In the build-up to the 2015 and 2019 general elections, security was a campaign issue as kidnapping, banditry and killings were the order of the day. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, in this report, takes a look at the recent outburst of northern elders on insecurity and whether or not it could play a crucial role as 2023 general polls hover.
Killings and North’s conditions
As killings, kidnappings and banditry continue to ravage most parts of the country, and concerned about the peak of insecurity in the zone, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) declared President Muhammadu Buhari as “a total failure’ and gave conditions for supporting a candidate for the 2023 presidential election.
NEF’s position was made public by the Forum’s director, Advocacy and Engagement, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmad, shortly after a meeting convened by the chairman of the Forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi.
Baba-Ahmed said, “Northern Elders Forum has refrained from comments on major developments relating to management of national security and governance because it is convinced that these are times which require the highest levels of responsibility and circumspection in the manner elders and leaders in the nation contribute to the search for solutions to the multiple problems which face the nation.
“The Forum regrets that by any standard of judgement, the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has failed the nation in the vital area of improving its security. Poverty, particularly in the North, and massive social security have worsened under this administration. The relationship between insecurity and poverty is fundamental, but the administration does not appear to have any idea on what will provide relief or solution.”
He added, “It is shocking that in spite of unprecedented consensus among Nigerians that the administration requires a new resolve, approach and leadership in the fight against the nation’s multiple security challenges, President Buhari appears either totally isolated or in deep denial over the result of his failures to secure Nigerians.
“With this type of mind set, it is difficult to see how President Buhari can accept the challenge to radically improve his handling of our security situation. Nonetheless, we believe that Nigerians must continue to raise our voices and organise through all legitimate means to demand that the administration addresses major failings in his perception of our situation and his response to our demands for our rights to security.”
Continuing, he said, “The Forum demands a thorough overhaul of the leadership of our security and public safety agencies, and the injection of higher levels of competence, integrity and accountability in the manner our troops and the police and security agencies deal with security challenges. We appeal to our religious leaders and fellow citizens not to fall into the trap of insurgents to set us up against each other.
“We also condemn the murder of thousands of Muslims and Christians in communities which the insurgency has made permanent targets in the last decade. These are times when we must unite and resist a common enemy as well as demand that our leaders protect us all as Nigerians.
“In principle, the Forum supports the idea of improving the policing capacities of the nation. It is important to emphasise, however, that all initiatives to improve public safety must find accommodation within our laws, and must not be designed to threaten or harass particular groups or interests. We recommend the adoption of a more vigorous and inclusive process which will result in the creation of acceptable frameworks and higher levels of confidence among all communities with respect to policing strategies.
“In moments of tension and stress, Nigerians tend to find easy solutions or scapegoats. This Forum is concerned that the apparent resurgence of certain types of conflicts such as ethnic and farmers/herders clashes will have multiplier effects and cause damaging setbacks to the successes made in improving community relations. We appeal to governments and communities to commit further to living together in peace and earning a living within the ample resources we are blessed with.
“The Forum has observed that political manoeuvres around the 2023 elections are targeting the North as a region available for exploitation. We want to make it clear that people of the North will be very careful in committing to persons seeking their support on the basis of their region or wealth.
“The North knows its interests, and will stand together to elect only persons who meet the standards and interests of the people of the North. No politician should assume that they are entitled to our support unless they show a clear understanding and a commitment to deal with our problems and meet our aspirations.”
Reacting in a statement signed by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, the Presidency described the Forum as “a one-man business.”
It read in part, “Professor Ango Abdullahi on Sunday signed a long-winding statement on many issues relating to the North, and purportedly to the country.
“The former vice-chancellor signed the statement under the banner of Northern Elders Forum (NEF). Hearing that title, you would think the body was a conglomeration of true elders. But the truth is that NEF is just Ango Abdullahi, and Ango Abdullahi is NEF. It is a quasi-organisation that boasts of no credible membership, and its leader is akin to a General without troops.
“Before the 2019 presidential election, the one-man army called NEF had shown its antipathy against President Muhammadu Buhari, and its preference for another candidate. They all got beaten together.
“NEF is merely waving a flag that is at half-mast. President Buhari steadily and steadfastly focuses on the task of retooling Nigeria, and discerning Nigerians know the true state of the nation. They don’t need a paper tiger to tell them anything.”
On his part, a former governor of Jigawa state, Alhaji Sule Lamido, urged President Buhari to reflect deeply on the statement of NEF on the state of the nation on security.
He said, “If you reflect on your political evolution from APP, ANPP, CPC to ACN the likes of Prof. Ango and Hakeem Baba Ahmed and many more in the NEF have been your loyal troops through thick and thin and have never abandoned you even in defeat! The question you should ask yourself is why have they abandoned you in Victory to political mercenaries like Femi and Garba who are with you only for the pay? Sir, the issues they raised are real and each and every Nigerian except Femi and Garba share these concerns, even you as our C in C claimed not to be aware of our insecurity situation until the likes of NEF raised the red alarm. He said. Lamido advised the president to also read the warning written by elder statesman Bashir Tofa on the analysis of insecurity in Nigeria and Africa. I hope the General without troops Femi was referring to sarcastically is not you sir! You have many capable hands around you sir, listen to them, engage them. You are the man of the moment. Ignore Femi, ignore Garba, keep paying them if only for charity, but please secure us!”
In its reaction, a political/media group, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), stated that contrary to what people are saying, President Buhari is rising to the security challenge in Nigeria.
The organisation, in a statement signed by its chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and secretary, Cassidy Madueke, stated that the NEF, as reflected in its claims that the North is worse off in the last five years, is just keen on continuing its pre-election campaign against a president that has remained the man of the masses across the country.
The statement read in part, “There has never been a time when this group of Northern elite supported President Buhari, and this is because they knew he would never pander to the interest of people who had for decades contributed to the impoverishment of the North.
“It is on record that many of the challenges the North is battling today have a lot to do with the manner the oligarchs implemented a deliberate socio-economic policy to keep the people in perpetual poverty.
“None of these self-styled Northern elders has a notable public record of poverty alleviation initiative targeted at even the millions of out-of-school children that are a ready tool in the hands of the political elite. The result has been the trend of banditry and other violent crimes which have been said to be fallout of several years of neglect of the people.”
It also read, “Here, we have a man that is rising to the occasion, yet individuals including Prof. Ango Abdullahi and Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a former Chief of Staff to former Senate President Bukola Saraki are whipping up hateful public sentiments against the President who introduced the largest social investment scheme in sub-Saharan Africans to take millions of people, even in the North, out of poverty.
“Is it not disturbing that a group which claimed to be representing the interest of a region is pretending not to know that insurgents once set up a Caliphate and hoisted their flag in North-East Nigeria but can barely hold any territory today?
“There was also a time that President Buhari was accused of focusing too much attention on the North because of the attention he was giving to the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by the Book Haram insurgency, yet an elitist group believes that he has not done much for that part of the country.
“In case they have forgotten, there is a North East Development Commission that has the mandate to carry out what is technically a Marshal Plan in the ravaged region.”
“If Ango Abdullahi and co mean well for Nigeria, and the people they claim to be representing, they would have realised that the administration has been taking steps to check new security challenges.
“Are they so cut off from reality that none of them is aware of the President’s community policing initiative which is targeted at ensuring that communities are involved in making their domains safer and more secure?
“And since the elders’ forum appears well-read, they must surely know that this government has since 2015 procured 22 aircraft and is expecting 17 others including two Super Tucano jets to give added air power to the Nigerian armed forces.
“We make bold to say that only people out to play politics or are outright members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will make such blanket comments about security and poverty in Northern Nigeria.
“President Buhari has never denied that the country has a security challenge, but he has always harped on a united front against terror groups. This we urge the Forum to do rather than the vainglorious attempt to play politics.”
‘Insecurity, security’ll be a factor’
A political analyst, Ibrahim Muhammed, said like it was in the past, security and insecurity will continue to a campaign issue in every Nigeria presidential election.
“Before 2015, those who campaigned from 1999 during the election years also used security as a talking or marketing point. In fact, one of the reasons former president was believed to be voted out was because of the insecurity that resulted into daily killings in Nigeria and especially in the North. So, during campaigns for the 2015 general elections it was insecurity they all used, in 2019 most candidates also campaign with the promise to ensure safety of the lives and properties of Nigerians.
“If there is insecurity in the land, like we are going through today, anyone who wants to occupy the office of the president will certainly campaign with it. And if there is relative security, that is safety of lives and property, anyone that also wants to be president will also campaign with it by promising improved security architecture. So, insecurity, security has always been an issue in Nigeria’s presidential elections and it will remain so.”