FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday said the President Goodluck Jonathan administration had not been reaching out enough to the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, and canvassed what he described as a “carrot-and-stick” strategy to address the sect’s menace.
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Obasanjo told the CNN in an interview that Jonathan had been applying less of dialogue and more of force in solving the Boko Haram issue.
“To deal with a group like that, you need a carrot and stick. The carrot is finding out how to reach out to them. When you try to reach out to them and they are not amenable to being reached out to, you have to use the stick,” the ex-President said.
He said Jonathan was “just using the stick.”
“He’s doing one aspect of it well, but the other aspect must not be forgotten,” he added.
But the Presidency, in a reaction to the ex-President’s submission, said Obasanjo’s position on the Boko Haram issue had been contradictory.
Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, told The PUNCH that it was surprising that the same Obasanjo who said recently that his presidency applied force when he was confronted with similar situation in Odi, Rives State, has now turned round to accuse Jonathan of applying only the stick against Boko Haram.
“It is surprising. That means the former President contradicted himself. Were you not in this country recently when he said that when he was confronted with a similar issue in Odi, he applied force? Where exactly does he stand on this matter?” Abati said.
He said that contrary to what Obasanjo wanted the world to believe, the Federal Government’s handling of the Boko Haram menace had been purposeful and that a lot of progress had been made.
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria described the ex-President’s position as unfortunate. The association has repeatedly expressed its opposition to dialogue with Boko Haram.
The Public Relations Officer for CAN in the 19 northern states, Mr. Sunny Oibe, said, “How do you negotiate with a faceless group except Obasanjo wants to tell us that he knows them? This is the same Obasanjo who went to see the family of Boko Haram founder, Yusuf Mohamed and after discussing with them, a senior member of the family was slaughtered. Our stand is that you don’t negotiate with a faceless group.
“President Goodluck Jonathan should not listen to such advice because it is a booby trap set for him to fall on a banana peel. The position of government should be strong on that because if they should negotiate with them, other groups will now emerge and they will now hold government and the people of this country to ransom.”
Spokesperson for the central northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, last week, said on behalf of the group that force was not the solution to the sect’s challenge.
“In terms of security, dialogue still remains the best. It is not the only way out, but I believe it still remains the best,” Sani had said in a reaction to the President’s celebration of the fact that security agencies foiled several bombing attempts during the yuletide.
He added, “It is very heartening to hear President Goodluck Jonathan say the security agents have been foiling attacks by Boko Haram of recent.
“But this does not vitiate the need for dialogue as a viable option. This is because there has been a precedent in which President Umaru Yar’Adua used force and killed 700 members of the sect and their leader but Boko Haram has remained unbowed.”
In the 2013 budget passed by the National Assembly, the Federal Government is to spend N24.1bn on internal security operations for the armed forces. The sum exceeds the N16.4bn allocated to police formations across the country by N7.7bn.
The soldiers’ provision consists of N16.107bn earmarked as “Operations-internal for Armed Forces.”
Members of the Nigerian Armed Forces are currently engaged in several internal security operations, including membership of Joint Task Forces fighting kidnapping in the South- East; oil bunkering in the South-South and Boko Haram in the North.
Obasanjo told the CNN that he had tried to reach out to Boko Haram about one- year-and- a-half ago through a lawyer who was acting as the group’s proxy, and had asked if they had external backing.
He said the lawyer told him that the group was receiving support from other Nigerians who have resources overseas or “other organisations from abroad,” worrying that, “If they had 25 per cent support a year and a half ago, today that support has doubled.”
The ex-President had in 2011 made a widely-reported contact with the sect; and the killing of the in-law to the late leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, barely 24 hours after, was seen as rejection of Obasanjo’s intervention.
Obasanjo said resolving the issue was central to the country’s progress.
“Boko Haram undermines security, and anything that undermines security undermines development, undermines education, undermines health, undermines agriculture and food and nutrition security,” he said.
Boko Haram members have since 2009 launched a violent campaign against the Federal Government, attacking military and police facilities, drinking joints and worship houses in the northern states and Abuja.
The group in 2011 attacked the Police headquarters as well as the United Nations office in the Federal Capital City, killing many people.
The international rights group, Human Rights Watch, in a report late last year had said Boko Haram members had killed more than 2,800 people.