Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, looks at the various positions stirred by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s latest salvo on his perceived agenda to Fulanise and Islamise the African Continent.
President Olusegun Obasanjo was in his elements again when he recently raised alarm on what he observed as an ongoing move to Fulanise and Islamise Nigeria and Africa. The former president, true to his character, did not hold back, vocalising what many would have been reluctant to express about the rampaging Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgents and their perceived hidden agenda. Obasanjo alleged a grand plot by certain elements to foist a Fulani and Islamic agenda on Nigeria, other West African countries and the whole of Africa. He therefore advocated a well thought out global action against terrorism and other organised crimes.
He 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.”
He spoke on the topic “Mobilising Nigeria’s Human and Natural Resources for National Development and Stability,” at the second session of the Synod of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, held at the Cathedral of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Oleh in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State.
The former military Head of State said the Federal Government has allowed the attacks by Boko Haram and herdsmen to fester by treating the matter with kid gloves. Thus, he stressed the need for President Muhamamdu Buhari to take the issue seriously, rally local and global stakeholders to deal with the killer herdsmen and Boko Haram once and for all “without favouritism or cuddling.”
The two-term former president said: “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.
“Yet, we could have dealt with both earlier and nip them in the bud, but Boko Haram boys were seen as rascals not requiring serious attention in administering holistic measures of stick and carrot. And when we woke up to the reality, it was turned to industry for all and sundry to supply materials and equipment that were already outdated and that were not fit for active military purpose.
“Soldiers were poorly trained for the unusual mission, poorly equipped, poorly motivated, poorly led and made to engage in propaganda rather than achieving results. Intelligence was poor and governments embarked on games of denials while paying ransoms which strengthened the insurgents and yet governments denied payments of ransoms. Today, the insecurity issue has gone beyond the wit and capacity of Nigerian government or even West African governments.”
Continuing, the elder statesman admonished: “Government must appreciate where we are, summon each group that should make contributions one by one and subsequently collectively seek the way forward for all hands on deck and with the holistic approach of stick and carrot. There should be no sacred cow.
“Some of the groups that I will suggest to be contacted are: traditional rulers, past service chiefs (no matter how competent or incompetent they have been and how much they have contributed to the mess we are in), past heads of paramilitary organisations, private sector and civil society.
“Others are community leaders particularly in the most affected areas-present and past governors, present and past local government leaders, religious leaders, past Heads of States, past intelligence chiefs, past heads of Civil Service and relevant current and retired diplomats, members of the opposition and nay groups that may be deemed relevant.”
Obasanjo found immediate support in the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) which warned the Federal Government not treat his alert on the fulanisation and Islamisation with levity.
Speaking on their behalf, Yinka Odumakin, who is the national publicity secretary, Afenifere, said Nigeria cannot afford to take Obasanjo’s admonition with levity, stating his reasons: “Every line of what President Obasanjo said, we study it and we must have a response for it. Otherwise we are losing the country fast, because when we get to a stage where Fulani herdsmen are being elevated to the level of Afenifere and Ohanaeze, it is said that when short men begin to cast long shadows, the sun is about to set. Let the sun not set for Nigeria.”
Odumaking said Obasanjo is not a frivolous man, as such, his statement cannot be dismissed with the wave of the hand. He added: “They have been talking about some people trying to destabilise Nigeria. You cannot say Obasanjo wants to destabilise Nigeria; Nigeria is a pet project for him. For him to come out and make those kinds of statements, and it is not as if he does not know what he is saying.
“Don’t forget that the original Boko Haram was a response to Obasanjo’s reforms in the country. What is called Sharia in many northern states today was a reaction against Obasanjo but even in all those years, Obasanjo did not make those statements. He managed these situations in the interest of national stability.
“I don’t know whether you have seen the latest global terrorism index. After Iraq and Afghanistan, Nigeria is the third most terrorised country in the world today and in the global terrorism index of 2015, two of the first four most violent terrorist groups are in Nigeria- Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, which the government is now equating with Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Garba Shehu (presidential spokesman) is telling us we must respect Fulani herdsmen.
“About eight months ago, Wall Street Journal said that to release the Dapchi girls, the Federal Government paid Boko Haram Three Million Euros. Today, Boko Haram has become deadlier. When the Fulani herdsmen wanted N100 billion recently, the Federal Government was denying but the herdsmen came out to say ‘yes, it is true’, they are asking for the money because they have been promised the money since the previous regime.
“So, I think now with President Obasanjo raising a bar on this discourse, the Federal Government should talk with Nigerians. The president cannot just be saying kidnapping has become a new business. Who are the people behind the new business? What did we do to them? What is going on? It is a new line of business, so should we live with it?”
Odumakin’s position was echoed by the leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who was however happy that after seeing things differently for years, Obasanjo seemed to have seen the light. He expressed the belief that the only way to resolve the national quagmire is to restructure the country along the line the late Premier of the old Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, advocated before the 1960 Independence.
The Afenifere leader observed that apart from the terrorists trying to Islamise the country, herdsmen have also infiltrated every part of the country and are wreaking havoc as they go along. Something must be done before it is too late, he advised. To this end, he noted that the leadership of the country must wake up to the reality of the situation by ensuring the nation is restructured immediately.
The Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has also jumped to Obasanjo’s side, maintaining that the former president has only exposed the secret of the current administration to destroy the middle belt region and the southern part of Nigeria. MASSOB’s position was conveyed to the public through Samuel Edeson who pointed out that Obasanjo was courageous in voicing his stance on the issue of fulanisation and Islamisation.
“MASSOB commends General Obasanjo for being courageous and eloquent in revealing this unwanted truth which the present government doesn’t want to hear. It will be recalled that MASSOB has earlier exposed this Islamisation agenda in pursuit, projection and actualisation of the grand command of Uthman Dan Fodio which is to Islamise/fulanise this geographical entity called Nigeria and destroy the entire Southern Nigeria but nobody believed us.
“MASSOB wishes to make it clearer again that there is no difference between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. The terrorist herdsmen were sent to go and destroy the South and Middle Belt while the Boko Haram will carry their acts of terrorism in the North-East. That is why President Buhari can never declare Fulani herdsmen, a terrorist movement or even condemn the killing of the innocent citizens by these foot soldiers of Islam called Fulani herdsmen,” MASSOB stated.
Former aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, hailed Obasanjo for being the only politically active Southern and Middle Belt leader that understands the dangers lying ahead in the country.
Fani-Kayode stated: “Obasanjo remains the only politically active Southern and Middle Belt leader that understands what is really going on, the grave danger that we are in and what lies ahead. He is deeply courageous and his latest contribution that there is an agenda to fulanise Nigeria and Islamise West Africa says it all.
“Obasanjo needs say no more. History and posterity will be kind to him for speaking the bitter truth and saying what almost every other Southern and Middle Belt politician and leader knows to be true but is too timid and too scared to say publicly.”
Not everyone is pleased with Obasanjo’s statement though. For instance, former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, who served in Obasanjo’s civilian administration as Minister of Foreign Affairs, believes the former president’s disappointment with serving presidents should not be allowed to turn him to a religious and ethnic bigot.
“If it were said at a non-religious venue to a non-religious audience, may be it might have been more tolerable. Please, sir, don’t let your disappointment with sitting presidents turn you into a bigot. You must not abandon the national stage. The cracks along the various divides in our national cohesion are already turning into huge gorges,” Lamido saidd in a statement.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) too warned against giving ethnic and religious colouration to criminal activities. Its General Secretary, Anthony Sani, argued that doing so will only embolden the criminals to continue with their evil deeds.
“Former President Obasanjo may have his facts for making such comments. But for me, I do not want us to give ethnic and religious colouration to the criminal activities of some people. Else we provide them with platforms upon which to stand and commit crimes, knowing it is almost impossible to prosecute religion and ethnicity,” he said.
He pointed out that there are moderate Muslims who he said are in the majority and opposed to religious fanatics. According to him, “such moderate Muslims need to be enlisted in the campaign against Islamic terrorists whose aims are not for piety but political, albeit attired in the garb of religious jihadists. If we offend the sensitivity of such moderate Muslims and push them to the side of the fanatics, we would be playing to the gallery by swallowing the bait put by the fanatics and that is what they want.”
But Obasanjo is not one to shy away from firing shots and courting controversy. This is in line with his determination to remain consistent in speaking out whenever and wherever he sees evil, no matter whose ox is gored. In July 2018, seeing the direction of the country, he accused President Buhari of being confused and incompetent to deal with national issues.
“Nigeria, in recent times, has not been so divided along religious and regional lines as at today with inexcusable killings and devastating poverty and with government’s wringing hands and apparently incompetent to stem the tide except giving one unrighteous and unacceptable justification after the other. The obvious indication is that the government is seemingly confused and has got to the end of its tether and the nation is being left divisively and perilously to drift,” he declared at the time.
In January this year, he alleged that Buhari had plunged Nigeria back to the late General Sani Abacha era when state institutions were used to fight perceived enemies of the late Head of State.
He said in an open letter, titled Points for Concern and Action: “Today, another Abacha Era is here. The security institutions are being misused to fight all critics and opponents of Buhari and to derail our fledgling democracy. EFCC, Police and Code of Conduct Tribunal are also being equally misused to deal with those Buhari sees as enemies for criticising him or as those who may not do his bidding in manipulating election results.
“Criticism, choice and being different are inherent trade mark of democracy. If democracy is derailed or aborted, anarchy and authoritarianism will automatically follow. Today, as in the day of Abacha, Nigerians must rise up and do what they did in the time of Abacha: churches and mosques prayed; international community stood by us Nigerians. I was a beneficiary and my life was saved. Well-meaning Nigerians took appropriate actions and made sacrifices, some supreme, some less than supreme but God had the final say and He took the ultimate action.”
The Federal Government has since taken exception to Obasanjo’s latest outburst and has demanded that the former president withdraw the claim on the alleged fulanisation and Islamisation. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a written response, argued that such “indiscreet, deeply offensive and patently divisive comments are far below the status of an elder statesman. It is particularly tragic that a man who fought to keep Nigeria one is the same one seeking to exploit the country’s fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life.”
While observing that Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) are terrorist organisations which care little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction, the government’s spokesman declared: “Since the Boko Haram crisis, which has been simmering under the watch of Obasanjo, boiled over in 2009, the terrorist organisation has killed more Muslims than adherents of any other religion.
“The terrorist group blown up more mosques than any other houses of worship and it is not known to have spared any victim on the basis of their ethnicity. It is therefore absurd to say that Boko Haram and its ISWAP variant have as their goal the ‘fulanisation and Islamisation’ of Nigeria, West Africa or Africa.”
In an apparent attempt to convince doubting Thomases that the president does not brook them, Mohammed recalled Buhari’s characterisation of Boko Haram as “a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of.” The minister noted therefore that Obasanjo’s comments were “as insensitive and mischievous as they are as offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.”
He wondered whether “there is no limit to how far the former President will go in throwing poisonous darts at his perceived political enemies.” He further said Obasanjo’s prescriptions for ending the Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis, which include seeking assistance outside the shores of Nigeria, are coming several years late as he noted that Buhari had done that and more since assuming office.
But having sent his message in his usual blunt, no-holds barred manner, Obasanjo has once again retreated, perhaps, to assess and assimilate its impact on government and stakeholders before returning at a future date.