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The North West Peace and Security Summit

This week, the governors of the North West Zone organised their inaugural peace and security summit in Katsina in collaboration with the United Nations. The…

This week, the governors of the North West Zone organised their inaugural peace and security summit in Katsina in collaboration with the United Nations. The spirit of the summit was clear; we now know that the state-by-state approach to combating insecurity does not work because when the perpetrators of violence are confronted in one state, they simply follow their forest routes to another state while waiting for the security forces deployed to end their mission and return to their base. There is therefore an urgent need for a region wide action plan with timelines that could be coordinated and implemented throughout the entire zone and that was the commitment the governors took at the end of the Summit. They also undertook to immediately establish a secretariat that would provide coordination for the joint effort.

While declaring the summit open, Vice President Kashim Shettima lamented the toll of the escalation of violence in Northern Nigeria not just on lives, livelihoods and property, but also on the social fabric that holds society together. Looking straight into the eyes of former President Muhammadu Buhari, he wondered how this Hausa man born of Kanuri and Fulani parents, could sustain the cohesion of the numerous sources of origin in a society at war with itself. Still on the theme of social cohesion, the vice president called on the Sokoto State government to realise that the value of the Sultan of Sokoto and the role he plays in peace building and value orientation goes far beyond Sokoto State and that they should provide leadership in preserving and protecting him for the good of the entire nation.

The governors and representatives of the United Nations all emphasised the abundant population, land and natural resources available in the North with its promising investment opportunities in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, mining, and energy sectors. However, the North West region of Nigeria is intertwined in an intricate web of conflict, fragility, corruption and development challenges, hindering its potential to progress. Key among these challenges are persistent armed banditry, terrorism, violent farmer-herder conflicts, widespread arms proliferation, and governance deficiencies, all of which have severely hindered progress. Poverty and welfare disparities compound the region’s challenges, with five of Nigeria’s poorest states located there and projections suggesting severe food insecurity in four out of seven states this year. Climate change exacerbates these issues, causing water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and disproportionately affecting rural communities. Additionally, alarmingly low literacy rates (29.7%) and a high number of out-of-school children among the youth population leave them vulnerable to exploitation and recruitment into illicit activities, including armed groups. Energy poverty further exacerbates disparities, with inadequate grid connectivity compared to other parts of the country, except for the north.

It is in response to these pressing challenges that the North West Governors Forum decided to convene the Peace and Security Summit in Katsina State. The chairman of the forum and Katsina State Governor Radda explained that their work is based on three pillars. First, address the growing insecurity in the zone that is making survival a challenge for a significant segment of the population. Secondly, revive and boost agriculture which is a sector that is more than capable of providing employment as well as food for the people. Thirdly, develop the abundant natural resources available in the region and use it as a base for industrial development.

Dr Aisha Armiya’u, a consultant psychiatrist, created a sombre mood when she warned the summit that there are too many glib discussions about resolving the problems of violence without truly understanding the depth of the crisis. A combination of a series of traumas and substance abuse in our society has created a wide gulf between the people to the extent that we cannot continue to say we have the same values or that we understand ourselves. The mental health challenge in the zone is so severe that the provision of mass psycho-social support must be at the base of any serious attempt to start mending the community and returning to normalcy.

The Zamfara State governor, Dauda Lawal, asked for more sincerity in addressing the crisis of violent banditry in the zone. It cannot be, he said clearly, that the Nigerian State lacks the capacity in security forces, equipment and other resources to crush the criminal gangs creating havoc in the zone. What is lacking, he explained, is the political will to do the needful. The moment has come, he concluded, to find that political will to restore peace and development. Talking along the same vein, Brigadier General Saleh Bala (rtd) recalled that the most dangerous road in the country is the Abuja-Kaduna Highway. When Abuja airport was closed and the elite had to travel by road to Kaduna to get flights, they provided the resources and leadership to make the road safe for the entire period. When Abuja airport was reopened, the bandits were allowed back on the road.

Finally, I conclude with the warning from the sociologist, Prof. Tukur Baba, who described the social chain around armed banditry as the business grows. More and more people from the community are being sucked into the value chain, he explains. From traders who supply food to fuel marketers that provide petrol for their motorcycles and mechanics who service them to rogue traditional rulers who provide political cover for them, the cycle is expanding and more people are benefitting from the vast amounts of money generated. We must break the chain now or sink into the abyss as our society decomposes. Clearly, both state and society must work together to address the current security landscape within the region, fostering collaborative strategies to achieve enduring peace and security. In so doing, we must address the root causes of conflict and fragility, emphasising the intricate interplay between conflict dynamics, poor governance and developmental challenges shaping the regional context. I do hope there will be a follow-up to the issues addressed at the summit.

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