Obasanjo lambasts Biafran agitators

By The Citizen
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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Friday dismissed the current agitation for the resurrection of the Biafra secessionist agenda as a hopeless and futile exercise.

Obasanjo said this while presenting a paper entitled: 'Resurgent Biafra Agitation: Born in Error, Ignorance and Frustration,' at a public discussion on Biafra, organised by Nextier Advisory in Abuja.

He advised Nigerians, especially the people of the South-East, not to take the agitators seriously as doing so would only lead to disaster.

He described Biafra as a dead issue and advised people not to tread the path.

He, however, said he considered the current agitation as more of a cry for attention, amelioration and improvement of socio-economic conditions and situations, especially of the youths in Nigeria, particularly those in the South-East.

He said, 'No right-thinking person who has experienced the horror or war will ever agitate for more war.'

'Nigeria cannot afford to go from Boko Haram insurgency to any other insurgency under any guise. And on no account should we wittingly or unwittingly allow this to happen again.'

The former President said the solution to the current agitation would be achieved by collaborative efforts between genuine leaders and elders in the South-East and a purpose driven leadership at all levels of governance.

He explained that as a nation, Nigeria must all consider youth education, welfare, well-being, empowerment and employment as a lifelong collective duty, obligation and responsibility.

Obasanjo noted that although the youths have the rights to express their frustrations, such rights do not include embarking on wanton and wicked acts of destruction of property and wares of marketers, which he said would worsen the situation and even worsen the situation of such citizens.

He noted the efforts of various groups formed with the intention of putting pressure on the then military administration of General Sani Abacha to hand over power to a civilian government.

He said, 'Not long ago, in the South-West, there was a problem of Oodua Peoples Congress, which was created to frustrate Abacha's self-perpetuation ambition; so were the Egbesu and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra initially. Later, Arewa (Consultative Forum) and the OPC joined them.

'Different approaches-political, economic and social-were devised to deal with their menace when OPC became a Frankenstein.

'One of such approaches that worked so well was to encourage them to form vigilantes, guards and protection groups, formally and legally.

'They were hired and paid, thereby leaving the menace perpetrated through informality to the good and gainful employment through the formal. The emerging economic situation at the time also helped.'

The ex- Nigerian leader also expressed sadness that the Biafra agitation has also become an industry for those looking for money by hook or by crook, particularly from sympathisers abroad. He described the commercialisation and exploitation of the Biafra as obscene to the point of criminal fraudulence.

He wondered how else one could explain the issuance of 'the so-called Biafran passport that takes anyone nowhere and for which unwary people are being charged exorbitant prices. Obasanjo said some leaders were even seen as supporting the agitation secretly as a means of extracting more from the government at the centre.

He noted that while that alone may not be an unusual strategy, it must not be carried too far.

In a related development, Obasanjo has said given Nigeria's antecedents and the events that had shaped its history, the country does not need another coup or war.

Obasanjo, who spoke in Lagos on Friday at the 50th memorial programme held in honour of Nigeria's first minister of finance in the first republic, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, said if that was all that could be taken away from the historic day, the nation would be better for it.

There was also a colloquium, themed, 'Chief F.S. Okotie-Eboh, his Politics and his Times,' and a book, titled 'Chief F. S. Okotie-Eboh, in Time and written in his honour by Prof. Jide Osuntokun. The book was presented by the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi.

Okotie-Eboh was killed during the first military coup d'etat of January 15, 1966 alongside the then Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello and the late Premier of the then Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola.

While speaking on the events that characterised the coup, Obasanjo, who was the chairman of the occasion, said the only event that shook the country like the incident did was the civil war. 'May it never happen again,' he added.

He continued, 'Exactly 50 years ago, darkness enveloped the country. Many of us around then were confused, taken by surprise and didn't know what to do.

'It was an event that altered the course of Nigeria's history. It was a monumental tragedy. I have had occasions to say God is a Nigerian. The only event that shook Nigeria like it was the civil war, which was a continuation of the event of 50 years ago.

'It is remarkable that we are able to gather to remember and celebrate our early leaders who gave us independence.'

Also speaking at the event, a former representative of Nigeria at the United Nations, Alh. Maitama Sule, while eulogising Okotie-Eboh, said he was the best minister of finance in Africa during his time.

He said, 'In those days, Nigeria had leaders and not rulers who loot the country. Nigeria used to be respected but now that is no more. Nigeria needs to realise its potential. It is not for nothing that God has kept us together so that we may have the political clout to lead in Africa.'

Meanwhile, there was a mild drama when Obasanjo spoke again shortly after Sule's comment, saying guests should talk less so that listeners wouldn't forget all the things they had said.

Okotie-Eboh's daughter, Dr. 'Dere Awosika, appreciated everyone who graced the occasion. Punch