By Joseph Erunke
ABUJA-A coalition of Civil Society Organizations under the aegis of Gender Advocacy for Justice Initiative, GAJI, has attributed the cause of insecurity in Benue State and other parts of the country to long years of poor governance and structural imbalances.
It expressed dissatisfaction with the practice of federalism in the country, saying it was enveloped with what it called “ethnic and sectional ideologies even within the public service.”
The group also said as the Nigerian Army begins full special operations in Benue State with a view to curbing the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the state, troops deployed in the state must not only be neutral but also respect the rules of engagement in the operation.
On the other hand, it called on the citizens of the state to cooperate with the operators of the Operation Cat Race Exercise,so that they can achieve their aim of restoring peace in the state.
The Gender Advocacy for Justice Initiative, GAJI, comprising members of Civil Society Organizations, mid level professionals, members of the academia, practitioners in peace and conflict resolution and retired public servants,in a statement Sunday, by its Chairman, Cliff Gai and Secretary, Tersoo Agera, respectively, insisted that long years of poor governance and structural imbalances fueled current insecurity in the country.
The group’s positions, according to the statement, were the fall-out of a meeting it convened in Abuja on Friday February 23, 2018, to identify the immediate, medium and long term strategies in response to the recent developments in Benue State, Middle Belt, of Nigeria.
“The long years of poor governance and structural imbalances are responsible for the insecurity situation in Benue and other parts of the country, “it said while adding:” We observe with dismay the lacklustre response of the Federal Government of Nigeria towards the security situation in Benue State and many parts of the country and condemn it in the strongest terms.”
“We decry the nature and practice of our federalism and the noticeable rise in ethnic and sectional ideologies even within the public service, the security forces and the implications this has on national unity and integration, “it further said.
While it acknowledged what it described as “the critical, responsive and sustained role of the media in creating awareness on the security situation in Benue State, the coalition said:” However and strangely too, we observe with great concern the lack of interest of the national civil society groups and networks regarding the situation in Benue State.”
Commenting on the Open Grazing and Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in Benue State, GAJI, while throwing its weight behind the law, asked the state government not to shirk in its responsibility of protecting the citizens of the state.
“We observe that the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law is a product of a legitimate process and reaffirms commitment and support to its full implementation.
” We, however, observe with dismay the tendency for otherwise well respected international organizations not only taking sides in the Benue situation but also yielding their platforms for inciting and misleading publications capable of escalating an already bad situation, “it further said.
While it welcomed the deployment of the Army troops under exercise Cat Race to Benue State, saying it hoped that” this will facilitate the immediate return of internally displaced persons to their ancestral homes”, the group tasked the troops deployed in the state to operate strictly according to rules of engagement just as it tasked citizens to fully cooperate with the troops with a view to bringing peace and order to the state.
“We call on the citizens of Benue State to cooperate with the operators of the Cat Race Exercise and recommend too, that the Army should exhibit a high sense of neutrality and responsibility as well as respect the rules of engagement, “the statement said.
The group observed that, the security situation in Benue State has created a catastrophic humanitarian crisis with attendant consequences on livelihoods, healthcare delivery, and access to education, nutrition and social integration, which could lead to the non attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs in Benue State.
“Among other challenges, the citizens are not only displaced and uprooted but also going to be disenfranchised from exercising their political rights of voter registration.
To this end, it “demand that, security agencies and INEC should ensure that displaced people have opportunity to register and also vote in the upcoming elections.”
The group observed with deep concern, the utterances of some elder statesmen, particularly from the northern part of the country regarding the herder – farmer relationships in Benue State.
“We cautions that, some of the utterances are inciting and capable of deepening rather healing wounds. Therefore, we encourage that, the same way young people are required to respect their elders, the same way we demand that elder statesmen respect constituted authority irrespective of their locations, “it said.
It also tasked the federal government to ensure that Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs were not only registered but also vote in the 2019 general elections.
“We call on government and other responsible organizations to relocate the displaced populations taking up shelter in schools and consequently causing secondary displacement of school children, “it added.
The group which decried what it referred to as the sudden silence of civil society organizations in the Benue crisis,” called on the Civil Society Organizations to step-up their commitment to defending the rights of the generality of the Nigerian citizenry.”
“There is an urgent need for critical consideration of the security situation in Benue State and the implication this poses on democracy and development in our country Nigeria
“Since the colonial era, Benue State has played a strategic role in projecting the position and agenda of minority groups in Nigeria and must continue to effectively and efficiently discharge this responsibility.
“We acknowledge the decision of the Federal Government to reconstruct affected communities, however; we recommend that the process should be comprehensive, inclusive and gender – responsive, “it said.
It further added:” We invite the United Nations and other international agencies to support the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation in Benue State.”
The statement said at the meeting, the group reviewed the security situation in Benue State and the level and quality of response from various tiers and agencies of government.