Chuks Okocha examines latest efforts by northern leaders to stem the tide of insecurity in that part of the country
No doubt, the violent activities of the Boko Haram sect have done significant damage to the economy of the north, to the extent that hitherto commercial cities like Kano and Maidugiri have become near ghost towns. In a state like Yobe, education has been brought to its knees as schools were shut down for months. Also, it was reported that members of the Yobe State House of Assembly have gradually commenced relocation to nearby Jigawa State for political exigency.
All these are as a result of the activities of the sect. It was, therefore, not surprising that some eminent citizens from the north have been pondering an end to the growing violence in that part of the country. Former Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar, last year predicted that it would take the northern economy about 20 years to recover from the activities of Boko Haram.
Several other eminent northern leaders have also joined in call for the sect to sheath its swords and embrace dialogue as part of efforts to end the bloodletting in the north.
To that extent, a new group, Northern Reawaking Forum, led by a former member of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Kumalia has commenced moves to arrest the growing insecurity in the north. In one of its outing that attracted the presence of prominent northerners, the gathering became a platform to discuss the insecurity in the north and also canvassed for ways to halting the crisis that has degenerated almost intractably.
Those in attendance paid glowing tributes to the era of the late Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello and lamented that what is happening in the north is a clear departure from the golden years of the Sardauna of Sokoto. From one speaker to another, they all sued for peace and called on the 19 northern governors in the region to reinvigorate their policies and tackle poverty as well as the increasing unemployment in the north.
Former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Audu Ogbeh, recalled that past northern leaders laid the foundation for a peaceful region by accommodating people of all faith. But argued that today, the north is becoming a ghost state because of insecurity.
He further posited that the on-going insurgency in the North was a fall-out of economic failure in the region, adding he had predicted that the situation would degenerate to the level it is over a decade ago. “The North is on fire,” he said, adding that the crisis is a clear sign of economic failure.
He held that the nation especially the north came to its present state probably because the country was too comfortable to know what was going on there. “What happened to us in the north is a northern albatross and we are becoming refugees in the capital city."
Ogbeh, who recalled how peaceful and brotherly the north was in the past said “a former Sultan of Sokoto named Saddiq had a Christian Igbo cook and the late Ahmadu Bello had a Christian doctor.”
Going further down memory lane, the former PDP boss revealed that Shehu Malami, a notable Northern Muslim offered him accommodation in Abuja after he escaped assassination in 1998.
On his part, a former super permanent secretary, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, queried why disease and poverty were ravaging the north just as industries and economic development were expanding in other parts of the country. He lamented that all the old industries in the region located in Kaduna, Kano and Jos had collapsed.
Joda called for a rethink of policies in the north to enable it reverse the trend, adding that the north needed to give its children sound education to usher in development and create employment.
He therefore attributed the crisis in the north to not allowing genuine leaders to emerge. “We are presently being torn apart and destroyed by religious and tribal antagonisms. When we were truly Northerners, we behaved as one people facing and desiring one destiny. Today, we are being torn apart by our political leaders in search of power by any means. If we allow them, they will destroy us.
“We must not leave this situation unattended for street mobs to impose a solution,” Joda said, warning that leaders and leadership with great potential should be allowed to emerge freely without manipulation by remote and anonymous leadership, operating in the shadow.
Chairman of the group, Kumalia said the forum has as its primary assignment, the restoration of peace in the north as one of its key programmes. He noted that the group had organised seminars in Plateau State to promote peaceful coexistence among people of different faith
Meanwhile, as part of measures to bringing back peace in the north, the Northern States Committee on Reconciliation, Healing and Security has called on governors in the region to implement its recommendations in order to resolve the region's security challenges.
The committee chairman, Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim, spoke when he visited Governor Mukhtar Yero of Kaduna State. He said the committee was set up by the Northern governors to assist in proffering solutions to the problems affecting the region, especially in the area of peace and settler-indigene dichotomy.
He hinted that the committee had visited Borno, Yobe, Plateau, Bauchi, Kano, and Kaduna states, and would soon visit other states in the north in order to make their observations and recommendations available to the governors.
“The committee would continue to move around in order to see things not just reading for newspapers but want to see things as much as we can practically, so that at the end of the day we can present to you, a comprehensive, unbiased and honest report for implementation,” he said.
Also in trying to address the security challenges in the north, some of the northern elites and Emirs are said to be critical about the way some of their governors are handling the issue of Boko Haram. They are said to argue that though the northern governors had condemned the way and manner President Goodluck Jonathan is managing the security situation, they have not shown enough commitment to assisting him in bringing the menace to an end.
According to sources, the emirs believed the governors ought to have gone beyond the condemnation of any attack and advance the cause of dialogue with the sect. This, they contended, would have made a huge difference at least. They were said to maintain that the relative respite being enjoyed from the Boko Haram attacks should not be taken for granted, adding that all hands must be on deck to completely stop the trend.
“We have to take it upon ourselves to set example and put an end to the organised massacre and butchery of people. This can only start by going beyond condemnation or by heaping the blames on Jonathan. Since we know that the Jonathan approach has not paid off, albeit some believe it is paying off, we need join hands together to find a lasting solution to it.”
They, according to sources, were of the view that the first thing governors of the vulnerable states should do is show that they wanted sincere peace in their domain by going all out to get the peace deal done as a national assignment.
The source said the Emirs, Imams and community leaders recognized that they also have a role to play, adding that the “leaders know the people behind the mask and it will do all of us a lot of good if they can deal with this issue as they deal with their household problem.
“The Emirs, Imams and community leaders can strategically locate them and interact with them with the view to bringing them to the table. Even from the cultural standpoint, the respect and honour they give to the Emirs and community leaders could as well be used to bring them to the table. Who says they will not listen more to the Emirs and Imams than hearing from the presidency?
“Second, changing their orientation cannot be easily achieved, but sermon, and lessons from the Quran and Hadiths can do the magic. Many Muslims do not believe these perpetrators had the true teachings of Islam, if they are Muslims anyway. But if they did; their perception to issues even as it affects injustice, corruption and poverty would be different from what they hold presently if they had the proper up-bringing.
“But who should be blamed? It has become necessary to give our children the right education. Violence has an emotional aspect, and this should be controlled right from childhood. At primary school level and the basic Arabic lesson, they impart in the children. They should inculcate tolerance, non-violence and peaceful coexistence in the children irrespective of religious beliefs since all our religions preach peace.
“Train them in the way of the Lord. Teach them tolerance and flexibility. Teach them peaceful co-existence and teach them how to vent their internal combustion without constituting nuisance to the rest of the world. Let them know that intolerance does not bring peaceful co-existence in the society. They should also know that tolerance and peacefulness adorn everything, and violence disfigures everything and wipes out any good deed of the person,” he said.
While the northern leaders may have actually shown genuine intention at arresting the situation in the region through this platform, observers say they must go beyond merely talking to embracing a pragmatic approach to the matter so that the present efforts do not end in futility.