By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“If a leopard sells goat meat, few people will buy it.”–Kenyan Proverb.
FORMER Presidents Obasanjo and Babangida issued a joint statement last week appealing to Nigerians to stand back from the abyss. Just any public collaboration between these two these days is matter of considerable public interest. These two leaders have given the nation its most defining characteristics today.
Babangida’s schemings at the head of a military government had ended in near tragedy for himself and the nation. Salvage efforts took years and ended up with a President in 1999 whose most outstanding credential was his being Yoruba. The “big man and his ethnic group” syndrome assumed a central place in Nigeria’s political system. Obasanjo in turn made full use of his larger-than-life powers as President to foist successors and reinvent himself, which came unstuck with the demise of Yar’Adua.
Both lost substantial ground after 2011. Babangida’s ill-fated involvement in the PDP northern consensus candidate shrunk his stature even more sharply.
Obasanjo lost substantial ground when the ACN chased the PDP out of the West, and lost even more ground when President Jonathan’s handlers felt he was better-off with some considerable distance between him and the man who engineered his emergence at the national level.
These were the two giants with feet of clay who released an impassioned plea to Nigerians to help find solutions to the crises facing the nation. They singled out widespread insecurity and pervasive cynicism over the survival of the nation as threats to the very foundations upon which the country rests. They advise that efforts by various governments to confront the escalating security challenges across the country should be more involving and inclusive.
You would think that anyone closely related to the President will pause to see what impact, if any, the long lamentations of the two former Presidents will have. If anyone did, they did not reckon with Chief E. Clark. It is possible that Chief Clark had read the careful wording of the joint statement, which even avoided a direct mention of the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Waj Jihad (JASLIWAJ) (Boko Haram), or the plea for negotiation coded under “inclusive and involving” strategies. If he did, he was not impressed.
He chose his own forum and language to say that northern leaders should condemn and rein-in the JASLIWAJ insurgency, and stop blaming Jonathan for incompetence and ineptitude. The northern leaders under reference include all prominent northern politicians who took a stand against Jonathan’s candidature or elections, such as Generals Babangida, Buhari, Aliyu Mohammed, Atiku Abubakar, prominent politicians in opposition parties, and any northerner who was unhappy that Jonathan contested or became President, or who wants him to fail. They will also include traditional and community leaders in areas where the insurgency has taken root, or is spreading. They will also include every northern Muslim who has not publicly condemned the insurgency.
Clark‘s simple solution
Old man Clark provides a rather simple solution to a very complex problem: if you do not publicly condemn the insurgency, then you support it. If you condemn it, it will go away, and President Jonathan can then get down to the serious business of running the country.
For an elder who had spent most of his political life in the trenches, it will be unfair to say that Chief Clark is indifferent to how his statements affect the Jonathan Presidency. The very careful language by authors of the joint statement suggests that it is a public relations exercise targeting citizens who expect their leaders to do a lot more than they are doing.
It did not say one thing on the performance or role of President Jonathan, other than a vague reference to all leaders at all levels of government to improve the manner they relate to the spreading threat of violence. But it asks citizens to shun violence, be more patriotic, accommodating, humble and forgiving.
There is no mention of scandalous exposés on corruption and the appearance of a weak political will to deal with them; or the palpable absence of any capacity to build political bridges to mitigate widening gulfs between regions and groups; or the absence of strategic thinking on how the insurgency can be contained for good.
Whatever good that statement did, Chief Clark’s elephant-in-a-china-shop outing would have obliterated it. One of the signatories of the statement is in the front row of those accused of foisting the insurgency, or fueling it by not condemning it. Hundreds more covered by innuendoes and hints will note the suggestions that they are both the inspiration behind the insurgency, and the very people who should bring it to an end.
Very few people ask why anyone who lit the JASLIWAJ fire would want to put it out, if it is serving the interest for which it was started? Could these interests also include the devastation of the economy of the north; the traumatisation of millions of its people; the destruction of vital relations between northern Christians and Muslims; the killing and maiming of hundreds of Muslims and Christians and the decimation of the political clout of the political north to aspire to lead the nation in the near future? What political interest, except those which are fundamentally anti-northern and anti-Islam, can be served by the condition of the north today, and the disarray among the Muslim community?
Is it not, in fact, more plausible to argue that if the worst enemy of the north needed a weapon to destroy it politically and economically, they could not have found a better one than this insurgency?
This game of passing the buck is not new, and it will not help the President. Northern leaders do condemn the insurgency, and many live in fear that they laid the foundations which allow it to flourish. They are not alone. Nigerian politics breeds extremes and desperate people.
This insurgency needs a solid united effort to deal with it. Statements by former Presidents won’t do, and people like Chief Clark just make it worse. If anyone has evidence that any northerner, no matter how highly-placed, is involved with this insurgency, they should please throw the book at them. Otherwise, just shut up and focus on the problem.