Published On: Thu, Jul 25th, 2019

Where Obasanjo got it wrong

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Dr Uche Diala

People like Chief Obasanjo can only thrive in a society like ours simply because Nigerians largely have a short memory, are easily hoodwinked and distracted and Chief Obasanjo knows that. That’s why he doubles down with his hypocrisy and deceit.
Soon after the return of Nigeria to civilian rule in 1999, a certain Governor Ahmed Rufai Sani Yerima, then Governor of Zamfara state under the administration of General Obasanjo (Rtd) implemented Sharia law in his state. This Sharia law which came into effect on 27th January 2000 was the first in the history of Nigeria. Zamfara state adopted Sharia in its entirety, with the exceptions that apostasy was not criminalized and all sentences can be appealed to Nigeria’s Federal Courts, which do not permit traditional Hudud punishments.
That implementation of Sharia which many Muslims still beleive was merely political (because Sharia law was already guiding Muslim faithful in their everyday lives and conduct), was to trigger widespread agitation in other predominantly Muslim states especially in the North and fear among non-Muslims. This agitation led to protests and violence in a number of states. Ultimately this culminated in what was known as ‘Sharia Crises” which affected states like Kano and Kaduna.
Part of the immediate consequences of this was the exodus of many people of all tribes and religions from most Northern states into Abuja the Federal Capital. This was the genesis of the overcrowding of Abuja with attendant ills and the weakening of the economies of many of the hitherto thriving Northern states.
I recall as I was forced to reluctantly leave Kano finally in 2000 after 4 years with family friends who were born and had lived all their life in Kano due to the crises, we were stopped at the Kaduna Toll gate as there was a curfew imposed on the state by then Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi. We slept at the toll gate and the long trail of vehicles and humans was well reminiscent of the Exodus as described in the bible, just that in that case, it was a mix of Christians, Muslims, Ibos, Hausas, Yorubas and all tribes all running to Abuja in a bid to escape the uncertainty and the insecurity that was in the land, in the year 2000, under President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Does anyone remember what Chief Obasanjo said at the time when all these were happening? He said “Sharia will die a natural death”. Did Sharia die a natural death? Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is certain – the successful implementation of Sharia by Governor Ahmed Yerima in Zamfara emboldened hard-line Islamists and it is at the root of many of the agitation we have by ultra-Islamists today as well as the mutual fear and mistrust that has prevailed since then. In addition, the overcrowding of the FCT and environs is traceable to that historical introduction of Sharia under Chief Obasanjo which he could neither do anything about its introduction nor the security fall outs from it.
If our short memory would permit us, we would remember that over the 8 year reign of the Owu Chief, we had a ‘democratization’ of security crises including the Ife – Modakeke, Aguleri – Umuleri communal crises, Itshekiri – Urhobo – Ijaw, Tiv – Jukun crises in Benue state, Hausa – Yoruba crises in Sagamu and Idi-Araba to name a few. These ethno-religious crises wasted over 50,000 innocent Nigerian lives.
I’m scratching my head to fathom what former President Obasanjo could teach President Buhari that Akin Oshuntokun is asking Buhari to consult him. Is it being a democrat, how to handle crises or how to end insecurity? He has an abysmal record in all those.
As a direct fall out of the introduction of Sharia under President Obasanjo that I described above, the ‘Kaduna Sharia Riots’ happened when in February 2000, Kaduna state Governor Ahmed Makarfi announced the introduction of Sharia in Kaduna State. Between 2,000 and 5,000 souls were reportedly lost in that crisis from February to May 2000.
Earlier in his Administration, in November 1999, President Obasanjo ordered hundreds of troops to Odi, a town in the Niger Delta and the surrounding communities, after 12 police officers were killed. The soldiers flattened Odi and killed many civilians. The East-West road was cordoned off by the Orashi River at Mbiama and by the River Niger at Patani. Thereafter, a major military operation commenced, via the use of heavy artillery, aircraft, grenade launchers, mortar bombs and other sophisticated weapons. So ruthless, savage and thorough was the operation that it could only have been intended to achieve a genocidal outcome. In the end, 2,483 innocent civilians were reportedly killed in the Odi invasion called Operation Hakuri II under the supervision of then Minister of Defence, General T.Y. Danjuma Rtd.
The 2001 Jos Riots cost over 1,000 lives and displaced over 50,000 people.
In October 2001, under the same Obasanjo, the Army invaded Zaki Biam in Benue state and killed many helpless civilians. Reacting to that massacre, then Benue state Governor, George Akume said ‘’We are in shock and disbelief. How could this happen with a democratic government that respects human rights, the people, and operates within the Constitution and laws of this country?’’
The New York Times in its October 30, 2001 edition wrote inter alia: “The (Zaki-Biam) attacks, coming at a time of widespread ethnic and religious violence, raised the issue of whether President Olusegun Obasanjo – himself a former military ruler – has full control over the army, which has had a long history of staging coups in Nigeria’s four decades of independence.”
It further wrote: “Ethnic and religious clashes have spread to almost every corner of this country, and some Nigerians are even saying that there has not been such rampant violence since the Biafra civil war in the 1960’s. As Nigeria has emerged from one of the most ruinous and repressive military regimes in African history, long-simmering ethnic and religious feuds have exploded, fed by deepening poverty and often by ambitious politicians.”
These flashbacks are for those including Chief Obasanjo who want us to think that Nigeria suddenly birthed and it has been a paradise all the while.
It would equally be recalled that added to these insecurity challenges under the Obasanjo administration were a plethora of high profile politically motivated murders. Among those who were politically murdered during the Obasanjo administration are the former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige, South-South Politicians – Chief Harry Marshall and Chief A.K. Dikibo, a former Senatorial Candidate of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), in Imo State – Uche Orji, Arc Layi Balogun, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) – Prof Chimere Ikoku, former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in Anambra State – Chief Barnabas Igwe and his wife, Chief Victor Nwankwo of Fourth Dimension Publishers and Chief Funso Williams. All these Nigerians were Christians like Obasanjo and T.Y. Danjuma, yet that did not save them. Most of these murders remain unsolved to date.
This submission is not a justification for anything happening today but an attempt to take us back memory lane and expose the hypocrisy that is President Olusegun Obasanjo and some of our elites and past leaders. Like I once wrote; “so long as blood remains the political capital in Nigeria, these security challenges and bloodletting will continue. They will only shift geographical location and characteristics depending on the tribe of the occupant of Aso Rock”.
It behooves on us citizens to collectively realize that these security challenges are not in our collective good and to resolve to ignore the hypocrites and blood hounds among us who thrive on these crises for political and economic relevance.
I continue to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to do all he can to tackle these age long challenges while I plead with us citizens to continue to support the current administration to end these age long security challenges and re-position our nation for true greatness. The government cannot do it without our cooperation.
God bless Nigeria

Diala wrote in from Abuja

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