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The giant north weeps

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We may all pretend all we want but no one can deny this, even if the temptation to be untrue to oneself for a mess of pottage cannot be resisted: Northern Nigeria is in distress, gripped by the cold hands of insurgency, bandits, kidnappers and assorted criminals. The region, once the most peaceful in the land, has become the most violent. Daily, the killings go on and daily the blood of the innocent flows. And daily despair, hopelessness and desperation among the people deepen. This ought not to be so.

It is right and proper that some elite and youth groups in the region are loudly crying out to President Buhari to rise up to the challenges that face him and his region and end the reign of criminals and turn it from being the killing fields of the country back to the peaceful and prosperous food basket of the nation. An unsafe northern Nigeria is an unsafe Nigeria. These elite and youth groups have been attacked, of course, by those who think that making the president live in denial creates the path to his greatness as a leader. They are wrong and they know it.

This is not politics. It is about the safety of the country and its people. It is about ending the reign of criminals in the region. It is about making the government, if you would excuse the expression, find its balls. It is about the duty the government owes the people to make them safe and secure in their own country.

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It bears repeating that it was not for nothing that the framers of our constitution made security the number one task for our governments at all levels. They knew that every government, no matter how powerful or sophisticated, has to contend with criminal elements within and outside its shores. Indeed, I am willing to bet that more than half of the provisions in our law books are devoted to preventing and punishing those who choose to be criminals rather than decent citizens and living off the sweat of the innocent and the law-abiding.

But more importantly, they appreciated the simple fact that everything in a country rides on its security. History has no examples of countries that developed economically and socially when it could not secure itself. It is time to wake up. It is time to confront the enormous challenges of our worsening insecurity. This is not about who loves or supports the president more; it is about those who wish the president to succeed and leave a legacy of a peaceful and secured state, able and willing to guarantee its citizens the right not to be ruled by criminals and other non-state actors.

There can be no greater presidential legacy than this. Those who criticise the way and manner the government is handling the security situation are not talking politics and cannot, in all fairness, be accused of being motivated by an evil desire to run down the government by refusing to acknowledge the giant strides Buhari is making in remaking our country. As ironical as it may seem, they are motivated by love of the country and its people and by their support for the president and want to offer him alternative views outside the whispering of his aides, on how he can do a much better job of securing our country. This is the duty of citizens in a democracy. Much damage would it do to smother the voice of the people who desire to exercise their constitutional right to be part of their government in words and deeds. They are not enemies; they are friends. And they speak as friends.

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It is good that northern elders and youths are speaking out against the worsening insecurity in the region with one voice. There is nothing strange or unusual about the president’s men treating them in purple prose. They have a duty to make their principal look good. Attack and defence make the world go round.

The Northern Elders Forum have been vocal and consistent in frequently asking the president to pay less attention to politics and more to the fate of the region that birthed him and largely made it possible for him to wear the presidential sash. Speaking truth to power is not an act of treachery. The forum does not harbour the president’s political enemies; it harbours elderly northerners who know, as well as anyone else, that governments exist principally to prevent the abbreviation of the human and citizenship rights of the people by criminals. Where this is failing, it is not the peasant farmer who would speak out; it is the elite, beneficiaries of a peaceful and secure past who should.

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In its recent statement, the convener of the forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi, observed that “It would appear that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and governors have lost control over the imperatives of protecting the people of the North, a constitutional duty they swore to uphold. The Forum reminds President Muhammadu Buhari that provision of security and pursuit of economic welfare of citizens are the only two constitutional responsibilities of the state which all leaders must achieve. Our current circumstances in the North demonstrate that President Buhari’s administration has woefully failed to achieve either. This is unacceptable.”

Abdullahi was vice-chancellor of the northern elite university, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He has always put the situation as starkly as he could, not as an enemy but as a friend and a concerned northerner and a worried elder in both the region and the nation. To accuse him of being motivated by anything less than these as the president’s men have gleefully done, ill serves a president who wishes to leave, I hope, a legacy greater than catching white collar thieves.

Anger in the region is rising. More and more northern elites and groups have joined the Forum and are united with it in reminding the president that he must not allow his constitutional and moral duty to do well by his people in distress to be sabotaged by those whose horizon ends at the tip of their noses.

Last week, seven northern youth groups came under a coalition to speak with one loud voice. In a press statement it said that “The coalition is saying enough is enough and an end must be put to the mindless killings of our people particularly in the villages, and the nonchalant attitude displayed by government and its agencies to the plight of people going through horrific experience in the hands of criminals that seemed to have overwhelmed our security agencies.”

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At about the same time, Professor Usman Yusuf, former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, also issued a statement in which he “called on northern elite to unite and speak out” on the worsening insecurity in the region. He said, “From Adamawa to Zamfara, the death toll all across Arewa is mounting. Images of the massacres are too gruesome to watch and the stories from survivors too heart-breaking to hear, but hearing and watching we must, because this is the reality under which our people have been living silently for years.”

Are these the voices of people who do not wish the president well or the sane voices of responsible men who sincerely believe that their duty to the nation and its people is not to padlock their lips at trying times like these, but to speak out in the hope that by doing so, the government and the people can unite their will to a common cause, the cause of making every part of the country safe for the people.

In its editorial, with the heart-stopping headline, “The North as giant killing field,” Daily Trust said, “As a matter of top national priority, far more than accorded to COVID-19, the security agencies must be reinforced, equipped and motivated to end insurgency and banditry once and for all. Without security, nothing else matters. We are disappointed that President Buhari did not pay it adequate attention in his June 12 speech and went on reeling ‘achievements’ when lives are not secured.”

Yes, the north is weeping.

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