Tuesday, 27 May 2014

News Report: Nigeria Ex-President Obasanjo Holds Talks To Free Schoolgirls


Credit: AFP

Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo has met with people close to Boko Haram in an attempt to broker the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, a source close to the talks told AFP on Tuesday.
Reports of the talks emerged as Boko Haram was blamed for fresh attacks targeting the security forces, public buildings and a school in its northeastern stronghold.

Cameroon also said it had begun deploying 3,000 extra troops to buttress its border with Nigeria against the threat posed by marauding militants.

On Monday evening, Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, said the 223 girls still missing had been located but cast doubt on the prospect of any rescue by force.

The talks last weekend at Obasanjo's farm in southern Ogun state included relatives of senior Islamist fighters, intermediaries and the former president, the source said on condition of anonymity.

"The meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation," said the source, referring to the kidnapped schoolgirls, whose abduction has triggered global outrage.

Nigeria's response to the mass abduction has been widely criticised and the hostage crisis has brought unprecedented international attention to Boko Haram's five-year extremist uprising.

- Previous attempts at talks -
Obasanjo, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents, including in September 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.

Then, he flew to the Islamists' base in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, to meet relatives of former Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.

The 2011 talks did not help stem the violence and some at the time doubted if Obasanjo was dealing with people with the authority to negotiate a ceasefire.

The former head of state, who remains an influential figure in Nigerian politics, refused to take questions when reached by phone earlier Tuesday.

But the source told AFP that Obasanjo had voiced concern about Nigeria's acceptance of foreign military personnel to help rescue the girls.

"He said he is worried that Nigeria's prestige in Africa as a major continental power had been diminished" by President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to bring in Western military help, including from the United States.

Mustapha Zanna, the lawyer who helped organise Obasanjo's 2011 talks with Boko Haram, said he was at the former president's home on Saturday.

But he declined to discuss whether the Chibok abductions were on the agenda.

"I was there," he told AFP, explaining that Obasanjo was interested in helping vulnerable children in Nigeria's embattled northeast.

Zanna had represented Yusuf's family in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the government following his death in police custody.

- 'Bungled contact' -
It was not clear if Obasanjo's weekend meeting had been sanctioned by the government.

Obasanjo backed Jonathan's 2011 presidential campaign but fiercely criticised him and his record as president in an open letter last December, and the two are widely thought to have fallen out.

According to the source, Obasanjo supported a prisoner-for-hostage swap that would see some of the girls released in exchange for a group of Boko Haram fighters held in Nigerian custody.

As a private citizen with damaged ties to the presidency, Obasanjo likely does not have the authority to negotiate any deal on the government's behalf.

Abuja has officially ruled out a prisoner swap but sent intermediaries to meet Boko Haram in the northeast to negotiate for the girls' release.

The source identified one of the envoys as Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with ties to Boko Haram who was close to Yusuf before his death.

Salkida did not respond to several phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

"There was contact but it was bungled by the government," according to the source, saying Jonathan backed away from the deal after returning from a security conference in Paris earlier this month.

- Troop movements, fresh attacks -
The conference saw Nigeria and its neighbours vow greater cooperation to tackle Boko Haram because of the potential threat to regional stability.

Cameroon, criticized in Nigeria for providing safe haven to the militants, said that 3,000 troops had been sent to the country's northern border with Nigeria.

"It's a significant number since the number of troops and police currently posted in the region is less than 1,000," a police source told AFP.

Nigeria's chief of defence staff said that despite having located the girls, the risks of storming the area with troops in a rescue mission were too great and could prove fatal for the hostages.

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen raided the town of Buni Yadi after sundown on Monday, attacking the same area where scores of students were massacred in February.

They shot at soldiers manning a checkpoint, razed a police station and torched the home of a local leader and public buildings before opening fire on a primary school.

"When they started attacking, people began to flee. There were casualties on the part of the security personnel but I don't know how many," said witness Kura Babagana.

News Release: MEND Commends Govt. For Release Of Former Commander From Prison

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) wishes to commend the Government for the release of our former Commander, Mr Tamunotonye Kuna aka ‘Commander Obese’ and fifty-three (53) fighters under his command held at the Port Harcourt Prison without trial since December 2010.

Mr Kuna, voluntarily submitted weapons, gunboats and several items to the Joint Task Force (JTF) after being deceived that he would be a beneficiary of the Amnesty Programme and lucrative pipeline protection contracts. He was subsequently arrested while the JTF lied to Nigerians that he was captured after an attack on his camp in River State .

His prolonged incarceration was as a result of his refusal to become a false witness against Henry Okah in South Africa and his brother Charles Okah in Nigeria . The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) urges the Government to consider the further unconditional release of other MEND detainees held on trumped-up charges with alleged link to the group such as the Okah brothers.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) supports a prisoner exchange initiative with Boko Haram towards the release of the Chibok School girls as the only viable safe option and the threshold towards maintaining contact, further ceasefire and eventual long-term peace and security in that region. From our experience, it is impossible for any forceful Commando-type rescue in forests or creeks to be successful.

The Israelis encouraging such a move should understand that Sambisa Forest is a different kettle of fish from Entebbe International Airport .

Jomo Gbomo

Speech: Nigeria Of My Dream

By Olukayode Ajulo

(Being text of address presented at “Nigeria Of My Dream” Symposium organized by United Nigerians Forum at Thistle Bloomsbury Park Hotel, London on May 26, 2014.)

1.      Greetings

2.      I feel greatly elated for the opportunity given me to address this very distinguished audience. I must confess that addressing a gathering of very distinguished Nigerians and non-Nigerians like this is not an easy task at all. But my consolation and encouragement is in the fact that it is a speech about Nigeria, a talk about the Nigeria we are all part of, the country of my passion. With this, I am confident it is all about us all; about what course we can chat for our future, our dear nation – Nigeria.

3.      Nigeria is a blessed country. We all understand to a large extent her history, her endowment, her glory, her ups and downs, but I beg to remind you a bit of it before proceeding. It gained her independence in 1960 and attained republican status in 1963. It is a heterogeneous country with diversity of cultures and tribes of about 250 ethnic nationalities with the Yoruba, Igbo and the Hausa-Fulani as the dominant tribes. It is the most populated country on the African continent with over 160 million in population. It is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world and its rich and fertile soils speaks of its economic viability, wealth and prosperity. All these attest to the fact that human and material resources abound for Nigeria and these are the basic indices for the development of any nation.

4.      We are not in doubt of the challenges we face as a people. Over the years, we have been faced with the problem of mistrust among our people. I can affirm without equivocation that Nigeria does not qualify to be regarded by all standards as a developed nation as it is still categorized among the third world nations with substantially all the indices that underlie an underdeveloped country. To state it more clearly, everything that is synonymous with underdevelopment is synonymous with Nigeria. Our hospitals have become mortuaries due to lack of equipments, drugs and personnel; our universities lack the adequate facilities for adequate manpower training and development and the graduates of these universities are now regarded as half-baked; our transport system have gone moribund – our roads are riddled with potholes and our airspace is unsafe to fly with incessant crashes; there is high rate of unemployment; insecurity of lives and properties has become the norm; there is no power to drive our industries making investment difficult and occasioning industries to close shop. These and many others may have propelled the description of Nigeria as a failed state.

5.      All have been identified as a product of the governmental failure over the years. The bad governance of our leaders is what many if not all Nigerians have identified as the overall cause of this gory state. For this, many Nigerians have chosen the option of leaving the country to other countries of the world and that is why we are here.

6.      We are here because we think we have a place of birth, we have an identity. This identity is Nigeria. We are here because we believe solemnly and sincerely that we can make a change, a change from where it currently is, a change for the better. A new Nigeria of our dream, a Nigeria we can be proud of. We look forward to a day when we can raise our heads tall anytime anywhere in the world and say confidently: “I am a Nigerian.” Confidently because Nigeria would have been a country known for good governance, comprised of people of integrity and honesty, characterized by free and fair election, good standard of living of its people, peaceful coexistence amongst others. This is the Nigeria of my dream and the dream of many citizens of Nigeria home and aboard.

7.      However, that may just be all for many of us. We dream, we dream and just dream. We dream of a better Nigeria, we dream of a reversal of the ugly woes that currently betide us as a people. But what do we do about our dream. What? That is the big question we should retrospect on.

8.      A couple of days ago, at the first leg of the inauguration of this Forum in Abuja, my brother, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, former Media Aide to the late President Yar’dua and Chairman of Editorial Board of Thisday Newspaper, in his speech advised us to stop dreaming but begin to take responsibilities.

9.      In his words “no country gets changed by a bunch of dreamers who do not match their dreams with positive actions. The Nigeria we all envision will only come about through the actions of everyone in this room and not necessarily by our dreams. Nations don’t develop by accident”

10.  I agree with him. But my agreement is not in totality. I believe we should dream about a better Nigeria, but we should not stop at just dreams. Not stopping at just dreams means that we must act, we must live our dreams and that is the only way out of it.

11.  The world has witnessed great ‘dreamers’ who have left foot prints on the sands of time. We are not unmindful of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jnr. He dreamt of an America where the people will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. His dream of an America free from discrimination and racism of all sorts was not in vain. Today we can say this dream is here. Mahatma Ghandi of India is an example that also comes in handy. But these were not just dreamers. These were people who lived the dream and this dream they lived with a committed citizenry and followers.

12.  We may not be there in Nigeria. In fact, we are not. Yes, we are not. This I am confident about. I have met and interacted with thousands of Nigerians including my social media friends and the feelers I get from them lend credence to my assertion that we are not there. We are not there because today in the country, citizens regard government as “them” and not “we”. There is disconnect with the people. Specifically, I should let you know that of all the comments I heard from my social media friends when I sought their opinion about this discourse. The response is clearly a blame on the government – government provided no school, no work, no hospitals, no security, no electricity, no road, no law, no everything. Blames, blames and blames! They all blamed the government. None, not just a comment to condemn the people, not a comment to question what we the people are not doing right, what we the citizens ought to do that we have left undone. And that is the problem. From the petrol attendant in Wuse, to the orange seller in Akure, to the Civil servant in Port Harcourt, their story has always been about a corrupt, ineffective and incompetent government. The Nigerian government is corrupt is the clear report. But then, are we the people free from this? Are we not also part of this corruption? If we are free from this, what are we doing about it?

13.  Government is corrupt, I agree. But who are the government? There is infrastructural decay, lack of water, electricity, health care, good schools. I agree to all of these.

14.  But in the midst of all these, we the people may not be totally free from blame. This is because even though we make the government we have been passive about our desire. We can be active and make a change but we have chosen to be passive. At different times, I have gone through the provisions of our laws which enable us to be active. At the height of it, we profess democracy and this is supported by our fundamental law – The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Section 14 stipulates that the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice. It declares that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives its powers and authority. That is not all, it also declares that the primary purpose of government shall be the security and welfare of the people. By the same token, the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.

15.  These declarations are there, but what effect have we given to it. Have we activated or given life to these declarations? No! Rather we have remained passive about it all. But this is what we can do. I recalled at different times in the history of the nation, the activities of many Nigerians. We cannot forget so soon the efforts of our forefathers in the struggle for an independent Nigeria. We recall the likes of Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo among others and we remember how hard they fought for our independence, we remember they fought in unity and achieved it. This was at a time when the existing environment did not clearly support their activities. Even in the most recent of times, we are all aware of the fuel subsidy protest across the country in January 2012, the call for the removal of Stella Oduah the aviation minister over the 260 million car scandal. These demands were the demands of Nigerians and we achieved it by our insistence. That is why I believe we can do it if actually we face reality and dream less. We can do it.

16.  Our demands have however not been coordinated and consistent. In many cases it has been half-hearted. Edward B. Butler once said and I quote “one man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who make a success of his life.” This expression captures in clear terms our position in Nigeria. Today, we speak out about the ills, about the challenges, but we do not bother to see how we can overcome this. We do not think about how to address it within without looking up to the government. It is the general attitude in the land for government to act on our behalf in all circumstance, to do all we desire.

17.  I make bold to say this is a utopian dream. A dream that is not realistic and that is why when we dream about a better Nigeria, we should dream alongside how we as individuals can be better citizens, how we as individuals can be a part of the solution to the problem rather than just speaking out about it. We should take action on these dreams. Our task is to live out the dream; our task is to support the government and the nation in our individual ways. Nigerians find it easy to compare Nigeria with other countries of the world but fail to take responsibility on how participatory and helpful the citizens and people of such countries were to their government.

18.  We do ourselves and our nation a lot of harm by always looking at the government as the problem. We only do ourselves a lot of good by being retrospective and thinking about what we can offer. At my own personal level, I have a dream of a better Nigeria but I do not just dream but I work for a better Nigeria.  My contributions in a modest way I have made and still continue to make as this is the duty I owe my country. A country I love so much and passionate about. For I know above all things that there is no place like home. For I dream about her and see that someday all corrupt practices and abuse of power shall be abolished, national loyalties shall override sectional loyalties, the security and welfare of the people shall indeed be the primary purpose of government and the national resources of the nation shall be harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.

19.  Terrorism has found its way to Nigeria and it is sad in the history of the country, we need to rise up and stop the blame gain, Terrorism is not a Nigeria thing, it’s a universal problem and we must encourage our military to succeed in flushing Boko Haram out of Nigeria. Our Girls must be brought back alive.

20.  We need to be discerning and separate politics from policy. Some of our leaders are not helpful in realizing our Nigeria dreams and we need not sit back but we must collectively speak against their parochial positions.  

21.  But above all and in the midst of these dreams, I dream about what role I can play within this and that is how I think we should dream. That is the way I want us all to dream while we ruminate about the Nigeria of our dream. If that is done, we will have the Nigeria we truly desire.

 22.  Thanks.