By Adeolu Ashaye
Now that the world’s eyes are firmly fixed on Nigeria, in the week of the country’s Presidential elections, some who should know better have chosen to fudge the important issues.
In an opinion piece (Nigeria on the brink) for the right wing Washington Times, a pro-Jonathan newspaper, a one-time Mitt Romney aide, Richard Grenell, regurgitated some outdated and unfounded comments about the leading opposition candidate in the Nigerian elections, Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Grenell, Mr. Buhari said. “God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.” Agitation? Is this an indication that Mr. Buhari supports violence because the end goal of the terrorist attacks throughout Nigeria and Africa is an Islamic state? It is a legitimate question that should be asked by leaders of the Obama administration.
What a truckload of nonsense!
In public and private interventions on religion and politics in Nigeria since 1998, Buhari has repeatedly shown a commitment to pluralism, tolerance and respect for the constitution and laws of Nigeria.
These are some of Buhari’s words on this issue, quoted verbatim:
In Sokoto, June 2001 – “I explained that Sharia, however, has been with us well before the British colonized Nigeria. Now, Sharia has been introduced in many Northern states and Sokoto is one of the states that has already adopted Sharia. It must be pointed out however that Sharia is applicable only to Muslims … Midway through our democracy, we have time now to assess the situation on ground in terms of making our choice in the next elections. Vote for good men whether they are in Borno, Katsina, Sokoto or wherever. Vote for those who will protect your interest.”
In Abuja, February 2015 – “The Sharia identified in the constitution is almost synonymous with customary law. It is only applicable in matters of personal status such as marriage, divorce and inheritance. This has been the case since the 1979 constitution. Just as no one can make any customary or any other religious law, the law of Nigeria, so Sharia cannot therefore be the law of Nigeria,” he said
The former head of state who tried to dispel people’s notion regarding his alleged religious bias, insisted that he had never supported extremism of any kind, adding that nowhere in my record of service to this nation has this false toga taken place.
He said though he has been a devout Muslim, he has never belonged to, nor shared the views of any extremist group.
According to Buhari, the role of government is to protect lives and property of citizens and to respect and protect their constitutional rights.
“One critical freedom that every government must strive to protect is the liberty for citizens to exercise their respective faiths, Christians and Muslims or others, in a lawful manner without fear or hindrance and to prosecute those who use religion as an excuse to destroy homes, schools and places of worship”
Not content with his misrepresentation, Grenell went further by delving into the realms of outright falsehoods, all in his warped bid to give Buhari a bad name. Hear him:
Mr. Buhari has also spoken sympathetically about members of the terrorist group Boko Haram, has cautioned against a rush to judgement on its members and has personally been selected by the terrorist group to lead its negotiations with the Government of Nigeria.
For the record, Gen. Buhari has never been sympathetic towards Boko Haram or any other terrorist group for that matter. The so called mediation with Boko Haram has turned out to be nothing more than a hoax by elements of the Jonathan government, on at least 3 different occasions in as many years.
During his brief spell as Head of State in the 1980s, Buhari successfully led an offensive to wipe out the last vestiges of the homicidal Islamist terrorist group known as Maitatsine. In February 1984, just two months after he became Head of State, General Buhari led from the front when he flew into Yola, in the Northeast to oversee the successful military operations to flush out the terrorists.
Rather than handle Boko Haram with kids gloves (prior to the recent pushback), like Goodluck Jonathan has done since Yar’Adua dealt with them in 2009, Buhari was lucky to escape with his life following a deadly assassination attack by people suspected to be Boko Haram operatives in July 2014. On the same day and in the same city, Kaduna, a prominent Islamic Cleric, Dahiru Bauchi was also targeted. Both Buhari and Bauchi had spoken against Boko Haram in the weeks before the attack.
Buhari however suspected a government cover-up:
“When I was bombed, what was the reaction of Boko Haram? Did Boko Haram ever put out a statement? It was the government that quickly said that they were not responsible and that was the last we heard about it. Even if it was an unknown Nigerian, I think a proper investigation would have been carried out to find out what happened. How did they get the sophisticated weapon to bomb your headquarters in Abuja and the United Nations building? How did they get to such a sophisticated level of detonating an explosive device just adjacent to my vehicle and see how it pierced the body of the bullet proof vehicle…Nobody ever bothered to brief me on the outcome of any investigation on the incident.”
If Grenell was unaware of these facts before he penned his piece, it speaks to the ignorance that characterised his largely uniformed comment piece.
If as a Republican hired hack and lobbyist, Grenell has an axe to grind with the Obama administration’s foreign policy, he has chosen the wrong example to make his unfounded point.
Mr. Grenell will better serve his audience, by basing any Nigeria relevant analysis on accurate information, rather than the patchwork of out of tune talking points which he appears to have been fed by those who commissioned his hatchet job.
Without mincing words, Gen. Buhari’s strong leadership on security issues remain the best bet for Nigerians and her friends from DC to Douala, from New York to Niamey.
In closing, a few weeks ago in London, Buhari gave a seminal and well received foreign policy speech at Chatham House. I urge Richard Grenell and his friends to get acquainted with these words again:
“Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunitions to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas. We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism.”
This is the only guarantee for Nigeria and the world to ensure that the most populous country in Africa does not slip away.
Adeolu Ashaye is a Nigerian citizen with more than a passing interest in Nigerian history, politics and international affairs. He resides in Aberdeen, Scotland and tweets as @naijahistory.
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