Obasanjo’s Fulanisation comment: Matters arising

THE furore still trailing the recent comment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on a supposed plot to foist a Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda on Nigeria is scary and worrisome. We had hoped that the government would use the opportunity at its disposal to adequately address the volatile issue that had lingered for so long before Obasanjo decided to lend his voice to the debate. As it is, the matter is bound to persist and hurt the system because the government glossed over fundamental issues raised by the former military and civilian leader. It adduced no concrete effort or evidence in dismissing the grave allegations and their undercurrents, in spite of the immediate and far-reaching implications of such an agenda on the country’s corporate existence.

It is instructive that Obasanjo only echoed what even the ordinary person in the country perceives as acts of genocide and other forms of provocation by herders of Fulani ethnic stock.  Other eminent personalities like former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), also alleged that Nigeria was descending into ethnic strife through the manipulation of state powers by the government. A body of senior citizens called the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Solomom Asemota; General Danjuma and Major-General Zamani Lekwot (retd), also alleged a similar plot to Islamise the country. “The appointment of only Muslims from the North into sensitive positions and the flagrant violation of the Federal Character Principle in the constitution is not democracy but Sharia. It is Sharia that is at the root of the jihad that has been launched in the country. Nigerians should realise that there is a deliberate attempt to truncate the constitution and replace it with Sharia as the source of legislation,” the NCEF claimed.

About a year ago, General Danjuma unmistakably said that Nigeria was on the brink of collapse because of the acts of genocide, especially in his home state of Taraba, by the military, the same institution he made enormous sacrifices to nurture and preserve. The distraught former Minister of Defence declared: “If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State and other rural states of Nigeria, otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play. I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory and defend your state. Defend yourselves because you have no other place to go. God bless our country.” Similarly, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr.  Olisa Agbakoba, while expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s lackadaisical attitude to the issue, buttressed Danjuma’s view, citing the weird circumstances in which some Dapchi schoolgirls were abducted by Boko with a conclusion that “Nobody can trust the army anymore.” On its part, the Middle Belt Youth Council lamented that Nigeria had become “the choice sport of Fulani herdsmen without any repercussive action by the Nigerian government.”

All these developments strengthen the alarm raised by Obasanjo on the twin agenda capable of further placing Nigeria on the tinderbox. Therefore, unless the Federal Government applies the law in dealing with the matter as exercised in saner climes, Nigeria’s corporate existence will remain precariously on a cliffhanger. Suppression of dissenting voices will only create dissonance and exacerbate conflicts and suspicion as  currently experienced in the country.

The fact that the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, a known critic of Obasanjo, is on the same page with him on this matter means that the Nigerian house is indeed on fire which, if not quickly doused, could spell dire consequences for the country’s unity. Soyinka captured the point succinctly: “I think we should be very careful not to be too dismissive or even abrasive.” Former Catholic Archbishop of the Lagos Metropolitan See, Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie, equally expressed deep worries about what he called the current rudderless state of the country that has paved the way for anarchy and lawlessness. Obasanjo, Danjuma and other top military officers fought a civil war between 1966 and 1970 to preserve Nigeria’s multireligious and heterogeneous status. It ought to be clear that when people who are known nationalists and patriots who have always preached one Nigeria speak like this, there is a need for utmost caution and proactive measures by those in authority.

There is no ambiguity in how Nigeria found itself in the current quagmire. However, it behoves the government to act decisively on the core issues raised by the senior citizens. Nigerians demand explanations on the inaction of the government which has led to pervasive fear and apprehension among all other major stakeholders in the Nigerian project. The rising advocacy of self-help and traditional means of protecting lives and properties is due to the failure of the state to live above board in performing its statutory obligations in the face of acts of genocide. It is informed by the government’s favourable disposition to Fulani herdsmen. In reacting to the qualms of the elder statesmen, the Federal Government does not need to engage in vile abuse and character assassination. Rather, it should proclaim the terrorists enemies of the state and deal decisively with them.

The peace reigning in Nigeria is akin to that of the graveyard; the Fulani herders have continued to kill, maim and abduct innocent citizens for ransom. Peace has taken flight in most communities because the terrorists are laying siege to major highways and forests across the country. Families have either lost their breadwinners or abandoned their means of livelihood, especially farmlands on which they invested their life savings. A proper and sincere shake-up in the security architecture of the country is necessary to end the siege on other nationalities by Fulani herdsmen. The Federal Government must stop its undue tolerance and accommodation of the group and apply the full weight of the law. It must stop chasing shadows. Instead, it must provide convincing explanations and answers to the fundamental questions raised by Obasanjo, Soyinka and especially Okogie, who said that there appears to be a leadership vacuum in the country, which has become “more uninhabitable than it has ever been in its history.”


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