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SECURING THE PEACE IN KOGI
Kogi State holds lessons for Nigeria, writes Abubakar Achimugu
Delivering good governance is not cheap – and it is not easy. At least, not with the current happenings in many parts of Nigeria. But Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State has tried to address the stubborn issues that have tended to overcomplicate the process of governance.
Bello, 46, has used a vigorous investment of time and effort to deliver security, one of the two cardinal essences of government, to Kogi State. The other fundamental principle is welfare, where the governor is also trying, in a state surrounded by multifarious concentrations of insecurity.
Acknowledging the primacy of security and welfare, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, states in Section 14 (2) (b), “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
On that score, many governments have failed. But the story of Kogi State, under Bello, is different.
Kogi is the only state in Nigeria bordered by 10 other states. The North-central state is bordered to the east by the states of Ekiti and Kwara, to the north by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to the northeast by Nasarawa State, to the North-west by Niger State, to the South-west by the states of Edo and Ondo, to the South-east by the states of Anambra and Enugu, and to the West by Benue State.
In many of the states bordering Kogi, efforts to guarantee security of lives and property have foundered, with insecurity becoming the daily experience of residents. Movement of people and goods have been impaired by insecurity, especially in the northern states. Food security is threatened, as farmlands have become inaccessible to many farmers due to terrorism and banditry.
To curb insecurity, sundry alternative security arrangements have emerged, from local hunters to vigilantes, neighbourhood watch, and personal guards. But the problem has not ebbed.
Yet, Kogi residents have lived without the horror of fratricidal killings and fear, which is the order of the day across their borders. Many wonder how a state bordering nine other states and the FCT has been able to sustain peaceful and harmonious relationships in these volatile times, despite differences in religion and tribe.
How is Bello doing it? This is the question on many minds. The governor said during the 30th anniversary of the creation of Kogi State in August last year, “In real terms, Kogi is fast becoming the default example of a truly democratised and free state where inclusive leadership and people-based governance models have become central and accessible to all.
“We understand clearly the demands of public office and have a standing resolve to put the interest of our people first in all we do as a government.
“My administration took the security, unity, peace and prosperity of our once divided and impoverished people seriously, right from inception. Today, our state is arguably the safest in the entire country.
“We are rated the second most peaceful and our crime rate is second lowest. We have a hugely diverse population that is, nevertheless, more united now than at any time in our history.
“By aiming at targets, we set in our New Direction Blueprint and allied governance roadmaps, we are crushing our goals in reduction of the Multidimensional Poverty Indices here in Kogi State.”
Bello’s strategy consists mainly of promotion of cultural integration and sincere bonding with the people.
Upon assumption of office in 2016, Bello declared total war on armed robbers, kidnappers, and other criminal elements in the state. He engaged the security agencies to pursue kidnap kingpins and criminals that were previously thought to be untouchable.
Criminal elements, along with their foot soldiers and sponsors, were smoked out of their hiding places. And many buildings and hideouts that used to host evil activities were demolished by the state government.
The Bello administration constructed Army Forward Operation bases at different places across the state to facilitate quick response to security breaches and enhance the security of lives and property of the people.
The government also promoted synergy with community, organisations and civil society organisations (NGOs) to pursue a conscious reorientation and de-radicalisation drive, especially, among the youth.
ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), a national non-governmental, non-partisan, non-religious, NGO, and an affiliate of ActionAid International Federation, has been at the forefront of the Kogi State peace initiative. In collaboration with the state government, AAN initiated the Youth Peace Camp scheme, in pursuance of the System and Structure Strengthening Approach against Radicalisation to Violent Extremism, also called SERVE Project.
SERVE II Project aimed to produce peace ambassadors in communities across the two neighbouring states of Kogi and Nasarawa. It was executed in partnership with Participation Initiative for Behavioural Change in Development (PIBCID), Global Peace Development (GPD), and Beacon Youth Initiative (BYI), with funding from Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).
The first edition of the Youth Peace Camp project (SERVE I) in 2019 in Kogi State, produced 500 peace ambassadors. During the 2020 edition, young people were brought from communities across the three senatorial districts of Kogi State to support the participants in initiating social cohesion and a sense of purpose approach to the peace building as key in preventing conflict and enabling stability and sustainable peace. Participants were exposed to experiential learning processes to enable them acquire competences in the fields of intercultural and religious learning, dialogue, and Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) within a human rights framework. They were also taught various forms of capacity building and consolidation strategies, such as teaching, coaching, mentoring, psychosocial support, and skills acquisition.
Speaking at the opening of the 2020 edition, the Director of Organisational Effectiveness, ActionAid Nigeria, Funmilayo Oyefusi, stated, “A programme like this is being initiated to build the capacity of youths to enable them fend for themselves and prevent violent extremism.” Oyefusi commended the support and cooperation of the Kogi State governor, saying, “We thank him for all the support we have been enjoying in the state and we are very willing to do more in the interest of humanity.”
The inclusion of women and youths in governance cannot be overemphasised because of its ability to bolster capacity and sustainability in governance. Kogi State is about the only state with women as elected vice chairpersons in the 21 local government councils. This has created a veritable platform for human capital development and inclusiveness in governance. This is worthy of emulation at all levels of government.
With very meagre resources, Bello is funding security and building infrastructure to aid development. To augment the state’s finances, the chartered accountant with ample public service experience at the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), as well as verifiable investment in the private sector, focusing on stocks, haulage and transport services, amongst others has brought his experience to bear.
The governor has enhanced the revenue collection capabilities of the state. He automated the revenue collection process, helping to increase the revenue collection figure from N800 million, when he came on board, to N1.6 billion monthly.
As the next general election approaches, many believe the key issue should be security. Ahead of the 2023 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has appealed to heads of security agencies to degrade and neutralise all forms of security threats in the country. INEC National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, made the call in January in Kano, at the opening of a two-day workshop for the commission’s staff, including the heads of departments and publicity affairs officers from the northern states, on strategic communications and operationalisation of the communication policy, facilitated by the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES-Nigeria).
Okoye stated, “As we move closer to the 2023 general election, all the critical stakeholders and the security agencies must resolve to degrade and or neutralise the security threats across the federation. Our people must be assured that they can vote in a peaceful atmosphere.
“The chairman of the commission has pointed out and consistently emphasised that the current level of insecurity in the country remains the greatest and most potent threat to the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections in the country.”
The success story, especially in the critical area of peace and security, in addition to age and vibrancy, certainly give Bello an edge among APC, indeed, Nigeria’s best hopes ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
As one Abuja resident, who preferred anonymity said “The best guarantee for extending the peaceful atmosphere pervading Kogi to other states across the country would be to promote the man who made it happen in the North-central state to the centre, to Aso Rock, at the presidential poll next year.”
The onus is on the APC to choose a candidate whose ethnic stock and origin places him in an enviable position to deliver equity and justice especially in a country where there is distrust amongst the major ethnic nationalities, fragmented further along lines of religion and other mundane interests.
Nigerians HOPE 2023 would be the year safety and security of life, property and country take priority over other considerations for a just, peaceful, united, happy and a prosperous Nigeria.
As Christopher Goodman, an English reforming clergyman and writer, would say, “If we expect change we must act on our HOPE every day until we have accomplished what we wanted.”
* Achimugu writes from Abuja