The Federal Government was unsparing yesterday of former President Olusegun Obasanjo over his remarks in which he imputed ethno-religious motive to Boko Haram insurgency and Islamic States West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Obasanjo had decried the insecurity in Nigeria, stressing that the Federal Government alone cannot tackle the menace. He said Boko Haram and herdsmen’s violence thrive because they were not urgently tackled at the beginning.
Specifically, Obasanjo said: “They have both incubated and developed beyond what Nigeria can handle alone. They are now combined and internationalised with ISIS in control.
“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.”
But the government said the former leader got his facts wrong.
Information, Culture & Tourim Minister Lai Mohammed described as “tragic that a man who fought to keep Nigeria one is the same one seeking to exploit the country’s fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life”.
In a statement issued in Abuja, the minister noted that Boko Haram and ISWAP are terrorist organisations, care little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction.
In the statement signed by his media aide Segun Adeyemi, the minister described Obasanjo’s comment as “deeply offensive and patently divisive”, adding that such indiscreet comments are far below the status of an elder statesman.
He said: “Since the Boko Haram crisis, which had 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 or Africa.”
He said that President Buhari put to rest the mis-characterisation of Boko Haram as an Islamic organisation when he said in his inaugural speech in 2015 that ‘“Boko Haram is a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of”.
The minister said: “Obasanjo’s comments are therefore as insensitive and mischievous as they are as offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.”
He wondered whether there is no limit to how far the former President will go in throwing poisonous darts at his perceived political enemies.”
He said that Obasanjo’s prescriptions for ending the Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis, which include seeking foreign assistance, are coming several years late, as President Buhari has done that and more since assuming office, hence the phenomenal success he has recorded in tackling the terrorists.
Mohammed said: “Shortly after assuming office in 2015, President Buhari’s first trips outside the country were to rally the support of Nigeria’s neighbours – Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger – for the efforts to battle the terrorists.
“The President also rallied the support of the international community, starting with the G7, and then the United States (U.S.), France and the United Nations (UN). That explains the massive degrading of Boko Haram, which has since lost its capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks for which it became infamous, and the recovery of every inch of captured Nigerian territory from the terrorists.”
According to him, Obasanjo’s call for wide consultations with various groups as part of the efforts to tackle the Boko Haram crisis “has been neutralised by his ill-advised comments which have served more to alienate a large number of Nigerians, who are offended by his tactless and distasteful postulation”.
The Minister called on the former President, whom he said “took bullets for Nigeria’s unity, not to allow personal animosity to override his love for a united Nigeria, adding that it will not be out of place if he withdraws his unfortunate statement and apologises to Nigerians”.