IDEAS: President Obasanjo’s Open Letter, Episode 42 (19/07/19).

IDEAS Radio 19 July 2019

President Obasanjo’s Open Letter

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome, welcome, welcome to the Public Square.  And for good measure we have [rings bell] a bell at the Square today.  It’s going to be ringing aloud on 99.3 Nigeria Info, on Public Square where we discuss all the big and significant issues in politics in Nigeria.  Today we’ll be looking at former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari which has polarized conversation … set a lot of tongues wagging.  But first, we’ll have the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, great to have Ayo Obe back. And remember you can follow the programme on Twitter, it’s @PublicSquareNG that’s our Twitter handle, @RotimiSankore, one of our handles also too; @naijama, Ayo Obe’s @naijama, also @ideasradiong, @aghoghoobo, @NigeriaInfoFM.  Tweet at us questions or comments you have, and we will take them when the time comes, together with calls. 

Great to have you Ayo and Rotimi Sankore.  Ayo was away, and people kept calling and asking for you last week when you were away.

Ayo Obe: I think that the new studio, I have to say is really great – and congratulations on … even though I’m not, it’s my baptism in the new studio.  Hi Rotimi.

Rotimi Sankore: Hi.

AgO: Someone said – Baba, our youngest national affairs analyst just was saying that it’s like the Oval Office.

AO: When he gets to the Oval Office, he’ll be able to tell the difference!

But you know it’s interesting that we mention the Oval Office, because in the … the occupant of the Oval Office and the previous occupant of our own equivalent which is – well I don’t know what the shape the office is, but the building itself is the, is Aso Rock – had been … has been causing quite a stir, with yet another of his famous open letters to a sitting Head of State.  And having – in the run up to the previous elections – advised the President to resign, the former President Obasanjo has now written another letter in which he talks about the wave of insecurity in the country, and quite frankly, ends up by saying that the buck stops on the desk of the President.

So I thought Rotimi that, because – as I said in my tweet announcing this programme – that a lot of people have spent a lot of time pointing fingers at the former President Obasanjo and saying “Oh, it started in your time”, or “During your time x number of people were killed”, or “It didn’t just start with President Buhari”, and so on and so forth, all of which, to my mind, are valid criticisms.  But I think that the issues that concern us now, are firstly, the actual insecurity itself and the accountability for that, and then the responsibility (again, another word for accountability) that all of us, whether high or low who have a voice in public affairs, the responsibility that we have for not heaping fuel onto flames, but rather, for encouraging people to focus on the actual issue at hand, and that’s why I said that there were some echoes of the occupant of the White House, because the perception was that rather than address the criticisms of his policies, he decided to play – well, I was going to say ‘play the man, not the ball’ – but in this case he decided to play the woman, and not the issues that they had been raising.  So I don’t know how you see it Rotimi?

RS: Well, so President Obasanjo … former President Obasanjo said in his letter to President Buhari, that the content of the letter should be available to all those who can help in proffering effective solutions, and that’s why he put it in the public domain.  Earlier in the week, when this was in the headlines, we were looking at it on the Newspaper Review, and someone called and said – one of our contributors on the phone said: “But you know, they have access to each other, he could have called him aside, and availed him of this wisdom in private.”  

AO: But that’s the response to every time … every time ex-President Obasanjo writes a public letter, the response is always “But he has access to these people.”  And so on. But I think that really, the issue is not so much that he could have had access to the President, I think the concern, which goes to the second part of my intro, is that in drawing attention, or asking the public to contribute, what he’s really doing is fanning the flames of ethnic division, and … to keep on saying that: “Whatever may be the grievances of Fulanis”,  “… is perceived as Fulanis” and so on, he’s actually … or you know, talking about “menace” or “is perceived as a Fulani menace unleashed by the Fulani elite,” and so on and so forth; I think that that kind of language reinforces the perception that the problem of insecurity lies at the door of one ethnic group and that therefore the solution lies in dealing with that ethnic group.  Whereas I think that if the former President wanted to elicit solutions to the insecurity issue, he would have framed it as recognising that actually, that this is a problem which has been bedevilling Nigeria from time. And …

RS: How about the place where he says that “the perpetrators, who are all being suspected, rightly or wrongly …

AO: Well, you see … 

RS: … as Fulanis”.

AO: … it’s  a way of reinforcing the message of: This is about Fulanis.  Because if they are wrongly suspected of being Fulanis, how does it help us?  You know, I had had cause to look at, and in fact to circulate on our @IDEASradiong twitter account, the clip where we were discussing the issue about President Buhari’s Inauguration Day speech, and there, if I may repeat myself, we said that the reason why, even though there’s this perception that Black people are at risk in the United States, when we go there, we’re not walking the streets and constantly … we don’t sort of plan our journeys on the basis of: You mustn’t go at this time of day because as a Black person you are at risk of this …  We kind of assume that we are, despite the huge numbers that are killed, we are safe. And that’s because the response of the law enforcement in that country, is not – to look at the identity of the perpetrator, or to look at the identity of the victim, even though there is a perception that …

RS: Except when the Law Enforcement are the perpetrators.

AO: Well, but the point is that the … that their stance to the world, is that whether you are black or white … or any shade in between, that if you commit a crime in the United States of America, you’ll be called to account.  And I think that what has not helped in our own situation, is first of all to continue presenting it as though this is a … an issue that only pertains to the Fulanis, and so that whenever people are arrested or kidnapped, and they happen not to be Fulanis or even worse, they happen to be people masquerading as Fulanis (as has been found in some of the people who have been arrested for kidnapping), that then becomes the issue: they are either Fulanis or they are not Fulanis.  The issue is: Have they been caught and brought to book?

RS: So the ethnic … the ethnic coloration to the discussion is wrong as we have always said on various programmes, that … and even explained, that in many other countries where cattle has been big business, and where …

AO: There was cattle rustling.

RS: … yes, there was cattle rustling, there were cowboys that were armed, and the cowboys in Texas, or Mexico, Argentina or Brazil, didn’t misbehave because they were Fulani, you know?  They misbehaved because herders or cowboys (as it then was) ran their cattle through farms, farmers resisted, the cowboys were armed, the herders were not farmers, and there’s a reason why even till today, if you want to hire someone to do something for you, they say: “Ah, don’t bring me a cowboy o!”  So …

AO: Yes.

RS: … I mean, so there’s a global template to this problem which is not ethnic.

AO: I appreciate that, but you see that in Nigeria it now has an ethnic coloration.  And whatever the evils, or the sins of omission or commission in the past, the question is: In what … to what extent has the current administration contributed to, or removed from, that perception and that narrative.  And I think that where the former President’s letter raises the issue of the responsibility of the President, we have to look at that, because the President, at the end of the day, is the one who is accountable for our security in Nigeria, and if the … if people believe that whether you are … if you’re a criminal and you believe that: “If I masquerade as a Fulani I can get away with my crimes”, then that becomes part of the narrative, unless we hear the President and the law enforcement coming out clearly, to say ‘No.’

And then, when we’re talking about perception issues also Rotimi, the persistent narrative in the country is that the President only trusts people like himself, which is to say: the President has put the security architecture of Nigeria in the hands of people who are Northerners, who are Muslims, and who are Fulanis.  Now the Presidency needs to not only come out with its counter-narrative, but it also needs to come out with its counter facts.  And if it’s not able to do that, then it reinforces that message.

RS: I agree with you there, that the Presidency is not coming out with a counter narrative that says, this is not an ethnic issue.  Again, going back … 

AO: No no no no no!  The Presidency may come out and say: “It’s not an ethnic issue”, but when people start counting ethnic heads, what is the answer that they get?

RS: Yes, because the facts are not that: Oh, for instance, this is the best person because XYZ.  So, by not providing those explanations, he leaves people who don’t know better, or people who want to be mischievous, to ratchet up the ethnic angle to things.

And let me just give a quick example with the herdsman issue.  So, if the presidency has come out to say: “We are sorry about these herdsmen that attack farmers or communities.  We know that the solution that has been applied globally is to stop the cattle from moving on foot and we are working towards providing railway, train, and we are going to buy, in the meantime, you know, 500 trailers that these people can hire or, you know, use within XYZ business model …

AO: That’s where the issue is the herdsmen and the farmers.

RS: Yes, yes, but I’m using that as an example because that is something that can easily be resolved using a global template.  And then, to say: “Oh, in many parts of the world, not only has the solution been to take the cattle off the roads or farms, but also, there’s a ranching … there’s a business model for ranching, like poultry or whatever, which has been successful in many parts of the world, and has no ethnicity tied to it e.t.c., e.t.c. so …

AO: Etc. etc. etc.

RS: Yeah, ok, so … so because … I’m using the herdsmen example because the question of land has … been brought into it, people are talking of settlement, colony, ancestral land and … 

AO: That’s because the government could not hear word … 

RS: … explain in public policy terms … 

AO: … it would not hear word when people said: The word “colony’ does not fly with the Nigerian people.

RS: Yes, so that’s why I’m using that example.  You know, using words like ‘colony’ and ‘settlement’ in their public policy statements … reinforces the prejudice of people that wrongly say everything is ascribed to Fulani people.  Because if they used words that said: So ranching is a business model that has been used globally and anyone can apply for the land, the Bank of Agriculture will facilitate … 

AO: Indeed, the … some … when we think about … on our … at Independence our stamps used to have hides and skins as one of our major exports, and we all know about the origins of ‘Moroccan ‘leather in Nigeria.  So definitely there are business models to be made.

But I think we also have to go back to this issue of the leadership at the security, because people would say that: “It would be one thing if these people that the President has appointed have in fact diminished the level of insecurity, but what we can see is that the level of insecurity  is rising. Now, it is possible, because the more people talk about it … I mean, I was just exchanging … another example on Twitter, that … who was asking … somebody was asking: “Why don’t people say, when they are victims of kidnapping?” And there are many reasons why they don’t, but certainly I know that it’s long, especially when I used to worship at Archbishop Vining, you would frequently hear people being asked to intercede with their prayers for somebody who had been kidnapped.  And you don’t hear it so much now (of course, I attend a smaller church) but the fact is that people no longer want to publicise the fact that they have been victims of kidnapping for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they believe that the Police is not on their side, when it comes … that they are able to rescue their loved ones despite the Police, not because of them, and I think that the Police has not gone out of its way to let people know that if you are a victim of kidnapping, there are … there’s a particular … unit that you can refer to, your security, your confidentiality is guaranteed, but we are going to trace the accounts into which this money was paid, and we’re doing something beyond just descending on kidnappers and killing everybody, but we are going to do something which shows that we are going behind, we’re doing some forensic examination, whether it’s bank verification numbers, marked money (if we are dealing in cash), and so on and so forth, that we’re going to be doing something which allows you to know that we are getting at those who are alleged to be behind this – if it’s not really not just a matter of people going into business for themselves. 

And I think also, that … it’s one thing to say that the head of the Air Force, the Army, the Navy are going to … but at the end of the day you have a Chief of Defence Staff , and … if your Chief of Defence Staff has to be somebody that you as President are close to and that you love and you draw close, that’s the person in the end that people are going to listen to, but you could do something which would also build confidence in people by letting the … by looking outside your immediate circle, and I’m afraid that the President’s recent statement that he’s going to be appointing Ministers that are known to him, didn’t really … again … you don’t know everybody … 

RS: It just raises the flag of nepotism

AO: … you have to do a proper head hunting, a non-discriminatory head hunting, and when the best head is hunted, you then get to know the person.  You know! That’s what is expected of you.

RS: Suggesting that it’s a padi padi type of thing.

AO: It’s very unfortunate.

RS: It’s really unfortunate.  The other thing about the security chiefs too, is that because they won’t admit to their shortcomings, and then they go on the attack, so the Chief of Army Staff says, for instance, in the last few days: “Oh, they’ve crushed all these terrorists and kidnappers and everybody, and those raising the matter are being political”, and everybody can see that the evidence is to the contrary, so, they divert attention actually from the fact that they are actually not winning, but more importantly, that the reasons that they are not winning are not just …

AO: Are not inside.

RS: … are not just security, because as I always say, at the moment now, from the last figures, roughly 8 million people … children are born in Nigeria every year.  So the population trajectory alone, the unemployment, which the government itself has admitted, that it’s 23% now and they are projecting that it is likely to hit 33% in 2020.  This is one branch of the government saying unemployment is likely to hit 33% in 2020. The security side doesn’t pay attention to that, to say: Oh actually, this is going to have security implications for us in terms of job skills, in terms of …

AO: Well I think that when we talk about National Planning, you know, it’s always been a question: Do we have a Joined up Government?

RS: No, there isn’t.

AO: And I just wanted to, perhaps before we close, to draw attention to a … just a news report that I saw about South Africa, and it’s about an area of Cape Town called Cape Flats, and the area is a black and mixed-race area and the people are poor, and there has been gang warfare which has killed “more than 2,000 people, almost half gang-related”.  That’s what the provincial officials said.

RS: Even tourists are kidnapped in that place.

AO: Well, I mean we’ve seen the fake kidnappings and we’ve seen the genuine kidnappings, so … but the point is that there is gang violence in this poor area and more than more than 2,000 people have been killed in the last seven months.  That’s a huge number by any standard …

RS: For a small place.

AO: … for just an area of town.  And what has the South African President done?  He signed off last week on a decision to send the Army into the Cape Flats.  And you know, Cape Town actually has one of South Africa’s highest murder rates: last year, 3,674 people were murdered in Cape Town.  But … so yes, you would know there are some areas of South Afr… of Cape Town or South Africa that you’re not supposed to go if you don’t know where you are going, but the point is that the Army has, that the presidency has shown that they’re taking visible control of the matter.  Now they don’t have the same ethnicity problem that we have, but I would say that the recognition that, actually that … those figures are much more frightening than anything Nigeria can offer, and yet we Nigerians would not feel that the presidency in South Africa is somehow complacent, or accusing people.  Because your first responsibility when you have citizens at risk, you deal with the problem. You silence those who are calling political issues by dealing with the problem, whether it is bringing back kidnapped girls, whether it is by dealing with robbers and so on, and of course, I have to say, the last thing I should mention is that one of the reasons why sometimes we don’t hear from the police about what they have done with kidnappers is because of the fact that the police take a shortcut when they are dealing with some of these issues.

RS: Can I just add quickly about South Africa before we go for the ad break, that the South African government has also recognised that Cape Town as a whole, but also the Cape Flats specifically, has a deficit of schools, job skills for young people … 

AO: So they’re taking away the causes of the crime.

RS: … entrepreneurship … Yes, so as well as the security solution, they are taking away the causes and long term … introducing long term solutions.  In fact someone told me that they’re actually thinking of demolishing the Cape Flats and rebuilding the area in a way that does not allow gangs to control choke points there and accelerate the gang warfare.  So often it’s the bigger picture that is really important.

AO: Well, we need both the bigger picture, but we need immediate methods, and for both of those, the direction of the bigger picture and the long term solution and the immediate response, and the perceptions that have been raised by President Obasanjo’s letter, all of those lie in the hands of the current administration.  And what I think Nigerians would like to see is that: It’s not our fault, you silence your critics by performing.

With that Rotimi, I have to end the IDEAS segment of the Public Square.  I know that Aghogho is anxious to ring his bell and call time on me, but I have rung myself out.  Please remember to check us out on the website on Twitter, etc. etc. et cetera!

RS: Yes, e. t. c.

AO: No, et cetera!

AgO: Alright, Public Square will be back after this break, please don’t go anywhere.

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