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Cote d'Ivoire: Open Letter To President Goodluck Jonathan

December 22, 2010

Dear Mr President, Compliments of the great season of spiritual salvation! In the next 72 intervening hours we shall be celebrating the glorious birthday of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As we mark yet another Yuletide we must remember the reason for the season. Since God has not given us the spirit of fear but of love, of sound mind and of power I wish you love, sound mind and (more) spiritual power as you pilot the Nigerian troubled ship of state. Merry Xmas Mr President!

Dear Mr President, Compliments of the great season of spiritual salvation! In the next 72 intervening hours we shall be celebrating the glorious birthday of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As we mark yet another Yuletide we must remember the reason for the season. Since God has not given us the spirit of fear but of love, of sound mind and of power I wish you love, sound mind and (more) spiritual power as you pilot the Nigerian troubled ship of state. Merry Xmas Mr President!

As one of your compatriots sojourning abroad it gives me some measure of apprehension to drop these few lines against the background of the grave political crisis in the Ivory Coast. I guess it is not out of place to intimate you that I had to put off the treatise I was working on this week to concentrate on this missive which seeks to alert you on the recent development as it concerns our compatriots based in Ivory Coast. As a social critic that frequents Abidjan (having been based there for almost a decade) I felt duty-bound to send this open letter across believing that, as a friend of Facebook and the Internet, you would give consideration to it dispassionately.

Just last Tuesday, Mr President, some of my Ivorian friends in the security forces and the academia were sending me emails, text messages (and some even called me on phone) asking what the problem was with our President. Some of them warned that in the event of any military involvement by Nigeria in their "internal affairs" Nigerians there will be subjected to an organized "massacre"! Dumb-founded I tried to re-assure them that our dear President cannot act alone but in unison with ECOWAS and the AU but they quoted a pro-Gbagbo newspaper which published a headline story same day captioned: "Sarkozy Wants To Attack Ivory Coast With The Nigerian Army". Whether the report was true or false one does not know but it was scary enough. In a nation that is proud of its 'Ivoirite' any foreign intervention is always seen as an affront on their nationalistic values and national heritage.

The Ivorian politico-military conflict dated back to 2002 when rebels took up arms to overthrow the democratically-elected President Mr Laurent Gbagbo. Though they failed in their bid they succeeded in taking the northern part of the country therefore dividing the country effectively into two parts. Ever since then diplomatic and concerted efforts by the international community had been made towards reconciliation and peace. The most effective in the peace efforts was the initiative by the incumbent President to engage the 'rebels' led by the young firebrand Guillaume Soro, now the appointed Prime Minister of the opposing 'government' led by the former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

Mr President, you would agree with me that the Ivorian problem is rooted in identity and nationality complications arising from the huge foreign presence in the country. It is a politico-social tragedy without majesty! When the late President Félix Houphouet-Boigny  was handed over the destiny of the country in August 1960 by the French colonial masters the independence hero believed so much in the African brotherhood that he started inviting foreigners especially from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea to come and work in the cocoa and coffee plantations in the hinterland.

Today that fraternal policy has become a major source of discord in a nation that boasts of over 30 percent foreigners living and working there. Many of these foreigners were married to either Ivorian women or women from their originating countries. Most of their children born in the country never got to know their country of origin because they attended school there and were brought up wholly in Ivorian fashion! I had met with some Nigerians (particularly Yorubas called 'Anango') who were born and bred there speaking only Yoruba and French languages. Some told me they never visited Nigeria ever since they were born!

Mr President, perhaps you are not in the know that the incumbent President swore even before the presidential poll (during campaign) that he could never live to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara as President -- considered here by many natural Ivorians as a 'foreigner' from Burkina Faso. The former history lecturer and veteran opposition leader has since brought in radicals and hardliners into his 'new' government daring the international community as he digs in. Each day positions are being radicalised and hardened the more from both sides with war drums being beaten on state TV, radio and newspapers.

I have tactically refrained from commenting on the Ivorian political crisis for security reasons. But I will surely do so when the crisis is resolved one way or the other. Not for fear of anything but to observe fully how the imbroglio will be settled before hitting the keyboard. For now it is too early to take any side given the fact that while Ouattara is popular abroad Gbagbo remains a local hero. And the forces of coercion are largely in his control and command. While Gbagbo in the eye of the Ivorian constitution and the law remains the legitimate President Ouattara has been 'legitimised' by the international community led by the UN.

Mr President, in the interest of thousands of Nigerian souls residing and working or doing business in Ivory Coast, you must refrain from dabbling militarily into the complex Ivorian political crisis. If you go ahead in deference to the French President (as alleged) and send in soldiers to Abidjan then whatever backlash that results from such high-risk venture must wholly be borne by you and you alone. In other words the blood of those Nigerians (who will surely lose their lives in reprisal attacks) must be on your head! As a good Christian, a God-fearing leader, I am convinced and persuaded to believe that you would not wish for such outcome.

The Commander-in-chief, it is important I remind you about the ECOMOG misadventure in Liberia during the civil war there many years ago. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was in power and with the support of other West African countries he spear-headed the establishment of the regional military force with Nigeria as its head. The soldiers headed to Monrovia to contain the Charles Taylor-led NPFL military offensive against the late Samuel Doe-led government. While there many Nigerians were killed in retaliation by the Taylor rebels including two distinguished journalists Kris Imodibe and Tayo Awotusin. ECOMOG did not stop Taylor neither were they able to bring about peace. And when Taylor was forced to abdicate power by the Americans he was exiled in Nigeria (Calabar). We 'rewarded' him after killing our compatriots!

Again Mr President, let me refresh your memories. Many years ago an Ivorian football club based in Abidjan, ASEC Mimosas played a match against the Ghanaian club Asante Kotoko who were the visiting side. On the return leg encounter some unruly Ghanaian supporters beat up the Ivorian team and smashed their bus after losing the match. As the news filtered into town many Ghanaians found mostly in Treichville were attacked. Shops were raided, men were molested and killed and women were raped. The then President Jerry Rawlings was forced to send some buses across the border to evacuate many Ghanaians whose lives were threatened.

President Jonathan, with all due respect, you must employ diplomacy instead of bellicose approach that may have serious consequencies for Nigerians based there in large numbers. While democracy forces should be helped in the Ivory Coast to overcome the electoral logjam this can be done without issuing menacing statements and giving something that amounts to 'order' to the incumbent President who has almost succeeded in executing a constitutional coup d'etat against the internationally-recognised winner of the November 28 presidential poll.

If President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso whose compatriots in the Ivory Coast are estimated to be more than 3 million has not reacted angrily to the Gbagbo electoral manipulation I wonder why you are championing the crusade for the removal of Gbagbo! Please do not allow any leader to deceive you, big brother Ebele, into embarking on a military (mis)adventure we shall all live to regret. Ivory Coast is a perculiar nation and it must be seen as such.

Mr President, your Ambassador to the country with two Presidents and two governments must have told you in confidence that there are few Nigerians in the north of the country controlled by the Soro rebels. Most Nigerians are found in Abidjan, San Pedro, Yamoussoukro and other coastal cities in the south like Adiake, Abengourou and Bassam. In Abidjan you can find Nigerians in almost every areas like Treichville, Abobo, Riveria, Remblais, Koumassi, Marcory, Adjame, Deux Plateaux and Port Bouet.

The 'real' Ivorians know who their brothers and sister are. And it takes just minutes of mobilisation for jobless youths to set ablaze a resident quarter of any foreigner who tries to mess around with their 'patrie' (land). So care must be taken in order not to expose the lives of Nigerians there living in harmony with their hosts. Ivory Coast is, of course, a blessed rich land where economic opportunities abound. Many Nigerians prefer staying there, even against the prevailing tensed situation, given the infrastructural deficiency back home.

As I was writing this piece the 'Vanguard' newspaper in Lagos reported this morning in its headline that the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan was attacked last night leading to the Nigerian government according to your Foreign Affairs Minister evacuating all of the embassy staff there with plans to evacuate other Nigerians!

Mr President, if France or America or the UN want to remove President Gbagbo from power they have the military means to do so without involving Nigeria with many economic problems to deal with back home. Though as the Chair of ECOWAS you are trying to project a democratic image beffitting of your status but in this case democracy in another man's country must not be considered more important than the lives of Nigerians resident yonder. They do not need the Nigerian military help to do 'a clinical' job of neutralising the Gbagbo forces who are reported to be abducting opposition people from their homes at wee hours of the night during curfew, torturing some and killing others!

It is instructive to note that presently on the ground in Abidjan France, the colonial power, has about a thousand soldiers baptised "Licorne" and the UN about ten thousand-strong army drawn from many countries. So with these forces the adamant "illegitimate" Ivorian leader ought to be dealt with militarily if need be. Ivory Coast is a very important country for many reasons. The foreigner population there (including hard-working Nigerians especially Igbos and Yorubas) is so significant that any implosion or political explosion resulting in an all-out war will affect many countries whose citizens could be caught up in the cross-fire or simply 'liquidated' for supporting one side to the detriment of the other.

The political exigencies of the present, Your Excellency, call for more constructive engagement and vibrant diplomatic offensive. Like a bull in a China shop President Laurent Koudou Gbagbo appears ready and set to destroy whatever is found in the shop in the event of any military push. So to take out the bull a lot of strategising and planning are required to limit any unforeseen gory circumstances.

I rest my case and pray for a swift resolution of the impasse. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Long live democracy around the world!!

SOC Okenwa  
[email protected]

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