Kayode Komolafe: Is anyone listening to Gov. Shettima?

by Kayode Komolafe

Kayode Komolafe

Whether in the Sahel or in the creeks what the crisis confronting the Nigerian state requires is a fundamental resolution. The solution should be holistic.

After the declaration of the state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, not a few observers must have considered the presidential committee on dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis stillborn.  The committee headed by Special Duties Minister, Alhaji Kabiru Taminu Turaki, was appointed shortly before the state of emergency and the subsequent proscription of Boko Haram and Ansaru. By constituting the committee of eminent and patriotic Nigerians, President Jonathan Goodluck has chosen to explore the widely canvassed political option to the problem. It is a welcome development that the committee is still working despite the skepticisms expressed about its relevance in the light of the scaling up of the use of force. If the committee accomplishes its terms of reference it would be a vindication of those who hold the view that a mixture of approaches would be more effective in solving the problem.

The committee was received two days by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State in Maiduguri. Contrary to what skeptics think, Shettima was even seemingly hyperbolic when he said that the “destiny” of his state and indeed that of Nigeria was in the hands of the Turaki Committee. The governor rightly attaches a lot of importance to the work of the committee. Shettima’s feelings are understandable. He was putting into perspective the multi-dimensional approach that should be employed in resolving the crisis definitively.

The hope of the governor in the outcome of the committee’s assignment is certainly not a misplaced one. For instance, it is interesting that Turaki told the governor that the committee has been reaching out to some of the insurgents. This is despite the increased military activities. To many members o the public, the committee is all about amnesty for Boko Haram. But beside the issue of amnesty the committee is also expected to make recommendations on the humanitarian consequences of the crisis. Hence, Turaki spoke about the limit of the capacity of government to compensate the victims. However, the condition of displaced persons, widows and orphans is a huge social dimension of the crisis. This even becomes more distressing when it is put in the wider context of the paralysis of socio-economic activities in the affected areas in the north. This is a central issue in the crisis. If only for that purpose, the work of the Turaki Committee will remain very relevant for a comprehensive resolution of the crisis.

Shettima’s statement on the occasion, which was well reported by this newspaper yesterday, embodies a wider perspective to the problem. For clarity, the governor condemned the atrocities of the murderous insurgents, describing them as “our kinsmen (who) have chosen an obnoxious and satanic way of life and are desperate about imposing their beliefs on others.” It is important to stress the denunciation of the killings by the insurgents because of the views in some respectable quarters strongly opposed to amnesty for the insurgents. It is often erroneously perceived in such quarters that acknowledging the context of the killings and destruction by Boko Haram amount to condoning the crimes. Shettima was unequivocal when he said: “It beats my imagination on what justification does someone has to take a sharp knife and slaughter a fellow human being because of differences of opinion, and Islam is very clear that there is no compulsion in religion”.

The activities of the insurgents have created a security challenge for the country. At the root of this is an issue of development. This again recommends the multi-dimensional approach to the problem. It is not helpful to downplay one dimension in favour of another. The security forces are ably rising to the challenge of insecurity on the ground. The insurgents have not ceased killing people. Since the declaration of state of emergency, the insurgents have reportedly killed school children and their teachers. So the bloodletting continues.   The leadership should also develop a sense of urgency in tackling the questions of development thrown up by the crisis. This is the point that was poignantly made by Shettima. Like other governors of the affected states, Shettima lives with the reality of the crisis and his reading and analysis of the situation should be taken seriously. The deployment of troops and other security forces is the prerogative of Abuja, but combating the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment, which provide the substratum for the purveyors of violence to feed upon, is a responsibility of governments at all levels. According to Shettima, meeting the needs of the people should be at the core of the solution.

He said: I read an interesting article that in 10 years time, the United States will be independent of foreign oil because of the alternative energy sources at its disposal. In five years time, 14 African countries will become oil producers and by the current rate of our population growth, in 10 years time, Nigeria’s population will be 250 million but nobody is thinking about it. Nobody is giving us an idea on how to attend to the needs of these people and it is envisaged that the price of oil will plummet to $35 per barrel. Even now, at $100 per barrel we are finding it difficult to meet our needs.

The issue in Nigeria is always about the last election and the next election and nobody cares about what happens in between, which is agitating the minds of all Nigerians.

The federal government should pay a greater attention to inter-governmental cooperation in resolving the crisis. That is why the perception of the crisis by Shettima is relevant. The insurgence originated from his state, which has recorded the highest tolls. You sometimes wonder what goes on in the minds of a man whose responsibility it is to govern a state engulfed in such a terrible crisis. The governor is pointing to leadership responsibility in devising a holistic response to the problem. As a matter of fact, the federal government and the elite in the affected areas should   work together in solving the problem. The members of the elite have been partly blamed for this leadership failure as a cause of the crisis. But in many respects, they are also victims. A good number of them have relocated to other parts of the country running way from the violence at home. But it is not enough to keep off the affected areas. Everyone should be involved in seeking a collective solution to the problem.

It is tempting to isolate one dimension of a crisis because it is easier to explain and then pretend that the problem is solved. For instance, the Niger Delta crisis has been reduced to a security issue. The test of the solution is therefore in the efficacy or otherwise of the amnesty program. A few ex-militants have been rewarded with huge contracts. The federal government proclaims loudly the success of its amnesty programme including producing “graduates of medicine and engineering in four years”! Meanwhile, the underlying issues of poverty, underdevelopment and poor infrastructure remain endemic to the region despite the existence of a ministry and a commission created to facilitate the   development of the region. Not even the east-west road, which has become the symbol of the federal neglect of the region, is treated as a priority project. The government is busy attending to the symptoms and neglecting the cause of the malaise.

It is instructive that this newspaper reported yesterday that an ex-militant is raising alarm about “a heavy arms build-up in the region”. Mr. Kennedy West has called on the United Nations and the United States of America to urge Jonathan to embark on another phase of disarmament in the region. West, who is the President of the Association of Non-Violence in the Niger Delta, alleged that the arms flow in the region is worse than the pre-amnesty era and that this is responsible for the increase in oil theft. Now, it is left for the security agencies to determine the veracity of West’s claims and do something about them.

The point at issue is that the veneer of peace should not be misconstrued as the fundamental resolution of the crisis. Whether in the Sahel or in the creeks what the crisis confronting the Nigerian state requires is a fundamental resolution. The solution should be holistic. There are certainly security and development dimensions to the crisis. All the dimensions should be considered in formulating the strategy to solve the problem. That is the point Shettima is making and it is worth pondering.


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