Urgency of halting ethno-religious attacks in the North

A. A Gadzama

The insurgency in the North East and acts of banditry in the North Central and North West are security challenges that have aggravated insecurity in the country.

The failure of elites especially the political class and those in has also betrayed the trust and expectations of Northerners and there is pent-up anger all over the Northern States.

The insurgency, recurring inter-ethnic and religious clashes and attacks by armed bandits and lawless herdsmen have expectedly undermined public safety in all states in the North.

All well-meaning Northerners should therefore appreciate that these challenges constitute huge distractions to President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s national development agenda. At the end of the day, the North is the greatest loser because, despite its huge natural and human resources, it is the most backward and disunited region in the country.

The North under Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, enjoyed unprecedented progress and unity among its diverse people and emerged as a model for other parts of the country. The prevailing disaffection and hostility among groups in the North is principally due to disruptive politics, abuse of governance opportunity and lack of fear of God. Wanton corruption, discrimination and alienation of groups have only worsened the situation.

Northerners did not suffer discrimination, denial of job opportunities and access to development until recently. All children from the region were, for example, encouraged to go to school by government in the 50s and 60s.

A retired Airforce General recalled at a seminar in Kaduna in 1993 how they were drafted into the Nigerian Army by the Sardauna of Sokoto, who led recruitment and employment drives for brilliant northerners. Others were sponsored to institutions of higher learning abroad to study medicine, engineering and related professional fields.

People from the North enjoyed such opportunities on the basis of equality, merit and suitability. Nobody was denied sponsorship because of where they come from or their ethnic and religious affiliation.

Religious tolerance was encouraged in all schools and communities as a matter of policy, following the example of the Sardauna of Sokoto and his circle of regional representatives.

The North was a model of religious tolerance and all-inclusive governance with fair representation of all ethnic groups and parts of the region. Pupils from all ethnic and religious groups were similarly encouraged to imbibe the virtues of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Northerners learnt from childhood to be their brothers’ keeper.

Ethnic and religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence and unity were imbibed in elite secondary schools like Barewa College, Zaria. Many of us who had the privilege of attending the College in the 1960s enjoyed unbelievable mutual respect and brotherhood.

Nobody who attended Barewa College in the 60s experienced any form of discrimination or hostility despite our diverse backgrounds.

A typical example of this disposition was how the Emir of Zaria slaughtered cows for Christian and foreign students when their Muslim colleagues went for Sallah break.

Students of all religious faiths were encouraged to practice their faiths without any hindrance. Teachers never tolerated anything done to offend the sensibility of others.

Schools in Borno State enjoyed religious freedom and encouraged religious tolerance. Many Muslims had their secondary and teacher education in the Waka Missionary Schools. An Emir confided that he was encouraged to send his daughters to Saint Louis Christian School in Jos because of the high standard of teaching and discipline.

After graduating from university in the 70s many of us moved to our states of origin. President Muhammadu Buhari was the first military governor of the then North East. His cabinet had all an inclusive character and one cannot recall a situation when any of his appointments, employments and citing of projects were dictated by religious or narrow considerations.

There was fairness and it was not surprising that there was relative peace and remarkable development in all parts of the North East then. North East State, despite its vastness and multi-religious and ethnic composition, was known to be peaceful until the eruption of the Matatsine riots. All the achievements made then however seem to have been lost because of corruption and insensitivity to the plight of others. The conduct of most of our leaders now does not show they have sense of history.

The dastardly incident that took place in Plateau State last week exposed the time bomb on which many Northern States are sitting.

To make matters worse in many of the States in the North, there is unbelievably high level of underdevelopment and unemployment of youths, especially graduates, because there are no alternative sources of employment as even the civil service jobs go to children of the privileged few.

Unlike in many states in other parts of the country, there are no industries to absorb the teeming number of unemployed youths in the North. Brazen nepotism and favouritism have worsened insecurity and the plight of educated youths, especially in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

To compound the situation, Local Government Councils in most states in the North have collapsed. They no longer address lack of employment and development. It is not surprising that President Buhari persistently calls for repositioning of Local Governments as one of the phenomenal policy thrusts he will bequeath on the country.

Informed interrogation of the fragile security situation in the North reveals many other factors. The inability of the security agencies to frankly tell political leadership the truth and to counter emerging threats to security is an indication of flawed leadership.

Those in leadership positions in governments at all levels have failed to positively impact the lives of the ordinary people. Docility of the people especially the elites who merely indulge in blaming President Muhammadu Buhari are among other factors provoking diverse narrow sentiments.

The incident at Bassa was avoidable if the security forces were alert and other stakeholders were responsive to the plight of all people in the area. It is unthinkable that people with no grouses will resort to such beastly act. Were other stakeholders not aware of the latent and brewing ethnic and religious animosity in the area before the carnage erupted? The eruption of such deadly disturbance is the consequence of neglecting pervasive anger and hostility in many parts of Plateau state, a place previously known as the home of peace and religious harmony.

Southern Kaduna for the same reason has become an epicenter of acts of hostility between ethnic communal groups. The tendency for governments and the security forces to react to incidents rather than pre-empt them is inimical to national security.

There can only be security where there is inclusiveness, good governance, fairness and access to democratic dividends to all and sundry. The protection of lives and property is a critical responsibility of all governments and any failure questions the capacity of the leadership. In the interim, everything must be done to arrest the brewing urge for vengeance.

The following measures should be taken immediately :

  1. Thorough investigation of the incident and prosecution of culprits.
  2. Reinforcement of security in the area to forestall retaliations and recurrence.
  3. All areas vulnerable to similar clashes be identified and preventive measures emplaced.
  4. All stakeholders who can defuse tension in the areas and in parts of Kaduna State be mobilized to forestall further mayhem.
  5. The strength of security operatives in all crisis prone areas be increased.
  6. The Sultan of Sokoto and the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to pacify all parties to the prevailing tension in the North.
  7. Governors in the North to address problems of alienation, non- inclusion and failure to positively impact the lives of the citizenry in their states.
  8. Deliberate steps be taken to solve the problems of school dropouts and unemployment of school leavers.
  9. Governments in the North redouble efforts to extend the benefits of democracy to all citizens and areas.
  10. Current security strategies and deployments be reviewed and strengthened.
  11. Lopsidedness in development project allocation of states be redressed.
  12. Conscious efforts be made to address intolerance and discrimination in all States in the country especially in the North.
  13. Those in political leadership owe the people good and unbiased leadership and the benefits of democracy.
  14. Areas and issues that could snowball into mutual hostility be addressed.

Gadzama mni, OFR is the Chairman, National Institute for

Security Studies Bwari, Abuja