By Rotimi Fasan
FORMER President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has stirred the hornet’s nest once again. The redoubtable soldier, war hero, ex- ruler, farmer and two times president claimed in a talk that he gave at an Anglican Church in Oleh, Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State, that the entire purpose of the Boko Haram insurgency is the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria. Which is saying that the spate of kidnappings, sacking of communities, armed robberies in the form of cattle rustling and above all, the imposition of the Islamic legal and religious codes in places under the control of Boko Haram are well-orchestrated plans aimed at making Fulani and Muslims out of other Nigerians.
As is now the case with most of his interventions, Obasanjo said nothing new. Nothing that other Nigerians have not said over and over again. His remarks have, however, elicited instant responses from many quarters, highlighting the fault lines in our peculiar federation that has made the country’s unity a project perpetually in the future. While some have condemned his remarks as unbecoming of his status, he has received enthusiastic approbation from others. The problem, again as usual with Obasanjo, is not necessarily the message but the messenger.
Obasanjo acknowledged the fact that Boko Haram has been with us for quite a while. But its activities were viewed, he said, as a revolt of the poor and dispossessed. They were seen as an economic issue that could be resolved by tinkering with those policies through which the governing elite in the North have kept most Northerners away from the gains of our commonwealth. Now Obasanjo thinks such reading was essentially flawed and naïve as it beggars the fact now at our disposal, namely, that Boko Haram had and has a far more sinister agenda. This is to impose Islam as well as Fulani rule on the rest of Nigerians. All of this became clear, according to Obasanjo, from the concerted manner in which Boko Haram has escalated its activities while teaming up with other murderous groups like the Islamic State of West Africa Province and Al Qaeda, among others.
For quite a while, Nigerians from the Southern and Middle belt parts of the country have raised fears about the possible Islamisation of Nigeria. Those fears have been accentuated since Muhammadu Buhari took over as president. Things were nowhere helped by the fact that Buhari himself exhibited a high degree of revanchist provincialism in his appointment of ministers and other public officers. He displayed a clear bias for Muslims from the North of the country while quietly ignoring the concerns of others like the Igbo who did not vote for him and have never supported his presidency. His recent reappointment of Godwin Emefiele as Central Bank governor is being seen as a mere sop that would not do much to assuage the feeling of alienation his administration has engendered among the Igbo.
His weak response to herdsmen attacks in many parts of the North, seen as a lack of concern for other Nigerians, makes his stance appear like subtle endorsement of the activities of the insurgents. Buhari, like most of the elite from the North, at some point adopted a casual stance that suggested he was satisfied with the activities of Boko Haram. This was in the early days of its activities when prompt condemnation could have gone a long way. Things remained this way until a strange twist in the tale would result in Boko Haram hunting after prominent Northerners. Buhari was a target of one such attack and only escaped narrowly. Only then did the scale fall from the eyes of the Northern elite. And they began to align with the rest of Nigerians to reject the extremist ways of Boko Haram. By this time, however, matters had got to a head and the group had become a monster with a life of its own, answerable to nobody.
That Abuja was, as at last week, embroiled in an argument with Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo about the nature of its recognition of and dealings with Miyetti Allah, the Fulani cattle breeders umbrella organisation, feeds into the unsettled narrative that the government is all hunky-dory with the herdsmen and by extension, cattle herders – a step from Boko Haram. Activities of the herdsmen and those of Boko Haram directly or indirectly align with one another.
It was under these circumstances that a presidential aide, Lauretta Onochie, issued a statement suggesting that Atiku Abubakar, Buhari’s opponent who has been in court since the conclusion of the 2019 elections, is under investigation for corruption at the United Arab Emirates. Abubakar, it should be said, has not been a favourite of the Northern elite or groups like Miyetti Allah that opposed his candidacy in the 2019 presidential election.
Atiku feels he has been defamed by Onochie’s claim and has instructed his lawyers to demand compensation running into billions of naira. It is not surprising that Lauretta Onochie would attack Atiku in the manner she did. Her remarks were in consonance with the position of Abuja that Atiku is at the vanguard of a conspiracy determined to disrupt violently the Buhari government. What is, therefore, surprising is that Abuja has not thought it wise to arrest Atiku considering the gravity of their accusation, one that has been repeated by other administration officials, including the military chiefs.
What is Abuja and Buhari up to with their attack on Atiku? Why have they continued with their claim that he plans to disrupt Buhari’s inauguration while failing, against the norm, to act on their accusation for which they say they have ample evidence? Is theirs a red herring to prepare the ground for a clampdown on Atiku or a move to undermine his challenge of the Buhari Administration in the courts?
Is Obasanjo’s own remark about the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria an expression of his disappointment with the failings of the Buhari administration as Sule Lamido has alleged? Even if one could criticise Obasanjo for gross insensitivity and unbecoming utterance given his position as a former president and indeed, one of Nigeria’s most respected (and vilified?) leaders, would it be right to assume that his remarks are so much blather? Or could there be some truth to his observation?
Nigerians, especially leaders, should be careful not to say things that could aggravate the tense cloud that has pervaded our country in the last few years. But should that stop us from telling one another some home truths? A church might not be the most appropriate place for Obasanjo to highlight the objectives of Boko Haram. Our greater concern, however, should be to ask what Buhari is doing to erase the perception that he supports Fulani domination and Islamisation of Nigeria.