In his usual style of drawing the attention of the Presidency and Nigerians to sensitive and critical national issues drowning the country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo on July 15, 2019, yet again, penned an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Among others, he screamed, “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.”
“…The issue I am addressing here is very serious; it is the issue of life and death for all of us and for our dear country, Nigeria.”
His outburst unsettled not a few. Itse Sagay took the first shot. He described Obasanjo’s action as childish and immature. “As far as I’m concerned, Obasanjo’s main motive is publicity, the capacity to embarrass the President, and for adulation,” he said.
The Fulani socio-cultural organization, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, on its part, called for Obasanjo’s arrest when its National Secretary, Alhassan Saleh, in an interview, said: “The earlier they get him (Obasanjo) arrested and dealt with, according to the laws of the land, the better. He doesn’t mean well for the country.”
Similarly, the founding father of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Tanko Yakassai, described Obasanjo’s open letter as selfish and unpatriotic. He said: “The actions of General Olusegun Obasanjo are, indeed, an open invitation for disaster for this country with the kind of hate speeches and messages that are flying all over the country.”
The presidency was not left out in the effort to drown Obasanjo’s voice. While receiving the National Executive of the Buhari Campaign Organisation at the State House, on July 16, 2019, President Buhari said: “those who politicize the isolated incidents of insecurity are not patriotic Nigerians.”
Obasanjo had, earlier in January 2018, written a 13-page open letter to Buhari entitled: “The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Nigeria Movement.” The letter dwelt on Buhari’s leadership style and in it Obasanjo urged Buhari not to run for another term in office.
Despite the negative reactions to Obasanjo’s letter, the message has been passed. John Chukwu of Ripples Nigeria examines 5 takeaways from ex-President Obasanjo’s latest ‘love note’ to Buhari.
1. National dialogue, a necessity
Hinged on mutual distrust, suspicion and rising ethnic tension, Obasanjo calls for a national conference where people and groups will open up on their grievances and solutions given to them.
“Whatever may be the grievances of 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,” he wrote.
2. ‘More carrot than stick’ to defeat Boko Haram
Neither degraded nor technically defeated, Obasanjo thinks that the fight against the Boko insurgents demands a fresh strategy.
“For over ten years, for four of which you have been the captain of the ship, Boko Haram has menacingly ravaged the land and in spite of 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,” Obasanjo said.
He recommended that more of the carrot approach than just stick be used to fight the insurgency in the Northeast.
“And Boko Haram will not go away on the basis of sticks alone, carrots must overweigh sticks,” he stated.
3. ‘Hammer’ for herdsmen/farmers’ conflict
For the apparent tardiness that has signpost government’s response to the rising conflict between herders and farmers, the ex-President calls for a more combative and even-handed approach. Said Obasanjo:
“Herdsmen/farmers crises and menace started with government treating the issue with cuddling glove instead of hammer. It has festered and spread. Today, it has developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and killings all over the country.”
4. Revitalize…diminishing sense of belonging
Given observable gaps in the management of the nation’s diversity, Obasanjo insists that one way to rebuild the country’s shredded claim to unity is to revitalize its diminishing sense of belonging among its various peoples through a regime of inclusiveness.
“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,” Obasanjo wrote.
He added, “Niger Delta leaders, Southeast leaders, Middle Belt leaders and Northern Elders Forum have not remained quiet. Nigerians home and abroad are calling for different measures to ameliorate the situation.
“All the calls and cries can only continue to be ignored at the expense of Nigerian unity.”
5. Tame fake news, hate speech or risk another war
Concerned about the reign of fake news and its offshoot, hate speech, Obasanjo cautions that this twin evils must be tamed or the country risks a return to the days of genocide and civil war.
Obasanjo fears that one or a combination of four calamities may happen if the Buhari administration loses its grip on proper handling of the nation’s fragile unity.
These are abandoning Nigeria into the hands of criminals suspected rightly or wrongly as Fulanis or Boko Haram terrorists, planned reprisals against the Fulanis which may inadvertently or advertently grow into a pogrom or Rwanda-type of genocide, violent uprising beginning from one section of the country and spreading quickly to other areas and dismember the country.
“If we do not act now, one or all of these scenarios may happen,” Obasanjo noted.