Northern Elders Forum (NEF), on August 12, issued a press statement on the “multiple internal security challenges” in the North. Two key officers of the forum signed the statement. They are Barrister Solomon Dalung and Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a former federal permanent Secretary. Later, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, NEF spokesman and a former university vice chancellor, confirmed the two spoke on the forum’s behalf.
The kernel of the NEF statement was an October deadline given to President Goodluck Jonathan to rescue the over 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls still in Boko Haram captivity since April and bring them back home alive. Next, his government should do the needful thing to end the over 4-year-old boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. Failure to do any of these, the forum warned, would see the President’s dream of re-election vanish like a mirage.
The forum said it did not believe that the country’s military could defeat the Boko Haram terrorists. Moreover, it strongly suspected that the “conflicts are being engineered (by some interests) to weaken the North politically and economically” in order to gain electoral mileage. The NEF statement reads in part: “We … reject the notion that multiple internal security challenges such as attacks on villages, ethno-religious conflicts and banditry springing up by the day in many parts of the North are all a coincidence. Indeed, we are convinced that most of these conflicts are being engineered to weaken the North politically and economically by interests which intend to exploit such weaknesses for electoral benefits.The security situation in our nation today represents the most serious threat to our individual and collective lives in our entire history.”
Somehow, the statement, particularly the part that mentioned the 2015 elections, stirred the hornet’s nest in the Presidency. It was worried by the sheer weight of the names behind the NEF and electoral strength of the North in terms of numbers and political awareness.On its own part, Peoples Daily understands the Northern elders’ frustration over what they see and believe as the Jonathan administration’s failure to free the Chibok schoolgirls, five months after their abductions, more so as the President and the military leadership have said publicly that they know where the girls are being held. Expectedly, this failure has fawned several theories, not least the one that the insurgency has festered because the President wants to use it to disenfranchise the electorate in the North as a whole in order to brighten his re-election chances.
What is more, the elders are under tremendous pressure from their people whose lives have been ravaged by the insurgency to get the government to show more seriousness and commitment to the anti-insurgency campaign. The elders’ recourse to the news media is because their previous meetings with the President, beginning in February 2013, on the Boko Haram challenge and the indiscriminate manner in which the military are conducting the anti- insurgency campaign have not been seen to yield any positive result. Rather, the insurgency seems to be increasing in sophistication and spread.
However, though we acknowledge that the Northern elders’frustration runs very deep, we believe it should not be expressed in terms of an open threat. The ultimatum to the president could be misinterpreted as confrontation.
They should conduct themselves as the mature and responsible leaders that they are. We know for a fact that elders of the North in the past were not given to outbursts. Their dignified silence in the face of provocation and preference for dialogue often had served the North’s interest better than open confrontation. To its enemies, that strategy was sharper than a double-edged sword. Why should the tradition change now?
Furthermore, since the elders have proclaimed their faith in the oneness of the nation, they should avail the government of any new ideas and perspectives they have that will help end the insurgency. Accordingly, all hands should be on deck in this respect. If they do so and the suggestions are not taken, only then should they infer the government has a hidden agenda in prolonging the war on terror. Until then, let’s all tread softly, softly.