By Femi Fani-Kayode
Continued from last week
He not only dared them but he also sent our troops, under the command of Brigadier-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, to secure our eastern boarders and to protect our territory from their reckless and open aggression. Force was poised to meet force and the Nigerian nation was mobilised for a full scale territorial war.
Lt. Colonel Isa Mohammed, as he then was, and the courageous officers under his command, did most of the fighting by actually throwing the Camerounian soldiers out of Bakassi and, in so doing, he did Nigeria proud. If ever a man deserved to be on the honours list of our nation it was Lt. Col. Isa Mohammed because his exploits during the Bakassi conflict when General Abacha was in power were extraordinary and simply legendary.
I am one of those that vehemently opposed General Abacha throughout his five years in power but I was happy to commend him for his noble and courageous stand on the Bakassi matter and the vigorous and aggressive action that he took at the time to protect our people and secure our boarders.
I did so in a celebrated essay that I wrote for the Guardian Newspaper all the way from Ghana in 1997 which was titled ‘’Masters Of Our Fate, Captains Of Our Souls’’.
Many of my colleagues and friends in the opposition and NADECO, like the irrepressable Bashorun of Okemesi, Chief Akin Osuntokun, who is not only my friend and brother but also something of an intellectual soulmate, were shocked that I could have commended Abacha for anything given the fact that virtually every other single essay that I wrote for my weekly column and my numerous interventions in those turbulent years were vehemently opposed to him and his military government.
Yet I must confess that no Nigerian President ever made me feel prouder of my country than Abacha when he stood up to the bullying French and made it clear to the world that he was ready to go to full scale war with the Camerouns if they continued their incursions into Nigerian territory and if they did not pull out of the Bakassi Peninsular.
The French and their Camerounian puppets wisely complied with immediate effect and they did so on the advice of the Americans who convinced them that Abacha was not just bluffing but that he ‘’meant every word that he said’’. This was a man that was more than happy to turn the whole of the west African sub-region into a cauldron of fire in order to defend the honour and dignity of our people, protect our territorial integrity and keep Nigeria one. In this respect Abacha was a leader that was second to none,
Only General Muhammadu Buhari showed a similar level of courage and strength when he drove the invading Chadians from our territory and borders over ten years earlier in 1982, marched into Chad itself and was firmly on his way to laying siege to the Chadian capital Njadmena when he was ordered to stop and turn back by President Shehu Shagari.
As was reported at the time Buhari simply refused to stop his massive offensive and he blew away everything that stood in his way until he was deep into Chadian territory. He gave the Chadians a very bloody nose indeed and they certainly deserved it.
The Buhari story
Those were the days when Nigeria had a strong military that we could be proud of and when we had commanding officers that were professional and disciplined and that could be relied on to engage the enemy forcefully and utterly crush them.
Those were the days when we had leaders that were not afraid of unleashing our military on any foreign power when we were sufficiently provoked. Permit me to share a little more about Buhari. My friend and brother the Kaakaki Nupe, Mr.Sam Nda Isaiah, once told me a very interesting story which is relevant here.
He said that General Buhari once told him that when he first became Head of State in 1983 and went through the file on Bakassi he knew that it would be impossible for Nigeria to win the case in any international court of law simply because the area had been erroneously ceded to the Camerounians by a previous military Head of State a number of years earlier.
He said that his next move was to send troops to the Bakassi Peninsular to secure the place for Nigeria and to protect the Nigerian people that were living there. That is what a man of honour who truly loves his nation and people should have done and Buhari did it without batting an eyelid. What a man and what a leader.
Sadly today all that has changed and we do not have such men of honour in power. Instead we have a President that cannot even muster the strength and courage to fight the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram or any of the other insurgent groups that are freely operating in our country and killing our people.
We no longer have men like the gallant Major Halilu Akilu (as he then was) who, under the orders of General Buhari in 1984, crushed the exceptionally vicious and fearsome Maitatsine islamist sect in Kano with ruthless precision and professional excellence. Those days of glory appear to have gone and sadly they will not return until we have a new and serious-minded government and President in power in our country.
Love him or hate him, the truth is that no Nigerian President displayed the same degree of patriotism, resolve and strength over the Bakassi Peninsular as General Sani Abacha did from 1993 to 1998 when he was in power.
Sadly on 10th October 2002, under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, we lost the Bakassi to the Camerouns under what were controversial and unacceptable circumstances and as a result of an absurd ruling of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
I have asked this question on numerous occasions and I am yet to receive a satisfactory answer so perhaps I will take this opportunity to ask it again. How can any responsible government proceed to the International Court of Justice over a territorial dispute with a neighbouring nation after the blood of it’s citizens has been spilt over that land and whilst that government was still in full possession of the disputed territory?
People’s will versus international court
How can any government agree to subject themselves to the proceedings and ruling of an international court when the majority of the people in the disputed territory had consistently reaffirmed their desire to remain Nigerians and after they expressed their grave fears, concerns and strong opposition to being turned into Camerounians overnight?
Leaders and Presidents are meant to hold their territory and defend their people when provoked and not to give them up to their enemies and tormentors. That is why we have armies.
President Obasanjo’s capitulation on the Bakassi issue and his decision to subject Nigeria to the jurisdiction and proceedings of the International Court of Justice was a grave error. It was also a classic betrayal because the people of the Bakassi Peninsular were abandoned and sacrificed by our government simply to curry favour with the western powers and the international community.
This single event was the greatest blot on the administration of President Obasanjo and I will not shy away from saying so even though I remain one of his greatest admirers, even though my love for him remains untainted and even though I had the privilege of serving in his government.
The Obasanjo error
Jackie Mcgunn reflected the thinking and feelings of most Nigerians very well when she said ‘’I felt raped and violated when Nigeria handed over Bakassi to the Camerounians’’. I felt the same way. President Obasanjo was not capable of doing what General Abacha had managed to do almost a decade earlier and it grieved my soul and the souls of millions of other Nigerians”.
If Obasanjo had displayed half the courage, firm resolve and strong determination over the Bakassi Peninsular matter as President Vladimer Putin is doing over the Crimean crisis and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had done over the Falkland Islands dispute, the Bakassi Peninsular, and all it’s people, would still have been part and parcel of Nigeria today.
Today the people of the Crimea want to be part of Russia and not the Ukraine just as, in 1982, the people of the Falkland Islands wanted to be part of Britain and not Argentina. In both of those territories the people exercised their right of self-determination and, because the people and governments of their respective countries not only respected that right and choice but also cherished it, they refused to abandon them, they stood by them and they made their dreams come true.
They ensured that the will of those people and their purpose were made manifest and, if needs be, they were prepared to go to war to effect it. That is how responsible governments are meant to behave. That is what they are meant to do. That is why Great Britain never abandoned the people of Northern Ireland and that is why India and Pakistan respectively never abandoned their respective people and territories in the disputed Kashmir region despite successive wars.
Sadly in Nigeria, under President Obasanjo, this was not the case. He turned his back on the wishes and yearnings of the people of the Bakassi Peninsular to continue to be part of Nigeria and he handed them over to the Camerounians on a platter of gold. I repeat that this was a great betrayal and, in my view, it was the greatest failing of the Obasanjo administration – an administration which I proudly served and which I have often defended.
If we had to go to war over Bakassi we ought to have done so knowing that our cause was just and our right to that territory was not only rooted in history and embedded in the wishes and aspirations of the people that lived there but was also legitimate and lawful.
A government that cannot protect its own people from the foreign invader and that cannot secure its own borders from external aggression deserves to be pitied- it is nothing but an object of shame, opprobrium and ridicule. Each time I consider what we did in the Bakassi Peninsular, how we turned our backs on it’s people and how we gave up what was part and parcel of our nation to the invading Camerounians without a good fight, I feel a deep sense of revulsion and shame.
This is one of the few aspects of President Obasanjo’s record in public office that I simply find impossible to justify or defend. In this respect Obasanjo had much to learn from both Vladimer Putin and Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile I once again commend President Vladimer Putin and the actions of the Russian Federation in the Crimea.
There is no greater source of comfort and strength for a people than the knowledge that when push comes to shove their government and their President will never abandon them to the vagaries of foreign invaders and to the whims and caprices of those that seek to suppress, intimidate, humiliate, conquer and destroy them. How I wish that we had a Putin leading Nigeria today.
*Fani-Kayode was Minister of Aviation under the Obasanjo administration.