Population, security and humanitarian challenges in central Nigeria (II)

Another form of population dispersal to, and within, central Nigeria is through the Almajiri system which, in practice, often has serious negative consequences on the rights of children. Parents, often poor, ill-informed and vulnerable, but driven by religious fervour and/or poverty, send their children to some Islamic religious leaders, who are sometimes based in far flung places, for religious training and upbringing. Although the system may have been well-intentioned at conception, the stark reality is that the children often end up on the streets, begging for survival, and at risk of abuse and exploitation. In times of crises, many of these children are either caught in the crossfire or are manipulated and/or forced into the theatre of battle. So egregious is the plight of such children that in 2010 a Senegalese court banned the practice. The federal government’s Almajiri schools initiative, though of doubtful constitutional validity except perhaps as a response to a national security challenge, has alleviated the plight of these children. However, their plight requires coordinated, sustained and wholistic engagement consistent with the norm that in all matters relating to children, their welfare shall be the paramount consideration

Involuntary population dispersal from the southern part of Nigeria to central Nigeria is due largely to Niger Delta militancy and ecological challenges. The pull factors that account for the large number of IDPs from other parts of Nigeria to central Nigeria include the following: Centrality of location and comparative ease of getting there; the status of the region as the gateway to the northern and southern parts of Nigeria; the status of the region as Nigeria’s melting pot; large, productive agrarian land; Favourable climate/weather (especially in Jos); Rich endowment in natural resources, especially solid minerals for which Nasarawa and Plateau states stand out.

Comparatively less risk of natural disasters; and Comparatively, especially in relation to most states in northern Nigeria, better quality of life and access to commercial and other opportunities.

Security Challenges
The population configuration of central Nigeria manifests, among others, a significant youth bulge. Is this an opportunity or a challenge? Ordinarily, a youthful population provides a virile and productive labour force, lessens the burden on retirement schemes, and guarantees the future of a country. However, where the rate of unemployment is high among the youth, as is the case in most of central Nigeria,  that is a recipe for disaster. A youth bulge that should ordinarily be an opportunity becomes a major challenge. Given that, as the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, some of the youth become restless and engage in criminality.

The active involvement of the youth in most of the crises that have, over the course of time, bedevilled central Nigeria is evidence of that fact. Youth unemployment has, therefore, become a national security challenge. Yet, instead of responding to this challenge with the seriousness and urgency that it demands, some political leaders relish in doling out fish to their people instead of equipping them with the skills and tools to go fishing. To give one heart wrenching example, Zamfara State in the north western part of Nigeria, which is one of the least educated and least developed states in Nigeria, is reported to have spent close to three billion naira on a month-long Ramadan! Daily Trust’s lead story of August 7, 2012 pungently titled “Zamfara blows N2 billion on Ramadan gifts” is worth quoting in extenso:

The Zamfara State Government’s spending on Ramadan gifts has ballooned to N2.7 billion, Information commissioner Ibrahim Birnin Magaji said yesterday, with less than two weeks to the end of the Muslim fasting month.

Government announced the spending earlier last month saying N1 billion was to be spent on buying foodstuffs and clothes to be given to the less privileged in the state.

Birnin-Magaji yesterday said the expenditure has shot up to N2.7 billion….
The huge spending on Ramadan gifts is likely to raise some eyebrows because Zamfara is one of the poorest, rustic states where critical infrastructure is lacking, and government depends heavily on federal subventions.Some other northern states have similarly announced spendings on Ramadan gifts, but Zamfara’s N2.7 billion for a population of just over 3.2 million dwarfs the N146 million being spent by the Kano State Government for a population of more than 9.3 million.

Zamfara’s Ramadan gift figures are also higher than the average of about N2.5 billion monthly revenue that the state receives from the Federation Account.
But the information commissioner said there was nothing wrong in the project.
“There is nothing bad in spending the state’s money on food stuffs for distribution to the people of the state,” he said. “The money is for them and as such, the state government will continue to use it to meet their need and aspiration. This expenditure does not stop us from embarking on infrastructural development.”…

“We will continue to empower the people of our state even as we work hard to fast track the development of Zamfara state irrespective of what the opposition are saying,” he added.

This is, with due respect, pathetic. You don’t have to belong to “the opposition” to express outrage at this theatre of absurdity. In my respectful view, it qualifies for nothing but opprobrium.

Regarding the issue of population movements to, within, and from, central Nigeria, the preamble to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, expresses the “firm[] and solemn[] resolve[]” of Nigerians to live in “unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Nation”. Accordingly, pursuant to section 15(2) thereof, “national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin…ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” Sub-section (3) imposes on the Nigerian State the duty to: (a) provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation; (b) secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation; (c) encourage inter-marriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic or linguistic associations or ties; and (d) promote or encourage the formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious or other sectional barriers.
In furtherance of this objective, the State undertakes, pursuant to sub-section (4), to “foster a feeling of belonging and involvement among the various peoples of the federation to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties”. Consistent with this undertaking, section 41(1) of the Constitution provides that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit there from.” Additionally, section 42 of the Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, ethnic identity or place of origin. In specific terms, section 42(1) provides as follows:
A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person –
(a)    be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive and administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b)    be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.

Freedom of movement per se is not a security challenge and should, ordinarily, be encouraged. However, it becomes a serious security challenge where, for example, it is in furtherance of a criminal enterprise or is driven by a strategic ill-motivated move to alter the religious, ethnic or political configuration of a particular local government area, state or region. The latter exacerbates the plight of minorities and is often met with fierce resistance.

With particular reference to IDPs, the relationship between them and their host communities is sometimes fraught with crises. This is due largely to competition over scarce resources and access to opportunities or lack of understanding and/or contempt for the cultures and traditions of the host communities. Thus, the Kampala Convention expresses consciousness “of the gravity of the situation of internally displaced persons as a source of continuing instability and tension for African States.”

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