A TORRENT of reactions greeted yesterday former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Obasanjo enumerated the huge security challenges in the land, proposed some solutions and asked Buhari to act now so that Nigeria can remain one.
But the letter sparked a huge dispute, with civil society organisations and notable personalities taking various positions.
Some, including elder statesman Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni and the President, Campaign for Democracy (CD), Usman Abdul, backed the former president.
But Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and frontline politician Tanko Yakasai said Obasanjo lacked the pedigree to speak truth to power.
Those who backed the former president cautioned against trashing Obasanjo’s counsel.
Chief Adebanjo said the security problems had reached a critical point, requiring immediate attention.
CD and SERAP demanded an immediate and concrete response to the challenges.
They urged the President to take concrete steps to address the situation.
But, to Musa the former president is not clean enough to speak on the country’s challenges. Yakasai said there was nothing patriotic in Obasanjo’s letter.
Musa, who accused Obasanjo of doing worse things when he was in the saddle, said: “It is typical of Obasanjo, a typical agent provocateur and his target is to destabilise Nigeria. Since he left office, this is how he has been behaving. He is an agent provocateur and people should see him as that. When he was president of Nigeria, didn’t he notice things the way they are today?
“He did worse as president. He didn’t care about what others said just as it is today. Obasanjo is not clean enough to tell us anything. Obasanjo is not the right person for us to rely on.
“If Obasanjo had the support of the (South) west when he was president from 1999, he would have done worse than Buhari is doing now but he didn’t have the support of the (South) west. Instead, it is the North who made him the President; that’s why he could not be worse than Buhari.
“Buhari is definitely bad enough. There is no doubt about it, but if Obasanjo had the support of the (South) west he would have done worse but he didn’t have that support at all.”
Adebanjo said Buhari must act immediately to demonstrate his commitment to keeping the country together.
Adebanjo said: “I endorse what he (Obasanjo) has said hundred per cent. The situation in the country, like Obasanjo has said, has got to a critical point that needs immediate attention. It is not a question of we shall do this or we are doing this. The thing has got to a boiling point.
“The situation in the country has got to a position where we have to decide two things: are we going to do restructuring now or we are going to do de-amalgamation? It has come to that stage. We are talking of restructuring because we believe under restructuring we can take care of our security if we do it properly then we can stay together. Anything that is not immediate now is just praying for time.
“He must do something positive immediately to show that he wants to keep the country together and all the complaints he sees to it. They are killing us right, left and centre; kidnapping us; no arrest has been mad,e not to talk of prosecution. You want to beat us and ask us not to cry?”
Mumuni said Obasanjo’s letter conveyed a general message of how Nigerians feel presently.
He urged the Presidency not to dismiss the issues raised in the letter by the former president.
Mumuni said: “What Obasanjo has said in the letter are symptomatic of what Nigerians feel generally about the security situation in Nigeria. It is not too different from what Nigerians feel about the security situation in the country.
“He addressed the issues of Boko Haram and herdsmen and what Nigerians feel is happening within the geo-political space. I will want the President (Buhari) to look at those issues very closely and take positive and concrete action in order to address the insecurity that Obasanjo has addressed in the letter.
“Instead of casting aspersion on Obasanjo, it will be fair if those issues are looked into more deeply and concentrated so that effective and prompt action will be taken to address the problems that he has addressed.
“What Obasanjo has said is not too different from what Nigerians feel all over Nigeria in terms of the security situation. I don’t want them to see it as Obasanjo has come again, he has stated raising alarm. The alarm, I think, has been conscientiously raised in the interest of the continuation of the Nigerian state.”
The CD president urged the Presidency not to take what Obasanjo said in his letter for granted, adding that country has been polarised.
Abdul said: “We should not take our ex-president (Obasanjo) for granted, no matter what. He is a General (rtd) and he is a two – time President of this nation and I think some of those advice he is giving our current president, Muhammadu Buhari, today is not out of point.
“The days of politicking are over. Now, we are talking about governance and issues around governance have to do with the collective existence of the stakeholders at the helm of affairs.
“For me, I look at his judgement in the letter to be an advice that is worth taking because one, too many killings in the country, insecurity is very high and the state of the nation today is highly polarised.
“I am a Fulani, but there are certain places I am afraid to go to. Obasanjo has spoken and he has spoken well. Calling for a national security summit is advisable.
Alhaji Yakasai took a swipe at the former president, describing his open letter as “selfish, unpatriotic and an invitation to chaos and disaster”.
Reacting in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, Yakasai said: “I don’t see patriotism in General Obasanjo’s letters. In fact, all the letters written by General Obasanjo to all Military Heads of State and Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are not guided by patriotic considerations.
“My experience with Nigerian political situation is that the top echelons of the military are always fighting one another, either when in the service or when on retirement.
“It is from this angle that I always view most of the writings of Gen Olusegun Obasanjo to any military officer who is a Head of State or President in Nigeria as unpatriotic. Even the ones he wrote to former presidents Goodluck Jonathan and the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua were not patriotic. They were guided by selfish interest.
“Gen. Obasanjo did it during the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s era. He did it during the late Gen Sani Abacha’s regime, which later resulted to accusations that he was trying to overthrow the government, which eventually led to his imprisonment.
“Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo also wrote a number of letters during General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime; and he is still writing letters in this current presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari. So, this attitude of writing unpatriotic letters has been part of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
“I have read the contents of the letter written by former President, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Apart from one thing, I found out that everything said by General Obasanjo has been said either by him or by other Nigerians.
“The only thing different is the call he made for convening another national conference, which I vehemently did not support.
“It is more surprising that Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, who is supposed to have assumed the position of an elder statesman, is making such a call at this period, with the current debates going on through the social media (which has no regulatory laws in Nigeria or elsewhere, for that matter) asking for a National Conference!
“The actions of Gen Olusegun Obasanjo are, indeed, an open invitation for disaster for this country with the kind of hate speeches and messages that are flying all over the country.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it was still studying the letter and will speak on it soon.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, the ACF said: “Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is studying Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and will make its position known soon.”
Lagos lawyer Wahab Shittu said Obasanjo’s letter was very timely and should be examined on its merits.
He said: “I think this time around, the former president has spoken as a patriot and a statesman who’s really interested in the unity and cohesiveness of the country.
“He spoke as one who is worried about the grave security implications in the land and he is in a position to speak authoritatively on this subject.
“He has been part of a civil war. He fought the civil war and had the opportunity of leading this country twice; first as a military head of state and twice as a civilian president.
“He is a man of international standing so I think his views should be taken very seriously. But the only thing I want to add is that though the bulk stops at the president’s table, we know that we have governors who are chief security officers of their respective states.”
Another lawyer, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said Obasanjo has been used by nature to unravel the nation’s intractable problems.
The lawyer said: “The present letter is apt because truly we are teetering on the precipice. The insecurity in this country has assumed an alarming sword dangling on our faces. Obasanjo spoke because he is a statesman.
“He spoke for the safety of the fragile peace we have now. The only afrodisiac that evil requires to thrive is for men of conscience to sit on the fence or stand aloof! Let other members of the patriarchal class speak up now. “No matter how much anyone dislikes Obasanjo, no one can take away his fortuitous role in affairs of this country. He has never shied away from taking on national issues. Where other statesmen avoid controversial issues, Obasanjo will frontally tackle the problem”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also threw its weight behind Obasanjo’s call for dialogue over insecurity.
Stating that Obasanjo’s message had vindicated its position on the state of the nation, the PDP lamented the worsening insecurity.
In a statement by its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, the party described Obasanjo’s open letter as patriotic, momentous and that it captured the apprehensions of majority of Nigerians across the board.
“The PDP therefore counsels President Buhari to listen to the pulse of our nation; accept his failure and seek help from other well-meaning Nigerians so as to take back our nation from this imminent precipice.
“The party also calls on all Nigerians across the divides, irrespective of creed, ethnicity and political leaning, to close ranks, eschew all primordial and parochial interests and work together for the stability of our dear nation.”
Eminent professor of law Itse Sagay (SAN) agreed with the substance of Obasanjo’s letter disagreed with the mode of transmission.
He accused Obasanjo of seeking publicity, adding that it was “childish and immature” to make the letter public.
Sagay told our correspondent: “As far as I’m concerned, Obasanjo’s main motive is publicity, the capacity to embarrass the President, and for adulation.
“He sustains a mentality of being superintendent-general of Nigeria and not accepting that he is no longer in power. It’s all part of it.
“What he said could have easily been communicated by phone; the letter could have been delivered privately. I find writing it to the whole country immature and childish. He made a serious point, and then spoilt it by the way he presented it.
“If he had said it quietly to the President, it would have been acceptable. Is he not embarrassed that he’s the only former president doing it? Gowon and Abubakar are there, just to mention two. Even Jonathan, who was defeated by Buhari, is there. It’s too childish and immature. It takes away from the quality and the strength of the message he’s trying to deliver.”
Sagay, however, urged the President to sustain efforts in tackling rising insecurity.
“Is the President not already doing that? Can he be the President and not be concerned? Already, the Vice President has spoken of steps being taken – that the roads are going to be heavily monitored by the Police and soldiers.
“I don’t disagree too much with Obasanjo on substance. It is his style that I disagree with, as well as the so-called conference of ethnic stakeholders. I don’t see its relevance. We’ve held so many other conferences out of which nothing came except mutual abuse and insults.
“I think what the President should do is to sustain a very vigorous onslaught and not rest until the bandits and insurgents are rooted out and Nigeria is made safe again.
“He is already doing it and he must sustain it so that we can be free of this menace to our freedom and peace of mind,” Sagay said.