Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Friday said in the early days of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, he was told by the founders of the terrorist group that poverty and unemployment drove them into the crime.
He however warned that the country’s over 20 million out-of-school children were a breeding ground for more ‘Boko Haram members of the future’ if not urgently tackled.
He stated these at the launch of a book titled, ‘Pillars of Statecraft: Nation-building in a changing world’ authored by his daughter, Dr. Kofo Obasanjo-Blackshire, at an event in Lagos.
Responding to a question by a member of the audience on why government policies had become more political than people-centered in recent times, he said part of the country’s major problems was looking for scapegoats for its problems.
He stated further, “During the early days of Boko Haram, when the man who started the movement was said to have been killed, I said I wanted to meet with the members of the group to talk to them and know what they wanted.
“I met with their representatives and found out that they needed nothing but a better life for themselves. Can we blame them for wanting a better life for themselves?
“They said they believed in Sharia Law. I told them that Sharia was not a problem in Nigeria. It is part of our constitution.”
According to the former president, some of the members of the insurgent group told him that they went to school but had no jobs.
He added, “Do we blame them if, after four years, they have no jobs? Are they not entitled to a livelihood? This boils down to one of the P’s of nation-building – politics – which talks about governance and leadership.
“If that (leadership) is not properly taken care of, every other thing will go haywire,” he said.
He also added that Nigerians must learn to face their own problems squarely rather than blaming others for it.
He said, “We must ask, ‘What do we do with our people? How do we raise and value them? How do we value them?’
“We have over 20 million out-of-school children. Google how many countries in the world have less than 20m. That doesn’t worry us. Are you thinking there will be no Boko Haram tomorrow?
“Those are the foundations of your Boko Haram tomorrow. That should be our concern. We should not say it is externally induced. Is poverty also externally induced? Poverty is the conscious, unconscious choice of our leaders. If we say no; it would be no. If we say yes; it would be yes.”
During the panel session, which Obasanjo was a part of, the elder statesman highlighted what he termed ‘The Five P’s of Nation-Building”, which, according to him, are population, prosperity, protection, politics, and partnerships.
Addressing the sixth P – prayer and pleasing God – which was introduced by Kofo, and to whether Nigeria fell into a failed, failing, or weak state, he said, “I take the condition of our states now as work-in-progress. We cannot do anything until we have finished the work of statehood.
Speaking of an episode he had with a former World Bank President when he was Nigeria’s Military Head of State, Obasanjo said the West knew Nigeria’s weaknesses and that when leaders show them the weakness, they exploit it.
He added, “There is a level of fragility in every state. No state is perfect, even America. I used to joke with my American friends that God gave them Trump to show that they are humans as well, and we are, more or less, the same.”
He added that for Nigeria’s democracy to work, the country must learn to manage its diversity, adding that all other forms of government – autocracy, plutocracy, gerontocracy, etcetera – do not really work for a long time.
Kofo, in her remark, noted that she had embarked on the course based on the advice of her father during a trip in 2017 after expressing a desire to serve others.
She stated, “As a young adult, I was incensed at the injustice and persistent corruption I observed in Nigeria. The disparity between the nation’s resources and the living standards of the average Nigerian brought me to my feet in outrage and frustration during conversations,” she said.