Obasanjo’s allegation of Islamisation divides Nigeria

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Comments from different personalities and interest group across the country show that Nigerians are divided over the fear expressed by former President Olusegun Obasnjo that there is a systematic move to Fulanise and Islamise Nigeria and other West African countries

By Olu Ojewale

FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo is a man who does not shy away from controversy. In fact, he seems to enjoy the act and thrives in it. Through his statements and letter writing, the former president has ruffled several feathers.

Obasanjo is at it again. Instead of his usual letter writing, this time he went on the pulpit to raise the alarm, suggesting that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has not been hard enough against Boko Haram insurgents and Fulani herdsmen, despite their nefarious acts. His statement has thus been reverberating across the country, and keeping tongues wagging.

Obasanjo, while addressing the second session of the Synod of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Oleh, Isoko South Local Government Area, Delta State, on Saturday, May 18, alleged that Boko Haram and herdsmen are assiduously working to Fulanise and Islamise Nigeria and West Africa.

He said: “Boko Haram and herdsmen’s acts of violence were not treated as they should at the beginning. They have both incubated and developed beyond what Nigeria can handle alone. They are now combined and internationalised with ISIS in control,” said former military head of state and civilian president.

“It is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria, which it began as, it is now West African Fulanisation, African

Islamisation and global organised crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change,” he said.

But the federal government of Nigeria found Obasanjo’s comments deeply offensive and patently divisive, saying such indiscreet comments were far below the status of an elder statesman.

Lai Mohammed

Lai Mohammed, the minister of Information and Culture, who reacted to the former president’s comment on Tuesday, May 21, said it was tragic that Obasanjo, who had fought to keep Nigeria one, is the same person seeking to exploit the country’s fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life.

The minister insisted that Boko Haram and ISWAP are terrorist organisations, stating that they care little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction.

“Since the Boko Haram crisis, which has been simmering under the watch of Obasanjo, boiled over in 2009, the terrorist organisation 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,” the minister said.

The minister added that Obasanjo’s comments were as insensitive and mischievous as they are offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.

He said Obasanjo’s prescriptions for ending the Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis, which include seeking assistance outside the shores of Nigeria, are coming several years late, as Buhari had done that and more since assuming office.

In a similar reaction, the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, an Islamic group 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.

Ishaq Akintola, the executive director of the MURIC, said in a newspaper interview that Obasanjo’s attribution of acts of terror by the violent groups to some sort of West Africa Fulanisation and Africa Islamisation agenda bore signs of developing 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 out rightly 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,” Akintola said.

Lamido

In the same vein, Sule Lamido, a former governor of Jigawa State, called on the elder statesman not to allow his disappointment with the Buhari administration turn him to a bigot. In a statement signed by Mansur Ahmed, his aide on new media, Lamido noted that such remarks coming from the former president was “very much unlike you sir!”

Lamido further said if the remarks by Obasanjo were made at a non-religious gathering to a non-religious audience, it would have been tolerable.

He said the various diversities that hitherto held the country together which in turn helped national cohesion were already turning into huge “gorges” and pleaded with the former president to remain a statesman that he has always been.

Lamido, who once served as the minister of Foreign Affairs in the Obasanjo government from 1999 to 2003, further said: “as leaders, like I have been saying, we should never act in anger because if we do, it can hurt. I therefore call on our boss, Obasanjo, not to let his disappointment with the sitting president turn him into a bigot. He must not abandon the national stage.”

But John Cardinal Onaiyekan, a former Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, believes that Obasanjo’s statement was a wakeup call on the federal government to urgently tackle the insecurity in Nigeria. Speaking during the 5th anniversary of Africa’s 1st Satellite

Catholic television and presentation of maiden annual lecture held on Tuesday, May 21 at Catholic TV House, Osapa, Lekki, Lagos, Onaiyekan said Nigerians were practically at the mercy of criminals 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.”

Consequently, he said: “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 Islamising 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.”

Making similar remarks, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, disagreed with the condemnation of Obasanjo over his “patriotic statement.’’ It argued that when an elder statesman makes such sensitive statement about Nigeria, it shouldn’t be waved aside.

Samuel Kwamkur, the CAN director of Legal Services and Public Affairs, in an interview argued that Obasanjo, who has fought to keep Nigeria’s unity could not have been making wild statements without considering the wide implication of the nation’s security. Kwamkur said: “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.

Wole Soyinka
Soyinka

Besides, he said there was nothing wrong for the former president to go public with his comments. “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.

That appears to be the stand of Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, as well as he berated the federal government for attacking Obasanjo and ignoring his call for collaborative efforts to combat insecurity in Nigeria.

The Nobel Laureate who spoke at the United Bank for Africa, UBA, symposium, tagged: “Africa’s history redefined: Our past, a path to the future,’’ said with collaboration, “unity is possible even in the plurality of our languages.”

Besides, he said: “However, everybody knows that my relationship with Obasanjo is not too cordial, but at the same time, we should be very careful not to be dismissive.

If there is a substance, the language must be put aside for a moment. “This country is undergoing a horrendous descent into the abyss. The perfect picture of Africa is what we must continue to uphold in view as leaders have used the word ‘unity’ to destroy our people.

“The issue of Boko Haram is currently being discussed in the House of Parliament in England in relation to Africa’s well-being.’’

Be that as it may, it is, however, instructive to look beyond the messenger, his religious belief, location where he made the statement in order to see the merits and demerits of his comments. It is only then Nigeria can derive benefits.

– May 24, 2019 @ 17:39 GMT |

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