Tokunbo Adedoja, Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo
Former Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, has warned government not to take the threat Boko Haram poses to the corporate integrity of Nigeria lightly.
Gambari gave the warning yesterday at the first annual Sir Ahmadu Bello memorial lecture on leadership and good governance held at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja.
Also at the lecture, a former Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Secretary to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said he believed it was not in the political interest of the President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the security challenges posed by the violent sect, and therefore appealed to northern governors to tackle the security challenge before it was too late.
In a paper titled: ‘Leadership and Good Governance in Nigeria: Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Ghost of 1914 and the Audacity of Hope for Nation-building,’ Gambari said there was an urgent need to chart the way forward to a better future for Nigeria by frankly assessing the present state of the nation.
He said: “In this regard, I do not want to sound alarmist and wish to speak with the highest sense of responsibility. As a diplomat with two and half decades experience, you know that it is not in my nature to raise the alarm where none is needed.
“However, as we sit here today, is there anyone among us who has an absolute assurance that a bomb will not explode anywhere in the North of Nigeria today, or in this city, or that innocent lives will not be violently terminated?
“If you feel any immediate unease, or even suppressed panic about this possibility, then imagine the terrifying experience of our compatriots who have lived everyday in the last few years under the fear of imminent terror. Is this the North that the Sir Ahmadu Bello bequeathed on us?”
Warning the nation of the threat posed by the violent religious sect, Gambari said: “The Boko Haram phenomenon is dangerously becoming the norm in Nigeria today. So many promises of the end of the menace have been made, but none in sight.”
Noting that a debate is going on in the United States at the moment on whether to designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), the seasoned diplomat said it would have “important consequences for Nigeria, Nigerians and our foreign relations.”
He said what the nation needed to do was “to embark on a comprehensive effort with a timeline to ensure that we stop the killings and end this dreadful threat to our peaceful co-existence, religious harmony and corporate existence of Nigeria.”
Harping on dialogue as a way out of addressing the menace, he said he believed that there were credible and respected Nigerians who could be persuaded by Government to lead a dialogue with the group.
He recommended the establishment of a core group of Nigerians who have led peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building efforts in Africa and other parts of the world.
Gambari said: “Those individuals who have successfully helped to bring peace to countries abroad should be tasked to do the same at home, after all, charity begins at home.”
He also said the Nigerian Army and other security groups involved in combating the group must also adhere strictly to the letter and spirit of their own rules of engagement.
Citing the recent Amnesty International report on Boko Haram which painted a grim picture of extra-judicial killings by Nigerian security forces, Gambari said this “do not talk well of the government and the citizens of this country.”
He was however quick to add that, “Nonetheless, the Government must not take the threat of Boko Haram to the corporate integrity of Nigeria lightly. Its operational base must be constricted while the capacity of the group to continue to perpetrate terror is circumscribed.”
Gambari said beyond the immediate measures that must be taken to end the scourge of the group, Government must also pay attention to the long-term socio-economic factors in the northern states, which provides the context and template for disaffected youths and others to make recruitments into terrorist cells and other illegal and anti-social groups easy.
He also noted that many erroneously believed that Boko Haram was a problem of the North. Rather, he said Boko Haram “is a problem of governance in the country as manifested in the North” and described it as a malaise of governance in Nigeria.
Noting the pathetic state of things, the diplomat said, “wherever you turn in Nigeria today, anomie seems to be the reality that stares us in the face”.
He said while Boko Haram may be specific to the North, the consequences of social anomie manifest themselves in different ways across the country, citing what he called the monster of armed insurgency in the oil-bearing states and the widening circle of kidnapping in the South of Nigeria.
“This is a demonstration of a breakdown of law and order, because the security of lives and property is one of the primary duties of the state,” he said.
Gambari said if it was in the 1970s, there would have been military coup, but quickly added that the nation could never experience military coup again and maintained that those that were advocating for the break up of the country would also not have many support across the country.
Speaking as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation, Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu, who is also the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, said, “the North must stand up against the activities of terrorists and terrorism. The terrorist activities are affecting the economy of the North negatively and investors are scared of coming to the North to invest.”
Aliyu said he heard that Boko Haram had made some government officials in Yobe State to relocate to nearby Jigawa State. He said: “If it is true that government institutions are moving away from Yobe State to the nearby Jigawa State for fear of insecurity, then we are in problem. We must not give up, we must rise up against the terrorists and terrorism.”
He said during the era of Ahmadu Bello, there were few skirmishes, adding that now things were getting out of hand and affecting investments in the region.
“I am sure some of us will recall that security of lives and property was almost taken for granted in that era, as people went about their lives without any hindrance. In all communities in the North, murder, kidnapping and extreme criminality were abomination and avoided,” he lamented, while describing the late Premier of northern Nigeria as a colossus, who performed wonders within a space of six years in office.
While discussing the lead paper presented by Gambari, Baba-Ahmed urged northern governors to address once and for all the Boko Haram menace.
Baba-Ahmed advised them not to look up to President Jonathan who is preparing for the 2015 presidential election to come and address the security challenges in the North.
He said: “the Federal Government will not solve the present security crisis in the North, especially in Borno and Yobe States”, because it would be in the President’s interest for it to continue so that the North would be a walk-over in 2015 election.
Accusing the governors of not tackling unemployment and poverty in the northern states, he said, “the youths are angry and frustrated. Please do something before the next general election or the process would be a revolution that will sweep you out.”
Baba-Ahmed called on the North to prepare for dialogue in whichever way it comes, arguing that: “ It is not in the interest of the North that the current federal system continues. The North should be forward looking and support the call for national dialogue.”
Speaking on some of the enduring legacies of Ahmadu Bello, chairman of the occasion, Governor Adams Oshiohmole of Edo State, said Nigerian leaders must learn from the late premier to be creative in the process of governance.
According to Oshiohmole, what is presently lacking in our polity is the absence of leadership with creative vision and leaders with a rare commitment to serve the people in honesty.
One of the major highlights of yesterday’s event – which was the first memorial lecture for Bello – was the absence of 17 out of the 19 northern governors in spite of the fact that the revered Premier governed the region that is now made up 19 states.
Only two northern governors – Dr. Muazu Babangida, Niger State Governor and his Kogi State counterpart, Capt. Idris Wada – were physically present, with others either represented or absent without any official excuse.
Apart from the absence of most of the governors, some key leaders from the North did not attend the event.
Vice President Namadi Sambo, who was the guest of honour at the event was represented by Senator Isaiah Balat, because he was delegated to represent President Jonathan at the Economic Summit which also held yesterday. Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar sent in their apologies.
Prominent leaders at the lecture included House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Chiroma, Justice Maman Nasir, National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, former EFCC chairperson, Farida Waziri, Etsu Nupe, Emir of Minna, and Emir of Suleija.
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