By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
What had been whispered as a quarrel between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his one time protégée, President Goodluck Jonathan burst out yesterday after Obasanjo’s Man Friday, Femi Fani-Kayode took up Jonathan on issues pertaining to the invasion of Odi.
At issue is Obasanjo’s swift response to Boko Haram and his protégée’s alleged slowness to the Boko Haram insurgency.
It was a lecture to mark the 40th anniversary of the repentance of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor from the life of crime.
It was thus an irony that an occasion to celebrate the man of God would turn into a platform that would generate a quarrel between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his one time protégée, President Goodluck Jonathan.
Speaking at the occasion in Warri last week President Obasanjo had expressed discomfort at what he described as President Jonathan’s slow response to the Boko Haram insurgency.
“My fear is that when you have a sore and you don’t attend to it early enough, it festers and becomes very bad. Don’t leave a problem that can be bad unattended,” President Obasanjo had said.
Noting how he responded to near similar situations during his civilian regime when militants in Odi, Bayelsa State killed some soldiers and then in Zaki Biam, Benue State, Obasanjo continued:
“On two occasions I had to attend to the problem I faced at that time. I sent soldiers to a place and 19 of them were killed. If I had allowed that to continue, I will not have authority to send security whether police, soldier and any force any where again. So, I had to nip it in the bud and that was the end of that particular problem,” he said.
“If you say you do not want a strong leader, who can have all the characteristics of a leader, including the fear of God, then, you have a weak leader and the rest of the problem is yours,” he added.
It was a response that several associates of President Jonathan have been falling over one another to rebuff. The claim by President Obasanjo is in the wake of what many believe to be actions taken by the incumbent against the interest of Obasanjo.
It was as such not surprising that when President Jonathan hosted the presidential media chat last Sunday that the issue of his alleged slowness would crop up.
Reacting to the issue, President Jonathan dismissed Obasanjo’s assertion that the invasion of Odi curbed militancy at that time.
Jonathan who remarkably was Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State at that time said:
“After that invasion, myself and the governor entered Odi…and saw some dead people. Most of the people that died in Odi were mostly old men, women and children, none of the militants was killed.”
”If bombarding Odi was to solve the problem, then it was never solved. If the attack on Odi had solved the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta, then the Yar’ Adua government would not have come up with the Amnesty programme. So, that should tell you that the attack on Odi never solved the militancy problem and we had more challenges after that attack on Odi.”
It was a direct hit back at Obasanjo. Before now, President Jonathan had undoubtedly to the irritation of Obasanjo and his associates shown some public displeasure of the actions of the Obasanjo presidency.
During the campaigns for the 2011 elections Jonathan had publicly disavowed the “Do or Die” political philosophy embraced by Obasanjo in the run up to the 2007 election.
Jonathan warned that nobody should kill for him.
So when President Jonathan on national television dismissed Obasanjo’s prompt response to the insurgencies that befell his administration as a failure, it was not surprising that the Obasanjo camp would react and even so, swiftly.
Obasanjo who is not given to much talking spoke through a former Minister in his government, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who was popularly known as his attack dog.
Responding to the assertions by Jonathan on Sunday, Fani-Kayode after being personally briefed by Obasanjo and the then Director-General of the State Seucrity Services, SSS, Col. Kayode Are, rtd. dismissed what he described as the revision of history.
Asserting that either Jonathan forgot or was wrongly briefed on Odi, Fani-Kayode said:
“Whichever way he is mistaken and it is important for those of us that proudly served the Obasanjo administration to respond to him in order to clarify the issues, clear the air and set the record straight for the sake of history and posterity,” he said.
“After the brutal killing of these security personnel President Olusegun Obasanjo asked the then Governor of Bayelsa state, Governor Alamesighya, to identify, locate, apprehend and hand over the perpetrators of that crime.
The Governor said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government.”
“Consequently he sent the military in to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base which was the town of Odi .”
“The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and it’s objectives were fully achieved. The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi, were uprooted, were weakened, were demoralised and were completely dispersed.”
“That was the purpose of the whole exercise and that purpose was achieved. The truth is that the killing of security agents and soldiers with impunity by the Niger Delta militants virtually stopped after the operation in Odi and remained at a bare minimum right up until the time that President Obasanjo left power eight years later in 2007. I advise those that doubt this to go and check the records.”
According to him, a similar provocation of the Nigerian military in Zaki Biam in Benue State after 19 soldiers were murdered led to the invasion of that community.
“The objectives of the military operations in both Odi and Zaki Biam were to stop such killings, to eliminate and deal a fatal blow to those that perpetuated them and to discourage those that may seek to carry out such barborous butchery and mindless violence in the future. Those were the objectives and nothing more and clearly those objectives were achieved.”
“There is no doubt that after Odi there was still unrest, agitations, protests, kidnappings and the blowing up and sabotage of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta area but there were hardly any more attacks on or killing of soldiers and security personnel by the terrorists and militants because they knew that to do that would attract a swift and forceful reaction and terrible retribution from the Nigerian military.”
“To stop and deter those attacks and killings was the objective of President Obasanjo and that objective was achieved. President Goodluck Jonathan was therefore in error when he said that Odi did not solve the problem of killings in the Niger Delta area by the Niger Delta militants.
Not only did it stop the killings but it is also an eloquent testimony of how to deal with terrorists, how to handle those that kill our security personnel with impunity and how to deter militants from killing members of our civilian population and thinking that they can get away with it.
If President Obasanjo had not taken that strong action at that time many more of our civilian population and security personnel would have been killed by the Niger Delta militants between 1999 and 2007. By doing what he did at Odi and Zaki Biam President Obasanjo saved the lives of many and put a stop to the killings and terrorism that had taken root in the Niger Delta area previous to that time.”
Noting the recent disclosure that at least 3,000 Nigerians have been killed on account of the Boko Haram insurgency in the last two years Fani-Kayode was to note that that figure was not up to the total number of lives lost in the 100 years of the Northern Ireland troubles.
Even before Jonathan defended himself on television, some, including rabid haters of Obasanjo had gone out to blast him. One of such was
Alhaji Shetimma Ali Monguno, a one time Minister of Petroleum Resources. He was sharply critical of Obasanjo’s suggestion on the use of force saying that the Boko Haram insurgents should be treated like any other Nigerian child. Monguno who had been nominated by the Boko Haram insurgent group as one of its preferred peace moderators with the Federal Government suggested that the Amnesty Programme that was extended to the Niger Delta militants should ordinarily have been extended to the northern insurgents.
“The President could come out and still employ the same tactics, which he and the late president (Umaru Yar’Adua) employed to have persuaded the militants in the southsouth. He could have employed the same methods for the Boko Haram of the north. The northerners were expectant that he was going to use that,” Alhaji Monguno said.
How to deal with Boko Haram, arguably the greatest security challenge to have faced the country since the civil war remains an issue.
President Jonathan had in time past repeatedly said that it was something that would peter out going the extent to set a 2012 mid year deadline for the insurgency to cease. But with the group still active, even though not as before, Obasanjo’s intervention, even if troubling has found some good hearers.