The Federal Government, yesterday, thumbed down former President Olusegun Obasanjo's comments, weekend, that the Boko Haram insurgency has become an agenda to 'Fulanise' West Africa and Islamise Africa.
Describing the comment as absurd and divisive, the government in a statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged Obasanjo not to allow personal animosity override his love for a united Nigeria, saying it will not be out of place if he withdrew his statement and apologize to Nigerians.
The government said comments imputing ethno-religious motive to Boko Haram and ISWAP were deeply offensive and divisive, and far below the status of an elder statesman who had taken bullets for Nigeria's unity.
The Federal Government's position was toed by an Islamic group, the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, which asked the former President to come clean with any grouse he may have against the Fulani ethnic group, saying his recent comments on the threats of Boko Haram and armed herdsmen in the country were unbecoming of a statesman.
However, Christian leaders and some stalwarts of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, said former President Obasanjo was in order and urged the government to do the needful to halt the slide into anarchy.
Among those who agreed with Obasanjo were the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN; The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan; Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins and NADECO stalwart and elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
Others include National Vice Chairman (South-West) of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Eddy Olafeso; National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Chief Supo Shonibare; South-South leader, Col Tony Nyiam, retd; and Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen, retd.
It's tragic Obasanjo is dividing Nigeria in the twilight of his life - FG
In the statement, the minister said it was particularly tragic that a man who fought to keep Nigeria one was the same person seeking to exploit the country's fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life.
Mohammed said Boko Haram and ISWAP were terrorist organizations, adding that they cared little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction.
His words: "Since the Boko Haram crisis, which has been simmering under the watch of Obasanjo, boiled over in 2009, the terrorist organization has killed more Muslims than adherents of any other religion, blown up more mosques than any other houses of worship and is not known to have spared any victim on the basis of their ethnicity.
' It is, therefore, absurd to say that Boko Haram and its ISWAP variant have as their goal
the 'Fulanisation and Islamisation' of Nigeria, West Africa or Africa."
He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari put to rest the mis-characterization of Boko Haram as an Islamic organization when he said, in his inaugural speech in 2015, that "Boko Haram is a mindless, godless group, which is as far away from Islam as one can think of."
The Minister said Obasanjo's comments were, therefore, as insensitive and mischievous as they were as offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country as Nigeria, wondering whether there was no limit to how far the former President could go in throwing poisonous darts at his perceived political enemies.
He said Obasanjo's prescriptions for ending the Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis, which include seeking assistance outside the shores of Nigeria, were coming several years late, as President Buhari has done that and more since assuming office, hence the phenomenal success he has recorded in tackling the terrorists.
"Shortly after assuming office in 2015, President Buhari's first trips outside the country were to rally the support of Nigeria's neighbours - Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger - for the efforts to battle the terrorists.
"The President also rallied the support of the international community, starting with the G7, and then the US, France and the UN.
"That explains the massive degrading of Boko Haram, which has since lost its capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks for which it became infamous, and the recovery of every inch of captured Nigerian territory from the terrorists,' the minister added.
He said Obasanjo's call for wide consultations with various groups as part of efforts to tackle the Boko Haram crisis has been neutralized by his ill-advised comments which have served more to alienate a large number of Nigerians, who are offended by his tactless and distasteful postulation.
If Obasanjo has grouse with Fulani, let him say so -- MURIC
In like manner, Executive Director of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, said in a chat with Vanguard that Obasanjo's attribution of acts of terror by these violent groups to some sort of West Africa Fulanisation and Africa Islamisation Agenda bore signs of mounting senility on his part.
He said: "The ex-President is simply licking his own spittle. Would he have made that speech when he was President? When we started Sharia in 1999, Obasanjo was not outrightly antagonistic. He knows better because he knows the truth.
"Is it senility? Is the ex-President going senile? Otherwise, I don't see how he will be promoting lawlessness, dividing the country, and playing the religious card. What has ethnicity got to do with the insecurity in the country?
"If he has something against the Fulani, let him come out and say so. A statesman should not attack any ethnic group.
"It's a pity that those who are supposed to know better are behaving like kindergartens. It's so unfortunate. I am grossly disappointed in former President Obasanjo. He used to be more matured. This is not the Obasanjo we used to know, he should go and read his own books."
CAN, Onaiyekan, Martins back Obasanjo
However, CAN disagreed with the Federal Government's position on "the patriotic statement" credited to Obasanjo, saying when an elder statesman makes such sensitive statement about Nigeria, it shouldn't be waved aside.
CAN Director of Legal Services and Public Affairs, Mr. Samuel Kwamkur, in a telephone chat, yesterday, argued that Chief Obasanjo who has fought to keep Nigeria's unity cannot be making wild statements without considering the wide implication of the nation's security.
His words: "I think the statement by Obasanjo is a wake-up call on all Nigerians that demands serious reflection and a rethink with a view to finding lasting solution to the growing security challenges spreading across the nation. We have a serious challenge in this nation.
"What I think the Federal Government should do is call the likes of Chief Obasanjo to a round table meeting and critically look at the security issues and fashion a way forward. The trouble with Nigeria is that we look at our challenges beyond political considerations. I believe that when an elder statesman like Obasanjo who loves this country, makes such a statement like that, it calls for serious rethinking.
"I have read quite a lot of comments by several persons on the issue and I think we should not just wave it just like that. We need to give it a serious consideration and deep thought and find amicable solution to a collective challenge.
"On the side of Obasanjo, you have been a leader who should not have made such a statement like that since you can bring such things before the current leaders. The statement should have been directed to Government to clearly define a way out of the problem."
According to him, that Chief Obasanjo went public with such a serious matter is not the matter now.
"He may have done his homework and was not able to reach the powers that be. He is at liberty to address any issue he feels concerned about. There is nothing wrong in going public if he felt that something is going to affect the country adversely.
"I do not blame him for going public. I think the government should liaise with eminent past leaders like Gen. TY Danjuma and look at the issues dispassionately without recourse to religion, ethnicity and whatever considerations for the betterment of the country," he said.
Onaiyekan, Martins concur
The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan and Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins, agreed with Obasanjo.
The duo spoke, yesterday, during the 5th anniversary of Africa's 1st Satellite Catholic television and presentation of maiden annual lecture held at Catholic TV House, Osapa, Lekki, Lagos.
Tasking the federal government on an immediate and more aggressive approach to deal with the current challenge of insecurity and criminal activities across the country, Archbishop Onaiyekan said Nigerians were practically at the mercy of criminals in the country.
He added that Nigerians cannot continue to pretend that all is well with the security situation in the country.
He said: "We cannot pretend that everything is fine; you move round with fear in your heart. Apart from the Boko Haram senseless insurgency, which has been around for the past 10 years, we have other terrorist activities in the country. Initially, we did not see the herdsmen as terrorist, now we know.
"I also agree with General Obasanjo's statement on the security issue in the country although I have not read the full statement but what is sure is that we know that Boko Haram are with guns Islamizing by force. All the girls that they kidnapped, they put hijab on them and displayed them all to the whole world that they have all become Muslims.
"This is clearly a case that the group called Boko Haram believes that they have every right or the duty to spread Islam by force.
"Nigerians are practically at the mercy of these criminals and when you have a government, and such things are happening, I begin to ask myself if we have a government because we have to speak the truth to ourselves.
"Before the modern government, we know that in our traditional culture, every able bodied man went around with his cutlass, bows and arrows to defend himself. Now, we have disarmed ourselves so that the security agencies can protect us and if they cannot protect us and the only people that carry weapons around are criminals, we can see that this doesn't work. It is only the rich people and those in government that surround themselves with security."
Also Archbishop Martins in his homily, said he was amazed that those in authorities disputed former President Obasanjo's statement, adding that instead of trading blames and insults, all hands must be on deck to address the nation's security challenge.
FG naïve to accuse Obasanjo of dividing the country - Adebanjo
For Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the former President re-echoed what he and some leaders of the country have been saying for a while now, adding that the Federal Government must be naïve to accuse Obasanjo of dividing the country with his comments.
"There is nothing new in what Obasanjo said. We have been saying it for a long time. President Buhari cannot say that he does not know that Boko Haram insurgents are terrorists. Obasanjo is in order. He has hit the nail on the head. He said it at the right time. Those who have ears let them hear," he said.
There is danger in the land - Nyiam
Also speaking, Col Nyiam said: "There is observable high level of mutual distrust between the original land owners of Nigeria and the settlers in their midst. There is emerging alliance of the South-West, South-East, South-South, North-Central or Middle Belt and the Hausa people on one side, versus the armed Fulani herdsmen invaders.
"Former President Obasanjo's crying out against what he sees as the on-going Islamisation and Fulanisation of Nigeria in particular and West Africa as a whole.
"The fact that almost all the critics of the former President's remarks are almost all Fulani, have all collectively seen to the widening of the gap through which Nigeria's enemy within and their external bosses would penetrate our fold and kill more thousands of innocent Nigerians.
"Our continuing to be afraid of each other is what our enemies desire and are exploiting to their warfare advantage. There is now an opportunity for a strategic resolution of the recurring Nigerian security problems.
"The rare occasion is now made available by the unprecedented national insecurity development. And this is by virtue of the irony that the terrorist chickens have come home to roost among those who believe they are born to rule others against their wishes and in the sacred cows region of the North-West of Nigeria.
"The Niger and Chad foot soldiers who the far North's political elite use to either inflate the population of North-West region during national headcount or to rig presidential election in Nigeria are now forcefully demanding pay back for the services they've rendered to the parasitic Fulani elite.
"Don't mind the far North leaders pretexts, they are facing the greatest danger to their lives from the talakawas(the poor) they have been exploiting for long."
It's dangerous to ignore Obasanjo's observation - Shonibare
To Shonibare, the former President is an African statesman with several local and international connections and "any government which elects to ignore his observations about the state of insecurity in the polity does so at its own peril because "Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middlebelt Forum and even belatedly Arewa Consultative Forum have all expressed great apprehension about the state of insecurity.
"It is in the best interest of the Executive to appreciate that all these organizations constitute the pulse and genuine expressions of the thoughts of the people of this country. The President himself had alluded to non- Nigerians being culpable for many of the state of insurgency.
"He has once held sway in our country first as military Head of State and subsequently as civilian President. I would imagine that a leader who has held such positions, cannot and must not be frivolous in his contributions and must have some information on which he is basing his observations.
"Any government which elects to ignore his observations about the state of insecurity does so at its own peril. It's more important for the security operatives to begin to interrogate OBJ's hypothesis and let us know the outcome of an intense investigation into the origins of those responsible for the insurgency and kidnapping now rampant in many parts of the country.
"There's no doubt that criminal elements are also exploiting the state of insecurity to carry out dastardly acts but some of these acts appear fairly organized from what we read in the newspapers and social media."
Obasanjo deserves praise not insult, Olafeso tells FG
On his part, Chief Olafeso, the PDP National Vice Chairman (South-West), said Obasanjo should be lauded for speaking truth to power.
In a telephone conversation with Vanguard, Olafeso faulted the federal government for accusing the former President of making divisive statements, stressing that what Obasanjo said at the 2019 Synod of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion was a true reflection of the state of affairs in the land.
"The federal government should take up the challenge of addressing the issues raised by President Obasanjo in Delta State. There is no doubt that a particular ethnic group is going about killing other people for no just cause and none of these people has been brought to book.
"This is what the former President talked about and what government ought to do is to tackle the issues and not to resort to abusing the messenger. With the violent campaign going in some parts of the country, it will be very difficult for this nation to realize her economic, human and material potentials," he said.
He urged well-meaning Nigerians to speak in condemnation of the senseless killings going in some parts of the country, even as he challenged the President Buhari-led administration to demonstrate sufficient capacity to tame the scourge of insecurity in the country.
Obasanjo is right -- Ikponmwen
Pointedly, former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Idada Ikponmwen, retd, one of the frontline South-South leaders, who vehemently opposed compatriots that accused President Buhari of having an Islamisation agenda in the last three to four years, has made a volte face.
Ikponmwen, also a legal luminary, who spoke to Vanguard, yesterday, said: "I am unable to refute in any solid manner the assertion credited to former President Obasanjo that Boko Haram Movement, the rampaging herdsmen are turning into ready tools for Islamisation of this country.
He said: "When available signs, signals and indicators point strongly to what is alleged, nobody needs to seek further proofs. As a strong and front line backer of President Muhammadu Buhari, I strongly opposed my friends and associates who canvassed the idea that Buhari had an Islamic agenda.
"Three to four years after, my erstwhile antagonists appear to be winning; How, for example do we justify the central govt's insistence on open- grazing and creation of cattle colony from extreme North to the southern coasts, even when such idea has become not only obsolete, but inconsistent with our laws?
"How does the discerning Nigerian interpret the virtual failure of government to bring to trial or otherwise strongly address even one of the uncountable killings inflicted by cattle herdsmen all over the Middle Belt and other areas of southern states?
"How, indeed, can anyone justify the outright refusal of the then Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue when the killings of Benue indigenes were at intolerable peak?
"Today, there is growing tension and fear in Edo State and other neighbouring states over rapid and growing infiltration of large numbers of people of Fulani extraction into rural areas suspected to be assisted in numerous ways, including arms and ammunition, by powerful persons and institutions to which there has been no effective refutal.
"Furthermore, has there been any satisfactory explanation as to why virtually those in the security sector in Nigeria since PMB administration have been a monopoly of the Muslim Hausa / Fulani sect? Has the recent widespread news making the rounds that the Miyetti Allah group (IMN) has been pacified with N100 billion grant, even as the unarmed IPOB remains proscribed as a terrorist group, been satisfactorily counteracted?"
"Were all Nigerians not witnesses to how the federal government of Nigeria deployed the fullest of resources, including diplomacy and funds to ensure the release of our Muslim girl, Aisha, compared to the case of our Christian, Leah Shuibu, who has remained in captivity till date?
"The sudden and unconstitutional removal of a Christian Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN W. Onnoghen and his replacement by a Sharia Jurist picked from below the ladder in the hierarchy of Supreme Court Judges cannot, but spark religious sentiments in a country that has become so visibly divided along religious lines?
"Can any non- Muslim Nigerian be blamed for faulting the manner of appointment of IGPs in recent times when government went down the ladder in the seniority roll of senior police officers to pick the next IGP?
"What about the news making the round that Saudi people were being strategically positioned to play dominant role in the Nigerian oil/ gas industry?
"In the same vein, how do we remove religious sentiments when our own President would proceed to Medina failing to hand over affairs of state to his Christian Vice President? Does anyone expect that those seeking to islamise Nigeria would openly admit it?
"I think it is increasingly becoming clear that the authorities are charting the way to islamise Nigeria. It is on this note that I posit that those who see Boko Haram and ravaging herdsmen as tools for Islamic agenda are hardly at fault.
"This is more so when Boko Haram has all along declared that anything touching on western education is evil. One can justifiably interpret the failure of the PMB administration to effectively deal with this sect as tacit approval by a government that vowed to eliminate all forms of killings wherever they occur in this country.
"This government must be reminded that our state from the beginning was based on secularism and so it must remain for the good of all."