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OPC Versus Obasanjo

By Louis Odion, This Day, 20 October 2000

Lagos&It is hard to review all that transpired in Lagos in the last few days without shedding a tear. A bubbling mega-city often acknowledged as a miniature Nigeria lay prostrate in tension and torment for most of the week.

No thanks to the spate of ethnic clashes. What makes it even more painful is the fact that the victims and the aggressors are, directly or indirectly, the same victims of the Nigerian saga, the ordinary folks who, otherwise, should be united by their common misery. The Yoruba man wasted in Ajegunle could hardly be described as the one who looted the national treasury. Neither could the Igbo man whose wares were looted at Alaba last week be described as the one who gave the nation stone for bread. Nor could the Hausa man who met with cruel death under Ijora bridge be described justifiably as the one who misruled this nation. All are victims of the system, one way or another.

Nothing brings this message home more powerfully as the spectacle that unfolded at the Lagos State secretariat, Alausa on Tuesday. Leaders on both sides of the barricade were supposed to sign a truce agreement with Governor Bola Tinubu just like guerilla armies at the end of hostilities. And who were these people? Frederick Faseun, Sidi Ali and Ngozi Ibekwe representing the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo communities respectively. At the end of the occasion, you begin to wonder whether, given the conviviality that pervaded the atmosphere, Faseun could ever be described as a personal enemy of Ibekwe or Ali for that matter. So, where is the reason in all these killings?

These are indeed sorrowing moments that try the nerves of even newshounds like yours sincerely. For, we should be seen as circumspect in what we say or write lest we worsen a situation that is already bad. But we won't be helping ourselves if we fail to tell one another the bitter truth. From reports and what one can see, it is clear that the carnage could have been saved if those on both sides of the barricade had exercised more self-restraint. It is bad if an attempt was really made on the life of Chief Abraham Adesanya, Afenifere leader, by suspected Hausa militants on Monday morning at Apapa as was reported. Even more condemnable is what appears to be the predisposition of members of the Oodua Peoples Congress to take laws into their hands at the slightest provocation.

One is not saying this in a vacuum. In the last few weeks, OPC has got itself entangled in all kinds of controversies. When its members were not pursuing itinerant hawkers of Kerosene (who they hold responsible for the high cost of the petroleum product) on the streets, they were engaged in a bloody battle with oil tanker drivers. Only last week, it was reported that some of its members fought at the American Embassy in Lagos resulting in three deaths including that of a policeman (who could have been a Yoruba man!). Last Sunday came yet another report of violent clashes in Ilorin involving policemen and OPC militants who reportedly stormed the ancient city in sixty buses with the intent of installing a Yoruba as Oba of Ilorin.

The impression all this readily gives is that of a loose canon, a movement without a fixed mission. Which, in turn, goes to strengthen the argument that the organisation has been hijacked by elements who can barely see beyond their noses. Only a small mind, for instance, will say those who are doing legitimate businesses and, by so doing, contributing to the prosperity of Lagos, should leave the city simply because they are not Yoruba. Only small minds reason that way. Again, only small minds would think the best way to protest the reported maltreatment of Nigerians in Tripoli, Libya, is by going to the American Embassy in Lagos to cause trouble. In the first place, United States and Libya are archenemies. One is inclined to reject such reasonings or conduct as being the true reflection of the thinking of the Yoruba race which has produced some of the best brains that this nation has been blessed with.

Whenever Obasanjo comes under attack from other ethnic stakeholders today, OPC will come out fiercely to defend him. This they do so romantically, invoking the spirit of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race. This is no sin at all, after all Obasanjo is one of their own. But what seems unknown to these OPC warriors is that, by every act of lawlessness, the target they are invariably hitting is the same Obasanjo. If they think violence is one of the stuff good governance is made of, it is sad indeed.

Each time there is a report of anarchy in the South-west, the man in Odi, Bayelsa State in the South-south zone surely expects to hear that a battalion of soldiers have been deployed there to restore peace. Already, a precedent has been set. For harbouring bandits, Odi town was pounced on last November by a battalion of troops of the Nigerian Army, leaving tales of sorrow, tears and blood. So, with its increasing nuisance, OPC is today putting Obasanjo in a position of having to explain to the Odi man why these instances of bare- faced outlawry have not been treated with the savage response similar to what happened in Odi last year.

Sure, OPC has its own grievances which have been articulated time and time again. Just as the Ijaw have their own grievances. The Hausa have their own grievances. The Edo have their own grievances. We all have grievances. But what no-one- repeat, no-one - has is the monopoly of violence.

When it is reported that OPC forms a vigilante group to rid the neighbourhood of robbers, people all Nigerians irrespective of tribe always cheer. For that way, they further the social idea. But everything is wrong in a situation whereby OPC gives the impression that it is now a state within a state.

Perhaps, it is appropriate to end with a famous Yoruba parable of The Lice and the Dog. In its unthinking anger, lice is always in a hurry to suck the blood of dog, its own host. Quitely, the dog bears this cross. But loss of too much blood means one thing to the dog: death. And who does not know that the lice is headed for perdition as soon as the dog drops dead. So, OPC should RONU.