By James Butty
Two former Nigerian leaders — President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-military ruler Ibrahim Babangida — on Sunday called for talks to end the deadly insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram.
In an unusual joint statement, the two former leaders reportedly said the violence in Nigeria has become unbearable and could put the nation’s unity at risk.
They called for community involvement, in addition to security measures, to resolve the crisis.
Kabiru Mato, chair of the political science department at the University of Abuja in Nigeria, said the joint statement is a confirmation of the two former leaders’ commitment to the unity of Nigeria.
“President Obasanjo and President Babangida have always made their stance on Nigeria’s unity very clear. Each of them at different times have made abundantly clear that, if necessary to keep Nigeria together, they are prepared to wear their uniforms and go back into the trenches,” he said.
The two former leaders reportedly called on all Nigerians, including religious leaders and grassroots organizations, to get involved in the efforts to find a solution to the country’s violence.
They specifically said religious leaders had a greater burden to use the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to instill in Nigerians the “spirit of respect, humility and forgiveness”.
Mato said the call for community involvement is overdue.
“I think the call by the two leaders, in my view, simply amplifies the growing national aspiration on the need to take more power from the center to local levels so that a lot of such issues that normally erupt from community are nib in the bud before they escalate,” Mato said.
The Boko insurgency has originated from Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north, targeting mostly Christians.
But, Mato said the fact that Mr. Obasanjo is a Christian from the southwest and Babangida is Muslim from central Nigeria does not matter.
He said the violence has persisted mainly because of the lack of political will on the part of the federal government to find a solution to the insurgency.
“I think where they are coming from is not really important. The problem in Nigeria has always been that of the weakness of the part of the leadership to and the failure to convene the citizenry that the leadership is responsible enough to hand and tackle the problems of the Nigerian people,” Mato said.
In their statement, the two former leaders reportedly said attempts should be made to “bring all armed belligerents to table for meaningful dialogue with the authorities for our future and that of our children and grandchildren”.
Mato said it is possible to bring all armed belligerents together for dialogue as was done by the late President Umaru Yar’Ardua with Niger Delta militants.
“We have seen the late President Yar’Ardua bring the militants in the Niger Delta area that had succeeded in disrupting oil supply and production in Nigeria to a roundtable and amnesty was granted to them, and Nigeria go back to its oil business. So, it’s all left to government to deploy the necessary will power to negotiate,” Mato said.