In 1992, as Ibrahim Babangida toyed with the transition to civil rule, Olusegun Obasanjo penned a letter, called the media and sent a copy to the Head of State. “In the name of political engineering, the country has been to a political laboratory for trying out all kinds of silly experiments and gimmicks,” Obasanjo wrote. “Principle has been abandoned for expediency.” The letter didn’t change the world (June 12 and Abacha went on to happen), but Obasanjo has not stopped writing. After he left Aso Rock in 2007, he continued to send more letters to his successors. Goodluck Jonathan received a bunch, one of which was an 18-paged verbiage detailing the numerous ways in which Jonathan had failed the country. Current president, Muhammdu Buhari is still receiving them, including one where he tried to discourage his fellow General from seeking re-election.
His latest one is about insecurity.
Since independence, Nigeria has hopped from one security crisis to another – from the Western political crisis in 1964 to the coup and counter-coup of the late 1960s to the subsequent Civil War to the religious and ethnic motivated violence in the North, to militancy in the South-South. Now there is Boko Haram, worsened by a rising surge of kidnappings and armed banditry across the country.
But what is essentially different with the Buhari administration is the growing mistrust among Nigerians against it, especially among non-Fulanis. There is almost a consensus, even if not entirely backed by empirical evidence, that the current wave of violence in the country is being perpetuated by Fulani herdsmen whose endgame is to colonise the entire country. This is Obasanjo’s concern.
In an interview with Dr. Pauline Baker at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in July 2015, Buhari unequivocally stated that the benefits of his governance will be focused mainly on the parts of the country where he received 97 percent of votes rather than those who gave him five percent. He described his decision as the “political reality”. The inference was that the South-South and South-East, which had voted for the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, would get the shorter end of the stick. For a country with old cracks on her walls, this was the beginning of a series of poor political leadership. Buhari’s political insensitivity has brought us to what Obasanjo now sees as a “tipping point.” Although Nigeria’s ship has been tipping long before Buhari became its captain, he has accelerated the rate of the impending collapse.
The Nigerian Constitution requires a sitting president to spread the appointment of his cabinet members across the 36 states but it makes no such requirements regarding appointment of security chiefs and heads of various federal agencies. Under Buhari, security chiefs have mostly come from the north, a phenomenon which Obasanjo has criticised in the past. There have been grumblings from different quarters about such a thing as a “Fulanization/Islamization agenda” being sanctioned by the President (Buhari is Fulani). Even if this theory is laughable or conspiratorial the President’s posture regarding the increasing spate of killings, banditry and kidnappings is worrisome.
What began in one part of the country has spread to others, leaving slain bodies and the searing cries of loved ones in the wake. But the only sound from Aso Rock is silence punctuated by a couple of not-so-reassuring, self-serving press statements. And Nigerians have subsequently resolved that the State can no longer protect them. By no means can that be a good thing anywhere in the world.
Despite earlier claims of having “technically defeated” Boko Haram, the group continues to maim people in the North. Then the farmers/herders clashes started severally and were mostly ignored. Early reports announced occurrences in remote areas of Plateau and Benue states. The reports went on intermittently, growing in volume of casualties and frequency of occurrence, shifting into new towns and states. We read about Agatu, Barkin Ladi, and Uzo-Uwani. Now it is everywhere. Mass cries and burials changed nothing. What could have been easily nipped in the bud degenerated into a monster that now requires more to quell. Now all eyes rest yet again on the President whose disturbing silence and lack of action on the matter only confirms the theories that the actions of these herdsmen who happen to be his “kinsmen” is sanctioned, or at the very least, tolerable to him.
And then came the conversations surrounding the RUGA settlement – a policy that might have been good for the country if not for its untimeliness and manner of proposed implementation.
It is on the back of this increasingly deteriorating security situation that the former president penned his latest letter, referencing the recent death of Funke Fasoranti, the daughter of Chief Fasoranti, a leader of Afenifere in the South-West, as well as the lamentations of various group leaders across the country. Obasanjo criticised Buhari for the “mismanagement of [our] diversity” which is “our greatest and most important asset”.
All the concerns addressed in the letter are palpable. Obasanjo lists avoidable outcomes of this brewing hotpot should it go unaddressed as soon as possible and none of them looks pretty. He recommends the collaboration of different members of society including present and past Heads of State and Service, traditional rulers, leaders at every level of society, and concerned members of civil society.
No doubt, this will not be Obasanjo’s last letter to a sitting president. Although this ought to be the last thing said about the country’s deep-rooted security problem before drastic actions are decisively taken. Before any solution can be successfully carried out, the president needs to show that he is the President of all Nigerians and not just a faction. He needs to show his commitment to the Nigerian project and that means bringing everyone to the table. He also needs to take proactive steps towards resolving the slowly growing but insistent grievances being made by the Shiites through their protests. Only then can we utilize this two-edged sword that is our diversity to our advantage and also, just maybe, reduce the rate with which Obasanjo will need to churn out letters. ✚
Anselm is a contributing writer to The Question Marker. He studied English and Literature at the University of Benin, and writes about, literature, pop culture, and politics.