Nations, like human, have their own peculiar challenges. And as a dynamic process of change and continuity, sometimes these problems come in torrents, deluging the system and institutions of governance like a surging wave of the ocean.
In the recent time, the world at large has had more than enough experience to share about the challenges occasioned by the ravaging effect of COVID-19 pandemic particularly its existential threat to the human race. Somehow, the fear is waning, but many global economies are still largely in the doldrums. Nigeria is not an exception.
But beyond the dwindling fortune of its economy, this so-called architectural edifice, a product of the British amalgamation of 1914, has not been in a good stead to compete with its peers among the comity of nations. It is currently standing on a quicksand. Though the roof has not fallen, but it simply cannot stand like this. Something more urgent, more radical and more inspiring needs to be done to rescue it from the precipice.
This is the message former President Olusegun Obasanjo brought to the fore in his latest alarm bell. Delivering a paper entitled: “Moving Nigeria away from tipping over’ at a consultative dialogue in Abuja, he said: “Old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere.”
It is his stock in trade; his critics are quick to say. But this time around, he is not alone in his call for action. Many other notable concerned Nigerians like Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo, Prof Banji Akintoye, his counterparts in the North Elder Forum (NEF), as well as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, among others, are also lamenting the rapid expansion of the distress lines among ethnic nationalities in the country. And they have a litany of reasons to join the fray. Other than the carnage that has been going on in the Northeast as a result of the activities of Boko Haram insurgents, the endless killing in Southern Kaduna, banditry in Katsina, as well as kidnapping and ransom-taking are some of the security issues giving the concerned elder statesmen a kind of sleepless night.
This is in addition to the rising wave of separatist agitations, threat of Fulani domination and the attendant mutual suspicion. The general apprehension is further accentuated by the latest global terrorism index which rated Nigeria as the third most impacted country in the world.
According to Obasanjo, the only way to rescue the country from the brink is for the ethnic nationalities to come together for a dialogue, a suggestion many did not see as a patriotic call. It will be recall that the former president had towards the twilight of his eight-year administration organized a national reform conference which ended up in fiasco as a result of his third term agenda.
And for this reason, some of his critics have dismissed his new initiative as unpatriotic.
A prominent leader of thought in the North, Tanko Yakassai, in an interview with Sunday Sun said: “This is not the first time Obasanjo will raise alarm like this. He is in the habit of doing it every now and then. They may be true, they may not be true. My observation of the alarm raised by Obasanjo is that it is more of an attempt to mobilize opinions against the government of the day rather than pointing out problems and offering solution. As someone who has led the country not once, not twice, he should not discuss problem like this without taking them to the proper authority. He has access to all authorities in Nigeria. He should have articulated all the problems and take them to the proper authorities and dialogue with them on the way forward. Inciting public opinion against the government is not a patriotic way of dealing with problems.”
Yakassai maintained that Obasanjo was merely magnifying the nation’s problems by inviting Afenifere, NEF, Ndigbo and other similar socio-cultural groups to Abuja for his so-called dialogue, “saying you don’t magnify problem, you solve them as they come. That is why they call people like him elder statesmen. Anybody who is not trying to quench the fire is not entitled to be called elder statesman or statesman at all.”
A former National President of PENGASAN, Frank Kokori, also carpeted Obasanjo for the opportunity he missed in restructuring the country. He said: “Everybody knows the country is not in good order. It is only a fool who will tell you Nigeria is in a good shape. The first request civil society and those of us in the pro-democracy made when he assumed power was to restructure the country, but he refused. So, why is he shouting now? Four eight years, he had opportunity to do it. At the end of the day, he was struggling for third term and put up a shambolic national political reform conference about nine months before he left just like Goodluck Jonathan did. Why are they blaming Buhari now? If the country had been properly restructured as a real federation, all these things would have been settled.”
Accusing Obasanjo of self-actualization, he added: “Obasanjo is correct; it is only that he is selfish himself. When he was there, he should have done all those things. Now, he is shedding crocodile tears. In his time, he should have done better.”
On his part, Prince Tony Momoh, a close associate of President Muhammadu Buhari, gave a long list of Obasanjo’s wrong doings as an elected civilian president. He noted that the former president laid the foundation for the economic woes he is complaining about. Speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, he posited: “Obasanjo knows the country inside out, he knows where we are coming from, he knows where we are, he should know where we are going, not just in the context of the country which he had an opportunity to govern two times, but in the context of the world where everybody is grounded because of COVID-19. Many parts of the world are in recession because of the collapse of their institutions-social, political, cultural, and even religion. So, Obasanjo is correct in talking about what is happening because there are many people who see it as he sees it. But people of hope, people of vision will know that what we are going through now is what we prepared for.
“Right from 1999, when we came back to democracy, Obasanjo started for us a journey of eating the future in the present. In 1979, when he left government as military head of state, he gave us a code of behaviour: Use your home made cars. Officially, people were using Peugeot and Volkswagen. He came back in 1999, and sold Peugeot Automobile Plant and Volkswagen plants to people who could not afford to sustain them and then established a culture of heavy expenditure and arbitrariness, where six members of the house can impeach a governor. He wasted money on constitution review conferences because of his third term agenda; everything that was discussed was thrown away.
“If he is not in total control, he wishes failure for whoever is there. So, Obasanjo is a great asset to Nigeria, but we should accept what he is saying outside the element of greed, which has continued to follow him wherever he goes.
“He did everything to subdue Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. It took Buhari to recognize Abiola and June 12 as Democracy Day. Obasanjo is a very bold man, very active, very industrious; there is no doubt about it, but where you have this self pre-occupation, and greed, then people suspect everything you do. Why is it that leaders are good only when they open their doors to Obasanjo and take decisions from him? He fell out with Yar’Adua, he felt out with Jonathan, he felt out with Buhari. Why? The whole world is in trouble today. In the time of Obasanjo, we borrowed. What did we use the money we borrowed for? We earned heavy. What did we use the heavy earnings for? If Buhari does not have the discipline he is showing today as a leader, Nigeria would have collapsed by now.”
However, the Yoruba leader, Prof Banjo Akintoye, in his reaction, dismissed criticisms leveled against Obasanjo, citing the seeming hopelessness of the situation in the country as a good reason for a collective action.
His words: “Obasanjo is not the only person saying Nigeria is drifting. A lot of people are saying the same thing. Even the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, said about a week ago that poverty and economic distress are escalating daily. He is one of the people in the position to know everything about Nigeria with his official position as vice president. If he says that, then the rest of us need to shiver.
“People are saying that Nigeria is going in the wrong direction very speedily. What is happening in Nigeria now is not just poverty and economic distress; it is also that one section of the country is against the rest of Nigeria. So, what is happening in Nigeria baffles the entire world. What is going to be the end result of it all, only God knows. But we have good reasons to fear that the end may be terrible.
“I think we have reached a point at which different people of Nigeria must sit together around the table and decide what we really want to do with our country. We cannot dilly dally around like this. If we do, we could lead the country into an unimaginable disaster.”
The erudite professor of history further stressed that the Northern elements who were criticising Obasanjo were doing so for the sectional interest of the North.
He argued: “That is understandable. Those Northern leaders are defending their own interest. But there are some other Northern leaders who are saying different things. Quoting Ango Abdullahi’s submission published in a newspaper in May 2017, he said: “If Nigerians are tired of staying together, they should be prepared to accept division instead of remaining in agony and disappointment with one another.”
Also making reference to a similar statement credited to Alhaji Muhammed Mahadi Shehu, Chairman of Dialogue Group in Kaduna, he quoted: “Let us peaceful go on the table, break kola and distribute the country for everybody’s peace. If we do not do it now, the future generation will abuse us. I do not see any angel coming down to unite this country.
“Dialogue is the only thing that can work now. But it is not the usual dialogue of one president nominating some people for national conference.”
Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo, while declaring his support for Obasanjo, unequivocally declared that Nigeria would break up without restructuring of the country.
He said: “I am on the side of Obasanjo. I support him fully. If we don’t restructure now, Nigeria is going to break up. Anybody who is interested in the unity of the country should restructure the country now before talking of any election. Don’t you see that the agitation for a break up in the Southwest is becoming stronger? The youths are now telling our leaders that they don’t want restructuring now, they want to break away all because we have not done what is right.
“There is no sense in dismissing his observation about the state of the nation as alarming and unpatriotic in the face of the recent killing in Southern Kaduna and the threat of breakup of the country? This is the way Shagari said Awolowo was an alarmist when he said the country’s economy was bad until we ran into trouble. Boko Haram is wreaking havoc in the Northeast; Killing is ongoing in Southern Kaduna, bandit on rampage in Katsina. Is this also an alarm? Obasanjo is not raising alarm, but is giving a real warning as a patriot. And he has the support of those of us who don’t want the country to break.
“Buhari has an unsavoury programme for the fulanisation of the country. That is why he is allowing Fulani from other countries to come and engage Nigerians. Now, they are all over the country. That is why he made every village member in his state to be the chief security officer of the country. Head of the army, head of the navy, head of the police, customs are either from Sokoto or Katsina and he wants us to stay together as one country in peace. All responsible leaders of the country are saying this is wrong. He is not thinking the way we are thinking.”