BY FEMI OYEWESO, Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to stop the payment of ransom to kidnappers and bandits, saying the practice is currently fueling the problem of insecurity in the country.
Obasanjo spoke while hosting members of the Tiv Professionals Group (TPG) led by Prof Zacharys Anger Gundu, who visited him at his Pent House residence located within the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
He urged the Federal Government to evolve a more effective means of tackling insecurity, particularly the menace of kidnapping and banditry currently ravaging the country, rather than payment of ransom to the criminals.
Obasanjo specifically advocated for a “carrot and heavy stick” approach to fighting insecurity in Nigeria to a standstill, emphasising that paying ransom to kidnappers further go a long way in encouraging banditry to flourish.
He also declared that those beating drums of division in Nigeria don’t meant well about the interest of the minority ethnic groups in the country.
Obasanjo also told the YPG that leaders across all divides in the country must ensure that the forthcoming 2023 general elections birth the emergence of a new federation in Nigeria otherwise the country could be “sliding into ground dissolution”.
Obasanjo, who bemoaned insecurity challenges, said he does not believe in payment of ransom to kidnappers and banditry as it encouraged criminals indulging in the act.
He specifically noted that President Muhammadu Buhari government and that of his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had paid ransom to kidnappers and bandits but they denied it.
The former president, however, insisted that the year 2023 general elections must mark a watershed for Nigeria.
“I do believe that whatever else we do we have to make the year 2023 a watershed for Nigeria. The year 2023 should give us the beginning of emergence of a new federation or feeling that the rot continues and then, we are going to be sliding back to ground dissolution. God forbid,, the former president said.
He continued: “Some people are still reaching out, and hoping that lives can still be saved. But a situation whereby anybody thinks paying ransom is the way out, that person is folly. He is a folly. This is because when you pay ransom, you encourage. But if you are not going to pay ransom, you must have the means to deal heavily with it. You must have the stick to deal with it.
“Government has always paid ransom. Not only this government, even during Jonathan (administration), they paid ransom, but they denied it.”
While relaying the position of a military friend, Obasanjo expressed fears that those beating drums of division in Nigeria don’t think about the interests of the minority ethnic groups.
“And he would say to me if the Yorubas can stand as a country, if the Igbos can stand as a country, if the Hausas/Fulanis can stand as a country, if you major tribes decide to break up from the country, where do you want the minority ethnic groups to stand. That, many Nigerians don’t know about, unfortunately.
“Where do we want those minor groups to stand? Wherever they stand, now they are by virtue of Nigeria’s present situation a little bit protected. But if Nigeria breaks up and they are in a smaller country, they will be oppressed. They will always be exterminated. Are we thinking of that?
“I believe that if we will get it right in Nigeria, any leader must look at Nigeria with the prism of the diversity of Nigeria. For as long as you look at Nigeria with the prism of your ethnic group, then you aren’t going anywhere, either your ethnic group or religious group. But is there hope? There is hope,” he said.
Presenting a paper earlier, leader of the group, Prof Zacharys Anger Gundu, told Obasanjo that, “blood is flowing in Benue State” following the killings of the people allegedly by Fulani herdsmen.
He said people were being maimed in their sleep and on their ancestral land, calling on Obasanjo and other influential Nigerians to rise to the occasion to stem the tide of killings.
While alleging skewed security architecture, Gundu said “Nigeria seems to be losing the battle against insecurity.”
He, however, demanded full compensation for the victims of killings and destruction in Tivland, proscription of armed Fulani groups, while “land grabbing must stop and all occupied lands must be vacated.”
Gundu also called for intensified advocacy against nomadic pastoralism and convocation of a “All Nationalities Summit” where issues would be discussed with a view to finding lasting solutions.
“There are different shades of instability in the country. Nigeria is truly bleeding to death. There’s even a population fault-line which could lead to the ‘Lebanon Trap’
“All Patriots must stand together; but if others have to be enslaved before the country can survive, we will prefer, as Tiv people, to take our destiny in our hands,” he added.