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Mr. President, don’t put your hand into the lion’s mouth

By Hakeem Baba Ahmed on 07/01/2014

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“Do not put your hand into the lion’s mouth just because he says he does not eat meat anymore.” —Nigerian proverb.

There are still a few people in the nation who do not believe that it is true. They want to see further proof that President Jonathan plans to spend N2b (yes, two billion Naira only) in the north-eastern region  as the federal government’s contribution to rebuilding socio-economic infrastructure  devastated by the insurgency of Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lid Daawati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ). Others who believe it because it is in the proposed 2014 spending plans are outraged. A few who did not expect even the N2b are not disappointed. They have long resigned themselves to the possibility that only State Governments and the international community will bother to put in place a major initiative needed to begin the reconstruction of a region on its knees.

Whether the approved 2014 appropriation eventually sets aside N2b or N200b will depend largely on public pressure, the manner the National Assembly perceives its responsibility, and the degree to which President Jonathan feels the need to show requisite levels of political sensitivity. At any rate, this is not an issue that should be left to the discretion of the President, or be treated as a matter between the north east communities and the President. It is a matter of national importance, and it is central to success or otherwise of the fight against the insurgency.

It will serve no purpose to compare a planned spending of N2b in the north-east with budgetted  spending in other areas generally considered wasteful. Some commentators have drawn attention to plans to spend more than N4b to host the World Economic Forum, a gimmick that will add nothing to our national economy, reflecting two distinct characters. One showcases an enclave economy where returns on investment are very high, while the other is hostile to any investment of real value owing to unstable and insecure environment.

The proposed 2014 spending plans include over N100b to be spent in the Niger Delta in spite of the recent lamentation of the President that the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) has not impacted on the lives of Niger Delta citizens in a manner that justifies the huge spending through it. It is possible that somewhere in a government office, there are records of the full amount spent on the amnesty programme started by late President Yar’Adua to date; the total funding of the Ministry for Niger Delta; the 13% derivation and the statutory allocations made to States in the Niger Delta in the last ten years. If those records exist, it is doubtful if anyone will be brave enough to publish them today.

The plan to spend N2b in the North East as counterpart fund by the federal government makes people ask awkward questions that are only remotely relevant. How many people have been educated and given skills and jobs for being self-confessed militants from the Niger Delta? How many phases of the Amnesty Programme have been implemented, and how many ex-militants are still knocking on doors for new phases? Where are the ex-militants who have been trained in Europe, Ghana, South Africa and other parts of the world? How many ex-militants are tying down multi-billion Naira contracts around oil and gas facilities? What would the Niger Delta look like today if the federal government had not invested so heavily in building basic infrastructure and the education and training of people who came forward to claim that they had taken up arms against the nation?

Parallels do not need to be drawn between the Niger Delta problem and the insurgency in the North to make the case that you have to invest in the community and the local economy to address the structural roots of both threats. In the case of the northern part of Nigeria, the case for massive investment in basic infrastructure and the economy is much more compelling. Niger Delta militants substantially targeted oil and gas assets and made huge money kidnapping expatriates. The nation invested heavily in giving them alternatives to a life of crime, and in giving communities greater access to resources from natural assets around and under them.

The insurgency in the North locked out any fresh investment, local or foreign. It destroyed a lot of social infrastructure like schools, hospitals and markets. Transport and communication facilities have been badly damaged, abandoned or shut down. Basic economic activities like farming and fishing have suffered major setbacks. Government spending has been largely restricted to providing security. Traders have migrated to safer areas. Thousands of lives, including breadwinners, have been lost. Families have been dispersed. Children have not received education as they should. Rich and influential people who can move out of the zone did so in droves. Many young people moved out in search of menial jobs, and out of fear of becoming victims, conscripted by the insurgency or being picked up by the security forces on suspicion. The entire economy and social structure has to be rebuilt over the next few years, even as the battle to defeat the insurgency is sustained. If this is left to the states, it won’t be done at all.

State governments had, in the last few years, routinely dipped into shallow coffers to provide relief to bereaved families of citizens and security personnel. They repaired damaged homes, schools, hospitals, police stations, military facilities and prisons. They substantially funded security agencies, and paid for ancillary outfits which supported them. Governors rushed to divert funds that could have built schools and trained teachers towards providing relief and assistance to victims because they felt an obligation not to wait for federal government assistance. Perhaps they had hoped that one day, the federal government will tally all these expenditure and make efforts to share their burden. Or they may have acted instinctively, conscious of the fact that the insurgency is a home-grown disaster which needs local efforts and resources to deal with, at least before external help came.

The federal government was never an external factor in the manner the JASLIWAS insurgency started, developed and is currently manifested. It has been involved in every stage, and the fight against this insurgency has been its own, with little input from the community. At a stage, in fact, much of the community felt that it was a double victim: not safe from federal security agencies, and helpless against the insurgency. It is inevitable that the years of fighting an enemy which uses the community as shield will leave many scars on that community. This enemy will either submit eventually, suffer final defeat or dig in for the long haul without making any restitution for damage. But the federal government cannot do that.

The nation will be reminded of the President’s pledge to provide support to victims when he received the Report of the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North. Although some mischief was attempted around his refusal to use the word compensation to suggest that victims will be abandoned to their fates, most Nigerians understood that the President meant that communities, families and individuals who suffered one type of deprivation or the other as victims will receive some relief. Two weeks ago, the United States government urged the federal government to expedite action towards providing substantial economic relief to the region. The last North East Investment Forum drew attention to the need for States in the region to improve spending in agriculture, education and infrastructure, while urging the federal government to honour its pledge to contribute to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of economy and society in the region.

People who thought the federal government was taking its time since it received the Dialogue Committee Report to roll out a major economic initiative will be among those who will be disappointed by plans to spend N2b in the region. Many thought the federal government will create a Ministry for the region, akin to the Niger Delta Ministry. Others thought the federal and relevant state government will collaborate in an elaborate plan that should last the decade, to invest in social and economic infrastructure. Virtually everyone familiar with the genesis and development of the JASLIWAJ insurgency knows that its ultimate defeat will not be accomplished by a military option. The poverty which feeds dislocating social values and structures has to be comprehensively tackled by all governments, but particularly by the federal government. The longer non-military options such as the fight against poverty are delayed, the longer it will take to defeat this insurgency. It is difficult to imagine what N2b will accomplish under current circumstances.

The plan by President Jonathan to spend N2b in the North East, under whatever guise, should be rejected. Nigerians should raise their voices against this outrage, and if he insists on this level of funding, the nation should tell the President to keep his N2b. Beyond this, since this issue is way beyond the personal whims of President Jonathan, Nigerians will expect the National Assembly and all other Nigerians with influence to work towards substantially increasing the planned spending by the federal and state governments from the region for the next 10 years. It is not unreasonable to ask that N200b is spent in the region most affected by the insurgency every year for the next five years; and this should be reviewed after an impact assessment for continuation. If President Jonathan will not accept to substantially review his planned spending in the North east, he should be told by all major stakeholders to keep his N2b, and leave the community at the mercy of poverty and the insurgency.

Hakeem Baba Ahmed (shown in photo) is the Interim Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kaduna State. This piece originally appeared in baba-ahmed.blogspot.com.

Source News Express

Posted 07/01/2014 6:27:30 PM

 

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