Rising from a meeting under the auspices of North East Governors Forum last Saturday in Maiduguri, the governors of the six northeastern states released a statement in which they decried a spike in criminal activities in their states due to the increasing infiltration of bandits, particularly in Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba states. In the statement, the governors acknowledged “the relative success recorded against insurgency”, but warned that “a new dimension of growing banditry is added to worsen the security situation in the subregion”.
They identified illegal mining and especially the conniving activities of traditional rulers and others as the major causes of this new dimension of insecurity in the six states. “The forum is aware that some traditional rulers and other local authorities are conniving with the bandits, giving them shelter and cover to commit crimes within the subregion”, they said in the statement.
“The forum calls on the federal government to urgently intervene to address the issue”, the statement demanded.
Daily Trust agree with the Forum that an influx of bandits and their reign of terror in the northeast would be catastrophic, not just for the northern region alone but the country as a whole. We support the Governors’ call for the federal government to intervene urgently to prevent the very dangerous possibility of a functional nexus between insurgents and bandits in the northeast.
Beyond that, however, the governors must realize that the northeast is now as stable as it can get in the circumstances, or at least just as stable as most other parts of the country. It has been a long, difficult and tortuous journey through the past decade and a half for the subregion. But it is no exaggeration to describe the northeast subregion as one of relative peace and stability today, thanks particularly to the efforts of Buhari administration in this regard.
We, therefore, task the governors to reconceptualize the very definition of ‘security’ for the subregion, for them to see development as security, and their roles in attaining it. What the North East Nigeria needs now is not more military boots on the ground, nor more guns firing at both ends. What it needs urgently is development to the rescue.
Even before the Boko Haram insurgency, the northeast was the most underdeveloped zone in Nigeria in almost all indicators. In a paper titled “The Economic Cost of Conflict in North East Nigeria”, and released last month by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the researchers calculated that cumulatively, Nigeria lost between 90 and 113 billion dollars to the conflict. They also estimated that Nigeria’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) was US$12.6bn to US$15.4bn lower, or 2.5% smaller overall, compared to what it would have been in the absence of conflict.
With over 2.6m people internally displaced in the northeast region, it takes no rocket science to predict that most of these economic losses would have impact the zone than anywhere else in the country. Indeed, thousands of young men from the northeast have fled the zone to other Nigerian cities, and are to be found as far afield as in Lagos, mostly engaged as commercial motor cycle or tricycle riders. This barely remarked, let alone studied process of internal migration would have present and future consequences for the zone, since young people are the bedrock of development everywhere.
This is why we commend the very idea of the North East Governors Forum itself, should the motive be to foster a sense of purpose and shared responsibility for dealing with similar challenges among the governors, but also a spirit of oneness and collaboration between them and their peoples. The governors will do well to remember that historically in Nigeria, development had often taken a regional or subregional mode, such as during the First Republic when Nigeria’s three—and later four—regions sought to outdo each other in economic development while at the same time learning important positive lessons in public management from one another.
The developmental success of the northeast could become a model for other parts of the country to emulate. To this end, the first task ahead of the governors would be to agree a number of mutual development agendas, such as independent power station and railway network across the northeast, which the governors muted. To these, we add agriculture and Agric-based industry, road and water transport, health, education and climate change mitigation.
Second, the governors must establish a corresponding bureaucratic and funding framework for translating idea and strategy into real action. Governors’ fora in Nigeria are frankly no more than surrogate political talk shows, with no mutual agendas or mechanism for actualizing them. The NEGF must not toe this sad path. It must be for development, not politics. Next, the NEGF must marshal both local and federal resources, for example, by working with the North East Development Commission (NEDC), all relevant federal agencies in the zone, as well as donor partners to ensure strict actually of set goals.
It is, above all, fit and proper that the North East Governors Forum meeting was declared open by Vice President Kashim Shettima, himself a former Governor of Borno State, a former Senator of the Republic, and currently the highest-ranking federal government official from northern Nigeria. Shettima is therefore, we think, strategically positioned as a leader, partner and a resource to the northeast governors—as he is to the rest of the North—in this onerous task of seeing development as security for their zone, and making it happen.