By Bala Ibrahim
In his characteristic letter writing hobby, especially on matters that could help in massaging ego, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has written again, this time around, appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari, to restrain the military and other security agencies from using brute force as a way of ending the crisis, and condemning the shooting of protesters.
To achieve the purpose for which the letter was written, some private television stations were used to give it wide, immediate and primetime coverage.
As a former Head of state, former president and elder statesman, I hold Obasanjo with a lot of respect. As one that fought for the unity of Nigeria, and received the surrender of Biafra, he also scores high marks with me.
But everything stops there. Those who know him very well, say he is a man that talks out of both sides of his mouth.
It is convenient for Obasanjo to accuse Buhari of being brutal with the protesters because he wants to appeal to the gullible, particularly the vulnerable amongst the miscreants, who might have fallen victims of misguidance. But those with the records of his antecedents can attest to the fact that he is not speaking with sincerity.
Sometimes in November 1999, when he was the President of Nigeria, Obasanjo ordered the military to massacre hundreds of civilians in the town of Odi, in Bayelsa state.
The attack was the result of agitations by the people, over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental protection, in the process of which, twelve members of the Nigerian police were murdered by a gang.
In retaliation, Obasanjo quickly ordered the military to invade the village, killing unarmed civilians and destroying most of the town’s beautiful buildings. To him, such an action did not amount to the use of brute force.
Again in October 2001, sequel to the abduction and murder of 19 soldiers in the village of Zaki-Biam, of Benue state, Obasanjo ordered the massacre of more than 100 civilians by the military.
In justifying the action, the official statements said, the soldiers were killed when they were deployed to the area to restore law and order, following clashes between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups.
The army rounded up residents in Gbeji village for a “meeting,” made them sit on the ground, separated the men from the others, and then opened fire upon the men indiscriminately.
Witnesses said some of the victims’ bodies were then set ablaze. The soldiers were directed to continue the killings in the villages of Vasae, Anyiin Iorja, Ugba, Sankera and Zaki-Biam, all located in the two local government areas of Logo and Zaki-Biam.
Thereafter, there was widespread destruction of property and buildings in the villages, after terrified residents had abandoned their homes. For Obasanjo, such action did not amount to the use of brute force.
In something that looks like supporting the latest pretentious position of Obasanjo, Bishop Mathew Kukah, who is fast becoming famous for prejudice, was on Channels television this evening, attempting to change the narratives of what led to the quelling or dispersing the rioters. Bishop Kukah said the military opened fire on innocent and unarmed protesters, that were on their knees. Nothing can be far away from the truth.
I don’t know if Bishop Kukah was watching the events of another planet, but if he was talking about the protests in some cities of Nigeria, there is no way he could describe the rioters as fully peaceful, or even attacked while they were protesting on their knees.
The news was viral, of how the protests turned violent since Monday, with some of them looting, attacking and killing everyone in uniform, particularly the police, while another crowd stormed a prison and freed inmates in Benin City.
Videos were seen of some prisoners jumping from a high fence of the institution, while others were running away on the street. Reports say as many as 200 prisoners may have escaped. Can this be described as the work of unarmed protesters? The consequences of such an action by whoever can only be imagined, if Obasanjo was the president.
It is pardonable if people like Obasanjo, who are always quick to take advantage of situations, by behaving in a way that is intended to gain cheap publicity or make people admire or support them because of mischief, or playing to the gallery, but totally unpardonable, if men of God like Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, can justify rascality and thuggery, through the distortion of facts.
Yes, we should blame the President if he erred, but on matters that have to do with dialogue or avoiding the use of excessive force, Obasanjo is not in a position to preach.
Bala Ibrahim, a Media Advisor writes from Abuja.