In his Eid-el-Fitr goodwill message to Nigerians, President Buhari “Implored the citizenry to pray against kidnapping and banditry and the desperate quest for political power expressed through blackmail against the existence of Nigeria as a united entity.” He added that we must resist the temptation to retreat into our communities: “I urge our political and religious leaders as well as traditional rulers to encourage our citizens to turn towards one another in love and compassion.”
We Nigerians spend an enormous amount of our time praying so he does not need to remind us to pray. What is important to note, however, is that President Buhari campaigned, begged us and pleaded that we should vote for him because he had the solution to the three problems confronting us as a Nation – insecurity, corruption and the collapsed economy. We gave him our vote. He cannot now turn around and tell us to pray for solutions to the problems he had said he would solve after six years in office. He should do what he said he would.
Even more worrying is the insinuation that our country’s current problems are orchestrated by blackmailers seeking to take his power by threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence. Everybody else in the country, outside the Presidency, is aware that Nigerians are facing empirically verifiable problems linked to mass insecurity, excessive corruption by government officials and massive poverty, exactly the same problems that President Buhari had promised to solve but failed. His Government’s failures are the main cause fueling the exit option out of Nigeria through various means – secession, the establishment of an Islamic Republic, migration and self-enrichment through armed banditry and so on.
Take the case of communities in Gurmana and Manta districts of Shiroro Local Government of Niger State. They have repeatedly appealed to the government to stop the incessant attacks they have been suffering from armed bandits and terrorists, killing and kidnapping them, while inflicting sexual assaults on their wives and daughters. Both the federal and state governments have been unable to do anything to protect them. In desperation, they had to take the option of negotiating with the bandits, pay huge amounts as ransom, purchase motorcycles for them to get some peace. They paid, and they have peace for now. They did not want to embarrass President Buhari by negotiating with criminal elements. They simply want to live in peace and engage in their livelihoods. The peace they currently have, I believe, is actually a temporary one. The criminals will continue raising their demands until the villagers are unable to pay and the attacks would resume. What the people of Shiroro therefore need is a Nigerian State that is able to provide for their safety and welfare. They deserve nothing less and since their prayers over time have not yet been answered, they hope, and Nigerians in general hope, that the state will rise to its constitutional duties and protect them.
President Buhari also called for unity and solidarity among all citizens, Muslims and Christians, at this time when our country is faced with multiple challenges, which are surmountable only when we come together as one. He added correctly that we share, through our faiths, common bonds that should serve to unite us and not allow ourselves to succumb to those who seek to divide us, using our two great religions, for their own selfish advantages. I share this vision. Nonetheless, the reason why disunity is galloping at this time is that many Nigerians feel very strongly, that they are not being treated equally by their own government, that the federal character principle is not being implemented correctly and that they are suffering from discrimination and marginalisation. Once again, they believe they have a verifiable basis for their discontent and preaching to them for unity will only work if and when they see policy changes that address their concerns.
On Tuesday, the Governors Forum of Southern Nigeria met in Asaba to discuss issues of concern and issued a communique. Rising from the meeting, the Forum: affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity. They added however that: “They have observed the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country, (which) has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives, including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security. Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noting that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot).
The assumption here is that criminal activity is a problem in Northern Nigeria, which is now being “exported” to the South. This narrative replaces the earlier narrative of the 1970s and 1980s that armed banditry is a Southern problem that was being exported to the North. The reality is that criminality is an equal opportunity activity that has attracted young people from all over the country. The idea that open grazing should be stopped immediately all over the South might appear attractive in the present context of increased criminality. The reason is that there is a widespread narrative profiling all pastoralists as bandits and kidnappers. It is wrong to attribute criminal behaviour to all members of a community. In addition, given the activities of militia groups attacking and killing pastoralists and northerners in the south, the stage is being set for a major conflagration that could have serious consequences for national cohesion. It is distressing that these attacks on northerners as well as on security personnel were not even mentioned by the Southern Governors.
The call by the governors for the convening of a national dialogue to address the current crisis is however a wise one. As they argued: “The progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions, which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism.” The president, they added, should address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity and restore the confidence of our people. Once again, we Nigerians are begging our president to talk to us rather than issue a statement through his press office.