The platforms under which the vocal and radical northerners concluded to confront the country’s ravaging insecurity were under the umbrella of Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP), Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation (SABMF), Savannah Centre for Democracy and Development (SCDDD), and Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Association (JACNYA) which organised a two-day Northern Security Conference. It was with a view identifying the remote and immediate causes of resurgent Boko Haram, kidnapping, banditry and escalation of other security challenges that have brought the nation to its kneel. While the cream of the northern intelligentsia, led by former National Assembly legislator and opinion leader, Dr. Usman Bugaje, disputed the capacity of Buhari’s government to singlehandedly put an end to the security problems, others argued that there was need to adopt holistic, restorative strategies and proffer pragmatic solutions in ending the menace.
It was also the summation of the conferees that if the current security challenges bedeviling the north is not dealt with and put to a halt, the outcome will have a spillover effect on the southern part of the country that is also experiencing the crisis. When the security conference kicked off at Sardauna Memorial Hall in Kaduna, participants pointed out that the country’s challenges include banditry and communal clashes, kidnapping and armed robbery, Boko Haram insurgency, farmers-herders’ and ethnoreligious conflicts needed to be tackled quickly and urgently otherwise they may sink Nigeria.
According to the organisers, the Nigerian state has apparently failed to provide adequate security and welfare for her citizens and has not been able to bring Boko Haram insurgents and kidnappers who are killing Nigerians and carting away millions of naira as ransom from their captives to an end. They were of the opinion that the rural areas in northern states are bedeviled by cattle rustling, kidnapping and illegal collection of rent and royalties by bandits from the already impoverished rural inhabitants. They stated that the rural communities that were the bastion of the economy, through agriculture and livestock, have become endangered. They said ethno-religious crisis, unemployment and rapid population growth that outstrips economic growth have also combined to create a grim picture of rural north and other parts of Nigeria.
In view of the enormity of the security challenges, organisers lamented, the military and other security agencies seem to have been overstretched, hence the need for community collaboration with government so as to find adequate solutions to the current crises. The belief among those that gathered at the summit was that the Federal Government, through its security agencies, is not addressing the security challenges with the urgency it deserves. They also observed and stressed, during their deliberations, that although government has deployed operation Python Dance and many other codenames, it was yet to record as much success.
Similarly, the conferees said the police, which should take care of internal security, are over-stretched across the country. However, they said state governments and local communities are hardly properly harnessed to support or partner with the Federal Government to outline strategies to achieve total success against rampant insecurity.
Meanwhile, it was the contention of the security conferees that the multifaceted security challenges in the north were becoming daring and alarmingly pervasive, more resistant, vicious, brutal and senseless. They argued that Boko Haram insurgents, with territorial ambition, gained prominence in 2009 and was a major campaign issue of All Progressives Congress (APC) and General Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 general elections.
While the military commendably decimated the striking power of Boko Haram and gained occupied territories in the Northeast shortly after the enthronement of the APC-led government in 2015, the insurgents’ capacity for terror is yet to be decisively broken. At momentous instances, they noted, the insurgents have often dealt blows on Nigerian military formations in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States, thus eroding earlier military gains and public trust in the ability of government for protection.
Among the prominent personalities present at the conference included the Emir of Birnin Gwari, Dr. Zubairu Mai Gwari, Secretary-General of Jama’atu Nasri Islam (JNI), Sheikh Abubakar Khalid Aliyu, Justice Sadiq Mahuta, Professor Usman Tar, Professor Yima Sen, representative of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Issa Aremu, Emir of Gwandu, Mohammadu Basher, Hon. Hajiya Saidatu Sani, Dr. Abubakar Saddique Mohammed, Dr. Chris Kwaja, a former Minister, Inuwa Abdulkadri Magatada Baba, and other top retired military and police personnel.
After the conference opened, the hundreds of participants that attended the conference were dissolved into panels to brainstorm on the problem and come up with lasting solutions to the menace. The panels were requested to beam their searchlight on the sub-themes: Rural Banditry and Communal Clashes, Kidnapping and Armed Robbery, Boko Haram Insurgency, Farmer-Herders’ Conflict, Ethno-Religious Conflict, Urban Youth Violence, and Regional Perspectives and Diplomacy.
However, stressing on why the security challenges in the north persist, the facilitator of day’s first session, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, contended that “the widespread insecurity with its dire consequences on the lives of the people was a clear manifestation of the failure of governance in the northern states,” saying that “the longer the insurgency lasts, the higher the chances of perpetuating itself with stronger, destructive capacity”.
According to him, “Government has failed to develop a capacity to contain challenges of insurgency and farmer-herders’ clashes. Governments have failed to implement the grazing laws of 1965 which mapped out areas for grazing and eventual development into ranches for livestock”.
But the Director, Centre for Defence Studies and Documentation, Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), Professor Usman Tar, who lamented the damage the insurgents have inflicted on the nation’s economy and development, especially in the Northeast, explained, “The Boko Haram crisis, initially defined as a Northeast problem, had become a national and even transnational problem with global recognition because of its incomparable violent nature and worsening humanitarian crisis”.
Tar attributed what triggered the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency in the country to “poor governance or absence of government in many rural communities, protracted or unresolved communal conflicts, climate change/natural disaster and weak military and police capacity to fight Boko Haram”. He also said there was need for government to immediately embark on a renewal of security and political strategies, noting that “the compelling need to review both military and political strategies should include defined political goals, inter-agency cooperation, and collaboration, capacity building, incorporation of community security outfits, addressing the almajiri school system and deradicalization strategy to win both war and battle against Boko Haram”.
However, when participants entered the Panel sessions, they chose to do so behind closed doors. This was in order to ensure that the recommendations of the summit to the Federal Government are made secret and out of public glare, the organisers explained. It was in this light that the convener of the conference, Dr. Bugaje, told journalists that the security conference secretariat would set up a standing committee to look at the recommendations made with a view to monitoring the implementation by the Federal Government. Bugaje also gave reasons why the northern governors were not invited to the conference, saying that they lack the knowledge and expertise to comprehend how the security challenges could be resolved.
While fielding questions from journalists on the possible outcome of the conference, Bugaje said: “I’m not worried one bit that the governors were not around at the commencement of the conference. In the first place for the work we did, they are not really important. We did invite some of them. We are not keen they were not around.
“You know what happens when governors come. The place is going to be crowded with unnecessary security operatives and they will make the place messy. And they cannot be so sure of what we are doing. Not all of them are knowledgeable about the issues. In fact, they may not have the component knowledge and expertise to really be part of what we did”.
At the end of the Northern Security Conference, Bugaje pointed out that “it is at this stage of creating these committees that we will bring out the recommendations and after they have done all the work needed to be done, then we will now involve the government and traditional rulers.
“And we have already contacted the chairman of the northern governors on the security committee. We have contacted the Sultan of Sokoto who is the head of the traditional institutions. I personally did that myself. So, we have briefed them on what we have done. And we have also told them to indicate how best we can work together. And they all welcome the idea.”
While commending the work of the conference, Bugaje stressed further, “If you recall the conference that we had between July 1-2, there were various panel that dealt with different forms of security challenges. Each of the panel has submitted its report. We have validated the report of the syndicate. We have now created a standing committee for northern security.
“It will be constituted by a pool of experts. Members of the committee will be made up of former ambassadors, top military and police officers who have served at various positions and other important personalities. And a lot of them have the knowledge of the security industry; they are going to organize themselves into a standing committee that will now look at the reconmend and break them down into implementable components and see to the implementation on the field”.