I am not a fan of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. But I admire his gutsy disposition. Obasanjo is also a lucky man who ruled Nigeria for 11 years. I admire his boldness, gumption and uncommon knack to dare even the devil of politics. He’s also very cerebral, naturally intelligent. He can speak. He can write. He loves writing books and letters. His latest letter to President Muhammadu Buhari has kicked up much dust. It was not his first letter to Buhari. He had written such open letters to former military President, Ibrahim Babangida. Nothing fazes Obasanjo. Neither height nor circumstance diminishes his audacity.
So, when he wrote his latest letter to Buhari, it was no surprise. The 1,462-word letter was mild, tempered and less combative than any in the past. He carefully chose his words. And he hit at the nexus of the behemoth that stands in the way of the nation: insecurity. He did not say anything new; he did not fabricate lies to suit his emotion. He simply aggregated our collective fears and delivered it with the maturity of an elder statesman.
For his intervention, he was tagged ‘unpatriotic’ by the Presidency. Some other Nigerians, for whatever reason, raged and railed at him. I disagree. If anything, it is the Presidency and those cursing the Ota chicken farmer that are unpatriotic and anti-people. President Buhari’s response that kidnapping and banditry happen in other countries is needless and ill-advised. Rather, he begged the issues at stake. For emphasis, Obasanjo did not politicize the issue at stake. He did not accuse the APC of creating the problems. He indicted the PDP which was in power ten years ago, and was in power for six years out of the 10 years he referenced in his letter.
Providence has placed Buhari as father of the nation at this time. He is father over all, including Obasanjo and other statesmen who led before him. In the extant case, we don’t have to like the messenger. We must appreciate the message which was not only timeous but also apt. Rather than rebuke Obasanjo, he should be commended for his courage. Those who deserve our collective rebuttal are those statesmen who have elected to remain silent in the face of monstrous danger.
Some even chided the former president for making the letter ‘open’. He could have privately related his anxiety to Buhari through the appropriate channels at his disposal. Really? But this matter is no longer a private matter. Insecurity in Nigeria is an open matter known to all. We trade fear. We live in fear. The nation is puckered on all fronts, especially along ethnic and religious lines; but more dastardly along ethnic line. These are fault-lines that should never define us. But now they do.
In case, President Buhari does not know this, there is fear in the land. The received opinion out here is that the nation’s entire security apparatchik has surrendered to the criminals and bandits. Honest policemen and soldiers would tell you there is security challenge. It appears the only people who do not see the blood across the nation are the service chiefs, top echelon in our security services and the blind followers and defenders of Buhari.
Yet, it has to be emphasized that Buhari did not create these monsters of insecurity. Obasanjo said as much in his letter. He placed the growing insecurity to as far back as 10 years ago. Kidnapping, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, cow herders menace and such like did not sprout with Buhari government. They have been here even in the Obasanjo years. On this score, we cannot blame Buhari. The snag, however, is that under the Buhari government these crimes have festered more ferociously.
The menace of Fulani adventurers in the Middle Belt and the entire South is something the present government cannot extricate itself from. Insurgency was restricted to the North East with occasional incursion to the North West and North Central but the scourge has pushed its way, boldly but sadly, to the South under Buhari. This also stretched the security agencies. The inability of the security agents to chase the criminals out of the country galvanized other criminals baying at the borders to confidently invade the nation. The result is that more criminal elements have found comfort in Nigeria than they did in Niger Republic, Chad, Mali and elsewhere. It is for this reason that Abuja-Kaduna road is unsafe; that Lagos Benin road is within the command and control of kidnappers, some of them with alien accents.
I challenge top security chiefs who claim the insecurity in Nigeria is exaggerated to drive round the country unaccompanied. I challenge them to get off the train from Abuja to Kaduna and travel by road without escort. They can’t even dare. The bleak truth is that we are living dangerously on the precipice of an avoidable internal implosion.
Ethnic bigotry, the type being traded in high places in today’s Nigeria, has its fatal consequences. The Buhari government has not managed our diversity well. This is the point Obasanjo made in his letter. Ignore this, or pretend that the contrary is the case at your own peril. The president has consistently pandered to his ethnic Fulani stock. He is president of Nigeria and must do everything possible to protect all Nigerians. That is how to manage our diversity effectively.
Those who have reduced the issue of insecurity to a ‘hailers’ versus‘ wailers’ dingdong should ponder what such mischief did to Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Both nations were roiled by ethnicity-induced hostilities. This is not what you wish your enemy, even if such enemy is Nigeria. Many people have recommended a national security summit where the matter should be discussed without fear. Buhari should pay more attention to them, and not to the service chiefs and Presidency hangers-on whose briefings, a vainglorious dose of falsehood, merely make the President feel good. Nothing to feel good about: Nigeria is unsafe for life and living. It’s somebody’s duty to keep us safe.
Let’s hear it from Obasanjo: “The President must be seen to be addressing this issue with utmost seriousness and with maximum dispatch and getting all hands on deck to help.
“If there is a failure, the principal responsibility will be that of the President and no one else. We need cohesion and concentration of effort and maximum force – political, economic, social, psychological and military – to deal successfully with the menace of criminality and terrorism separately and together.
“Blame game among our forces must be avoided. It is debilitating and only helpful to our adversary. We cannot dither anymore. It is time to confront this threat headlong and in a manner that is holistic, inclusive and purposeful.” It couldn’t have been better captured.
Guaranteeing the security and welfare of citizens is the best way to uphold the constitutional principles of democracy and social justice. This is what Buhari swore to uphold. To do otherwise is to have failed in office. The President must stop treating a particular ethnic group with cuddling gloves. He must act as Commander-in-Chief. He must lead us to peace not to war, dismemberment or total obliteration.