Lest We Forget the Human Cost

01 May 2013

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The Horizon,  By Kayode Komolafe, Email:

Amidst the controversy over the possibility of granting amnesty to Boko Haram insurgents the human cost of the unfolding tragedy should not be forgotten. The human element  in the crisis should not be lost in the sea of technical arguments. Each side to the debate on the propriety of granting amnesty to those who have killed insist on their high principles; yet we should always bear in mind that what appears as mere statistic in the headlines is actually a matter of flesh and blood. Yes, the dead cannot be resurrected; it is legitimate and, in fact, a matter of duty to ask for justice over their killings. Meanwhile, thoughts should be seriously given  to how restitution  could be available to the widows, orphans, survivors and indeed thousands whose socio-economic existence has been displaced.

It is, therefore, gratifying that President Goodluck Jonathan included this human element in the terms of reference of the "Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North".  The President inaugurated the panel last Thursday with Minster of Special Duties Kabiru Tanimu Turaki as the chairman. The President also  gave the panel  three months to come up with results.  The tasks of the committee are as follows: establishing links and opening dialogue with Boko Haram; developing a framework for disarmament; working out options for granting amnesty to Boko Haram and suggesting ways to address the root of the problem so as to prevent such a tragedy in the future.

It is significant that the President also gave the committee the task of developing a comprehensive programme of succour to the victims. Over 3,000 lives have been reportedly lost in the violent conflict  that has paralysed socio-economic lives in many parts of the north. The President put the matter this way: "As we are tying to address the issue of Boko Haram, we must also address comprehensively the issues directly affecting the people".

The President is right on the point in this matter. It couldn't have been better put. Beyond the high principles being espoused for and against amnesty, some lives have been dislocated as a result of the conflict to which the nation is still seeking an efficacious resolution. Some persons have been  rendered widows and orphans. Some persons are homeless, thirsty and starving because houses have been destroyed and access  to farmlands and sources of water blocked.  Children of the displaced  persons lack access to schools and healthcare. Justice should not end with punishing the murderers if and when caught. It is also part of justice for the society to ensure restitution for the survivors and others dislocated persons in material and moral terms.

So, among other things,  the committee is being challenged to work out a philosophical framework for addressing the emergent humanitarians questions in the crisis. There is a compassionate basis for focusing more on this aspect of the crisis. Given the high calibre membership of the committee, it is expected that its report will contain a model of dealing with the human costs of violent conflicts. Quite often,  the humanitarian costs of crises are often glossed over in the discussion of crisis.

  In recent times, it has taken the courts to order payment of compensations to the communities of Zaki Biam in Benue State and Odi in Bayelsa State for the enormous destruction and violence that took in those places. But the state shouldn't have to wait for court judgments before taking  steps to make restitution for those who are direct victims of violent conflicts and even those who suffer collateral damage.

Justice and compassion demand no less. In any case, victims of other numerous violent conflicts at different periods of the nation's calendar of bloodshed have been denied the due compassion from government and the larger society. Even when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and international relief agencies moves to the crisis zones, the humanitarian condition on ground could be  so overwhelming.

Stories of  lack of capacity and poor funding would attract separate headlines from those of  the crisis.  Hence, after the initial expression of outrage and some empty pronouncements , the orphan is left to his fate and the widow carries her own cross for the rest of life. That is why in most cases there is hardly any closure to each episode of violent conflict.

The Turaki committee should, therefore, take the matter of restitution seriously. The first thing required is the honesty of purpose in seeking to know the truth about loss of lives and destruction of property. The truthful answer must be found to the question: what really happened? This would enable the government to be armed with the correct data with which to carry out a programme of succour to the victims.  The need for a more effective policy on the humanitarian consequences of violent conflicts is more urgent now.

The committee has a crucial task to perform in the interest of justice and peace in the land. It should welcome ideas especially from those who have a deep knowledge of the situation.  In this regard, Dr. Datti Ahmed and Comrade Shehu Sanni should be persuaded to accept the membership of the committee. The two compatriots declined to be on the committee for principled reasons. They should reconsider their positions in the higher national interest. Indeed any one with ideas on how to overcome the Boko Haram debacle should avail the committee of useful  suggestions.

The committee's report, among other things, should be helpful in solving the humanitarian issues arising from the current crisis as well providing a guide to the future.

May Day: Jobs on their Minds
To paraphrase the "Communist Manifesto" written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel, workers of the world will unite today in  reflections  on their place in the productive process as they mark the 127th anniversary of May Day. This unity would be demonstrated in mass rallies, meetings, symposia and other forums of reflection.  In Europe, China, Russia and  Latin America workers  would express themselves on their conditions.

Here in Nigeria, as the unions stage the traditional May Day parades in Abuja and state capitals, jobs will certainly be on the minds of the workers. Those who are lucky to be in employment will think about the security of the jobs and the adequacy of the wage. The occasion is also to focus on the diminishing  job opportunities for millions of young men and women including graduates. After all, without fresh employment and  in a climate of retrenchment,    the unions' membership will dwindle. 

With unemployment rate officially put at 23.9%,  it is no exaggeration to posit that this country is in a crisis situation regarding  matters of job creation. Experts and non-experts now agree that it is a central security issue that millions of youths are without jobs.  Factories are closing down because of the crippling business environment. Meanwhile, the lamentation on poor power supply and collapsed infrastructure continues. Some of the criticisms of  the present condition will be heard at the rallies again today.  The battle cry will be jobs, jobs and jobs.  Forget about the mirage of foreign investments; in some sectors such as textile and rubber products the country could be said to be on the path of de-industrialisation. Meanwhile, this nation lacks abysmally any form of social protection. Now, you cannot talk of alleviating (much less eradicate) poverty without providing jobs for those who are  of the working age.

The occasion of this May Day should be used to urge policy-makers to make job-creation a focus of economic management. The success of government should  henceforth be measured by how many jobs its mix of policies is able to create especially for the increasingly restive youths.

Policy-makers, employers and labour leaders should join forces in ensuring that economic management is aimed creating jobs.
In this light, it is a cherry coincidence that two days to the May Day, the Minister of Finance and  Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced government's plans to collaborate with private firms on  a Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS). The plan is to offer incentives to companies that could provide places for young graduates to be mentored and to garner practical experience. The government would pay each of the beneficiaries N18, 000 a month.  It is estimated that it would cost government about N900 million a month to sustain the programme. Already about 1, 937 private organisations have registered  to have graduates attached to them for the scheme.

Doubtless, the scheme will not provide jobs immediately; but it will help in making the graduates more employable. It is a useful preparatory step for the beneficiaries.  That is the good news in it. The internship will fill the gaps in the training of the graduates. This is an important step in the efforts to create jobs.

The huge challenge is for the economic managers and other critical players in the system to come up with creative solutions to rid the land of the scourge of joblessness.
Happy May Day!

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