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Published On: Mon, Mar 31st, 2014

President Jonathan and the North-east

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President JonathanThe report released by the National Emergency Management Agency – NEMA- last week on the situation in the North-east is frightening.

For the first three months of this year alone, the report says 250,000 people have been displaced and are surviving in the bush, overcrowded with relatives and friends or in squalid camps where 500 share one latrine.

The insurgency in that part of the country has affected over three million people. Out of these, thousands have been killed while many others have been driven from their homes. Indiscriminate killings by the insurgents, now an everyday routine has brought fear to every home in the region.

The first three months of this year have been particularly gruesome since the insurgency started a couple of years back. Ironically, this year opened on an optimistic note. Late last year, the governments of the North-east geo-political zone organized the 2nd North-east Economic Summit. I was there and there was hope in the air.

Held in Gombe, the conference attracted who is who in the North-east and beyond: Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, then PDP National Chairman, Malam Adamu Ciroma, former Minister, Hajia Amina J. Mohammed, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on post 2015 Development Planning, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of Central Bank, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man and many others.

Even though the summit was focused on economic development, every paper presented found its way round the issue of terrorism and insurgency ravaging all parts of the region. It was generally agreed and rightly too that economic development cannot take place in the situation of war that is the reality of the North-east of today.

President Goodluck Jonathan was also there with a message of hope. In his speech, the president revealed that the federal government was evolving an intervention programme specifically targeted at accelerating the pace of socio-economic development in the North-east. He however noted that the re-establishment of peace and security in the zone was essential for the successful implementation of the measures and actions envisaged in the intervention programme.

Two rather disappointing things have followed that Presidential pronouncement. Figures later released by the Presidency gave a token amount of N2 billion as the promised intervention fund the president spoke of in grandiose terms in Gombe.

This N2 billion fund was greeted with disappointment and then anger from the majority of the people in the region. Many people from there feel the president – who has hardly visited the war ravaged states of Borno and Yobe – does not know the gravity of the devastation and human misery visited on these two states by the insurgency. There is also a feeling that the president who voted over N500 billion at the same time for intervention in his zone, South-south, does not give a damn about the plight of the North-east zone.

Secondly, since the president made his pronouncements on the need to create a peaceful atmosphere for economic development, the attacks by the insurgents have become more frequent and devastating. Schools have been sacked and many students slaughtered – some in their sleep. Whole villages and sometimes towns have been ransacked with hundreds killed. Banks have been raided, looted and then set ablaze. Military, police and paramilitary barracks have been overrun. One could go on and on.

The successful campaigns of the insurgents have led to more misery for the ordinary people. Thousands have been killed and tens of thousands of farmers driven from their land. There is fear of widespread famine in the zone. Additionally, according to the NEMA report, “the fabric of society is being torn apart, with the increase of female-headed households, unaccompanied children, and the most vulnerable are being left behind.”

The Agency, says health services have collapsed in many areas, epidemics are likely, and food shortages will worsen as refugees say they are getting by on one meal a day.

“Sanitation conditions are horrendous, with an average of 500 persons per latrine instead of the recommended 50, in most affected areas”, it said.

Many camps have no latrines at all, forcing camp residents to use the bush, or plastic bags and pieces of newspaper. There are no refuse bins, communal refuse pits or bathing areas. People have to bath and collect water for cooking from streams.

The government agency said it has tried to help, driving in tanks of water and giving away mattresses, cooking pots and other emergency goods. But “the needs of the affected population are increasing by the day,” it says, appealing for help.

The state governments of the region have offered all the help they can. About 75% of the budgets of Borno and Yobe are for instance devoted to containing the insurgency and its fallouts. But their efforts are a drop in the ocean when compared with the magnitude of the problems on hand.

More dangerously, some of the state governments are becoming despondent. They believe that the president simply does not care. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno says Boko Haram is better equipped and better motivated than the Nigerian Army.

Governor Murtala Nyako last week released a stinking criticism of the president’s handling of the crisis. He made public a memo he submitted at a meeting with the State Department of the United States. The memo spoke of a President who is impervious to reason as many of his (Nyako’s) memos to him have simply been ignored.

I think it should worry my President that people of Nyako’s status are talking to outside governments and the Nigerian public that way. Let us for once leave political squabbles aside. What we have in the North-east is a serious threat to our sovereignty and national security. Nyako is not just a state governor. He is an accomplished general, former Chief of Naval Staff and former Deputy Chief of Defence Staff. Sometimes he clowns but when he speaks on security issues, he does not speak out of ignorance.

Nyako who was himself attacked by the insurgents questions the commitment of the military to bringing an end to the insurgency. Many of us share his worry. There is widespread belief that the military has come to see the disaster in that zone as a honey pot. Millionaires and even billionaires are coming out of the military everyday. Whatever military strategy our Commander–in –Chief has in place has not worked and he needs a rethink.

More importantly, the president needs more constructive engagement with the people of the area. Setting up bogus committees that guzzle money and produce no result is another wrong strategy. There are groups from the North-east, led by responsible patriots of this country. They want to assist our president to end this catastrophe.

The Borno-Yobe Peoples Forum will for instance address a world press conference this morning. Is our president listening?

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