Abuja – The Federal Government has described the comments by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, imputing ethno-religious motive to Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) as deeply offensive and patently divisive.
The government said such indiscreet comments were far below the status of an elder statesman.
Its position was contained in a statement signed by Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
In the statement issued in Abuja on Tuesday, Lai Mohammed said it was particularly tragic that a man who fought to keep Nigeria one is the same one seeking to exploit the country’s fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life.
He insisted that Boko Haram and ISWAP were terrorist organisations, adding that they cared little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction.
“Since the Boko Haram crisis, which has been simmering under the watch of Obasanjo, boiled over in 2009, the terrorist organisation has killed more Muslims than adherents of any other religion, blown up more mosques than any other houses of worship and is not known to have spared any victim on the basis of their ethnicity. It is, therefore, absurd to say that Boko Haram and its ISWAP variant have as their goal the ‘Fulanisation and Islamisation’ of Nigeria, West Africa or Africa,” Alhaji Mohammed said.
He said President Muhammadu Buhari put to rest the mischaracterisation of Boko Haram as an Islamic organisation when he said, in his inaugural speech in 2015, that “Boko Haram is a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of”.
The minister said Obasanjo’s comments are therefore as insensitive and mischievous as they are offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.
He wondered whether there was no limit to how far the former president would go in throwing poisonous darts at his perceived political enemies.
He said Obasanjo’s prescriptions for ending the Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis, which included seeking assistance outside the shores of Nigeria, were coming several years late, as President Buhari had done that and more since assuming office, hence the phenomenal success he had recorded in tackling the terrorists.
The minister said: “Shortly after assuming office in 2015, President Buhari’s first trips outside the country were to rally the support of Nigeria’s neighbours – Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger – for the efforts to battle the terrorists.
“The president also rallied the support of the international community, starting with the G7, and then the US, France, and the UN.
“That explains the massive degrading of Boko Haram, which has since lost its capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks for which it became infamous, and the recovery of every inch of captured Nigerian territory from the terrorists.”
He said Obasanjo’s call for wide consultations with various groups as part of the efforts to tackle the Boko Haram crisis had been neutralised by his ill-advised comments which had served more to alienate a large number of Nigerians, who were offended by his tactless and distasteful postulation.
The minister called on the former president who, he said, took bullets for Nigeria’s unity, not to allow personal animosity to override his love for a united Nigeria.
He said it would not be out of place if he withdrew his unfortunate statement and apologised to Nigerians.