Obasanjo warns of likely genocide in Nigeria

Wednesday July 17 2019

Relatives of schoolgirl Leah Sharibu who was

Relatives of schoolgirl Leah Sharibu who was abducted by Boko Haram Islamists hold a banner to press for her release during an event to mark her 16th birthday and two years in captivity at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, on May 14, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By The East African

Former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to convene a national forum to discuss the run-away insecurity in the country.

The insecurity has for the past decade manifested itself in retaliatory attacks between the Fulani herdsmen and farming communities as well as through increasingly bolder Boko Haram incursions across the country.

In a rather undiplomatic open letter to President Buhari dated July 15, Obasanjo, 82, said he feared that the insecurity could spark genocide similar to that in Rwanda 25 years ago.

"Enough is enough. We are on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point," Mr Obasanjo, who served Nigeria on two occasions for a combined 11 years between 1976 and 2007, said.

In compliments to the incumbent Mr Obasanjo said the President could not tackle the insecurity alone, adding a joint effort was needed to tackle insecurity.

"Collective thinking and dialoguing is the best way of finding an appropriate and adequate solution to the problem," Mr Obasanjo wrote.

The presidency did not directly respond to Mr Obasanjo but cautioned leaders to weigh the potential consequences of their utterances and not to politicise the security situation.

"Insecurity is an issue that Nigeria must face together as one nation – united. Times of tragedy like these are not the time for politics. We hope that those who stand in positions of influence recognise and understand this,” President Buhari's senior special assistant on Media and Publicity Malam Garba Shehu, said.

The tragedy Mr Shehu referred to was the killing on Friday of Funke Olakunri, the daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti who leads the Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere.

Security operatives said some people had been arrested from forests in some south-west state in connection with the murder but did not disclose details.

Looming disaster

The death appeared to have prompted Mr Obasanjo's letter in which he said the incessant killings could no longer be treated with nonchalance, asking President Buhari to avert a looming disaster.

Mr Obasanjo, who hails from the south west of the country was opposed to President Buhari, a northerner, running for election in 2015 as well as him defending the seat in the February 2019 elections.

"I am addressing here the very serious issue of life and death which can no longer be ignored, treated with nonchalance, swept under the carpet or treated with cuddling glove," Mr Obasanjo wrote.

He said insecurity was "hitting at the foundation of our existence" and "fast eroding the root of our Nigerian community".

He said the potency and activities of Boko Haram remained undiminished making the governments claims of victory against the insurgents a "lie."

He added that Boko Haram had found fertile ground in the North East where communities are marginalised with literacy rates of 50 per cent and unemployment at 70 per cent.

In his solution to the insurgency, the former president appealed for persuasion instead of military might which has appeared the strategy for west African countries in fighting extremism to date.
"Boko Haram will not go away on the basis of sticks alone, carrots must overweigh sticks," he said, before accusing President Buhari of treating conflicts between herdsmen and farmers with cuddling gloves.

Fulani elites

He said there wa a perception that President Buhari was complicit in the conflict by virtue of the head of state's Fulani community being a central antagonist.
"Criminality is being perceived as a ‘Fulani’ menace unleashed by Fulani elite in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, many Nigerians attach vicarious responsibility to you as a Fulani elite. Perception may be as potent as reality at times," Mr Obasanjo, a Yoruba, said.

What started as conflict over resources between communities has spread across the country, morphing into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and frequent killings.
Mr Obasanjo proposed a reconciliation forum where grievances by the Fulani's and other communities are openly aired and legitimate ones addressed.

"The main issue is poor management or mismanagement of diversity. A very onerous cloud is gathering. And the rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome," he warned.

He concluded that "the clock is ticking with a cacophony of dissatisfaction and disaffection everywhere in and outside the country.’’

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