Speaking at a press conference on the violence that trailed the EndSARS protests in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Communication, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalyzed the violence that was witnessed across the country.

The federal government yesterday stated that the general state of insecurity in the country has triggered a rising call for secession as well as politicisation of ethnic and religious differences.

This is coming as the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has declared that a situation in which security agencies only reacted to cases of banditry and abductions is unacceptable and urged them to take the war to the doorsteps of the criminals.

Speaking yesterday during a Town Hall Meeting on National Security, held at the Kaduna State University (KASU), Kaduna, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, expressed concern about the general state of insecurity in the country occasioned by incidences of farmers/herders clashes, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, ethno-religious clashes and intolerance, cultism, drug addiction and kidnapping for ransom.

The Information Minister, in his opening remarks, said insecurity posed a dangerous threat to the unity of the country and its continued existence as one indivisible nation.

He said the Ministry of Information and Culture launched the Town Hall Meeting series in Lagos on April 25, 2016, to provide a platform for the federal government to regularly give an account of its stewardship to the people, get a feedback and input from them to enhance citizens’ participation in governance.

He said the 18th edition of the Town Hall meeting, with the theme “Setting Benchmarks for Enhanced Security and National Unity in Nigeria,” was another of efforts of the government, in its expansive consultation with stakeholders, to address the twin issues of insecurity and its concomitant effect on national unity and cohesion.

Mohammed said: “Ominously, the general state of insecurity, as reflected in incidences of farmers/herders clashes, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, ethno-religious clashes and intolerance, cultism, drug addiction and kidnapping for ransom, are now triggering a rising call for secession as well as politicization of ethnic and religious differences.

“Bluntly put, the insecurity and its manifestations pose a dangerous threat to the unity of the country and its continued existence as one indivisible nation.”

He queried: “How did we get here and what can we do to change the narrative?”

Mohammed said finding a solution to the problems would require teamwork, reflecting all diversities, and leveraging on the entire nation’s collective creativity to pursue with diligence the project of rescuing Nigeria.

According to him, the correct starting point towards addressing these myriad of problems is the building of an elite consensus on the security, unity, indissolubility and peaceful existence of Nigeria.

According to the minister, such elite consensus had worked in the past, adding: “This is why we have decided to bring all critical stakeholders together, under a Town Hall meeting setting, to deliberate on the issues and possibly reach a consensus on the way forward.”

The minister said the Town Hall meeting is expected to develop concrete, implementable resolutions, “because a lot of talks and postulations had taken place with little or no requisite outcome.”

He expressed optimism that with the seriousness of the issues involved, “the expected contributions of a wide range of stakeholders and the quality of our panelists, this meeting will go a long way in proffering solutions to what has now become an existential crisis.”

In his paper, the lead presenter, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja called for the reform of the security sector that will ensure the protection of all citizens not just the political class.

He said democratic imperative in Nigeria, requires security sector reform that would enhance the human security of all citizens rather than limiting itself to the interests of the political class.

According to him, human security involves not just national security but also the promotion of economic development and the human rights of citizens.

He explained: “There is no choice between human rights and security operations. All legitimate security operations in a democracy should strive to protect the human rights of citizens.

“That they are neutral in their operations and do not act on the basis of political considerations.”

He said further that the persistent demands for true federalism must be addressed, if Nigerians are to get the assurance that their full participation, safety and welfare within the state are to be guaranteed.

He recalled that the Constitutional Conferences organised by the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations both got their constitutional reform agendas derailed.

“The present legitimacy crisis facing the Nigerian state should be seen as an opportunity to address the issue of true federalism with the seriousness it deserves,” Ibrahim said.

Also addressing the gathering, the Kaduna State governor said the country is at war with terrorists, insisting that the security forces must collaborate to take the war to the criminals and recover the ungoverned forests being occupied by them in order for law-abiding citizens to engage in their legitimate businesses.

He said the bandits were challenging the sovereignty and monopoly of the instruments of coercion of the Nigerian state and its territory, stressing that they must be wiped out completely.

The governor maintained that under the constitution, the criminals have lost their right to life and deserved to be eliminated completely.

He said: “Amidst the sorrows and suffering insecurity has caused to many of our citizens, some of our compatriots will be tempted to dismiss gatherings like this as futile and impotent gestures.

“No one who is in a position of responsibility can deny the necessity for firm action in the form of proactive and sustained offensives against the criminals who menace us.

“Such security operations will not only cripple the outlaws, but will also reassure ordinary citizens, bolster the morale of the security agencies and provide an alternative focus for the energies that are being dissipated on fractious endeavours.”

The governor maintained that: “The situation in which the security agencies mostly only react to cases of banditry and abduction is unacceptable.

“We are in a war with these terrorists who are challenging the sovereignty and the monopoly of the instruments of coercion of the Nigerian state and its territory.

“Our security forces must collaborate to take the war to them, recover and restore the un-governed forests these terrorists occupy and enable our law-abiding citizens to engage in their legitimate pursuits, including farming and livestock production, without fear.”

The governor argued that bandits had lost their right to life under the constitution and must be wiped out in their entirety.

The governor said every Nigerian who is concerned about the danger insecurity posed to national cohesion should appreciate the importance of securing a collective understanding of the problems and the solutions.

el-Rufai argued: “The Nigerian state has not jealously and consistently protected its prerogatives and status as the leviathan, the ultimate guarantor of security, the protector of rights and the promoter of the rule of law.

“That is why its power is being challenged, in a frighteningly sustained manner by a phalanx of armed non-state actors.

“Our national-level security response to these challenges has been uncoordinated and ineffective in wiping out the threats.

“None of the military services nor other security agencies has been suitably expanded in numbers and equipment for over a decade since the insurgency in the North-east pushed things to a new low.

“This country does not have enough soldiers, uniformed police and secret police to project state power across its vast swathes, particularly the forests.”

He argued that the justice system operates with the ethos and at a pace that does not reflect the fragility of the situation and the urgency to demonstrate that the rule of law is meaningful.

el-Rufai noted that prosecutions take so long that citizens often assume that the criminals have long been released, thereby encouraging criminal conduct and promoting dangerous self-help.

He said delays in the dispensation of justice in Nigeria has made criminals to fall more in love with the courts than the innocent, adding that this is unsustainable and unacceptable.

He lamented that at the sub-national levels, states and local governments have limited power, though they have various options for the exercise of soft-power, using the traditional institutions, community and political leaders at the grassroots – but which still need coercive power to be effective.

The governor stated that unless state governments, local governments, emirs, chiefs and community leaders know that the state can protect them and deal with criminal elements decisively, the exercise of soft power is reduced to weak appeals to behave well.

“Too many carrots without sticks lead to the near-anarchy we are witnessing, he said, contending: “Notions of common humanity, not to talk of a common citizenship is not as widely or deeply shared as it would appear.”

He suggested that the country requires urgent action by identifying and dealing decisively with all state and non-state actors engaged in conduct that amounts to challenging the supremacy of the Nigerian state and our constitution without ethnic profiling or discriminatory treatment.

He called for immediate and enhanced funding to acquire advanced equipment for the armed forces, police, and security and paramilitary agencies.

The governor reiterated his agitations for state police, saying that centralised policing in a federation is not only a contradiction in terms.

According to him, the state governments today bear most of the burden of the running costs of the Nigeria police.

He said: “So why not the sub-nationals have the state police now?”

“So I repeat my persistent call for state police as soon as possible. We should also, devolve more responsibilities and duties to the states to enable greater accountability and minimise the habit of blaming the federal government for every ill in Nigeria.

“We should, therefore, expeditiously amend the constitution to vest all on-shore minerals, including petroleum in the states now.”

One of the discussants at the meeting and Chairman of First Bank Plc, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, said the call for the breakup of the country is coming several decades too late since independence.

In an impassioned virtual contribution, Awosika called on Nigerians to tend to the challenges that will make the country a better nation, warning that the political class would not have any power if the country eventually splits along regional division.

“Now is the time to save our country. We need to decide on our national consensus. If the elite cannot do that, we should challenge ourselves and ask what kind of leadership we need,” Awosika said.

Other discussants were Prof. Chudi Uwazurike, Prof. Saka Nuru and Prof. Kokunre Eghafonaas.

The meeting was attended by the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), and his counterparts from Agriculture, Environment, Police Affairs, Interior, State Foreign Affairs, State Science and Technology and Humanitarian Affairs.

ACF Expresses Disappointment over Unending Insecurity

Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has expressed disappointment over the unending insecurity in the country, especially in the North, complaining that the Kaduna State government has not done to secure the recovery of the abducted students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka in Kaduna.

The students were abducted on March 11, 2021.

In a communique issued yesterday at the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Kaduna, the forum condemned the criminal activities of insurgents, kidnappers and bandits, saying it is a great set back to the North.

The communiqué, signed by the spokesman of the forum, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, also decried the utterances of some leaders, who sought to incite ethnic, religious and ethnic passion.

The communique said the meeting was presided over by the chairman of the forum and former Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh.

It said: “On insecurity, the forum expressed displeasure at the state of affairs in the North and in the country in general.

“The forum condemned the activities of insurgents, kidnappers and bandits in the North saying that their activities are killing the peace and progress for which the north was noted for when the founders of the region were in power.”

The communiqué noted that the forum decried the utterances of some actors and leaders who had sought to inflame regional, ethnic and religious passions out of the current situation in the country.

The northern leaders called on Nigerian leaders to exercise restraint in their utterances in the current circumstances.

The communique said the ACF was also briefed by parents of the kidnapped students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna, who were abducted in the school on March 11, 2021.

It said: “The forum regretted that the kidnapped students had remained in captivity and the Kaduna State government has not done much to get them released.

“The forum agreed to take up their plight with the state government and the federal government too.”

The communique said the forum also received reports on “the unfortunate killings of some northerners in the South-east that seemed suspicious” and called on security agencies to investigate the killings and fish out the culprits.

The communique warned the “youths who have suddenly started distributing messages on social media calling on reprisal attacks on Igbos and their business interests in the North.

It stated: “We the Arewa Consultative Forum stand against all lawless acts of self-help and call on all northern youths to stop such evil plans. They do not enjoy our support.

“The Arewa Consultative Forum believes in dialogue and consultation as a way of bringing peace and normalcy back to our troubled region and nation.”

The forum also condemned the payment of ransom to bandits and called on the hoodlums and insurgents who are holding other citizens as hostages to desist from such ungodly acts.

“No religion that is practised in Northern Nigeria permits such sinful acts like holding other human beings as hostages for financial reward,” the communique said.

It announced the setting up of an outfit called “ARECON Integrated,” to serve as its business arm and industrial hub since the forum itself cannot engage in business activities.

The communique added that already, contacts have been made with the minister of the FCT and some state governors of the North who have promised them land to facilitate the take-off of the company.

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