By Akanimo Sampson
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s comment on Thursday on the state of the nation is unsettling the Buhari administration and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
But, socio-political groups in Nigeria pressing for the restructuring of the country’s twisted federal system on Sunday gave President Muhammadu Buhari a thumb down, and sided with Obasanjo.
Obasanjo said Nigeria was slowly becoming a failed state and a basket case that urgently needed to be pulled from the brink of collapse.
Speaking while delivering a speech titled, Moving Nigeria away from tipping over at a consultative dialogue in Abuja, the former President said he had never seen Nigeria so divided, adding that many of the problems plaguing the country were due to the recent mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity.
Rattled, the Presidency on Sunday berated the former Nigerian leader, describing him as the country’s ‘divider-in-chief’.
Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this in a statement titled “Obasanjo is Nigeria’s divider-in-chief.”
But, Ohanaeze Ndigbo says the administration of Obasanjo who dominated the affairs of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, was more credible than that of Buhari.
According to the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization of Ndigbo, Buhari’s regime does not have ears to hear the voice of wisdom.
National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, in an interview, said Obasanjo as a former head of state and ex-President knows where the shoes pinch.
While condemning the Presidency’s attack on Nigerians whenever they voiced their concerns about the survival of this country, he queried, “what has this government offered Nigerians? This government is a government that took over in 2015 with deception.”
Continuing, the Igbo group said, ‘’everything about Buhari is pro-North. The administration of Obasanjo and the present one are incomparable. There was security in Nigeria during Obasanjo’s administration but this government condones insecurity.
‘’His (Buhari) kinsmen are encouraged to terrorise the rest of Nigerians why unarmed Nigerians are hounded by security agents. Was it not Obasanjo that brought technocrats irrespective of where they came from?
‘’Is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Yorubaland? She is Igbo. He brought Mrs Oby Ezekwesili. He brought Professor Chukwuma Soludo. These are Igbo. He knew that they could deliver and he went for them. Was it not Okonjo-Iweala that got debt relief for Nigeria? Was it not Ezekwesili that introduced due process? During Soludo (time at the CBN) you could put your money in the bank and go home to sleep, before then it wasn’t so.
“Obasanjo brought the best brain irrespective of where they were coming from. Didn’t he have his kinsmen from Yorubaland who would have done the same thing? But he appointed Nuhu Ribadu as the EFCC chairman. Is he from Yorubaland? He is a northerner. Nasir Ahmad El-Fufai was the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He is a northerner. He is not from Yorubaland. You can’t compare. Obasanjo is a Nigerian but they are not.
“Look at Buhari’s ministerial appointments, the choice positions were allotted to his kinsmen. Military and para-military agencies are headed by the North. Everything in Buhari’s regime government is pro-North.”
On his part, PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, is hailing Obasanjo and some Nigerian elders for standing up to save the country at its worst time in history.
Secondus in a statement by his Media Adviser, Ike Abonyi, says “the situation in the country calls for patriotic men and women to stand up to be counted”, and berated the Presidency and others playing to the gallery instead of embracing words of wisdom from patriotic elders chose to attack “what is real and overwhelming to all.”
The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, said Obasanjo was more pan-Nigerian than Buhari, whom it accused of dividing Nigeria along religious and ethnic lines.
On divider-in-chief, Afenifere says the Presidency must be referring to Buhari. Its Spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, in an interview with The Punch, said Shehu must be referring to Buhari when he called Obasanjo a divider-in-chief
“They must be referencing their boss. You can say anything about Obasanjo but you can’t accuse him of dividing Nigerians the way this government has been setting herdsmen against farmers, north against south or Muslims against Christians”, he says.
Shehu, however, said Obasanjo’s comment was unfair attacks on the President and his regime, saying “in his most recent statement, former President Obasanjo attempts to divide the nation while President Buhari continues to promote nation building and the unity of Nigeria.
“The difference is clear. From the lofty heights of Commander-in-Chief, General Obasanjo has descended to the lowly level of divider-in-chief (to adapt the coinage of Time).”
The presidential aide said as some commentators were already suggesting, Obasanjo should, in accordance with his mantra as a statesman, get involved with problem-solving instead of helping the “mushrooming of a poisonous atmosphere of ethnic and religious nationalism.”
He said the former President must have disappointed many of his local and foreign admirers by showering commendations on a few extremist groups which had vowed to shun the invitation to the National Assembly to participate in the process of constitutional amendment.
Adding, he said Obasanjo must have left his admirers confused in announcing the support for the boycott of a democratic process of changing the constitution, at the same time calling for dialogue and engagement.
“The fact that the process he ushered in under his administration with the dubious intention of amendments that sought tenure elongation failed–as did two other attempts by the successor administrations of the same political party– does not in any way justify his dismissal of the exercise by the 9th Assembly as another waste of time and resources.
“To the credit of the All Progressives Congress-led 8th Assembly, the process of constitution amendment was carried through, paving the way for, among other benefits, the financial independence of local government councils, state Houses of Assembly and the country’s judiciary. These changes have already been signed into law by the President as mandated by the constitution.
“The recent decisions by the administration as they relate to subsidy withdrawal, helping to plug some of the most horrendous notorious holes and release of scarce resources for the more pressing needs of the people have also not escaped the ire of the former President.
“It’s a known fact that the withdrawal of subsidies had been on the wish list of the Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party. They failed in achieving these measures because one there was a shared greed. They plundered the treasury as much as anyone could in the name of either subsidy or waiver with reckless impunity.
“Two, is to say it takes courage and rare statesmanship on the part of a leader to do as President Buhari to shun populism and seek the best interest of the people and the state, providing the kind of reform and development that Nigeria urgently needs”, the Buhari spokesman said.
Shehu boasted that Buhari had run a regime focused on infrastructural development.
He said with his achievements and the more to come, it was not surprising that Buhari would be an object of envy from politicians who he said failed to deliver.
“It (Buhari’s) is a pro-business administration that has used diplomacy to unlock bilateral trade and investments. He leads a government that has liberalised the investment climate and market access by achieving reforms that have placed the country in the list of the world’s top reforming economies.
“Nigeria, which other nations had mocked and ridiculed for so many things that were wrong is today progressing at a pace reflecting its size and potential.
“With so much to show and many more coming, it is little surprise that President Buhari would be the object of envy and harsh unfair challenges by politicians who failed to deliver, but continue to nurse ambitions of delighting the audience long after their curtain has been drawn.”
Shehu also faulted the views of some analysts on Buhari’s recent advice to West African leaders to avoid tenure elongation, saying contrary to the assertions by the few analysts, Buhari’s recent speech in which he advised West African Presidents against tenure elongation beyond constitutional limits had been consistent with his long-held views on the need to adhere to the rule of law.
Also, Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, in a statement on Sunday by his Special Assistant on Media, Segun Adeyemi, faulted Obasanjo, claiming that the country would have been overrun by Boko Haram insurgents and bandits if the President had not rallied for regional and international support.
He said Buhari came into office at a time that “a swathe of the country’s territory” was under occupation by terrorists and “many Nigerian towns and cities, including the capital city of Abuja, were playgrounds for insurgents.”
He said it was a moment that “the nation’s wealth had been looted dry, with little or nothing to show for the nation’s huge earnings, especially in the area of infrastructure.”
The minister therefore described as “a cruel irony that those who frittered away a great opportunity to put Nigeria on a sound socio-economic footing, at a time of financial buoyancy, and those who planted the seed of the insecurity in some parts of the country today, are the same ones pointing an accusing finger at a reformist government.
“Nigeria today faces a lot of challenges. But whatever situation the country has found itself in, things would have been much worse but for the deft management of resources, unprecedented fight against corruption, determined battle against insurgency and banditry as well as the abiding courage of Mr. President in piloting the ship of state.
“Nigeria today is not a failed state, but a nation that is courageously tackling its challenges and building a solid infrastructure that will serve as the basis for socio-economic development.”
National Publicity Secretary of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Emmanuel Yawe, told The Punch that it was high time the former President accorded respect to those who succeeded him in office.
The group listed Obsanjo’s sins to include the invasion of Odi and Zaki Biam communities as well as his purported third term attempt at the presidency.
According to him, “Obasanjo enjoys going about, presenting himself as a saint, but he is not the saint he pretends to be. His actions and utterances are motivated by self-interest masquerading as national interest.”
Buhari’s party, the APC said neither the PDP nor Obasanjo and even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar could point a way forward for Nigerian because they failed to do so when they had the chance.
The party asked Obasanjo to tell Nigerians why they had yet to get steady power supply despite claims by his administration that it spent $16 billion on the power sector.
These are contained in a statement titled, ‘Political actors that midwifed national rot cannot chart way forward – APC”, by its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, in Abuja, on Sunday.
ACF Chairman, Audu Ogbeh, in an interview calls for caution, pointing out that there was an unwritten code of conduct expected of people who had had the privilege of occupying the highest office in the country.
“My worry about Obasanjo is his mischief. You don’t denigrate the office of the President or the occupant of that office”, he says.