*Urges Buhari to listen to voice of reason, cautions politicians against reckless statements
*National census coming a year to election, dangerous, northern elders say *Wants government to provide security, address impending food scarcity
*Atiku, Sultan of Sokoto, others proffer solutions
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Former Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar yesterday painted a gloomy picture of Nigeria, stressing that the nation was at crossroads.
He said this while speaking as the chairman of the 19th Daily Trust Dialogue with the theme: “2023:The Politics, Economy and Insecurity.”
He also called on President Mohammadu Buhari to listen to the voice of reason and act swiftly to address the crisis plaguing the nation. He equally appealed to politicians to always mind their utterances, saying all must understand that they have no other country than Nigeria.
“Nigeria is once again at a crossroads. Insecurity remains the single most difficult challenge for our country today,” he lamented.
He also called on the federal government to see, “whatever we discuss and agree today, we hope that the authorities will take it in good faith and work with it. In my own experience as a leader, I have found that collective wisdom is all better than individual ability.”
He added: “The Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, banditry in the north-west, violent secessionist agitations in the south-east, kidnappings and abductions of travellers across many states all continue to fester in the land. Add to these, ethnic, religious and communal conflicts are rearing their ugly heads again in many parts of the country.
“All of these have greatly challenged and overstretched our security forces. These challenges have caused thousands of deaths and millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria over the past 13 years.”
He quoted the Global Conflict Tracker compiled by the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to have disclosed that about 350,000 persons had been killed and three million displaced directly or indirectly in the conflict in the north-east since 2009.
Also quoting a report by Beacon Consulting, a Nigerian security risk consultancy, Abubakar disclosed that Nigeria recorded 574 cases of kidnappings and 431 confirmed fatalities in security incidents that cut across 29 states and 96 Local Government Areas in December 2021 alone.
About 75 per cent of the kidnappings and 57 per cent of the fatalities occurred in the north-west, he said further.
“This is clear indication that the epicenter of insecurity in the country has shifted from the north-east to the north-west,” he declared.
He said a major cause of insecurity in Nigeria was the proliferation of all calibre of weapons in the country in particular, and in the West African sub-region generally.
For example, he said the 2018 Small Arms Survey estimated that there were over six million of such weapons in circulation in Nigeria, adding that this certainly exacerbated the insecurity situation presently in the country.
In terms of the economic outlook, Abdulsalami, said insecurity in the country was worsened by the dire economic situation.
According to him, “In the past three months or so, economic growth rate and inflation have improved somewhat. The economy grew by between four and five per cent since June last year, continuing the recovery from the near economic collapse of 2020. Inflation figures have also dropped to 15.4 per cent, from a four-year high of 18.17 per cent in March 2021.
“All of these figures are contained in the 2022 Budget Breakdown and Highlights presented by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning early this month. But the impact of these numbers on the lives and wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian is suspect.
“Unemployment and underemployment remain at record levels, and over 80 million Nigerians are still caught up in needless poverty. All of these tend to have negative effects on security.
“In fact, Nigeria now faces a food security crisis that is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and banditry in many states of northern Nigeria. Both of these have disrupted the fragile value chains across the country and negatively impacted the ability of Nigerians to produce, process, and distribute food. The result is a continuing rise in the prices of food items beyond the reach of many Nigerian families.
“On top of all these, fuel prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months as announced last November by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. When this happens, as the government has planned, it will push many millions deeper into poverty.”
He added: “Young people and women are the demographic groups most affected by the country’s dire economic outlook. For example, estimates by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that while the national unemployment rate stood at 33 per cent by the end of 2020, unemployment for young people between ages 15 and 34 years was 10 per cent higher at 42.5 per cent.”
He stressed that if these are not carefully managed, the frustrations of these groups could easily boil over into a national conflagration worse than what was seen during the #EndSARs protests.
“However, these are not doomsday predictions but a warning to which all stakeholders must pay heed,” the former head of state added.
On the political context, the former military leader said the worsening economic and security situations in the country during an election year make it a very challenging period for Nigeria that must be carefully managed by all concerned.
Already, he noted that calls for restructuring Nigeria and for reviewing the constitution have reached fever pitch.
He said: “There are calls too for how the resources generated in the country are shared by its constituent parts. Also, for the first time in Nigeria, southern governors have ranged against their northern counterparts, each demanding the presidency for their region.
“Meanwhile, some groups would like to balkanise the country and go their separate ways.”
In addition to these, Abdulsalami said politicians across all parties were already jostling for power at all levels, explaining that some even use inflammatory political rhetoric to achieve their ends.
According to him, others are presently stoking political fires that would be difficult to put out even after the elections, adding that some again, are lying low, looking to spring surprises on their opponents.
“Worse still, political rivalries are sometimes turned into personal fights between supporters of one politician and another. In some instances, these rivalries have degenerated into violence and deaths. None of these is new in Nigerian politics.
“And yet, none of them have been fully resolved. It appears that Nigeria is stuck politically in the same place and our democratic experiment has refused to grow beyond these issues, even after more than 60 years of national independence and self-government.
“All of these developments make 2022 a very crucial year for the country and its people. Whatever we do or don’t do this year will linger for a long time to come,” he stated
He explained that the election year calls for statesmanship and patriotism, adding that, “it calls for restraint among all politicians in words and deeds. And above all, it calls for serious social and economic programmes that would help pull Nigeria out of the woods.”
Speaking on the way forward, he said, “As we enter into this important election year, I will like to use this forum to send a few reminders to us all. Let us all remember that despite all the challenges and threats, Nigeria remains one.
“For this, we give thanks to Almighty Allah and the resilience of Nigerians. Our unity, and our large and youthful population remain are our greatest strength. We must not compromise these. Instead, we must consolidate on them to chart a way out of current challenges.
“As we in the National Peace Committee have been doing for years now, all stakeholders must work with an open mind towards building peace across the country. The government should channel redouble its efforts and channel more resources towards securing peace.
“Traditional rulers, and religious and community leaders should support the government towards securing peace for our people. Without security, there is no country.
“Our political class must realise that the fate of Nigeria lies in its hands and choose to do good in this moment of history. As they jostle for power in the coming elections, all politicians must watch their words and deeds carefully and avoid saying or doing things that will further heat up the polity.
“We must all remember that no one can rule over a nation in ruins. Leadership is a collective responsibility, and we must all play our parts positively,” the former military ruler said.
He pointed out that in November last year, the federal government through the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed unveiled a National Development Plan with an investment size of over N348 trillion.
This investment was expected to be funded collaboratively by both federal and state governments, and by the private sector.
“If implemented faithfully, the plan will build infrastructure all across the country, expand the private sector, develop social services like all health and education for all Nigerians, and create millions of jobs for our teeming youth over the next five years.
“Obviously, there is not much time left for this government to achieve all of these. But I am convinced that the scale of this investment is precisely what Nigeria needs now. So, regardless of party or political differences, the next government can embrace this plan and use it as a blueprint for our collective development.
“It has the potential to make Nigeria another success story so that we can take our rightful place among the committee of nations,” he said.
Also speaking at the event, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) objected to plan by the federal government to conduct a national census a year to the 2023 general elections, stating that it portends a very dangerous omen.
The position of NEF was disclosed by the Director of Publicity and Strategy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who said that holding census when election was near would create a lot of tension with several meaning ascribed to it.
Baba-Ahmed urged the federal government to focus its attention on addressing the security challenges facing Nigeria as well as the impending food scarcity in the country due the security crisis.
Lending his voice to the dearth of quality governance in the country, the spokesman of the NEF said things have gone so bad that, “90 per cent of our governors have no business being in power today.”
He warned against electing a President in 2023 whose only credential is his ability to buy votes, saying, “Nigeria does not need an ethnic president, but a competent leader who can provide leadership to move the country forward.”
Also speaking, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar said what the country needs to bounce back to reckoning was a leader capable of addressing the challenges facing the nation.
“What is important now is to identify a competent leader that can get us out of these crises. We have the capacity to pull this country out of her present predicament. We must do the needful and most importantly, I believe a leadership that will prioritise education is desirable,” Atiku said.
On his part, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar III called for continuous dialogue as a way of building national consensus.
“I am one of those who so much believe in dialogue and I believe there cannot be too many sessions not only in this country but across the world. Let us close ranks and come together to see what we can do to move this country forward in peace and prosperity,” he added.
In his contribution, Borno state governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum decried activities of insurgents in the north-east, attributing their evil campaign to lack of adequate quality, functional education in the land.
According to him, investment in education remains a vital tool in addressing most of the nation’s socio-economic challenges.