By Akanimo Sampson
Leaders of ethnic groups in Nigeria including those of the Niger Delta on the platform of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), are bombarding the Buhari Presidency for attacking former President Olusegun Obasanjo, over his comment on the state of the nation.
The leaders are drawn from four of the country’s six geo-political zones.
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.
Piqued, the Presidency on Sunday berated the former Nigerian leader, describing him as the country’s ‘divider-in-chief’.
Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this in a statement titled “Obasanjo is Nigeria’s divider-in-chief.”
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.
However, the Niger Delta leaders and their colleagues on the platform of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, hit at the presidency, describing the attack on Obasanjo, as disappointing and worrying.
The eminent leaders including those of Afenifere, the Middle Belt, and Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo, in a statement said nobody can stop Nigerians from commenting on issues and coming up with ideas “to pull Nigeria from the brink of the precipice of no return”.
According to them, President Buhari should know that Nigerians can distinguish between Nigerians who care enough to do something and those with responsibility who choose to do nothing.
While Senator Bassey Henshaw, endorsed the statement for PANDEF, Odumakin did for Afenifere; Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, for Northern Elders; Chief Guy Ikokwu for Ohanaeze; and Dr. Isuwa Dogo for the Middle Belt Forum.
‘’Leaders of five groups that held a two-day meeting under the facilitation and chairmanship of Obasanjo in Abuja last week, have taken note of the reaction of the Presidency to the meeting. To say that the Presidency chose to react in the manner it did to a responsible and credible initiative by our groups and a former president is, to put it politely, deeply disappointing and worrying.
‘’Our groups are not mouthpieces of President Obasanjo, and we will leave it to him to choose how he responds to the lamentable response of President Buhari to his initiative. For us, it is sufficient to say that we have no regrets or apologies to offer for making ourselves available to dialogue with each other, exchange ideas and re-commit ourselves to pulling our nation from the brink of precipice of NO RETURN.
‘’The communique released at the end of our meeting, which we are confident is only the first of many, is a loud testimony to our levels of responsibility and maturity. We have received countless commendations from many responsible Nigerians for supporting and participating in this initiative to make our country a democratic and united entity.
‘’We are even more worried at this stage that a responsible and constructive effort to douse tensions, build bridges and restore hope in the potentials for the survival of our country as a democratic and united entity will attract the type of childish vitriol from the Presidency, including labelling us as terrorists.
‘’Clearly, our current leaders are living in very deep denial if they do not recognise that our current situation represents an existential danger to the nation. We noted the commendable support of other leaders for the initiative, and the statesmanship of Chairmen of Nigerian, APC and PDP governors’ fora who attended the second day of the meeting and expressed genuine support for it.
‘’In contrast, we are alarmed at the insensitivity of the Presidency which will rather demolish patriotic and responsible action than take steps to address gaping holes in the manner it handles our national destiny, our security and our economy.
‘’Our forum is encouraged to pursue the time-tested strategy of engagement, dialogue and steadfast commitment to the future of our country as secure, united and just. We will continue to exercise our rights to meet and seek for solutions, and discharge our obligations to younger generations of Nigerians who deserve to live in a nation without its current frightening limitations.
‘’We believe that the Presidency, our legislators and all well-meaning Nigerians should be part of our initiative. If the Presidency chooses to stay out, Nigerians have the right to ask what it is doing to address our deeply-embedded problems itself’’, the obviously aggrieved leaders said.
Adding, they urged President Buhari to know that Nigerians can distinguish between ‘’Nigerians who care enough to do something, and those with responsibility who choose to do nothing.”