The Nation (2012): President Goodluck Jonathan got a big backer yesterday in his row with former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the government’s approach to the Boko Haram insurgency. To former Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Obasanjo’s criticism of the Jonathan administration’s handling of Boko Haram is “highly irresponsible”.
The doyen of accounting, Mr. Akintola Williams, also lashed out at Obasanjo.
Both spoke in Lagos on the sideline at the launch of a book, “Stay at the top”, authored by a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria (ICAN), Mr. Omoniyi Komolafe.
Other eminent Nigerians at the book launch included the Head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, the former Chief Medical Director, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Prof. Samuel Olowe, the Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Prof. Sola Fajana and representatives of Lagos, Osun and Ogun governors.
Speaking to The Nation, Gen. Gowon said: “Obasanjo is highly irresponsible to have made such comments about the present government.
“Many people have condemned what he (Obasanjo) did in Odi and Zaki Biam.
So, it was irresponsible for him to defend it or accuse the present administration.”
Gen. Gowon urged Nigerians to support the government so that the current challenges can be tackled collectively.
He said: “I know people are concerned about the security situation in the country, but I can assure you that the government is doing everything possible to tackle the situation.
“I remember during my time as Head of State, when we also had grave challenges. Some people said it was impossible to unite Nigeria and that we could not achieve it. Some also said we could not move the state capital from Lagos to another city.
“But, eventually, we were able to subdue the security challenges. I can tell you, we would not have been able to do it, if we did not enjoy the support of Nigerians.
“I urge our people to love and defend the unity of this country at all times. The government should be given the needed support so that it will be able to function.
“I am not saying government should not be criticised when it is doing wrong, but we should not say or do things that will cause more tension and confusion in our land.”
In Williams’ view, Obasanjo should be more circumspect.
“I am sure if he considers his statements, he would not say such things.
“When I was in practice, I had confrontations with him, but we grew to respect each other.
“I would have expected him to observe complete silence, especially commenting on offices now held by somebody else other than himself.”
Obasanjo, speaking in Warri last Thursday at one of the events, marking the 40th anniversary of Rev. Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said President Jonathan’s response to Boko Haram’s insurgency is tepid.
Obasanjo said when faced with such a situation, he nipped it in the bud, saying Dr. Jonathan should have tackled the insurgency at the outset.
“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,” Obasanjo said.
But President Jonathan chose the occasion of his Media Chat on Sunday to respond to Obasanjo’s criticism, saying Obasanjo’s administration’s military attack on Odi in 1999 after some policemen were killed, was a disaster, which failed to achieve its objective.
Jonathan alleged that contrary to Obasanjo’s claim, no militant was killed in the invasion.
He said as the Bayelsa State Deputy Governor at the time, he and (then) Governor Dipreye Alamieyeseigha visited Odi. They saw “some dead people, mainly old men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. So, the bombardment of Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it.”
Obasanjo’s former Adviser, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, On Tuesday replied Jonathan on behalf of his principal.
He said: “The truth is that the killing of security agents and soldiers with impunity by Niger Delta militants virtually stopped after the operation in Odi.”
Gen. Gowon, in his address as chairman of the book launch, said he was fascinated by the title of the book, adding that trust and transparency are qualities a good leader must possess.
“As Head of State, I religiously ensured that I reached out to people across all strata through contacts and visits in order to determine how government was perceived or to see how government fared.
Shonekan, who was the guest of honour, said the book was devoted to value reorientation.
He said the author had also brought to the fore the fact that it is never easy for anybody to get to the top in any field of endeavour. It requires a lot of humility, sagacity, commitment to duty and diligence to realise such lofty dreams.
“From experience, I can say that staying at the top is more difficult because for a number of factors, those at the top often lose their staying power. Their successes often get into their heads, their values become warped and sometimes, they cannot move with the dynamics of the time and in the process, they are overtaken by other contenders for the top position.”
Prof. Fajana reviewed the book.