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Crossfire of harsh words from Olumo Rock, Aso Rock

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AT THE moment, it is raining cats and dogs on the lawns of Mr. President. No thanks one of his predecessors, Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and one of Nigeria’s most prominent international personalities, Wole Soyinka (WS).

   Both statesmen are darting directly at President Muhammadu Buhari  (PMB) with words that rip and dagger through the heart without let – drawing blood and flesh as they come – it seems. From their Abeokuta homes under the basements of Olumo Rock the high chiefs  of  Egba land are firing salvos, heavy cannons and verbal explosives at the president’s Aso Rock and ricochets of the crossfire are quaking the nation. It is a season of heavy-letter munitions.

Speaking during a conference organised last Thursday in Abuja, Chief Obasanjo said, Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state under Buhari, whose reign is dividing the country and expanding otherwise healing fault lines. The Abeokuta, Ogun State-born retired army general, former Head-of-State (HoS) and ex-president further acused Buhari – also a retired general and one time HoS – of mismanaging the nation’s diversity and economy in his current presidency. Making his speech entitled, ‘Moving Nigeria Away from Tipping Over’ at a consultative dialogue attended by various socio-cultural bodies of Nigerian ethnicities such as the Northern Elders Forum, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, and Pan Niger Delta Forum, OBJ lamented that he has not seen Nigeria degenerate to such a plethora of crises, distrust among the peoples, ethnic  clevages and religious intolerance amid overwhelming insecurity.  He reasoned that he was communicating the general feeling of many Nigerians.

“I do appreciate that you all feel sad and embarrassed as most of us feel as Nigerians with the situation we find ourselves in. 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. Old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere.”

Worried that Nigeria is fast dismembering as loud sessesion calls are erupting in baffling numbers from the ethnic nationalities, he reasoned that to rein in the dogs, the country must first address the problem of disunity but instead of bringing the peoples together, current developments magnify the differences.

But “if we are ready to live together,” OBJ observed, “in understanding, mutual respect and love with equity, justice, inclusiveness while engendering sense of belonging and unity of purpose and all hands on deck, we can deal with internal issues of terrorism, organised crimes, banditry, kidnapping, human trafficking, drug, money laundering and corruption. We will then be able to deal successfully with any incoming attack of terrorism, organised crimes, etc. from outside.”

In his opinion, even the possibility of a constitutional amendment or review in the National Assembly (NASS) being pondered in some quarters does not give him much hope.

His optimism is largely hinged on a jaw-jaw by the peoples. Such discourse among the several nationalities and ethnicities would engender common grounds while enlarging the circle from the small-group platforms of tribal venting to national dialogue that could save Nigeria from sudden disintegration.

The 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war veteran said only self-deluded people would claim that all is well in Nigeria. He blamed such escapists for the atmosphere of disenchantment with salvaging the country which currently holds sway.

His words: “I believe Nigeria is worth saving on the basis of mutuality and reciprocity and I also believe it can be done through the process of dialogues rather than talking at each other or resorting to violence. It will amount to dangerous and destructive self-delusion for anybody to claim that all is well in Nigeria today.”

However, media aides of the presidency would not allow OBJ escape with his harsh words without reminding him that those who live in glass houses should avoid throwing stones. In a series of reactions that followed within 24 hours, they expressed their reservation with OBJ who has formed a habit of making harsh public statements that lampoon and excoriate the president and urged the Egba high chief to purge himself of self-interest and act like an elder statesman.

A statement issued last Friday by the Chairman of the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), Niyi Akinsiju, while urging leaders of Nigerian society to pay lesser heed to personal comfort, stated that PMB has been piloting the reins with a high sense of wisdom and circumspection which is surely headed in the right direction.

“One would expect people like former President Obasanjo to behave like a statesman and not serve as a distraction,” Akinsiju observed.

While adding that elites from all parts of Nigeria contribute to the current state of the country, the experienced journalist noted that “the Nigerian political elite complain just like he is doing now when their personal interests are not being serviced.

“President Muhammadu Buhari is doing what every sensible leader should do – put the interest of the majority of Nigerians first.  Most of our fault lines which Obasanjo is talking about today are creations of the selfish interests of the elite which have no economic consequences. Most of our elite advance these fault lines to further their interests,” he said.

Special Adviser to PMB on Media, Femi Adesina reasoned that Nigerians have to “calm down” to savour the feats of Mr. President.

But five days after, WS served his own salvo, firing OBJ alongside PMB. He blamed his Abeokuta kinsman, OBJ along with Mr. President, for the woes of the nation in his press release entitled ‘Between ‘Dividers-in-Chief’ and Dividers-in-Law’ but did not cloak his gloves in his heavier punches for the latter.

According to him, Nigeria under PMB is divided as never before. WS expressed an unusual concur with OBJ in raising the alarm that our country is hanging precariously on the precincts of disintegration. Writing from Abeokuta, WS urged heed to OBJ with unmassaged rub-in of the dire consequence of disregard of the call which he deems clarion.

From intro, he was clear on his co-tow with OBJ even as he established him as part of the trouble with Nigeria since early days.

“I am notoriously no fan of Olusegun Obasanjo, General, twice former president and co-architect, with other past leaders, of the crumbling edifice that is still generously called Nigeria. I have no reasons to change my stance on his record. Nonetheless, I embrace the responsibility of calling attention to any accurate reading of this nation from whatever source, as a contraption teetering on the very edge of total collapse. We are close to extinction as a viable comity of peoples, supposedly bound together under an equitable set of protocols of co-habitation, capable of producing its own means of existence, and devoid of a culture of sectarian privilege and the will to dominate.”

The 1986 winner of the Nobel Laurel for Literature, deemed it Nigerians’ loss that they ignored a 2019 call he made general support of OBJ, noting that matters have been degenerating.

“The nation is divided as never before, and this ripping division has taken place under the policies and conduct of none other than President Buhari – does that claim belong in the realms of speculation? Does anyone deny that it was this president who went to sleep while communities were consistently ravaged by cattle marauders, were raped and displaced in their thousands and turned into beggars all over the landscape?

“Was it a different president who, on being finally persuaded to visit a scene of carnage, had nothing more authoritative to offer than to advise the traumatised victims to learn to live peacefully with their violators? And what happened to the Police chief who had defied orders from his commander-in-chief to relocate fully to the trouble spot – he came, saw, and bolted, leaving the ‘natives’ to their own devices.

“Any disciplinary action taken against ‘countryman’? Was it a spokesman for some ghost president who chortled in those early, yet controllable stages of now systematised mayhem, gleefully dismissed the mass burial of victims in Benue State as a “staged show” for international entertainment?” he retorted as he steeped into a lampoon of PMB’s government’s insensitivity to the plights of pensioners, youths among other issues comprising worsening unemployment, security and the litany of throes that mark contemporary Nigeria.

In the appraisal of WS, the country has become “a basket case of abject penury and insecurity, where hordes of trained minds and sturdy limbs roam the streets as beggars, as haphazard vendors of the products of other peoples, other lands! Inequity reigns, and solutions are trivialised.”

His piece equally ends pointedly, if harsh though, on the need for a national survival forum while, like OBJ’s waiving aside the mulled constitutional review in NASS.

WS urged governors to wake up to their constitutional rights and duties. “There are vast areas of those rights that have been trampled upon, usurped for far too long. Forget legislative jamborees of constitution reviews … it is time for reparations! Dust up those files and head for the courts. Prepare for name-calling, just as long as such names embody – Dividers-in-law! Only then shall we uncover who are the real Dividers-in-Chief?

“If individual voices rankle, then perhaps it is time to convoke a Nation Survival Conference. Let all sections and group interests place their cards on the table and starkly articulate what we all know and endure on a daily basis.”

Reacting to OBJ and WS, Adesina told Channels TV, Lagos, yesterday that Nigeria’s disunity predates PMB’s administration. He described Nigeria as a child of inconvenient birth from amalgamation hence, the persistent division.

“Nigeria had always been divided right from amalgamation in 1914. Nigeria is an inconvenient amalgamation but we have kept at it and we have worked at it…”

“As at 2015 when President Buhari came, Nigeria was terribly divided; divided along ethnic, religious and political lines; divided along language; divided hopelessly and terribly…

“So, if they say Nigeria is divided today, it is because Nigeria has always been divided. And all efforts to unite Nigeria and Nigerians never worked.”

Indeed, neither the OBJ and WS rank nor the PMB’s media minders are totally right or wrong in this. Trying to pick holes in any of the parties’ position is akin to playing the fool because everyone of them helped or are helping us on this path to perdition. So trading blames now will not help a lot.  But one issue is clear, and all of them agree on it. Nigeria is in trouble. We need urgent solutions. If a fruitful interactive session will solve it, let it be!

But what happened to the nationalities’ meeting we have had if we are really serious in arresting our nation’s fast drift to disintegration?

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