Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a man of letters. No, not in reference to his several open letters for which he is now famous, and yes! But also in reference to his considerable success in his literary endeavours (which would include his open letters). He is an author of a number of memoirs and that is no small feat. He is also by the grace of God and the opportunity of a University his government started, a doctorate degree holder.
Obasanjo is not wanting of credentials. And his letters are not wanting of importance. We are all witness to how it helped strip the Jonathan administration of considerable public support. It has not been so successful with the Buhari administration at the earlier attempt. The most recent attempt, however, is proving to have some effect. Or is it not?
The subject of Obasanjo’s latest letter is very grave. It is the same subject that has given concern to every well-meaning Nigerian. The country is in a terrible state. Citizens no longer feel secure. And national groups making up the country are looking more divided than they probably have been in living memory.
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Honestly, Obasanjo’s diagnosis of the situation seems a bit accurate. He is a retired General and war veteran of course. But his propositions to solving the problems are not so sound. Why would a doctor give a correct diagnosis but give wrong prescriptions? Maybe a closer look is all that is needed to realise the diagnosis are not so correct. So, we will give Obasanjo’s diagnosis a closer look.
Obasanjo’s first error in diagnosis would be the obvious limitation of his diagnosis to a certain period in the country’s lifespan. The 10 years to which Obasanjo made reference are not an isolated period in Nigeria’s history. Obasanjo mentions 50% illiteracy and 70% unemployment in the North-East as if it took just 10 years to lay the foundations for the anomaly. We must see things as they are if we hope to get genuine change. While his view of the Fulani menace may be objective enough we may have to ask Obasanjo to point out any moment in Nigeria’s history that our diversity has been our greatest asset like he claims it should be.
The truth is that our union has never been to the advantage of Nigerians because we never got to decide the terms of our coexistence. If anything, we are an ill-fated arranged marriage set up for the gain of people other than us. It has always been that way, even when Obasanjo was President.
Therefore, should we appreciate the concerns of the British and American governments like Obasanjo says we should? Maybe if we knew what their concerns are about. Is it genuinely about the welfare of Nigerians or the continuance of their looting of the country? Can Obasanjo tell us this? To borrow a proverb Obasanjo used in his letter, about a stitch in time and how it saves nine, could this present situation have been avoided if previous administrations (and the present one) did something they should have done, like the open debate Obasanjo seems so convinced is the way forward?
Maybe if we have had such national conference and adopted its resolutions on how we should cohabit, we could have avoided this. Obasanjo was President for 8 years, he never deemed it fit. In fact, he accepted to run for president under a constitution that was never debated by Nigerians or their voted representatives or subjected to a popular referendum. Not surprisingly, he himself had set up a similar constitution for the Second Republic.
To drive home his point, Obasanjo suggests some set of people who should have the proposed debates and conference. He mentioned former bureaucrats and political leaders, traditional rulers and the rest of them. And you can’t but notice his omission of the everyday Nigerian. Obviously, to Obasanjo, the effort to save Nigeria is for some class of the people.
If Nigeria is at this point today, I dare say it is as a result of the cumulative and continuous sabotage of the very people Obasanjo wants at his proposed conference. Picture this; Babangida who jeopardised Nigeria’s best shot at democratic process; Abdulsalam who undemocratically forced a defective constitution down our throat, and a whole lot of the rest of them sitting and discussing way-forward out of the point they brought us. It will honestly lead us nowhere.
Finally, recent events have proven to us again how little we matter to our leaders. The mutual distrust we have for ourselves is not natural but is a result of a careful effort to divide us across ethnic and religious lines. Considering our diversity, it is important we decide what our terms of cohabitation will be. We cannot afford again to be imposed with another arrangement that only suits our mutual oppressors. Obasanjo and his class of elites have no interest at heart other than their selfish interests. Nigerians and only them can chart a viable way forward.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kayode Oyeyemi Akinwumi studied Yoruba at Obafemi Awolowo University. A music enthusiast, social observer and music freak. He writes on various interests including social commentary and popular culture.