Many people were pleased when state governors from the North East paid a special visit to the President and the security chiefs over the plight of the traumatized people of the region. The meeting with the President was significant because it helped break the undesirable practice of not properly communicating problems to those who can help. As some of us have repeatedly observed, the country has suffered from the culture of shying away from telling those in position of leadership the truth, an attitude that has compounded the misery of the people of the North East. Those with access to the corridors of power have consistently failed to tell the President the truth about the insurgency situation and the nagging problem of Internally Displaced Persons in the North East. Such people have betrayed the President’s trust. This was evident in the attitude of those who were entrusted with managing the humanitarian situation in the region and other parts of the country until recently. The bold decision of the North East Governors to seek audience with the President over the situation in the North East is therefore very commendable.
The North East is one of the most backward geopolitical zones in the country where most of the people wallow in abject poverty. The Boko Haram insurgency unfortunately compounded the plight of the people of the region. There are also huge development challenges in most of the States that those in the position of authority have failed to address or draw attention to. As a result, people in the zone lack the most basic dividends of democracy while transparency and accountability in governance are brazenly abused. These are crucial issues that any genuinely concerned person cannot ignore. As previously noted, the President Muhammadu Buhari Government has promoted restoration of sanity in governance in some of the states. Even then, not much has been done to positively impact the lives of the people in many of the states. The region has instead been in a state of motion without progress. Credit must however be given to members of the National Assembly and prominent citizens from the region for the relentless push for the establishment of the North East Development Commission (NEDC). Our prayer is that the Commission will not go the way of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC).
The recent meeting of Governors from the region with Mr. President and the service chiefs as eloquently explained by their Chairman, Governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zulum briefly captured some of the most pressing problems. There are however some equally daunting challenges that were not highlighted. All stakeholders, especially the federal and state governments and the security forces are expected to address the problems facing the people in the region squarely. The major concerns of the people of the region are absence of security and good governance. The prevailing situation in the region requires urgent action because the poverty level remains a veritable threat to national security and development. Everything should be done to address the conditions that gave rise to the Boko Haram insurgency and improve security, good governance and commitment to ameliorate the very disturbing conditions of living of people in the region. Those in the position of trust should in addition promote unity among the people.
State governments in the North East have no option than to cooperate with the federal government, the military and other security forces because pockets of insurgents still exist in many communities in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. No one in my view should be deluded to think that the insurgents have been totally wiped out. The state of insecurity in areas on the shores of Lake Chad and intermittent attacks on some communities in Southern Borno also deserve special attention. The ongoing clearance operations by security forces should be complemented vigorously. The gallant security forces require massive support and concerted steps to gradually restore civil authority in the impacted communities which have been extensively depopulated.
Security operatives are currently the only the occupants of many towns and villages. Something definitely needs to be done to restore the confidence of people to return to their communities.
To reverse the current state of affairs, the security forces especially the military must take steps to arrest the sagging morale of troops and deal with tendencies that have subverted their credibility and image. The security forces must also realize that no war against insurgency and other forms of uprising has ever been won without the support of the citizenry. The public must therefore be sensitized to be conscious of the fact that the insurgents and saboteurs are in their midst, and it is their responsibility to flush them out. What the pauperized and down trodden people in the North East now require most is reasonable level of security to enable them fend for themselves. The gravity of the situation is underscored by the level of hunger and want in communities. The solution is definitely not in giving them palliatives because, much as this is required, there is no certainty on its timely availability.
The security forces should prioritize a change of strategy that will entail pursuing and taking out the insurgents and it is reassuring that the President recently disclosed that advanced capabilities and assets for the security forces are being awaited. We sincerely hope the strategic requirements of the intelligence organizations have also been factored into these arrangements.
Revisiting security deployments in the entire North East is also very necessary. It has been observed that the region is too vast to be effectively policed by the current strength and deployments of the security forces. There is nowhere in the country that the challenge of ungoverned spaces is as pronounced as in the North East, except perhaps in the North West and the North Central. The Federal Government, in my candid view, must be commended for the ongoing steps to equip the security forces. Security organizations that have already commissioned new outposts and rehabilitated those destroyed by the insurgents deserve commendation. I must advise that the most strategic assets required to deal with insurgency, armed bandits and rampaging herdsmen are drone capabilities, helicopter gunships and a more robust Command and Control Centre. In addition, the strength of nearly all the security forces should be significantly increased in the region along with revamping intelligence gathering structures and assets to achieve the desired result. It is gratifying to note that these deficiencies are currently the priority of the State Security Service under the pragmatic leadership of Alhaji Yusuf Bichi. These efforts should be emulated by other security and para-military organizations for desired impact.
An informed threat analysis of the current security situation in the North East particularly in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States will reveal that proliferation of dangerous weapons and use of illegal firearms rank high. Necessary steps should be taken to mop up illegal firearms in circulation not only in the North East but in the whole country. The recent directive by the Inspector General of Police to State Commissioners of Police should accordingly be supported by all security agencies.
The problems of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States as a result of insurgency and ethno-communal clashes, notably in Adamawa and Taraba States, are also potent threats to security in the sub-region. As previously observed, catering for the needs of the Internally Displaced Persons is a huge challenge to state governments in the region which are apparently over-burdened with the challenges of resettling and rehabilitating them. I must nevertheless commend the efforts of Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum to put the misery of the insurgency behind us although the enormity of the security, humanitarian and development challenges are too enormous for the state governments. Assistance from the Federal Government is therefore desirable as the states in the zone are among those with the weakest revenue base and financial capacity. Lest I forget, Governor Zulumn must be commended for re-inventing leadership and governance in Borno State.
Immediate robust federal government intervention in rehabilitating infrastructure destroyed by the insurgents across the geopolitical zone is necessary. People in the North East have been wondering why destroyed infrastructure has not attracted the desired attention. Deplorable state of roads is currently among the most challenging situations facing the people. Rehabilitation of security posts and related critical infrastructure, especially rebuilding the bridges destroyed by insurgents is also high in the demands of the people. Contracts for rebuilding the bridges between Adamawa and Borno States have reportedly been awarded but the problem is that some of the contractors are allegedly least qualified and fronting for some powerful interests. The bridges are important to the people in the two states as symbols of federal presence vital to kick starting socio-economic activity. Federal presence in these states is comparatively low and demands for increased federal presence should therefore be of concern to everyone especially the North East Governors Forum and the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
Finally, it is not advisable for states in the North East to set up sub regional security outfits as being canvassed currently in parts of the country. They should instead explore the possibility of strengthening the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and adopting aspects of community policing to boost security arrangements already on ground.
The Forum of North East Governors is welcome to complement the efforts of the Federal and State Governments in restoring normalcy to the region. It must however be stressed again that the interests of the traumatized people of the region should be their main concern.
A. A. Gadzama OFR, mni is former D-G SSS and Chairman, Governing Board of National Institute of Security Studies