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Published On: Thu, Jun 12th, 2014

Before the North succumbs to its troubles

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Dr Usman BugajeFriday Column by Usman Bugaje

It is everybody’s knowledge that the Northern part of this country is going through an unprecedented security challenge. The North has for some time now been the theatre of an increasingly fierce insurgency, growing and debilitating banditry and destructive internecine ethno-religious clashes which have, over the last dozen or so years,consumed thousands of precious lives, traumatized its population, dislocated its society and paralyzed its economy. During this period poverty has more than doubled, school enrolment has been drastically reduced, adding to the ten or so million children out of school, perhaps the largest in the world, and productive capacity of the North substantially undermined, further compounding our troubles as a people and bringing the North at its wit’s end. Condemnations by leaders across the country, assurances by heads of security agencies and the annual budgetary allocations to security have neither changed much nor do they appear to be able to change much. Even as the North groans over all these, its population would appear to have to brace up for more trouble ahead as famers can neither go out to farm, nor can people keep and rear animals; not even trade between markets; famine, despair, and chaos appear to be looming large on the horizon.

We have to ask: how much more can its population take before it succumbs? Exactly whence and when is succor coming? If it doesn’t, what happens? Of course, this is exactly why governments exist. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, like the constitutions of many countries, is explicitly clear on this. In other words, government exists primarily and principally to provide security for life and property. The corollary is just as weighty and compelling, that a government which fails to provide security to its citizens would have failed in its basic responsibilities and would have failed to justify its very existence. The Federal Government has been battling to live up to its expectations as it faces this rather enormous security challenge that is showing no signs of abating. Already the military are reinforcing the police in 33 of the 36 states of the federation, the largest deployment of troops in peacetime to confront an amorphous insurgency whose violent and devastating campaign has now attracted both international and regional coalitions to assist the largest deployment of troops for internal security. Even then citizens are not feeling any safer yet.

Indeed, responsibility for security does not lie on the shoulders of government alone; security in every society, as far back as Greek antiquity, is a collective responsibility. Citizens, therefore, share in this responsibility even as government alone takes final and ultimate charge. Indeed citizenparticipation is critically necessary for any security architecture. Our New National Security Strategy has appreciated this much. But this participation of citizens is contingent on and often a measure of the trust which citizens have in their government. Where the rights of citizens are violated, even in the name of security, or where citizens are humiliated in the name of security, this trust becomes tenuous. Thus, violations of human rights not only erode trust, but actually breed discontent, making citizens to perceive the state which ought to protect them as predatory, which further undermines the multi tract strategy of the New National Security Strategy. This therefore speaks to human rights concerns and locates these concerns squarely within the security configuration.

The Federal Government has undoubtedly been making efforts, but these efforts have come under increasing criticism from within and outside the country. Committees after committees have not come up with much to cheer. Even the Northern governors have had their committees; all, apparently, to no avail. In these circumstances it has become necessary for citizens, especially citizens of the North, to come together to reflect deeply and constructively for ways to tackle this grave crisis.  It would appear that the time has come for citizens to rise to the occasion. As Edmund Burke would say, “the only thing necessary for the success of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

The Arewa Research and Development Project, ARDP, which is located in Arewa House, Center for Historical Documentation and Research, Kaduna, in collaboration with other similar centers in some of the universities in the North, like the Mambayya House at Bayero University, Kano and the Center of Peace Studies at the Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, and a few more others, have found it necessary to bring Northern leadership and expertise together to brainstorm over these important, nay compelling security problems facing the country, with a view to proffering solutions that will complement and reinforce what both government and non-government actors are doing.

Let me remind the leaders of the North, or what has remained of them, that the North and indeed this country need you today like never before. You cannot afford to abandon your primary constituency, the very cradle that nurtured you and made you what you became or what you are, at this very hour of its greatest need. No responsible leadership would ever do this to its people and its country. Where they did, as in Liberia and Somalia, the consequences have been tragic and history would never forgive or be kind them. In the compelling circumstances we find ourselves today, we can neither be neutral onlookers nor complacent; we must find a solution with or without government.

It is expected that this conference will provide an opportunity to the various security agencies to address the cream of Northern leadership and expertise on their efforts as well as their challenges in dealing with the current security challenges. The conference cannot therefore be a gathering for government bashing that comes to nothing, but a gathering of responsible introspection and creative interaction that will focus on the way out of this imbroglio. This gathering must be informed by the need to collectively salvage our only country and to avoid the kind of catastrophe that had befallen some societies in Africa whose leaders were complacent in times of similar crisis.

It is hoped that this kind of engagement will engender the kind of trust and confidence essential to citizen-government collaboration. While the conference is also expected to clarify a number of issues and improve citizen appreciation of the efforts to tackle this menace, it will also come up with clear resolutions on the responsibilities of citizens and the kind of collaborative efforts necessary for addressing both the security and the human rights challenges.

Dr. Usman Bugaje is a former member, House of Representatives. This is piece is excerpted from his welcome address at a two-day (June10-11) security and human rights in the North conference in Arewa House, Kaduna

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