Even though he has not so openly declared, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is fully in the 2019 presidential election. Towards that end, he offered a mysterious third force half-heartedly. But the apparent cold reception which his offer attracted made him sommersault days later that his strange political experiment was not a political party and that if those who might pick up his idea turned it into a political party he woulld withdraw his participation. Clearly, Obasanjo’s right under the Constitution to participate in politics is not in dispute. But he can stop without being clandestine.
The only inhibition to which he is subject is the constitional halt of two terms, each of four years, which he has served. But ever nitpicking and suffering from insatiability syndrome over the years, Obasanjo, not long ago, wrote an open letter rubbishing Muhammadu Buhari’s current tenure and advising him not to contest in 2019. Yet, as Obasanjo would hypocritically claim, he had retired from politics. As part of his campaign for his yet to be declared favourite candidate for the 2019 presidential election, and well aware that Buhari was to be declared by the African Union as the Anti-Corruption Champion of Africa, Obasanjo released his letter a day before the African Union declaration. Then came the senseless killings in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen.
Amidst public criticisms for not visiting the bereaved survivors in Benue State, Buhari announced at least three days in advance that he would be paying a visit to the state for that very purpose. Obasanjo would not allow him to retrieve his image among the mourning people of Benue State. Accordingly, Obasanjo outsmarted(?) Buhari by flying to Benue State not only to condole with the people but most unusually to lay wreaths on the graves of those who died. Ordinarily, the Obasanjo known to Nigerians, would never have shown such sympathy, especially when he was in power as a military ruler for almost four years and elected President for eight years. It should be comforting to notice that Obasanjo is now a born-again exhibit of human kindness.
Otherwise, what kindness did he show in 1978 when his (Obasanjo’s) soldiers were unleashed to violently invade late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s house at Idi-Oro, mainland Lagos, and sacked the place? Where was Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, before, during and after the demolition of the house? Mrs. Kuti and some others died in the process. A concocted judicial probe reported that unknown soldiers caused the mayhem. Did that fraudulent excercise revive the poor old woman? Did Obasanjo at any time since that tragic incident ever pay any condolence visit to the Ransome-Kuti family?
In 2000, after less than nine months in office, Obasanjo’s soldiers again destroyed the entire Odi village in Bayelsa State. How many people died in thecriminal peace time excercise? Innumerable. An Abuja court was later, after Obasanjo left office in 2007, to award thirty five billion as damages to the survivors of Odi village. Throughout his eight-year tenure at Aso Rock, did Obasanjo pay condolence visit to Odi village? Among those humiliated in Odi village living in retirement was a distinguished Nigerian broadcaster, lawyer, sports commentator and presenter of the “Campaigns Continue” fame for the 1959 federal elections, Horatio Agedah. More of a Lagos boy, fluent in Yoruba language than many indigenes in the city, the old man grew up and schooled in Lagos. Ironically, Obasanjo lately was in Bayelsa on the invitation of Governor Seriake Dickson to launch some projects. Did Obasanjo pay condolence visit to the people of Odi village or did he lay wreaths on the graves of those murdered in that village in 2000?
During his tenure at Aso Rock, Obasanjo’s soldiers again sacked Zaki Biam village in the same Benue State. At the time of the Zaki Biam massacre, the immediate past chief of army staff (under Obasanjo) was an indigene of Zaki Biam, Major-General Victor Malu, now deceased. While in Benue State last week to lay wreaths on the graves of those murdered by Fulani cattle rearers, why did Obasanjo not similarly lay wreaths on the graves of those murdered by his soldiers in Zaki Biam and, of course, the grave of Major-General Victor Malu?
There lies Obasanjo’s involvement in the 2019 presidential election, again in line with his rights under the Constitution. If Buhari enters the race, it promises to be the electoral showdown of the century.
Kenya’s bloodletting lesson for Nigeria
Whatever the circumstances, any move for peace after unnecessary bloodletting should be welcomed. And in matters of bloodletting, particularly along ethnic lines, the record of Nigeria and Kenya is alarming. Either by accident or design, as Nigerians continued to kill themselves for senseless reasons all round, Kenyan leaders in East Africa eventually reconciled and at least held out hope that the gesture might spill down the country to end their own intermitent bloodletting.
It is intermitent in the sense that only in election season does the madness re-ignite. On the Nigerian side, there is never any particular period. It is fast becoming a national pastime with scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent fatal victims of ethnic, religious or political differences. The battle-line could be Muslims versus Muslims (Shites against Sunnis), Muslims versus Christians, northerners versus southerners, cultists versus cultists on and off college campuses, undergraduates versus lecturers, trigger-happy policemen against unarmed pupils or passengers or drivers of public transport, etc. The latest sad and seeming intractable episode is between armed Fulani cattle rearers and farmers all over the country. And, of course, with general election in Nigeria in 2019, the reality is a potential field day for thugs of various rival groups.
In the history of bloodletting in Nigeria, be they the aggressors, defenders, avengers or agents provocateurs, culprits have always been overreaching or callous, justifying in the process whatever magnitude. Worse still, whatever seeming lull turns out not even to allow prevailing blood to dry up. The on-going Fulani cattle rearers-farmers’ disgusting flow of blood is a vivid example. On his various condolence visits to states like Benue, Adamawa, Taraba and Plateau, disturbing developments emerged and followed as if to thumb down opposite peace moves in Kenya. There was the shock that, contrary to Commander-in-Chief Muhammadu Buhari’s order to Nigeria Police leadership to relocate to Makurdi at he height of the killings in Benue State, that operation, according to Governor Sam Ortom, lasted less than a day before the place was abandoned.
Consequently, the killings continued and President Buhari did not even know. We can only believe Buhari’s version. What police did in Benue State was disobedience of lawful order in an emergency. In plain language, it was either mutiny or desertion, the mildest punishment for which is instant disengagement of all those who abandoned their posts, if they don’t end up in the guardroom, whatever their rank(s). Failure to impose stern punishment in this issue will not be in the national interest, since officers specially instructed by President Buhari in future can dare him by choosing which order to obey or how to obey orders. What damage that will do to discipline in the armed forces is better imagined. What is more, officers on such emergency relocation as was the case in Benue State should have been forwarding situation reports to the Commander-in-Chief on a daily basis. Was this possible as the police leadership abandoned post? Little wonder that the killings in Benue continued even after Buhari relocated police leadership to that state from Abuja. As the killings continued in Benue State, Buhari had to also dispatch armed soldiers to complement the supposed police operations. Did that help?
The substantial boycott of Buhari’s visit by residents of Benue State, as reported in a section of the media, could not be separated from the performance (more of non-performance) of the police, which could not halt the killings. Was the boycott something to gloat over? Surely not. On the contrary, the boycott could, even if inadvertently, have been in national interest. In the prevailing tension in Benue since the outbreak of the killings, the issue during the tour could not have the boycott, a warm reception or Buhari himself. The real problem could have been the consequences of anything untoward during the visit. In Nigeria’s political history, post-Tafawa Balewa crisis in January 1966 and consequent post-Aguiyi-Ironsi upheaval six months later were not palatable. Ironically, Makurdi at that time was a scene of action.
Are the gods angry or are saboteurs at work? Buhari’s peace mission to Plateau State a few days later was relatively far less tension-soaked. The reception was at least friendly, if not too warm. That situation was partly due to the tranquillity in the state in the past few weeks, a serene atmosphere for which Plateau had been known for years. Hardly had Buhari returned to Abuja than the bloodletting resurged almost uncontrollably. Within four days, more than 40 residents had been killed. What is going on? It is a question for which Buhari must provide answers himself. Did the police and soldiers also abandon their posts as was the case in Benue? It was to be expected that Buhari’s open instruction to law enforcement agents in Taraba to arrest anybody in UNLAWFUL possession of arms applies all over Nigeria.
Our fellow Africans in Kenya have at least realised the futility of killing themselves. President Uhuru Kenyatta and main political rival, Raila Odinga, not only end their differences but also emerged from the president’s office and both addressed Kenyans publicly, suing for peace. The point of interest here is the realisation that bloodletting in Kenya must stop, rather than the method adopted. After all, with whom is Buhari struggling for power, to warrant his signing agreement to end the bloodletting? Furthermore, those being murdered all over the place are not suffering their fate on account of being Buhari’s supporters or supporters of Buhari’s political opponent (for 2019) who at any rate is yet to emerge. If those who died or were killed as supporters of either Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga up to one month ago ever realised that, so soon, their respective political leaders would reconcile in peace efforts, the deceased would not have been in the line of fire, lynching, slaughtering or arson.
Can Nigerians ever learn the lesson that, for whatever reason, politics, religion, ethnicity, killing fellow citizens is unwarranted? It is a lesson we can learn from Kenyans.