Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, are certainly not two of a kind. The former is a politician and a (retired) soldier, while the latter is an academic and intellectual. They are not friends in the true meaning of it, neither are they sworn enemies. However, they are consciously and unconsciously acting true to type as eminent personalities. They are becoming the conscience of the nation, being strong voices, at a time when the nation is terribly challenged, owing to government’s inertia or missteps. They speak truth to power.
In the midst of the controversy trailing the activities of herdsmen in the country as well as other matters bordering on government failure, Obasanjo and Soyinka have spoken out without equivocation. They have condemned people in government and government itself. They have tried to interpret motives. They have warned of consequences of the actions and inaction of government. They have stood up to be counted at a trying time when supposed statesmen are shying away from being vocal, out of cowardice or outright conspiracy.
Last week, Soyinka told government the bitter truth. He looked power in the face and unveiled failings of government. He also told the truth that ought to have been said before now. Speaking on the federal government’s suspended Ruga settlement programme, Soyinka said: “Ruga is going to be an explosive issue and it had better be handled very carefully. Why is it that we fail to take our models from successful performers? And then, Buhari took such a long time. For me, he deserved — and I have written this down — to have lost the last election if only on account of the lackadaisical attitude, which he took to the issue of cattle-rearers. People have been killed in hundreds till today and it is only because of the failure of leadership at the critical time.”
This is “true talk” by Soyinka. He is right that the herdsmen mess is simply a failure of leadership. It is a covert conspiracy or connivance or both. As he said: “Any country where cattle take priority over human life is definitely at an elementary stage.”
Coming to the solution government is looking for, he said: “There are solutions, which are very simple. People have talked about ranching, but the ranching has got to be done in places, which are environmentally congenial to that particular kind of trade and at the same time does not afflict humanity. What’s the point in trying to provide food and the food chokes us, which is what cattle and cattle-rearers have been doing?”
Soyinka also said: “And the cattle herders have been given a sense of impunity. They kill without any compunction; they drive away the farmers who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country; the cattle eat their crops, and then you come up with Ruga … I think that there is going to be trouble in this country, if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as priority.”
Soyinka’s exhibition of courage, which has been his hallmark, is commendable. The truth must be told to the current government for it to know that all Nigerians cannot submit to intimidation, no matter what. His position that President Muhammadu Buhari should have lost the last presidential election on account of his inability to address the herdsmen’s issue is the truth of the year. How I wish he said this prior to the February presidential election! It would have made a whole lot of difference. When those who are supposed to know, who should be classified among the “right-thinking” members of the public, are delivering such a damning verdict on a government that is more interested in self-glorification, those who are ignorant would be guided. Though Soyinka’s truth is coming after the election, it is not too late. It is a vote of no confidence in the government of the day, which would be recorded in history.
Like Soyinka, Obasanjo has been forthright in his interventions over goings-on in the country and government. Like John the Baptist, he has been shouting, speaking against bad governance and misconduct of government officials. Prior to the elections, he said President Buhari had shown ineptitude in handling the economy, foreign affairs and politics. He advised the President not to seek reelection. When President Buhari declared his bid for reelection, Obasanjo said he should not be voted for. He did not also shy away, recently, in declaring that there was a “Fulanisation” and “Islamisation” plot in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Obasanjo had said: “It is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria, which it began as. It is now West African Fulanisation, African Islamisation and global organised crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change.
“Both Boko Haram and herdsmen’s acts of violence were not treated as they should at the beginning. They have both incubated and developed beyond what Nigeria can handle alone. They are now combined and internationalised with ISIS in control.”
You may not like Obasanjo. You may not like his politics. You may not like his idiosyncrasy. You may not like his style. However, what you must give to him is that the former President has courage and is tenacious in his convictions. His comments at critical times have shown that he understands his role as a former head of state and ex-President of Nigeria, even when he could be overbearing. Having the courage and the conviction to speak out against what he considers wrong is good. He should continue. As the saying goes, evil triumphs when good men do or say nothing.
There are other former heads of state and President of Nigeria. We have Dr. (General) Yakubu Gowon, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Ernest Shonekan and President Goodluck Jonathan. These past leaders ought not keep quiet when things are going wrong in the country. It is possible that they would be accused of being political when they speak. It does not matter, since they are playing their role as statesmen. They must speak out. Sometimes, Babangida makes strong statements. Also, Jonathan does. However, other former heads of state play the ostrich. Gowon, Abdulsalami and Shonekan neither bark nor bite. They always want to be politically correct in their comments. There is no sound bite, or fire from them. This is not good enough.
The time has come for Nigeria’s former leaders to rise up when things are going bad, like now. During the General Sani Abacha government, Nigerian political leaders, irrespective of political affiliations, felt the need to speak truth to power. They came together, under the auspices of G34, led by former Vice President, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and confronted the Abacha military junta. They did not allow fear or sentiments to overwhelm them. They were not cowed. They did not consider tribe nor religion. They never chose to be patronising to the government in power, which had become unpopular and draconian. They looked at Nigeria and felt that they needed to do something collectively to rescue the nation. Their action eventually challenged the military to initiate a transition programme that midwifed the current democracy. They played their role as leaders. This is the same thing Obasanjo and Soyinka are doing. Others should join them. There should be collective action.