of para-military organisations, private sector, civil society, community leaders and religious leaders, among others.
PDP, Afenifere, SMBLF, Ohanaeze Back Obasanjo
In swift reactions to Obasanjo’s letter, PDP, SMBLF and Afenifere called on the president to take the former president’s warning seriously before it is too late.
In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said Obasanjo’s vindicated the party’s position.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, described the letter as patriotic and a proof that Buhari has failed as the nation’s chief security officer.
“The PDP urges President Buhari to read between the lines and listen to the voice of reason from well-meaning Nigerians at this moment.
“Our party is deeply worried that our nation, which grew in leaps and bounds in all sectors before the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over in 2015, is now dangerously sliding on all fronts under President Buhari, who has shown crass incompetence in managing our national affairs.
“The PDP maintains that had President Buhari heed wise counsel to rejig his parade and respect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians in the national interest, our nation would not have been on this dangerous bend,” it said.
Afenifere chieftain and notable Yoruba leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and spokesman of SMBLF, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in separate telephone interviews with THISDAY, asked Buhari to act now before it is too late.
Adebanjo said the country had reached a point where the president should either act now or it would be ‘to thy tent oh Israel.’
“I endorse what he (Obasanjo) wrote 100 per cent. He has always had the language. He knows all the issues that I have been talking about. He has been talking about it. The more the merrier. I agree 100 per cent. If it is only to comment on what is on now (the killing of the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin); people are saying ‘how do you know it is Fulani?’ Bola said it is not them, it is armed robber – Bola Tinubu, he is talking nonsense! He is just saying things to be relevant with Buhari who he feels will give him presidency in 2023.
“Yoruba people no longer trust any security in the hands of non-indigenes of our area. Only for now, the personnel should be changed to indigenes of this area; the police, the army, the DSS, every security personnel should be indigenes of this place. We no longer trust any non-indigene-policemen or security men. That should be done immediately before the question of restructuring and state police,” he added.
On his part, Odumakin stated that Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari was “a patriotic decision,” adding that “the former president has come out to speak truth to power when some voices have embraced the culture of silence or even sulking up to the terrorists who are troubling Nigeria for their immediate gains. Obasanjo has put all that aside to continue to speak truth at all times.”
According to him, the letter showed the woes afflicting Nigeria presently and the failure of leadership.
“If the government is serious, Obasanjo should not be telling him now that there is a need for a national dialogue with what is going on. The Nigerian government today has put us in a place where it can only talk to the Fulani herdsmen and all the rest of Nigeria, and not to put the people together. That is serious to the polity,” Odumakin said.
President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, also aligned with the views expressed by Obasanjo.
Nwodo who spoke to THISDAY, saluted the courage and patriotism of the former president, saying that the situation in the country has become worrisome and called on all people of goodwill to rise up and speak out.
“Obasanjo simply supported the stand I held yesterday and expanded the reasons for a conference. I welcome him to this school of thought and salute his courage and patriotism,” Nwodo said.
However, the ACF declined comment on Obasanjo’s letter until it studies the content.
Spokesman of the group, Mr. Anthony Sani, told THISDAY that the organisation would react soon.
Letter Unpatriotic, Says Yakassai
Yakassai who also reacted to the letter, described it as not only selfish but unpatriotic, ill-conceived and a clear invitation to national disaster.
Yakassai told a group of journalists in Kano yesterday that he did not see any hint of patriotism in Obasanjo’s letters.
“In fact, all the letters written by General Obasanjo to all military heads of state and presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are not guided by patriotic considerations.
“My experience with the Nigerian political situation is that the top echelons of the military are always fighting one another, either when in the service or when on retirement.
“It is from this angle that I always view most of the writings of General Olusegun Obasanjo to any military officer who is a Head of State or president in Nigeria as unpatriotic. Even the ones he wrote to former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua were not patriotic. They were guided by selfish interest,” he said.
He added that there was nothing new in the latest letter the former president wrote to the president.