By Victor Oriola:
FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo has taken a retrospective look at the sectarian crises the country has been facing over the last 10 years and given his verdict: They have not been properly managed.
And if this continues, he said in an exclusive interview with ‘The Westerner’, a sister publication of the Nigerian Compass, Nigeria may soon become another Rwanda, Burundi or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where fratricidal wars have claimed over a million lives.
Nigeria has been enmeshed in sectarian and other crises in the last decade, especially in Jos and other parts of the North, as well as the Niger Delta, resulting in the loss of over 13, 500 lives.
The former military Head of State between 1976 and 1979, in his first major interview since leaving office as Nigeria’s democratically-elected president between 1999 and 2007, said of the crises in the country and other African countries, which he described as mostly self-inflicted: “But it is when these things are not properly managed that you have the situation that you have in Burundi, in Rwanda and which flowed into Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or also went into Northern Uganda, and partly, it is the situation you now have in Jos. And if you remove the criminality, it is partly also the situation that you have in the Niger Delta.”
Lamenting that Nigeria has not been managing the crisis situation well, Obasanjo said: “…We can do much better than we are doing. But I hope that the more we understand that whether it is in the Niger Delta or in Jos, the solution is not a military solution that will give us a permanent solution. When we realise this, then we will be on the way to solving the conflicts.
“We tried to manage Jos. I believe the situation in Jos is manageable. I believe that the Niger Delta, once you remove the criminality, it can be managed. The problem started there with their criminality, abduction is spreading everywhere now.”
On the call by the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, that Nigeria should be broken into two – North and South – to reflect its religious divides, Obasanjo said “(Muamar) Gaddafi is a man who has a number of ideas; some are right, some are probably not right. But you should give (Muammar) Gaddafi his right to express his ideas, the ones that are right, look at them and see how best you can utilise them. The ones that are not right, look at them… For instance, he wants a union government in Africa. Good idea! But when and how that will be possible is another thing.
“Gaddafi has done fairly well for his country, I want to commend him. But the management of Libya must not be viewed as the way Nigeria should be managed; or the management of India or Pakistan should not be viewed as the way Nigeria should be managed. Every country has its own peculiarities and Nigeria has its own peculiarities too.”
Like the United States (US), which warned that Nigeria may break up before 2020, the former president was also asked whether he has any fears about the future of Nigeria.
“No”, he said in the interview with The Westerner, which is already on sale all over the country.
Obasanjo, a farmer, also spoke on the imminent food crisis, saying: “We shouldn’t be endangered, but we are. We are for a number of reasons. We are for the reason of inadequacy of production; we are also for the reason of affordability and we are for the reason of inadequacy of processing and storage.
“When you talk of food security, we talk of it from the point of view of availability to the people; affordability to the people and accessibility to the people.”
He stated that Africans and Nigerians have themselves to blame for the food crisis because of lack of foresight, adding: “We can’t blame the US. Don’t forget that bread is easy to consume. It is a ready-made meal, you can eat it with stew, you can eat it with butter and you can take it with ordinary water. The US just looked for a market and we fell into the nutritional trap. Every country tries to avoid being trapped. This is why, for example, Japan refused to consume rice from Thailand, even though it is cheaper than the rice, which they produce themselves. When we were young, I remember rice, for example, used to be taken during Christmas only. But today, the situation is different.
“You would be trapped if you allow yourself to be trapped. There is nowhere I go, I go in my African attire and I encouraged this when I was in government. When I appear in some places, some people say this man has come with his balloon dress.
“You know, my agbada is, of course, even more fitting and easier to wear and fitting on the body than your suits and tie, which can be used to strangle you.”
Speaking on the debt relief he obtained for the country as a civilian president, Obasanjo said he believes borrowing money is not a bad idea, after all, if it is profitably invested.
His words: “If you are running a business and you are a good businessman, you can borrow money to do your business. Of course, you do your calculations, if you borrow N100, you will make sure you add your interest, and if that is 50; that means you add your 100 and 50. That is the way people do business normally. “Again, you can do that in terms of running the affairs of this country. Do you need a particular road? Do you need a particular means or mode of transportation? Do you need a particular industry that can borrow money and make sure that it can pay itself? This is the time that you do the kind of things that we do. There was a particular case, somewhere in the South-East where $10 million was borrowed to build a carpet industry. That $10 million was drawn to the last cent without the site of the industry being cleared. That is the type of debt that you should never have.”
Asked his fears for the 2011 general election, the former president said: “Do I have fears about anything? I am an incurable optimist about this country and this project called Nigeria. It will survive, it will succeed and Nigeria will become not just a country, but a good country.”
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