WITH reactions continuing to trail comments by former Head of State, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), that the ongoing war against Boko Haram is anti-North, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Allen Onyema, has cautioned northern leaders to be circumspect in their utterances in order not to jeopardise the country’s unity.
Reacting to what has been condemned as an inflammatory comment capable of stoking sectarian passions, Onyema described the statement as unfortunate, just as he urged Buhari to immediately apologise to the nation, and all those who had stuck out their necks to defend him in the past.
But the Congress for Progressive Change’s (CPC) governorship candidate in Jigawa State during the 2011 election, Alhaji Faruk Adamu Aliyu, dismissed an allegation by the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that Buhari was promoting the cause of the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram.
Condemning those calling for Buhari’s arrest, Aliyu said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service monitored in Kaduna on Wednesday, that the comment by the CPC’s presidential candidate in the 2011 election on the state of the nation was “the truth.”
He warned that CAN was “swimming in trouble waters,” adding that Buhari’s claim that those in the Niger Delta are “favoured and pampered” was also true.
But a group, Niger Delta Professionals (NIGERDELTAPROFS), described Buhari’s comments as “senseless and foolish.”
It rejected Buhari’s comparison of the Boko Haram insurgency to the Niger Delta people’s agitation, saying the latter was a struggle for economic and environmental justice.
In an interview, Onyema said: “That was a trip into absurdity, and it is highly unfortunate coming from somebody of Buhari’s status. He is someone who has ruled this country, and is also aspiring to rule it again.
“I don’t want to believe he said so, but if actually he said it, he has disappointed a whole lot of people who must have believed in him. A lot of people will be hiding their faces in shame for thinking of him as a statesman, and that of course means that we have a bigger problem on our hands. The statement portends great danger for the polity.
“We should not politicise the issue of our nation’s security. In my capacity as the Chairman of FEHN in 2003, I defended Buhari. Then the Olusegun Obasanjo regime wanted to use the ID card registration to conduct the elections and Buhari kicked against it. The press at that time was against Buhari and he was being hounded, and being called an ethnic jingoist, a tribalist and anti-South.
“I researched and found out that what Buhari was actually saying then was that a lot of people in the North would be disenfranchised if the ID card registration was used for the elections because of the level of education and the lifestyle in that part of the country. When I found out about this, I called a world press conference at a place called The Den in Ikeja, and I defended Buhari. I never met him, and I didn’t do it for money or patronage. Now that he has said something so wrong, I won’t hesitate to condemn him.”
Onyema expressed dismay that some people aspiring to rule the country would be so brazenly sectional in their utterances. He further called on northern elders to stop politicising issues of security, and think more of how to stop Nigeria from disintegrating.
He added: “Over the years, Buhari has said lot things that have tended to portray him in a negative light. Every leader should allow their statesmanship prevail in their utterances, knowing fully well that they command a lot of followership and if you inflame the passion of your followers, they do the wrong thing. We saw what happened after the elections in 2011. It is not for me to say whether the elections were free and fair or not but violence has no say in any civilized engagement.
“Whether the elections were free or rigged, it is not for any leader to call for the kind of response that might not be civil. So I do not want to believe that somebody who is aspiring to lead this country as President would be that sectional to say that the Niger Delta militancy gave rise to the Boko Haram insurgency.”
A statement by Mr. Onoriode Izomo and Mr. Andrew O. Ugbovoro, National Co-ordinator and National Secretary, NIGERPROFS, went on: “Buhari’s comment confirms the suspicion of Nigerians that Boko Haram has the backing and blessing of some northern elder statesmen. An astute observer of Islamists’ insurgency would trace it to the aftermath of the 2011 election where it all started in the form of electoral violence and gradually turned into the monster called Boko Haram. A careful evaluation of the situation vis-a-vis Buhari’s comment would point to the fact that he stands to gain should the sect and its sponsors succeed in their calculated attempt to halt the Jonathan administration in the name of insecurity.
“We, therefore, call on anti-graft agencies and the international community to extend their search for the real head of the sect by a proper investigation of Buhari. The Niger Delta struggle has been a struggle for resource control, of development and of the inclusion of Niger Deltans in the Nigerian state. But the comments of Buhari have shown that Niger Deltans are the only people that believe there is a nation called Nigeria.
“It is high time therefore we woke up from this slumber. We are now telling Buhari and his cohorts that they have crossed the line and if he does not retract his comments and apologise to the nation for his senseless comments through the media that Nigeria will never be the same again.”
The organisation added: “The Niger Delta people are not and will never be cowards. We have the capability to stand and defend what belongs to us and shall defend our God-given resources. We will not recognise or accept any arrangement that either the constitution review committee or the petroleum industrial bill will put up that will not recognise the 100 per cent control of our resources. We stand to defend this with all our strength and blood.
“We salute our Christian brothers up North and the Middle Belt who have suffered so much and have lost their loved ones and property in the wanton killing of their people. We salute those who have supported the struggle of the Niger delta people such as the media, the international community and all those who have condemned Boko Haram and their activities.”