By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Do not try to lean on a wall that is not near you.”– Ghanaian Proverb.
NORTHERN Governors set up a seemingly powerful committee on reconciliation, healing and security last week, three months into the silence of President Goodluck Jonathan over the long list of grievances and demands presented to him by Northern Elders.
The governors’ committee is meant to liaise with stakeholders in the states affected by the JASLIWAJ(a.k.a. Boko Haram) insurgency and other security threats, and get to the root of other security challenges and proffer solutions.
It also has their mandate to negotiate with identified groups, liaise with the Federal Government and agree on best approaches to resolving security challenges, and work out modalities for reconciling warring parties and communities in the North.
The governors say recurring incidents of violence in the North have almost crippled the economy and society of the region, and they represent serious challenges to national stability, unity and development. Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Dr. M.B. Aliyu wants the committee to assist by broadly looking at the issues of religious extremism, intolerance and mutual disrespect which appear to be creating more ethnic and religious cleavages that are damaging Northern unity.
He lamented the inability of a single Northern state to pay one month salary from internally-generated revenue. He hinted at the resolve to sustain resistance by the Northern governors against what they see as unfair distribution of oil revenues.
It will be uncharitable to dismiss this latest move by Northern governors as a red herring, but it will be equally hypocritical to applaud it as a statesmanship from leaders of people with their backs against many walls.
The Northern Elders’ Forum which met and presented a litany of requests and demands to President Jonathan three months ago has to be a backdrop to an assessment of the utility of this move by the governors.
Almost bowing to the ground, the leader of the elders appealed to the President to demilitarize the North, curb gross abuses by security agents, including extra-judicial killings, discourage official perception of the insurgency as a Northern Muslim resistance against the President, revisit many of the reports of investigations into ethno-religious conflicts and implement their recommendations, tackle corruption, address youth unemployment, stop arbitrary and indiscriminate removal of senior officers from the public and security services, and many more demands.
There were no reports by the elders that they had approached Northern governors earlier to take up these issues with the President, as people with political and legal obligations and clout.
Indictment of governors
The decision by Northern elders to engage Mr President directly on issues that would have been effectively taken up at numerous levels and occasions by governors was a serious indictment of the governors. Even if, as was rumoured, some of the governors had encouraged the elders to go straight to the Villa, they would only have shot themselves in the foot.
The desperate, yet unproductive sojourn of the elders may also reinforce a widespread perception that they hold the governors in very low esteem, and would rather appeal to a President seen in many circles as a co-facilitator of the political and security situation of the North, than appeal to them to take up its cause. The President’s silence since their visit also speaks loudly his perception of Northern problems.
It is difficult to avoid the impression that Northern governors have set up this and two other committees as a belated reaction to control major damage. So much water has passed under the bridge, that you have to wonder whether even members of the committee will believe that they can do any genuinely productive work.
The insurgency has taken roots in many parts of the North, and all governors say is that they have no control over security matters. They are substantially its targets, and their influence over the community which can be mobilized against it is virtually nil.
So they cannot fight it, and they cannot resist it. Their coterie of the ulaama is politically compromised, and they live behind secure embankments, too removed from the people. The economy in much of the North is well and truly wrecked, but neither the lavish lifestyle of governors nor the army of political hacks paid from public funds is showing evidence of being affected. Governors cannot call each other to order.
They cannot set benchmarks for Jang in the manner he relates with some ethnic groups in Plateau State, and they cannot prevail on Yakowa to do something on the consequences of the Zonkwa massacre.
They cannot take on the President on the PIB, on the on-shore/ off-shore dichotomy, on the operations of security agencies and their impact on communities; or on any major policy which affects the North substantially.
For whatever it is worth, many people of impeccable integrity and undoubted commitment have accepted to be part of the governors’ committee. They have a major task ahead of them, particularly given the fact that many of the problems they are being asked to find solutions for have their roots and locations in the manner governors run the North.
The committee couldn’t have started at a more inauspicious moment either, with the JASLIWAJ insurgency reportedly denying reports that it is engaged in negotiations with government, and even warning Dr Datti Ahmed to steer clear. They will be well advised to take some of their terms of reference with a pinch of salt.
The charge to dialogue with any or all sources of the violence in the North must sound hollow, coming from people who cannot facilitate the most elementary of contacts, or exploit the huge goodwill which exists in their communities towards fighting the insurgency.
The task of identifying the roots of the security challenges should not be difficult to accomplish: they are the task masters, who have raised bad governance, corruption and impunity to new levels.
Members of the committee should not bother with the term of reference which says they should liaise with the Federal Government and deliberate on the best approach to resolving security challenges. If the Federal Government has the slightest clue over how our numerous challenges can be resolved, why would it wait for a security committee to come for them?
The members of the governors’ committee should take their jobs seriously. To do this, they will need to re-write their terms of reference. The sources and the results of the security and economic problems of the North are here in the North.
The Federal Government and the rest of Nigeria are only marginally responsible, the former as a seemingly-willing accomplice in a tragic self-mutilation, the latter, beneficiaries of a weakening competition. They can write their report in a month because combatants, warring communities, JASLIWAJ insurgents or the Federal Government will not give them the time of day.
If governors are content with public relations gimmicks, many of the respected members of this committee should not be. The problems of the North and national security are too important to be handled by governors hiding behind committees.