GOVERNORS of the 17 Southern states under the aegis of the Southern Governors’ Forum rose from a meeting in Asaba, Delta State, on Tuesday and made cogent recommendations on security and the retooling of the tottering Nigerian State. Other critical stakeholders should speak out courageously as the forum has done.
Their 12-point communiqué included a call on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to address the country on the raging fire of insecurity, “restore the confidence of the people,” accept the imperative of state policing and reflect Nigeria’s heterogeneous population in federal appointments, including the security agencies.
They resolved to enforce a region-wide total ban on open grazing of cattle, called on Buhari to “convoke a national dialogue” in response to agitations for restructuring, want “urgent and bold steps” to fashion a true federation with state police, fiscal autonomy of the sub-national units and reforms of institutions that advance federalism. Their demands received bipartisan support from Southern senators.
The country is floundering, adjudged by the Financial Times of London to be “at risk of failure” and by the International Crisis Group to be “unravelling,” and the governors have been rather late in acting in unison. The 17 states are violently unsafe; the northern states are even more insecure and fragile. After years of bloodletting in the North-West and North-Central by armed Fulani herders and bandits, terrorism in the North-East and the recent infestation of the South by hordes of armed Fulani herders and home-grown criminals, the governors have, mercifully, finally woken up to the deluge and the existential threat to national survival. Many say the country is already at war.
Insecurity is tearing Nigeria apart. Inept, divisive, and indecisive, Buhari has failed, lost control and the confidence of Nigerians. Over 1,500 persons were slain in the first six weeks of this year. Over 1,000, about 700 of the students, were kidnapped for ransom from January to March. Police officers and soldiers are being killed in random attacks. Yet, Buhari has remained aloof, unmoved beyond statements by regime spokesmen or fruitless “security meetings” with under-performing Service Chiefs. Typically, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday proffered lame excuses, and like Buhari, issued fresh “warning” to terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers. Governments do not “warn” criminals, they deter, apprehend, and prosecute them.
Time has run out for Buhari’s bewilderment. At the heart of the crisis lies the President’s weak leadership. On his watch, criminality has run amok, overwhelming the quirky single policing system; the country is divided as never before, and separatists are ascendant. Implosion is a real and present reality that should be avoided. The Northern Elders’ Forum insists that the country simply cannot afford two more years of Buhari’s somnolent, detached, divisive and incompetent ministration.
The Southern governors’ call, therefore, offers a lifeline; to tame insecurity and assuage deep feelings of alienation. Buhari should address the country with a message of hope, decisive action, and inclusion. He must back the nationwide ban on open cattle grazing that has provided the pretext for bloodthirsty Fulani killers and bandits to swarm across the country, cooperate with the 36 states and the National Assembly to facilitate state policing and fiscal federalism. He must reflect the country’s diversity in appointments to the security forces and align with moves to renegotiate the political structure.
The country is sailing towards a political iceberg. The governors should complement their logos-driven communique with uncommon courage to enforce the existing laws on security in their domains. They should also pressure Buhari to act fast; the seething mass discontent and imminent loss of control could precipitate desperate action by non-state actors with dire consequences no one can predict with accuracy. It is long past time for root and branch reforms.
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