The totality of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s involvement in Nigerian politics is such that, sometimes, he is seen as the problem while at some other times, he is seen as the answer. Combining in himself the capacity to be seen here as the problem and there as the answer has meant that whatever he says receives virtually equal attention from his admirers as well as his critics. His interventions do become ‘State of the Nation’ summoning, more so that both critics and admirers converge on one or two things about him.
That is that, apart from General Yakubu Gowon, there are no Nigerians who can be said to be more patriotic than him. On Nigeria’s oneness, nobody can quote him anywhere to have said anything to the contrary. In fact, he is on record to have said he would feel diminished to belong to any smaller entity than Nigeria of today. He does not belong to the camp of restructuring. For two decades – from 1979 to 1999, he was an outcast in Yorubaland for actions he took in power that were interpreted to be against that interest. His abrasive sensitivity to when the country is burning is always such that he could say “CAN my foot” in 2004 in Jos after seeing the stillness in the city – no water, no light, no market and no authority – for three days in the wake of violence that assumed ethno-religious fault lines.
The implication is that as much he is criticised for one major failure here and there, he is also noted when he speaks. That happens because he doesn’t say what he says because he wishes Nigeria ill.
There is, therefore, something about deliberate politicization of what he said at his recent lecture at the 2019 Synod of the Anglican Communion on May 18th, 2019. The first layer of that politicization is the abstraction of the section of the lecture that made reference to Fulani identity in the unmaking of Nigeria as a grave yard of insecurity through the current phenomenon of banditry. The headlines have concentrated on that to the detriment of the crisis of developmental strategy that was more substantially treated in the lecture. The second and more disturbing politicization of the lecture is that by the government of the day which is reading divisiveness in the lecture simply because the former president used the word Fulanisation.
That is just too much of a diversionary tactic because, by Fulanisation, Obasanjo was capturing the reaction to modernity by pastoralists left wandering in the bush like wild animals and whose alienation has bred sufficient hostility to organised life. And who, aided by access to guns, have embraced violence. So, Obasanjo was not profiling Fulani but putting violence in context. Reading it in any other manner is pedestrianism, given the history of the Obasanjo persona as tracked above. His suggestions in that lecture are also to the point.
That lecture by Obasanjo is not a stuff to which the government of the day needed to respond but a text to be studied and reflected upon in research centres, military academies and universities. It is not a stuff for dry governmentality by a government that only wants to be given the credit but is irritated by being blamed for disastrous outings. Isn’t such a country in grave danger, more so with what irate villagers did in taking the dead bodies of community fellows felled by bandits to the Emir’s palace and the Government House recently in the president’s home state? What explains this resort to politicizing everything even when it is about the very security of the country?
Long before Obasanjo’s lecture, another General who has also seen war and has done his bit for the country had said that the people should defend themselves. It was in the face of lack of urgent and forceful response to grave insecurity manifestations by the government In that intervention, General Danjuma alleged collusion. Even if there is no collusion, there is a case of a tendency to ignore evil and to make an enemy of whoever points out that inaction is complicity. But inaction is, indeed, complicity because Nigeria is not the only West African country with Fulani herdsmen. They are also there in Niger Republic, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Voire, Mali and even Ghana but are not levying war on those countries.
Obasanjo, by implication, is wondering how we come to be a nation that is not under stack from external aggressors; a nation under an elected president and the National Assembly and governors all in place but which has no one to hold accountable for grave insecurity challenges. And he has suggested what options are available. In that particular lecture, he has been most helpful to the Buhari regime, especially the second segment of the text. People should, therefore, develop a case by case attitude to the problems that are cropping up just as even those in government must develop capacity for independent mindedness when dealing with complicated issues such as the current insecurity crisis. Otherwise, they will be producing reactions that permanently fall short of the epistemic rigour for legitimating power. Nobody and certainly not Chief Obasanjo nor General Danjuma is above criticism but criticizing them be contextually informed.