The only way to move Nigeria forward is by first addressing its security challenges through dialogue, the Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance said on Sunday.
The group comprising some notable leaders of thought urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the 36 states governors to immediately kickstart a dialogue process to address the rising insecurity in the country, adding that Nigeria is “rapidly approaching a tipping point”.
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The group said in a position paper on Sunday that Nigerians were contending with double sufferings of rising insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who signed the paper include Cardinal John Onaiyekan, General Martin Luther Agwai (Rtd), Professor Attahiru Jega, Ambassador Fatima Balla, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Mrs. Aisha Mohammed-Oyebode, Dr. Nguyan Shaku Feese, Dr. Usman Bugaje and Dr. Chris Kwaja.
They said in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, security concerns were still of the greatest importance to many Nigerians.
But the Presidency said on Sunday that there are laid down procedures in the Nigerian Constitution that could be followed to address contending issues.
Why we’re talking now
Daily Trust reports that the concern of the Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance re-echoed the position of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend.
Obasanjo had, in a paper presentation titled ‘Moving Nigeria away from tipping over’, said the country was drifting into a “failed and divided” state under the present administration.
But the presidency and the likes of Chief Audu Ogbe, who is the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), scolded Obasanjo.
The group said that following a series of consultations with a diverse group of stakeholders and policymakers between May and July, this was the time to offer its key observations and recommendations on how the Nigerian government could strengthen its efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic by addressing the rising insecurity across the country.
“Time for action”
The dialogue process, the members said, must be initiated immediately at the state and national levels to combat multiple acts of violence from intercommunal and ethnoreligious conflicts if the government is to succeed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
According to them, “A government strategy to address the coronavirus pandemic without sustainable strategies to also confront rising insecurity and violence poses a significant threat to the democratic development of our country, and could potentially undermine the government’s efforts to address the spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria now, and in the future.
The group quoted a recent USIP-commissioned survey in Nigeria, which found new linkages between COVID-19, instability, and conflict.
In particular, the survey found that victims of recent violence are less likely to trust the government’s coronavirus response measures compared to those who have not experienced violence, it said.
The group observed that increasing insecurity across the country raised questions about the ability of the country’s security architecture to manage the multiple security challenges at the state and local levels.
It said, “Kidnapping for ransom is an acute concern across Nigeria. The North East is witnessing a resurgence in Boko Haram activity, and thousands of people are internally displaced by banditry across rural communities in the North West.
“Criminality in rural areas further complicates the situation by undermining food security, as many farmers have been unable to go to their farms for months for fear of losing their lives.
“The government has been incapable of assuring Nigerians that it cares about our predicament. Numerous conspiracy theories about the causes of the violence continue to circulate, without any reassuring counter-narratives coming from the government,” it said.
The group said although citizens also have a role to play in responding to the rising insecurity, many had lost faith in public officials and security agencies.
According to the group, several communities have resorted to taking up arms to protect their lives and property from marauding criminals, while security agencies look on overwhelmed.
“Meanwhile, these same security agencies appear more focused on disarming the communities while the criminals are left with their weapons.
Our country is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Enough is enough. The time for action is now,” it added.
Pathway to peace
The group recommended some initiatives toward finding a pathway to peace.
It advised the federal and state governments to initiate a dialogue process immediately at the state and national levels to address insecurity and growing mistrust between citizens.
The trust deficit between citizens and the governments, it said, must be narrowed if Nigeria is to survive “this season of violence.”
“The dialogue process must be collective, inclusive, genuine, and results-oriented in order to start rebuilding the trust necessary to restore peace,” it said.
They said the National Council of State can initiate the dialogue process at the national level while the Nigeria Governor’s Forum should anchor same at the grassroots.
According to the group, the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) should serve as an entry point in finding a pathway to peace.
NLTP is a federal government initiative launched in 2018 in collaboration with the state governments to develop the livestock sector, and stem violent conflicts between farmers and herders –
It noted that criminality and violent confrontations between farming and herding communities have claimed thousands of lives and deepened ethnic, religious, and regional polarisation and yet few perpetrators have been prosecuted.
It urged the state governors, who are the chief security officers in their states, to take the lead in ensuring that perpetrators of violent crimes in their states are held accountable.
“The federal government should order the reinvestigation of all recent major incidents of farmer-herder violence, and working closely with the state governments, should also fast-track the judicial processes of individuals or organisations found to have participated, sponsored, or been complicit in the violence.
“The lack of prosecution of the perpetrators of these violent crimes continue to erode trust between citizens and government,” it said.
Replace service chiefs
A dialogue process, the group said, cannot achieve desired result if the security situation in the country does not begin to improve.
“There is a growing public consensus that the current leadership of our security agencies has failed woefully, and that our Commander-in-Chief has so far refused to act.
“This cannot continue. Mr. President, you must show more concern and do what is necessary to improve the effectiveness of our security agencies, even if it means replacing the current leadership of our security agencies.”
Discuss police reform
The recent government announcement about the take-off of the new community policing initiative is commendable, however, many similar previous government initiatives in the past have produced few tangible results, the group noted.
“The government should use these new discussions about community policing to demonstrate a sincere commitment towards building an inclusive policing framework that will begin to restore citizens’ trust in the police.
“This framework should consider the perspectives of the different ethnic and religious groups that exist in each community.
“To reflect the particular circumstances of each community, states, and local governments should be at the forefront of designing and implementing community policing initiatives if they are to succeed.
“It is not enough to recruit police officers from the community; such officers need to be trained and re-orientated towards building community partnerships and promoting durable peace in the conduct of their duties,” it added.
“Constitution remains the guide”
When contacted to comment on the proposal by the group, presidential spokesman Malam Garba Shehu said he did not see the statement by the group to make an informed comment.
“I am not commenting on the various issues you mentioned because I did not see the comment they made,” he said.
“However, anybody who is a democrat would always look at the provisions of the constitution. We have the National Assembly, which is planning for the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution and we know it will provide ample opportunity for Nigerians to make inputs,” he said.