One of the most obvious effects of the explosive state of affairs in the northern states is the distress it has caused to local businesses and the people who reside in that part of the country. On Wednesday, 22 August 2012, governors of 19 northern states rose from their meeting with puffy faces, warning about the adverse impact that growing insecurity was having on their states’ economy.
Exactly one week later, Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state and former presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in last year’s presidential election, echoed a similar sentiment. It is not as if the economic pain spawned by the instability in the north emerged overnight. It has always been there but the governors and some prominent leaders of the region chose to ignore the problem. Now, the governors are responding belatedly to the economic realities facing their region.
The governors admitted that their economies were shrinking owing to uncontainable explosion of violence in their front yard. This should be expected. Instability feeds a miserable economy which produces pitiable revenue. The governors said the north would crumble economically and socially unless religious radicalism and intolerance were checked by political leaders in the region.
This outcry is too little too late. The governors should have condemned and fought the violent sectarian groups vigorously when they were emerging. They didn’t do so. They kept silent. The terrorist groups saw that as an invitation to set up camps in the northern states. By their inaction, the governors sent the unmistakeable message that the terrorists were welcome in their states. It proved to be the essential oxygen bag that the violent groups desperately needed. On 6 August 2012, Information Minister Labarun Maku warned that insecurity in the north was dragging the nation backward.
He spoke at the First Dialogue and Peace Iftar Dinner in Abuja. Maku said that before now the north had symbolised peace but unfortunately the region has degenerated into macabre fights between the forces of good and villainous elements. He said the region that had co-existed for many years with people of various ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs is now suffering economic hardships owing to ceaseless terrorist attacks and growing religious intolerance. With deliberate emphasis, he said: “Unless we are able to stop the fire, development will continue to elude the north.
If the north lags behind, the whole country may not move forward.” On the plane of romanticism, this would seem to be a genuine expression of worry. But we have heard it before from the same minister. For example, following the sadistic murder of the governorship candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), Modu-Fannami Gubio, in 2011 along with six other persons, Information Minister Labaran Maku said in a somewhat apologetic tone: “The Federal Government is saddened with the insecurity incidents in Jos, Borno, Bauchi states.
They have become a source of concern to government. The Federal Government would unmask and ensure that those behind this violence are brought to book. The Police and the State Security Service are working to fish out those behind last week’s killing of the ANPP governorship candidate in Borno, Alhaji Modu-Fannami Gubio.” This is the characteristically meaningless and idle response the Federal Government offers to the nation whenever a high profile politician is assassinated. Suddenly, northern governors and some political leaders are beginning to fret over widespread violence in their region and how that violence has undermined the economic development of the region.
Perhaps everyone should be concerned. Political or religious or ethnic-based instability within a country has the potential to imperil economic and social development at local and national levels. In his candid remark on the dangerous situation in the north, Buhari painted a grim picture of how insecurity in the region has forced many people and their businesses to shut down or to relocate to safer areas, thus undermining the economic development of the north. Speaking after he visited the Governor of Kano State, Buhari said: “It is on record that over 200 articulated truck vehicles left Kano every day for Maiduguri and in Maiduguri, traders from Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic would be waiting to receive their goods from Kano.
Now, that situation has virtually gone because of the security threat in Kano and other northern states.” In a dispassionate admission of the poor manner in which the violence was handled in the early stages, Buhari said the situation developed into an uncontrollable fireball because “no one has really shown passion on how to handle it until the whole thing snowballed into a big crisis”. With specific reference to Kano, he said: “Kano is a centre of commerce and industries but living on its shadow now. I could recall vividly that when I was a Governor of Borno in the 70s no fewer than 200 vehicles depart Kano for Maiduguri on commercial purposes but all that has disappeared and you can imagine those innocent investors that were pushed out of their legitimate businesses.”
Buhari was right. When the insurgency started, northern state governors did not regard it as a serious threat to businesses, a danger to the lives of people and a national security risk. The Federal Government did not believe that violent unrests in the north warranted emergency response. Rather than tackle the challenge head on, the northern states and the Federal Government dithered. A similar degree of apathy was demonstrated by the Federal Government in the early stages of indiscriminate abductions by Niger Delta militants. At that time, state officials argued that kidnapping was a local problem confined to a local area. However, the moment the problem spread to other states and regions, security agents realised that extraordinary measures had to be adopted to end the problem.
In many parts of the north, law and order has collapsed, as murderous gangs roam city streets in the dark and in daylight, shooting pointlessly, exploding bombs, killing innocent people, setting fire on business premises and residential homes, destroying churches, other places of worship and police stations. As the dangerous situation escalated, President Goodluck Jonathan was compelled to set up a presidential committee to examine the violent unrests that have crippled economic and social activities in the north. In late September this year, the committee, chaired by Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari, submitted its report.
In outlining the key causes of the unrest, the committee reported that: “High level of poverty and illiteracy existing in the North-East zone”, “Massive unemployment of youths, both skilled and unskilled” and “Weak governance and failure to deliver services in the wake of huge resources accruing to state and local governments”, among others, were responsible. The committee recommended that the federal and state governments should initiate and implement practical programmes to tackle unemployment in the north-east zone. Obviously the committee did not dig deep enough and did not consult widely with a large section of the Nigerian population.
There is no region of the country that does not manifest the social and economic problems identified by the Galtimari-led committee. While unemployment is a serious problem that deserves significant federal and state attention, it is a widespread problem that threatens the future of youths in all parts of Nigeria. In essence, unemployment is not a snag that is unique to one region. The Galtimari committee should have explored systematically why the uprisings in the north have become more brutal, more frequent, and more prevalent than anywhere else in the country.
For a very long time, northern state governors spoke incoherently and inharmoniously about the violent uprisings that have now been shifted into their geographical space. It took a major dent on their economy to bring the governors to reason. Perhaps something more extraordinary would have to occur before they can openly condemn the sponsors of bomb explosions and hostility directed at people of other religious faiths and ethnicity. Right now they are restricting their anger to the damage that instability has done to their economy. What kind of grievances or economic deprivations could propel a sectarian group to propagate extreme violence against the society in which its members reside?
All manner of people have made allusions to all kinds of problems that seem to suggest that the north has suffered more economic disadvantages than other regions of Nigeria. I am not persuaded by that argument. If there is massive unemployment in the north, so too is it evident in the south. If people in the north suffer from lack of opportunities, the problem is even more amplified in the south or other parts of the country. In the north, south, east and west, there has been a significant growth over the years in the population of the underprivileged whose voices have been silenced by inequalities and lack of access to basic needs.
The economy of the north is in a terrible state because violence and instability are not known to be catalysts for economic development. Extreme violence repels rather than attracts business investors. When human, material and financial resources are channelled into the advancement of sectarian ideology, economic development takes a back seat.