Leaders of the five groups that held a two-day meeting where former President Olusegun Obasanjo attacked President Muhammadu have insisted that Nigeria is on “the brink of the precipice of no return”.
They also defended the former president, saying the reaction of the Presidency to Obasanjo’s remark was “deeply disappointing and worrying”.
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The groups are the Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Ohaneze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF).
Officials of the groups re-echoed their anger on Monday on the grounds that presidency officials pretended as if they were not aware of the meeting held at the instance of Obasanjo where important recommendations were made at resolving contentious issues threatening the unity of Nigeria.
Daily Trust could not get a reaction from the Presidency on the renewed position of the groups, but a government official said there was no need to join issues with them.
A source who is privy to what transpired during the meeting of the socio-cultural groups with Obasanjo last week said three serving governors attended the meeting, including the Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti State), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi State) and Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto State).
“This goes to show the genuineness of our intention. Despite our differences, people from across party lines attended the meeting and what is expected is for the government to look at the message, not the messengers,” he said.
In a statement signed on their behalf by the spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, the socio-cultural groups expressed concern 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.”
The spokespersons for the other groups are Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Chief Guy Ikokwu, Senator Bassey Henshaw and Dr. Isuwa Dogo.
They warned that the current situation represents “an existential danger.”
They also said they had no regret or apologies “for making ourselves available to dialogue with each other, exchange ideas and re-commit ourselves to pulling our nation from the brink of the precipice of no return.”
According to them, “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.
“The communiqué 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 alarmed at the insensitivity of the Presidency, which will rather demolish patriotic and responsible action than taking steps to address gaping holes in the manner it handles our national destiny, our security and our economy,” the statement said.
The groups restated that they were 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 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. President Muhammadu Buhari should know that Nigerians can distinguish between Nigerians who care enough to do something and those with responsibility who choose to do nothing,” the statement added.
How trouble started
Obasanjo had during a closed-door ‘Consultative Dialogue of Nigeria’s Socio-Cultural Political Organisations on the State of the Nation’, held in Abuja, said Nigeria was drifting towards a failed and badly divided state under Buhari.
“Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country.
“And these manifestations are the products of recent mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country,” the former president said in the elaborate speech he delivered at the meeting, which was leaked to the media on Friday.
Daily Trust recalled that in the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, which was published on Friday, the participants among other issues noted “the grave dangers Nigeria is facing especially in the areas of deterioration of governance, the economy, security, political intolerance, worsening social and inter-communal cohesion, the poor performance of democratic and electoral structures, declining faith in leadership, and those charged with leadership at all levels which have combined to push our beloved country to the brink. The meeting identified the primacy of pulling Nigeria back from the brink and resolved to deploy their individual and collective efforts to achieve that objective.”
However, Obasanjo’s remarks had attracted angry remarks from the Presidency, which described the former president as the “divider-in-chief.”
A statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said, “In his most recent statement, former President Olusegun Obasanjo attempts to divide the nation while President Muhammadu 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 Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Chief Audu Ogbe had also condemned Obasanjo.
Govt should’ve looked at the messages
Professor Kamilu Sani Fagge who teaches Political Science at Bayero University, Kano, said it was important to put in context what Obasanjo said that degenerated to a serious controversy.
He said as an elder statesman, whatever Obasanjo said would carry some weight.
“But there is a problem there. The issue is not what he said but who said it,” Professor Fagge said.
“As a former head of state, he has the tendency of seeing himself far and above all those that occupied similar position…He is very critical…He is so used to writing open letters to discuss issues.
“So, the concern here is not what he has written but the way he put it. As a former head of state, he is a member of the Council of State which is one of the highest policy-making and advisory bodies in the country. So, he has a forum that he can see the president to give advice or even criticise him.
“Politically, advising someone publicly is like disgracing that person; but as far as I am concerned, this issue will fizzle out. We know what he did to ex-President Jonathan that even contributed to his defeat. We know what he did to IBB, what he did to Abacha. I don’t think whatever he says now will have any serious impact apart from the controversy it generated.
“I don’t think it will affect the next election because we are still in 2020, which is fareway from 2023,” he said.
Speaking on the back and forth between the Obasanjo, the Presidency and socio-cultural groups, a lecturer at the Benue State University, Dr. Chile Daniel said a wonderful opportunity for national rebirth was reduced to politics.
“The attack by the Presidency over the statement by Obasanjo and the comment by the groups was not necessary,” he said.
“Describing him as Nigeria’s divider -in -chief and that Obasanjo should stop parading himself as a saint does not make sense to me. It was just a matter that the presidency would have looked inward to assess itself if the statement credited to the current regime is true or not, instead, they forget that democracies supremacy allows for freewheel opinion.
“The comments should stimulate interest and concern rather than name-calling. What is wrong if a group feels that they can stand united to help a failing nation come out of its brink?” he asked.
There was no immediate comment from the Presidency on the latest by the socio-cultural groups; but credible sources said there was no need to join issues with NEF, Afenifere, Ohaneze and others.