From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Worried by the level of insecurity, economic and socio-political hitches bedevilling Nigeria, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar III, president of Vision Africa, Bishop Sunday Ndukwo Onuoha, and Sheikh Ahmed Gumi converged on Abuja recently to find solutions to the problems.
Titled “Inclusive Security Dialogue Retreat,” the meeting was hosted by the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), in collaboration with Vision Africa (VA). It also had in attendance the chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pugo Bitrus; secretary-general, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Okey Emuchay; former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah; and the only female participant, Ankio Briggs, the chairperson of Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement, among others.
To set the ball rolling, Bishop Onuoha decried the spate of hatred, religious intolerance, killings and economic hardship in the country, adding that, if not urgently addressed, it could plunge Nigeria into serious division.
He said: “The heinous acts of barbarism, corruption, violent extremism and the rise of ethnic militia groups that is enveloping our dear country, whether propelled by ethnicity, religious intolerance or sheer bigotry, will only lead to a meltdown (that will engulf all of us) unless some influential stakeholders and leaders with moral authority – like we are fortunate to have assembled here today – deliberately promote dialogue, national cohesion and hope.
“We must take deliberate steps to close the gap between the aggrieved and the leaders by identifying trusted, objective and reliable moderators who must coordinate the discordant tunes into a harmonious melody that will bring about peace and reconciliation.
“‘A hungry man is an angry man’ is a popular street proverb in Nigeria – but in it lies the core of the many agitations, militancy and pockets of security crises we are faced with in this country today.
“People are hungry, and, in such stark reality, the young, and indeed anyone, will hop on any chariot that promises better, even when they are not sure what the ‘better’ will mean – because hope is sustaining. Hope that things may get easier if they do something about it. Hope that, maybe, if they rouse attention, someone somewhere will pay attention to their plight.
“There is anger, and hunger in the land! I fear for a country that will have to grapple with these untamed energies in the next five to 10 years.
“And that fear comes from the fact that these able-bodied young men are veritable tools in the hands of agitators and non-state actors.
“We also have the capacity to bring government and the opposition to a discussion. Once these people are at the table, dialogue must begin immediately; we must identify and connect with them.”
To this end, Obasanjo opined that the executive and the legislative arms of government should work towards the actualisation of state police.
The former President averred that countries that had similar security breaches opted for state police, arguing that Nigeria should follow suit.
According to him, state governors should be provided with legal teeth to combat insecurity in their domain.
“There are two issues that are very important to me, which have to be legislated. Somebody said that if we have state police what does it matter? Of course it matters a lot.
“From what we have seen and experience in recent times, it matters a lot. Because the state governor is the chief executive of his state. He is also the chief security officer of his state.
“But, then, what instrument does he have to be able to maintain security in the sort of things that we have seen and gone through in recent times.
“I know, and some of you will know, what we went through under the native authority police, which made it necessary to scrap the native authority police and centralise police.
“Other countries did the same. I have been to Columbia, they did the same thing. But when they were confronted with the issue of security the way we are confronted today, they went back.
“And if we are going to deal with our issue of security, somebody put it right that most of this are local and they have to be addressed locally. And, to be addressed locally, they have to be the instrument with which they can be addressed locally.
“So, there are issues of legislation and I do hope that our leaders at the executive and legislative level will realize that there is need for some legislative action that has to take place before the next election,” he said.
He suggested that different regions must build bridges of unity and foster relationship devoid of sentiment.
He made instances of the relationship between the emeritus Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekun, and the Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar III, which he said should be emulated by lovers of peace.
Moreso, he lauded Sheikh Gumi for his bravery in going into the hinterlands to negotiate with bandits, stating that the citizens would not have known the modus operandi of bandits without the courage of the Islamic cleric.
Against all odds, Obasanjo said he would continue to talk to Gumi, adding that, as an elder statesman, he was duty-bound to unite citizens and listen to everybody.
“The second point which I have mentioned is the issue of the language in which we address ourselves and the relationship that we build among ourselves.
“One of the thing that I used to take as an example is the Sultan and Cardinal Onaiyekan. They come together irrespective of religion and they have common front, common attitude, common solution, common struggle against what they perceive as our problems.
“Your Eminence, what you are doing, may God give you the ability to continue. Issues of relationship, language, the actions we take, Professor Yusuf and Sheikh Gumi came to see me after Sheikh Gumi had gone to the bush to see those boys I always refer to as naughty boys.
“And the number of things were going round before they came to see me; one was that Sheikh Gumi said that the Yoruba Christian soldiers were the ones killing or something like that and the second was that he is anointing bandits.
“So, when Sheikh Gumi came, the first question I asked was ‘did you really say Christian soldiers were the ones killing your people’? He said he did not say that. And in my making efforts to receive them, I called one person whom I thought was important and he said ‘Gumi, I will never talk to him’.
“The good thing is that, if you do not talk to him, I will talk to him, and I talked to him. And I was wiser for talking to him. The first thing Sheikh Gumi made me to be aware of is where those bandits are staying.
“They have absolute control. In fact, whether it is the military or the police, they do not go to their camp. I would not know that, until an eyewitness tells me that, I would not know. If that then is the case, how do we resolve or solve the problem?” he said.
On his part, the Sultan expressed optimism that the country would return to the path social coexistence. He said: “I want to say there is hope in finding solutions to the numerous problems facing us, because I know all of us here believe and identify that we have problems.
“To know you have a problem is to have half of the solution. And the other half we are looking for can come from this kind of gathering, if we are circumspect and talk to each other with honesty and sincerity as we discuss in efforts to bring peace and stability to our country.
“Peace is the most important aspect of our lives because, without peace, you just can’t do anything. All is not well with our country and I think this forum is very important, and I want to thank all of you for coming.”