Since the year 2006, Nasarawa State has been in the eye of the storm as a result of the violence that erupted in the otherwise peaceful state.
As the violence persisted, it mutated from communal clashes to conflicts between herdsmen and farmers over the years, heightening fears and intensifying tensions in the state.
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This negatively affected the socio-economic growth of the state in so many ways, making it unable to tap into the great opportunities that abound from its closeness to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The proximity to the Federal Capital would have shot Nasarawa as one of Nigeria’s most economically viable states if harnessed.
But even with the enormous benefits that would have accrued to Nasarawa by way of commerce, industries and taxes, the state is still listed among the poorest states in Nigeria.
Not only that, Nasarawa State which is one of the states considered to be the food baskets of Nigeria due to the rich arable lands and agrarian population, has not lived up to the name as its agricultural potential has remained largely unharnessed and the harvest very low and the bulk of these are lost as there is very little processing done to add value.
This creates an avenue for middlemen to cart away the bulk of what is produced to other states in raw forms and in the process create jobs and profits elsewhere while leaving the hard-working farmers, their families and millions of youths that would have benefited in the processing in Nasarawa in penury.
Given this scenario, the government of the state has been left to depend on allocations from the Federal Government.
As if that is not enough to undermine the great potentials of the state, much of the resources accruing to the state are also being deployed to tackle issues of insecurity and as ways of responding to the cases of violence usually in the form of support to the police and other security agencies or through direct mediation, negotiation or alternative conflict resolution methods, which have eaten deep into the resources of the state.
While the state is groaning under this weight, it is also confronted with the fact that contemporary conflict management approaches easily adopted by local and International NGOs have not reduced the violence.
With the inadequacy of formal security architecture, the government has encouraged non-state security outfits to complement the efforts of the security agencies while in the rural areas, outfits like neighbourhood watches and hunter groups are allowed. These also have been of little effect.
And such outfits worsen the situation as they soon begin to abuse their purpose by unduly harassing people and turning into human rights abusers or even collude with criminals to rob the people.
All these have made the calls for a new security architecture in Nasarawa State louder and persistent.
To reap the benefits of these resources and geographic advantage, Nasarawa State leadership has to increase its effort to create a secure and tension-free environment that will assure investors of their safety and security.
Fortunately, the political leadership in Nasarawa State led by Engr Abdullahi Sule, has shown great promise in taking the proactive steps needed to ensure that the security of life and property is maintained so that the state can develop to its full potential.
Some of the measures the state government has taken to ensure peace and security include the signing of kidnapping act prohibition law, community volunteer guards, recruitment of 504 special constabulary force to enhance community participation in the security architecture of the State; the establishment of the Nasarawa State youth empowerment scheme to complement the role of security agencies and Community Policing to support communities to respond to the rapid increase in violence and crime.
From the various interactions with Non-Governmental Organizations interested in peacebuilding, the Nasarawa State Government, Traditional councils and other stakeholders have shown that they are open to initiatives that will ensure peace in the state as well as measures to sustain it.
Stakeholders like the traditional rulers, religious organizations, the business communities and others have also been of immense support in achieving and sustaining peace in the state.
The Nasarawa State Governor and the Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Sidi Bage, also deserve commendation for their support and fatherly roles for the attainment of peace.
The synergy between the different security actors and inclusive nature of the state leadership from the State government, security agencies, traditional councils and the people gives hope that a new security architecture can be developed to secure life and property in the state.
From all indications, the 1976 Local Government Reforms which led to the withdrawal of the powers of traditional rulers and handing them over to the local government councils can be held responsible for destroying the security system at the local levels.
Unfortunately, the local government councils have not been allowed to function in ways that provide good governance to communities and effectively control crime and conflict.
Now that crime and conflicts have increased in scale and sophistication, I strongly believe that the key elements of the pre-1976 system can be brought back and new elements introduced.
One of the new elements that need to be introduced is a change in the logic of security where security forces have exclusive roles to prevent or contain conflict and crime while communities remain passive to such responsibilities.
For the new architecture to work, it must accord prime consideration to communities.
Communities must create structures and mechanisms to control crime and insecurity. These structures and mechanisms must be funded and managed and answerable to the communities.
These community managers will no more be exclusively made up of traditional rulers but will include emergent stakeholders like women, youth, market, transport and community development associations.
Another thing is that rather than have the present ‘vigilantes’ groups which are mere volunteers or community police that are under the police, the new architecture should envisage an independent community force accountable to the community which only goes to the central security agencies for reinforcements and backups.
Mr Chom Bagu, a civil rights activist contributed this piece from Abuja.