Former President Olusegun Obasanjo lashed out at the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration for what he called its slow handling of the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also accused the administration and that of his successor, the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, of being soft on corruption.
Boko Haram’s gunmen have killed thousands of people in the North, especially in Borno and Yobe states – the epicentre of their activities.
Many schools have been burnt down. Many churches have been attacked by suicide bombers as the sect intensifies its violent activities.
Obasanjo, who was instrumental to the enthronement of the late Yar’Adua and Jonathan, said the sect’s activities would have been nipped in the bud had drastic steps been taken at the initial stage of Boko Haram’s insurgency – as he did in 1999 when he deployed troops in Odi community, Bayelsa State.
He spoke in Warri as the moderator of a public lecture by former External Affairs Minister Prof Bolaji Akinyemi in honour of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who is marking his 40th anniversary as a pastor.
The former president accused his successors of allowing the Boko Haram scourge to become a national security problem.
He said: “My fear is that when you have a sore and you don’t attend to it early enough, it festers and becomes very bad. Don’t leave a problem that can be bad unattended.”
Reflecting on the crisis at Odi, Obasanjo said:
“I attended to a problem that I saw; I sent soldiers. They were killed, 19 of them (were) decapitated. If I had allowed that to continue, I would not have the authority to send security anywhere again. I attended to it.
“If you say you do not want a strong leader, who can have all the characteristics of a leader, including the fear of God, then, you have a weak leader and the rest of the problem is yours,” he added.
In his reaction to comments on rising corruption by public office holders in Akinyemi’s paper, Obasanjo blamed the weakened anti-corruption fight on his successor.
“At one time, they said the fear of (Mallam Nuhu) Ribadu, former Chairman of the Economic and Economic Crimes Commission (EFCC), is the beginning of wisdom. Then, what happened to Ribadu? And there was no longer any wisdom,” he added.
He hinted that the faltering fight against corruption had made it impossible to recover an outstanding $1billion from the cash stolen by the late General Sani Abacha and his family.
Obasanjo and Akinyemi expressed divergent views on the convocation of a national conference as the way forward for the nation’s unity and peace.
The professor of International Relations and Diplomacy suggested the convocation of a national conference to allow all interest groups the opportunity to express their views on national issues.
He said: “The Nigerian elite, political, economic and religious, must get together and fashion out a grand consensus. Let me make it clear that I am not advocating a consensus to loot the national treasury – that is already taking place.
“For us to have a consensus, we should have a national conference to air our views and grievances. At the end of the day, we should be able to agree (on the way forward).”
But Obasanjo faulted the call, saying: “We have been on this conference forever.”
“We can never get all Nigerians to a room and say let’s have a conference; we will still get representatives and when you finish, there will still be those who will not be satisfied. I may not be satisfied, and if I am not satisfied, should I not be able to vent my feeling and say I am not satisfied? If I can vent my feelings and say I am not satisfied, then I am now satisfied.”
The two eminent Nigerians also disagreed on the application of Federal Character, which Akinyemi said, “dispenses with experience and emphasises the turn-by-turn syndrome, irrespective of experience or qualification”.
He lamented that choices of vice-chancellors, bishops, judges and others are now subject to federal character, adding: “Just last week, there was an episode, disgraceful by all account, that took place within the judiciary. “
But Obasanjo said: “There is nothing intrinsically wrong in federal character, if we have decided that we really want to weave this country together.
“The problem is how it is applied because if you are looking for Federal character with merit, you will get it anywhere in Nigeria.”
There was however a consensus on leadership. Both men expressed the need for a strong leadership that will build the Nigeria dreamt of by the founding fathers.