All great leaders have had their human frailties and failings that appealed and repealed which affected their subjects either positively or negatively. In 1990, I had my first contact with General Olusegun Obasanjo, through the Africa Leadership Forum which had established its Plateau State (including Nasarawa State then) office at West of Mines, Jos. Perusing the objectives of the forum, I found myself deeply engrossed in what I was reading; whether this was true –coming from a down-to-earth former military head of state with a nondescript background of academics. The question that crept into my mind was – what business does this man have with thinking about the needs of democracy and its institutions? What is the link between this former tyrant and dictator with these funny ideas?
Was this a joke? I still asked, because my bewilderment was yet to take leave of me. Just to reassure myself, I flipped over into the document and saw a list of 43 participants of the forum just concluded at Abeokuta. Out of the 43, I just took nine: Mervyn M. Dymally, U.S Congressman (D. California); Adedeji Adebayo, former United Nations Under-secretary–General; Heinrich Bergstresser, Resident Representative, Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Olatunji Dare, chairman Editorial Board, The Guardian newspapers; D. M. Lisulo, former Prime Minister of Zambia, member Inter Action Council; Rudolph Thomas, Programme Officer, USAID/Nigeria; Charles Mwalimu, Executive Director, Washington Officer for Democracy, Zambia; Colin Eglin, Member of Parliament, Democratic Party, Cape Town and Victoria Kakoko – Sebagereka, Woman Representative and National Chairman, National Council of Women, Kampala, Uganda. This, wasn’t a joke. It is for real. I finally relaxed and resolved to be a disciple.
I recall how I researched, wrote and presented a 17-page executive summary paper on the herder-farmers’ perennial crises in the country since 1999 which I forwarded to president-elect, the then General Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, just before he was sworn in on May 29. In the document, I treated 21 states and 105 Local Government Areas that had witnessed mild, severe and disastrous framer/herder conflicts, strives and crises since the late 1980s and particularly since 1999 to date. I traced the immediate, remote and the likely long consequences of these uprisings on the psyche of these two groups and other Nigerians. I also highlighted the ethno-religious, sectional and the political dangerous dimensions that the emergence of such crises portends to the nation. Unfortunately, despite two submissions, one in 2015, another in 2016, up to this moment, nobody has officially or personally acknowledged that document.
The only response came from the most unusual and unexpected quarters – Olusegun Obasanjo, who having earlier seen my paper titled “From Sambisa to Kamuku Forest” submitted to five northern governors’ meeting in Kaduna on June 27, 2015 published in The Nation of May 9, page 18, developed an interest in the author and decided to meet me and have me shed more light on these issues. This is the genesis of my meeting with the former General and President in his hallowed residence in Abeokuta recently. I was to receive yet one of the most challenging lectures and engagements of my entire life.
First and foremost, I wanted the General to let me into his mind on why he made the statement he made at Oleh on Saturday, May 18, during a keynote address at the Anglican Synod, where he said: “It is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria which it began as, it is now the West African Fulanization, African Islamization and global organized crimes…” Where did Obasanjo get this? And was it the right place to say it?
Together, we journeyed into the history of Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, ISWAP, Ansaru, ISIS, JNIM, Al-Qaeda etc and concluded with the recent tribute that ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Bghdadi paid to the efforts of Jihadi Islamic insurgents, military groups in Africa for establishing an international caliphate.
With this historical analysis, could any reasonable person escape the factual summary statement of the Fulanization, Islamization of West Africa (Nigeria) and Africa by Obasanjo? Let’s begin with a report just recently released by the New Humanitarian News Agency (formerly IRIN), which said “Jihadist groups have recruited heavily from Fulani pastoralists which is described as an ethic group that suffers from social exclusion as well as government and development programmes that favour agriculturists”. This report further stated that this has raised tensions with members of other ethnic groups who say they are targeted by the jihadists. Supporting this report in Munich, Germany, was no less a personality than a Fulani Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso, Alpha Barry who said “ It is no longer just Sahel, it is Coastal West Africa and the risk of spreading regionally” in reference to the insurgent groups. The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), fighting the Boko Haram monster, spokesman, Col. Timothy Antigha was quoted recently saying that the Task Force has uncovered plans by ISWAP “to launch a recruitment drive in the coming months”. It urged “traditional, religious, community leaders and parents to closely monitor their wards to prevent them from being recruited by the terrorist organization”.
From the foregoing, it needs no rocket science brain to analyse the inevitable result that would give you the Fulanization and Islamization of West Africa when you look at the religious, ethnic and cultural linkages and solidarities which are the fuels driving these insurgent groups. It is as obvious as the day follows the night. The only disease that afflicts today’s leaders, including the current president, is indifference. This reminds me of the words of a famous writer and Nobel Peace prize winner, Elie Wiesel, in his “The perils of indifference”. Having witnessed the atrocities of the holocaust, he attributed the entire tragedy to indifference. “Indifference” he wrote, “elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never the victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten”.
Wiesel, may have spoken for Nigeria when he further said: “Of course, indifference can be tempting – more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims”. The laureate concluded by saying: “It is, after all, awkward, troublesome to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbours are of no consequence. And therefore, their lives are meaningless”.
How true! How sad! We are living in an existential chaos, danger and threat to our nationhood.
My greatest attraction to Obasanjo is his lack of indifference that makes him see things differently from other leaders. And his ability therefore, to refuse to be indifferent that resulted into his making the types of statements he made at Oleh which short-sighted and fair weather friends and apologists of those at the corridors of power cannot dream of making for fear of the unknown or losing some of their valued pecuniary interests. Those vilifying and condemning the former president are romanticists and hedonists of indifference.
Statesmanship and its burdens cannot condone indifference nor can it sustain or maintain mediocrity. Obasanjo is voraciously and ferociously articulate and knowledge seeking. He is a man with the uncanny ability to seek knowledge on an international scale while other past leaders like him are barely grappling with the direction of their immediate environments. Obasanjo is nomadic, peripatetic and mobile in search of relevance and honours. No wonder, therefore, he long saw the signs and symptoms of the imminent coming of the Fulanization and Islamization of Africa before our locals here ever dreamt of it. You have to know the symptoms of a disease before you analyse its existence in the body of the patient. Obasanjo’s warning and advice can only be ignored at the expense and peril of the nation.
A stitch in time, saves nine, says the adage. “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment”, to borrow from Frankline D. Roosevelt, American former President. [THE NATION]