By Rakiya A.Muhammad
Stakeholders have converged on Sokoto to discuss strategies that could make up game-changing alternatives to resolving the continuing dilemma in the fight against insecurity in Nigeria’s Northwest zone, the safest region that has gone perilous.
Despite military tactics, the deplorable security situation has persisted in the Northwest, the largest zone of seven states: Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, and Kano.
“We have unsparing motorcyclists, going from one village to another raping the poor, and they are subjected to all sorts of illegal taxation, ransom, not allowed to farm or confiscation of their property, violating the dignity of children their wives and so, disruption of livelihoods which also increases social inequality etc.,” Professor Tukur Baba, Head, Department of Sociology, Federal University of Birnin Kebbi articulates at a High- level Townhall Meeting organised by the ‘Building Community Resilience Against Insecurity and Violent Extremism’ project in Sokoto.
The Kukah Centre is implementing the project in Kaduna and Sokoto State in partnership with Global Rights with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
“It’s not just kidnapping, it not just a ransom, it is not just horrible crimes of banditry, rape, the mere fact that I cannot think of travelling to Gusau without worrying about what will happen to me between Turata and Lambara Bakura is itself an assault on my security,” laments the professor of Sociology.
“Our security has been shattered in such broad ways that it is very hard to contemplate that this was once the part of Nigeria, the same area when we were much younger; we used to leave Sokoto at 7 pm with fifty naira in our pockets to kano to attend parties at midnight and by 5, we will drive to Zaria. You cannot contemplate such a thing anymore.”
Incidentally, it is a zone dealing with low socioeconomic indicators, including having the highest number of people who are multidimensionally poor in Nigeria, with 45.49 million out of 132 million figures for the country, and the highest proportion of stunted children at 57 per cent. Among others, it is also in a part of the country, Northern Nigeria, where a UNICEF study shows 69 per cent of out-of-school children.
“Without meaning to understate the impact of insecurity in other parts of the country, the northwest has seen it very bad,” he points out.
“Insecurity is on the loose; insecurity, in all its ramifications, is today occupying the centre stage in our discussions about our lives. Insecurity in every sense of the word, food security, physical insecurity, economic insecurity and so on occupy centre stage in our lives.”
Edosa Oviawe, Program Manager of Global Rights, describes it as disturbing to see the Northwest, which was hitherto at the bottom of its tracking, now occupying the top positions regarding victims of mass atrocities in the country.
Global Rights has been tracking cases of mass atrocities across Nigeria, including deaths and abductions in the last three-four years.
Oviawe also recalls Northwest was one region they had interventions but that, at some point, they had to water down the programmes because of security concerns.
“Even when the insurgency started in the Northwest about 10 to 13 years ago, Northwest was still safe. However, it has been very different in the last couple of years with bandits and other elements coming in. Northwest has gradually sunk from being the safest to be the area with the most concern.”
A baseline study by Global Rights identifies the common triggers of conflicts in these states, including dwindling availability of environmental resources as a result of population growth and climate change with its resultant impact on access to land and water resources, which has intensified farmer/herder clashes with the proliferation of small arms making the war intense.
It also notes socioeconomic situations around gold mining, inflation, rising food process and youth unemployment, which have increased poverty, inequality and hunger, exacerbating banditry, kidnapping for ransom and criminality.
Key findings also show political interest and competition for resource control have induced illicit drug use by young people whom the politicians mobilise as instruments of violence and violent conflicts leading to election violence.
Dr Nafisa Zaki links corruption with insecurity. “Any other person who is corrupt has contributed to this because nearly 98 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty; the large proportion are youth and children.”
She also speaks to selfish tendencies, marginalisation, and inequality. “Everyone feels better than the other one; if we can put marginalisation and inequality behind us, then we can move forward, but If we continue to bring our differences, we won’t progress.”
TURNING THE TIDE
Many underscore the urgent need to turn the trend by adopting a multidimensional approach to sustainable peace and security.
For the Department of State Service representative Mr J, Onwumere tackling the menace requires firm purpose and character in combating the threat. “For us to have the willpower to prosecute these criminals, irrespective of whose oars is gored, would go a long way to help the security agencies discharge their duties. We identify these criminals, we investigate, but if we cannot punish them adequately, we have not done our jobs.”
He adds that much as it lies on security agencies, religious leaders and all other stakeholders, it is also the duty of parents to build the foundation by ensuring the education of their youths, whom he notes from a majority of perpetrators of these criminal acts.
In the same light, Sokoto State Police Commissioner CP Ali Hayatu Kaigama all stakeholders to see promoting peace and security in the Northwest as everybody’s business, not the sole responsibility of security agencies.
CP Kaigama, represented by Deputy Police Commissioner, DCP Ibrahim Adamu, advises the public to adopt the principle of Knowing-Your -Next Door -Neighbours and what they do for a living.
“Form the habit of seeing something saying something as it is another information and intelligence gathering method to promote community policing,” he points out.
To address the security challenges, the Commissioner reveals the Nigeria Police adopted the concept of community policing. “We regard this concept as a problem-solving technique, a panacea to these challenges,” he adds.
“The concept centres on holding partnerships with members of the community through a systematic involvement and inclusion of traditional leaders and other community leaders/stakeholders, including the vigilante, which is an additional force; we include them in the conventional police subsystem for achieving a far-reaching success in crime prevention and detection at the grassroots.”
President General Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, draws attention to the traditional leaders’ overriding roles and the renewed calls for a constitutional role for traditional leaders.
“The traditional leaders are the first point of call during any insecurity incident; they are the Chief custodians of peace and security and culture, tradition, and religion. They play a critical role in anything that happens,” the royal father points out.
“They are not looking for any constitutional role that conflicts with the existing political structure; they are looking for a role that would make them complement officially; they are also looking for adequate empowerment, to be capacitated t be able to handle peace and security at the grassroots level effectively.”
He looks back on the time before constitutional democracy, when there was a relatively high level of security and peace, adding that with the lessening of traditional leaders’ roles, it became a problem to maintain peace and security in the communities.
The religious leader encourages continuous dialogue and engagement, which he has spearheaded under the Nigeria Interreligious Council, bringing warring leaders to manage emerging crises and issues that are inimical to peace and progress.
The Sultan, whose message was delivered by Dr Jabbi Kilgori, the Sa’ in Kilgori, also harps on effectively empowering communities through functional education, food security, good governance and consensus building.
Rev Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishops of Sokoto Diocese, believes there is the prospect for Nigerians to work together for the common good irrespective of religion, ethnicity or other differences.
“We can work together; we can achieve a lot together,” says Rev. Kukah, who served the Vatican as a member of the council advising the Holy Father under three popes on the issues of dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He had also addressed the World Islamic League in Sokoto years back.
“What we are dealing with in Nigeria is not religion; we have no problem with religion. There is no problem between Islam and Christianity; we should not quarrel over how to worship God because God’s real worship is seen in action.”
He stresses the importance of education in achieving and maintaining peaceful social relations.
“I am convinced that without education, the best of us as Christians and Muslims won’t be able to practise our faith in a plural society such as ours.”
According to some participants, the High-Level Town Hall Meeting on Peace was already a progressive step in shifting the narrative. Among those with that view is Adamu Garba, Peace Building Officer, Sokoto office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), one of the UN agencies mandated to achieve the 2030 SDGs in which peace is one of the key thematic areas.
“I see a space where we will coordinate with the Kukah Foundation to proffer sustainable solutions to compound challenges within the context of peace and security.”
Garba reveals the UNDP intends to adopt border security governance, alternative dispute resolution and peace messaging campaigns to address some of the compounded climate/ security issues that directly affect the security of the people and communities within this context.
“If you are addressing peace, you want to address the fundamental; we all know in the context that they use weapons to destroy lives and properties, and they bring these weapons into Nigeria through our border communities, so that’s why the border communities are one of our fundamental; areas where we address peace,” he explains.
Governor Ahmed Aliyu of Sokoto State recognises that the journey towards building community resilience against insecurity is challenging and one all stakeholders should undertake to create a safer and more prosperous future for the northwest region.
“It is our collective responsibility to take proactive steps towards finding sustainable solutions. It requires synchronised efforts involving every stakeholder within our society,” he states.
“Our approach must be comprehensive, encompassing various aspects such as education, economic empowerment, social cohesion and effective law enforcement .”
Speaking through Alhaji Abubakar Torankawa, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Sokoto State helmsman urges inclusive society to counter the divisive forces that undermine the nation’s unity. He also identifies the need to ensure that every child in the region receives a quality education that equips them with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed choices and contribute positively to society.
Fr. Atta Barkindo, Executive Director of Kukah Centre, is upbeat that the region can create an environment where peace can thrive and flourish.” I am optimistic that our collective efforts would yield positive outcomes and contribute to building a more secure and harmonious northwest Nigeria.”
He reminds all that the road to peace and security may be arduous but not unsurmountable, requiring an unwavering spirit of resilience, empathy and inclusivity.
“We must strive to embrace diversity, acknowledging the richness we bring to society while sustaining the culture of understanding and tolerance,” he admonishes.
“We must also recognise that promoting peace goes hand in hand with addressing the underlying causes of conflict, be it socioeconomic disparities, marginalisation or the absence of opportunities for the youth.”
Meanwhile, the baseline report recommends changing the game and building bridges in the struggle to ensure sustainable peace and security.
“Conflict prevention and resolution efforts such as military operations and amnesty programmes, as well as negotiations with bandit groups, have yielded less significant results as far as ending the conflicts is concerned,” the report notes.
“For meaningful conflict prevention and peace efforts, there must be deliberate or international efforts to incorporate civilians and local communities who work under good leadership.”
The report suggests incorporating more women for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
“Government efforts towards peace building should combine both addressing root causes of conflict and security vigilance,” it urges. “It is also important that peacebuilding efforts of non-state actors combine both community-level efforts and state or federal level engagement to address conflict in the northwest of Nigeria.