Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
*Got Jonathan’s endorsement
By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor
It was a desperate move! Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo, former President and Commander-in-Chief, knows an opportunity when he sees one.
Just smarting from the well-rounded criticism that greeted his misplaced enthusiasm on the issue of zoning, a matter which saw his party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, kissing the dust of disapproval brought about by members of the House of Representatives, Obasanjo, indeed, sat back to re-assess the basis of his sense of statesmanship and importance. This, especially at a time when he appeared to be burning bridges of national relevance in a nation of competing interests.
Sunday Vanguard has been reliably informed by inside sources in Aso Rock Presidential Villa that Obasanjo made contact with President Goodluck Jonathan last week on the seemingly intractable national and deadly embarrassment that the Boko Haram scourge and the ceaseless mindless killings in Jos, Plateau State capital, had become.
Upon making the contact, Obasanjo set the tone for what the source described as a “first step in being seen to be making a move with a view to resolving this crisis that appears to be consuming Nigeria”. Information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that the move was purely Obasanjo’s idea. In addition, the source hinted that “Obasanjo explained to President Jonathan that what he had expected was for some Northern leaders to find a way out of this crisis.
“He said he had expected the likes of former military President Ibrahim Babangida to have followed up his press statements and condemnation of the attacks by Boko Haram with a visible personal step.
“The discussion also focused on former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as well as former President Shehu Shagari, who remains very respected as a weighty voice in the North to have waded into the matter.
“It was because of the seeming absence of such a move(s) from these respected northern leaders that Obasanjo told the President and Commander-in-Chief that he would volunteer himself for the visit which was meant to demonstrate that the Nigerian state was not in support of the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, founder of the Ahlan Sunnah Lid Da’waati wal Jihad Yaanaa (brothers), popularly known as Boko Haram sect”, the source revealed.
The killings in Jos, Plateau State, was also discussed and Obasanjo also volunteered to meet with religious and political leaders in the state.
Therefore, having secured the endorsement of President Jonathan, and the latter seeing the move as a deliberate effort at reaching a middle ground, it was resolved that the Presidency would provide logistical support for Obasanjo’s engagement.
Sunday Vanguard was told that on Wednesday,the Presidency made available a jet for Obasanjo to first fly into Jos. His visit to Jos saw him holding talks with the leadership of Jamatu Nasir Islam, JNI, and Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, as well as leaders of Plateau State.
Although details of Obasanjo’s meetings were not immediately known, Sunday Vanguard learnt that it is not unconnected with the increase in the wave of bombings and killings in the country. And, then from Jos, Obasanjo was flown to Yola airport on Thursday. From Yola, a helicopter was made available for him to take him to Maiduguri, Borno State capital. There, the former President paid a visit to the family house of Mohammed Yusuf. Obasanjo visited the late Yusuf’s family house at Railway Quarters, the demolished headquarters of the sect in Maiduguri.
Obasanjo, who arrived Maiduguri at 11:40 am, on Thursday, was received by the state Deputy Governor, Alhaji Zanna Mustapha. The meeting with the family members lasted 90 minutes.
At the meeting, the former president said:“This is a personal initiative. I urge you to forgive and forget the past. I plead with you, give me the chance to mediate between the family and government”.
In response, Yusuf’s brother-in-law, Babakura Fuggu, whose father wasalso executed in 2009 said: “Since 2009, this is the first time any high profile figure would be commiserating with the family.
“We are happy with this visit. “About 30 to 40 per cent of our members are scattered in neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroun”.
The former president thereafter departed for the airport where his helicopter again took him to Yola, Adamawa State, from where he boarded the jet which had been waiting to take him back to Abuja.
It would be recalled that Yusuf was killed while in police custody in Maiduguri after his arrest by men of the Joint Task Force, JTF.
Already, some policemen are being tried for the extra-judicial killing of Yusuf.
In Jos, September 7 marked the 10th year when killings broke out in the once peaceful Plateau State capital. The week witnessed a killing spree which resulted in the deaths of over four dozen. However, observers are of the view that Obasanjo’s move may not be unconnected with his desire to re-launch himself, having been the butt of criticisms lately on account of comments he made about Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and Babangida.
But the seeming underhanded negotiation with sect members is seen by some as a welcome development while others do not see the need for a negotiation with terrorists.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that the threat of Boko Haram, which last week extended to University of Benin, UNIBEN, Benin, Edo State in the South- South geo-political zone, and University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State capital, in the South West geo-political zone, was not going to be taken lightly by the authorities.
Already, UNIBEN authorities have closed the university. It is also being speculated that there may have been more reasons for President Jonathan’s pacifist move. There is a theory already floating. When the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who hailed from the North pronounced his administration’s resolve to grant amnesty to Niger Delta militants, some leaders in the country opposed it. Today, the activities of the militants – which some people described as being no different from terrorism – are all but gone.
Today, Jonathan, from the South, is also pursuing an approach not completely different from a pacification of the leaders of Boko Haram.
That was why it was not difficult at all for him to not only allow Obasanjo embark on the trip to Maiduguri but also provided him with support.
Jonathan is due in New York, United States of America, tomorrow.
Our demands, by Boko Haram
The group, in May 2011, in a three-page statement purportedly written in Hausa and distributed to newsmen in Maiduguri, vowed never ending the persistent attacks, explaining all that the ward and village heads, politicians, police and the army, were targets, “because they erred by associating themselves with the government in its effort to arrest Muslim brothers and sabotage Islam”.
Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, had after winning the April election promised to grant amnesty to the feared sect members and solicited for the full cooperation and understanding of the three opposition parties, traditional and religious leaders.
The sect members surprisingly refused the planned amnesty. They transformed into Jama’atu Ahliss-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, and resolved to target security operatives and civilians for the serial killings in Borno State following their “active support and protection” for the Nigerian system of government which contradicted Islamic principles.
In a statement last July which was written in Hausa and entitled: ‘Conditions for dialogue with President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State’, the sect members maintained and demanded that, the application of strict Sharia Islamic law in the Muslim-dominated states of the North and immediate release of all members of the sect detained in Borno State and other northern states, must be addressed with immediate effect.
The statement stressed that, the immediate past governor of the state, Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff; Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai El-Kanemi; former Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Ibrahim Yakubu Lame; former Borno State Commissioner of Police and Director of State Security Service (SSS), who served during sectarian mayhem in 2009, must be arrested and prosecuted accordingly, for conspiring to kill late leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf, after he was arrested and soldiers handed him over to police at the 21 Armoured Brigade, popularly known as Giwa Military Barracks in Maidugur.
Similarly, the statement added that, others to be prosecuted according to Sharia were the security operatives particularly those attached to the Operation Flush Joint Task Force (JTF) for causing the first crisis along the Customs area in the metropolis when they shot and wounded 20 of their brothers and killed two others.
“They also shot dead seven of our brothers and wounded 10 others during the commissioning of a mosque in Monguno Local Government Area. We also demand the immediate arrest and prosecution of those behind the killings of Baa Fugu Mohammed, who was the father-in-law of the late Boko Haram leader and a former commissioner during Sheriff’s administration, Alhaji Buju Foi.
Another condition for dialogue, according to the statement, calls for the immediate resignation of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)–led government in Borno State under Governor Kashim Shettima, because the party machineries were responsible for the attack on the Ibn Thaimiyya Islamic Centre (Markas) in Maiduguri (the enclave of the late leader of the sect).
It also requested for an immediate investigation into the killing of their brothers through food poisoning which was perpetrated by prison warders with the alleged connivance of former Governor Ali Sheriff.
Also, the statement urged the Federal Government to release the report of committee of inquiry set up by late President Umaru Yar’Adua, which was headed by former National Security Adviser (NSA), Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar, to investigate the alleged extra-judicial killings of their brothers during the 2009 unrest.
Finally, the statement stated that, if the Federal Government cannot fulfill these conditions, the sect members would not entertain any dialogue and that the proposed deployment of additional troops to the state as announced by Gov. Shettima would not deter them from the ongoing guerrilla attacks in any parts of the country. Adding that, they are fully aware of the government’s move to seek assistance of FBI, CIA, the Israel intelligence agency, Mossad or Interpol.