Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nigeria: Lest We Be Surprised Again

President Goodluck Jonathan's latest remarks about the activities of the deadly Boko Haram sect were probably made in all sincerity but they merit a comment if only because he inadvertently admitted lapses and unpreparedness by government with respect to its most important function,
i.e. securing the lives of Nigerians and their property. Speaking at the State House in Abuja on Tuesday night during the breaking of Ramadan fast with Muslim members of the diplomatic community, Jonathan said the activities of the Boko Haram sect and its tactics of terror took the nation by surprise.

The president regretted that attacks by the sect resulted in the death of thousands of innocent Nigerians, including security operatives. He however said that with the Federal Government's commitment and with prayers by Nigerians, the insurgency has been significantly contained.

Only recently, Defence Headquarters in Abuja announced that the special military operation mounted in three North Eastern States since May has reduced the level of insurgent-perpetrated violence in the region by ninety percent. For once, this was a claim by Nigeria's security agencies that appears to accord with realities on the ground.

While many Nigerians initially doubted that the military-led security operations in the North East and other states could ever contain the murderous sect's activities, the surge ordered by the president since May when he clamped a state of emergency on the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe has evidently worked. So successful has the operation been that the military-led Joint Task Force, which up until May was seen by local residents as a bigger threat to their lives than the insurgents, has undergone a complete reversal of fortunes in its public image.

Where once community leaders were calling for its withdrawal, hundreds of youth now formed vigilante groups, nicknamed themselves "Civilian JTF" and proceeded to help JTF in manning check points and in combing neighbourhoods to fish out insurgents.
Hence the president is right when he says the Federal Government's actions have ameliorated the situation, even though he also acknowledged Nigerians' prayers. Inevitably, as the violence dies down, hopefully for good, the national soul-searching will commence as to exactly what happened during Boko Haram's reign of terror, how and why we got there as well as what we must do to consolidate on recent gains and, most importantly, prevent a future recurrence.

President Jonathan unwittingly kicked off this debate in his recent remarks to the diplomatic community when he said the nation [read: the Federal Government] was taken by surprise when the insurgency exploded first in the North East and later spread to many other Northern states.

Why was the government "taken by surprise"? To begin with, the manner in which the security agencies, most notably the police, handled the case of captured sect leaders should have been a warning to the authorities that fleeing sect members could be bent of revenge. Even before the events of 2009, Boko Haram sect's activities in the previous decade should have attracted high interest from the security agencies, especially those ones of them that are in charge of intelligence gathering and risk assessment.

Nor was Boko Haram the first time ever that a misguided quasi-religious group took up arms against the Nigerian state. The Maitatsine group serially unleashed mayhem in Kano, Bulunkutu, Tudun Wadan Kaduna, Yola, Gombe and then Funtua between 1980 and 1993. Any security agency worth its salt should have known that such a thing could happen again.

Of course, the socio-economic milieu that enabled deranged clerics to recruit thousands of misguided urban youths for such operations still obtains in Nigeria; in fact it has decidedly worsened since the 1980s with a larger reservoir of unemployed youth and wider economic disparities. As such, all that is needed at any one time is for some event or person to ignite the powder keg. At the beginning of the Boko Haram palaver, the Federal Government was much distracted by many of its leading members' belief that the insurgency was but a reaction by Northern power brokers at their loss of presidential power.

It took a long and precious time before leaders of the Jonathan administration came round to realise that this was not the case, that is if they ever did. Nor do the Nigerian security agencies have any good excuse because in the 52 years since this country's independence, the security sector has gobbled up a larger proportion of the national budget than most other sectors. That it was caught napping when a ragtag sect went to war suggested that the sector did not utilise all those monies properly.

The most important thing now is to prevent these sad events from ever occurring again, not only in the North but in any part of Nigeria. It is clear now that security agencies, in particular the State Security Service [SSS] must pay special attention to odd quasi-religious groups and closely study their trouble- making potential. The police too must do something to enhance its capability to handle internal insurgency in order to prevent the military from taking over its duties as happened in this case.

As for the military, which should never have been involved in this campaign if only the police were trained to handle it, the impact of these operations on its professionalism will only be felt in years to come.
When all is said and done however, it is a steady improvement in the economic fortunes of Nigerian citizens, effective poverty alleviation measures, widening of educational opportunities, effective skills acquisition programs, reduction in wealth gap, just implementation of social programs, banishing the cancer that is corruption as well as credible political leadership that will together erode the pool of disenchanted and misguided youths available to undertake any crank project that anyone will dream up. All these must be done as much as possible to prevent ourselves from being taken by surprise again.

Ogun and the quest to boost food production

Ogun State Government is truly shifting focus to agriculture in the belief that it would be good for all Nigerians to cultivate the land for products that would serve local and international consumption.
That is why the government has expressed displeasure at the colossal waste of scarce resource on the importation of food that the country has capacity to produce, a development that has impacted negatively on the nation’s economy as it fuels domestic inflation, displaces the local production and creates rising unemployment in the nation.

Governor Ibikunle Amosun, while declaring open this year’s National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development meeting with the theme: “From Farm to Table: Developing Agricultural Value Chain to create Wealth and Jobs and Assure National Food Security”, held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, had lamented that “it is rather unfortunate that despite the abundant agricultural potentials and the comparative advantage that the nation as the production of many crops, Nigeria still imports over N1.3trillion worth of wheat, rice, sugar and fish every year. Our country, Nigeria, is said to be the world largest importer of United States’ hard, red and white winter wheat and second largest importer of rice’’, the Governor said.

He added that for Nigeria to become an agricultural industrialised economy, agriculture should be seen as a viable business venture and very well funded.

Therefore, due to the effort of the government to give more attention to agriculture, a Model Farm Estate aimed at resuscitating the farm settlement concept of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria was established at Owowo near Abeokuta, to encourage youth involvement in sustainable agriculture.
This is just one of the many projects the government is embarking on, and in the nearest future, the state will become the country’s food basket.

•Deborah Odulate, Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

Burutu Community Petitions Jonathan, Transport Minister

The people of Burutu community in Delta State have petitioned President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, over alleged sale of their land occupied by the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) in Burutu.
The community, in a letter written by its lawyers, M.E. Ukusare and Associates, entitled: ‘Burutu Community Lands/Property Occupied by Nigeria Port Authority in Burutu, Delta State’ and made available to THISDAY in Lagos yesterday alleged that the Chief Executive Officer of Akewa Global Services Limited, Chief Kenneth Donye, was laying claims to a vast array of Burutu community property, which he (Donye) alleged had been bought by his company from the federal government

The people said there was never a time their property was sold to the government, group or any individual and wondered why Donye, who was among the people who challenged the move by the Federal Ministry of Transport to auction the property currently occupied by over 1,000 indigenes and non- indigenes of Burutu, should now turned around to be the buyer.

The letter stated that Donye had, through a letter to chairman of Burutu community and copied to the President, Burutu Youth Forum in the state, intimated them that his company had bought a list of 21 units of property at the Burutu Port Yard, from the federal government.
While questioning the legality of the purported sale of the property, the community however, implored President Jonathan and the Minister of Transport to “call Donye to order, as it is impossible for an individual to lay claims to ownership of more than three quarter of the entire Burutu community.
And also, review the purported sale of the community’s property occupied by the NPA with a view to ascertaining the true state of affairs of the said property vis-a-vis Donye’s alleged ownership claims.”
The letter said the community wanted the government to “pay the Burutu community people the accumulated ground rent due to them since 1968 when the last rent was paid by the United Africa Company Nigeria (UACN) at the rate of twenty pounds or its equivalent in naira from 1968 till date.
“And return all lands/property occupied by the NPA in Burutu to the members/people of Burutu community in the event that the Federal Government of Nigeria no longer need same for public use.”