Obasanjo, the niggling political ‘saint’

ObasanjoBy Levi Obijiofor

It is difficult to understand the objectives that are driving the insidious claims by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that he is close to the Boko Haram terrorists ever since some 230 female secondary school students in Chibok, Borno state, were kidnapped by the terrorist organisation on 14 April 2014. Obasanjo did not just claim proximity to Boko Haram but he also alleged that the Presidency had not granted him the authority he needed to open negotiations with Boko Haram leaders.

In his eagerness to demonstrate his close links with Boko Haram leaders, Obasanjo said on 12 June 2014 in a statement aimed to cast aspersions on President Goodluck Jonathan: “I have ways of reaching them (Boko Haram) but I have not been given the go ahead.” Obasanjo did not say precisely who he expected to give him the authority to start negotiations with Boko Haram.

That was not the first time that Obasanjo would make public his self-righteous claim that he was in contact with the Boko Haram terrorist organisation. He did so on 31 May 2014. More on this later! In a chilling reminder of the fate that awaited the abducted school girls, Obasanjo said last Thurday: “I believe that some of them will never return. We will still be hearing about them many years from now, some will give birth to children of the Boko Haram members, but if they cannot take care of them in the forest, they may release them.”

This has always been what the nation and the international community dreaded. Whatever Boko Haram leaders do with the school girls, the nation and the international community must regard their actions as unspeakable terror, rape, assault and deprivation of liberty. Consider the feelings of the parents of the girls and their fears that their daughters could be raped and abused endlessly by criminals who use absurd religious precepts to perpetrate high crime in society.

If, as Obasanjo speculated, Boko Haram leaders produce children with the kidnapped teenage girls, those leaders would have committed a high crime against humanity, a crime that defies the moral norms of human society. Boko Haram criminals must be tried at the international court of human rights for thoughtless abuse of the rights of the school girls. The comments Obasanjo made last week about Boko Haram, like the one he made nearly three weeks ago, carry grave consequences for inter-ethnic relations, religious tolerance and national unity.

Obasanjo is not just an ordinary person on the street. As former president, he should have priority access to President Goodluck Jonathan, except, he was signalling that he was no longer on speaking terms with Jonathan. Even if he has a frosty relationship with Jonathan, you would expect a man who was once venerated as an eminent member of the Commonwealth, to undertake quiet diplomacy with the Presidency rather than take his case to the court of public opinion through online and mainstream media.

Many people have asked the question: what is the motive behind Obasanjo’s consiste nt claim that he has the capacity to reach the abductors of the female students? Why does Obasanjo regularly refer to the Presidency as an obstacle in his sole campaign to negotiate freedom for the abducted girls? Does Obasanjo really require clearance from Jonathan to engage in private talks designed to free the girls if indeed he knows how to reach the kidnappers? Were Obasanjo’s public statements designed to belittle and embarrass Jonathan or to cast Obasanjo himself as the all-knowing man who is well equipped with knowledge of how to solve all national problems?

Obasanjo’s assertions about his proximity to Boko Haram and his allegations that the Presidency had shown no interest in his request for official permission to commence negotiations with Boko Haram rank in carelessness with the comment made by Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh on 26 May 2014 when he said rather loosely that the army knew where the abducted girls were being kept by Boko Haram but had been constrained by the need to protect the lives of the girls in any attempt to rescue them. Air Marshal Badeh said: “…we can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”

Yes, that’s true but must the Chief of Defence Staff release such sensitive information in the public sphere? I would argue he was under no obligation to do so, except of course he was keen to convince everyone the army was doing everything to secure the release of the girls. Still, it will not be, in terms of military strategy, a tactical thing to say.

It seems to me that Obasanjo is on a mission to demonise Jonathan. But he appears to be confused. In one moment, he said Jonathan encouraged him to continue in his “fact-finding” mission. The next moment he implied that when he reported to Jonathan about what he found, Jonathan took no action. Yet on the same occasion, Obasanjo said he was awaiting presidential approval to commence mediation between Boko Haram and the government.

Obasanjo’s unsolicited crusade to end Boko Haram’s violent attacks must be guided by protocol. As a former president, he ought to understand that he could not just take off to the north to mediate or negotiate on behalf of the government without providing Jonathan with a clear framework of his peace moves. As a private citizen, Obasanjo is free to talk with Boko Haram leaders or indeed any other group he wishes to communicate with. It is his right to do so.

But the moment he carries the badge that portrays him as a government agent or negotiator, he is obliged to furnish the Presidency with information relating to his peace initiatives. It is proper for the government to seek to understand the modalities and conditions that any intermediary or mediator wishes to use as a platform to negotiate on behalf of the government.

Levi Obijiofor is on Twitter:@leviobijiofor

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