Boko Haram: 19 Northern Governors to Visit US for Peace Symposium

By Zacheaus Somorin

Nineteen Northern governors would be visiting the United States Institute of Peace next week as part of the US government’s effort in the sustenance of peace in the region. ”The urgent challenges for Nigeria’s powerful northern state governors range from addressing a humanitarian crisis sparked by Boko Haram’s insurgency to boosting economic growth with alternatives such as agriculture to make up for declining oil revenue”, Johnnie Carson, a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said ahead of a governors’ symposium to be held at the Institute next week.

The northern states of Africa’s most populous country are its poorest, and they are beset by social, economic and environmental problems that affect the stability of the whole nation, said Carson, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa who is helping to organize the meeting. ”Such issues are the cause of underlying tensions that gave rise to the extremist Boko Haram group, and the governors have the clout to begin tackling them”, he added.

”The Boko Haram situation cannot be resolved by military means alone,” said Carson, the State Department’s top official for Africa from 2009-2013. “The symposium will provide an opportunity to share our experience and open the way for new thinking and new ideas.”

For the governors, the priorities include immediate reconstruction of schools, hospitals and water systems as Boko Haram is pushed back, leaving behind a humanitarian disaster; expanded educational opportunities for girls; economic development; and easing tensions between farmers and herdsmen over land use.

”The shock of Boko Haram has created the understanding that things have to be different,” added Princeton Lyman, a USIP senior adviser who was ambassador to Nigeria from 1986-1989. The symposium—thesecond for northern state governors hosted by USIP—comes at a difficult time for Nigeria in other respects that have highlighted the need to revamp policies and practices, he said.

Lyman added that the collapse of world oil prices has left the governors with about 60 percent of their former budgets and made clear the need to diversify their economies further.

During the three days of the symposium which holds between October 18 and 20, the governors will meet with U.S. officials as well as business leaders to discuss Nigeria’s development and investment opportunities in the northern region. After the event, the governors are expected to coordinate with a Senior Working Group of Nigerian civic, business and other leaders that USIP has helped establish to assist with implementing ideas coming out of the symposium.

“The conversations will be broad,” said Oge Onubogu, a senior program officer at USIP who works on Nigeria. While most of the symposium will be closed, governors will discuss their issues in a webcast forum, with the public posing questions via Twitter.