Nigeria is facing many challenges on multiple fronts and unless government muster courage to unite her sundry ethnic nationalities, the country will continue to struggle to realize its potentials, former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) has said.
Gen. Abdulsalami stated this in Abuja at the 19th edition of the Daily Trust dialogue which featured the theme, “2023: The Politics, Economy and Insecurity.”
The former Head of State who chaired the occasion particularly called on the leadership of the country to listen to voices of reasons that often point the way out of the challenges being faced by the nation.
He said: “Nigeria is once again at a crossroads. Insecurity remains the single most difficult challenge for our country today- the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, banditry in the North-West, violent secessionist agitations in the South-East, kidnappings and abductions of travellers across many states all continue to fester in the land. Ethnic, religious and communal conflicts are rearing their ugly heads again in many parts of the country. All of these have greatly challenged and overstretched our security forces.
“Whatever we discuss and agree today, we hope that the authorities will take it in advisement in good faith and work with it. In my own experience as a leader, I have found that collective wisdom is all better than individual ability.”
Lamenting the state of affairs in the country, particularly the challenge of insecurity, the ex- former Head of State noted that over the past few years, Nigeria has lost a lot of human and material resources.
“These challenges have caused thousands of deaths and millions of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in Nigeria over the past 13 years. According to the Global Conflict Tracker compiled by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, CFR, some 350,000 persons have been killed and three million displaced directly or indirectly in the conflict in the North-East since 2009.
“A report by Beacon Consulting, a Nigerian security risk consultancy here in Abuja, Nigeria, recorded 574 cases of kidnappings and 431 confirmed fatalities in security incidents that cut across 29 states and 96 local government areas in December 2021 alone.
“About 75 per cent of the kidnappings and 57 per cent of the fatalities occurred in the North-West. This is clear indication that the epicenter of insecurity in the country has shifted from the North-East to the North-West.
“A major cause of the insecurity in Nigeria is the proliferation of all calibre of weapons in Nigeria in particular, and in the West Africa sub-region generally. For example, the 2018 small arms survey estimated that there are over six million of such weapons in circulation in Nigeria. This has certainly exacerbated the insecurity situation we face in the country.
He did not stop there as he lauded federal government for doing relatively well on the economic front, regretting however that the impact have been minimal.
“In the past three months or so, economic growth rates and inflation have improved somewhat. The economy grew by between four and five per cent, since June last year, continuing the recovery from the near economic collapse of 2020.
“Inflation figures have also dropped to 15.4 per cent from a four-year high of 18.17 per cent in March 2021. All of these figures are contained in the 2022 budget breakdown and highlights presented by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning early this month.
“But the impact of these numbers on the lives and wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian is suspect. Unemployment and underemployment remain at the record levels, and over 80 million Nigerians are still caught up in needless poverty.
“All of these tend to have negative effects on security. In fact, Nigeria now faces a food security crisis that is compounded by the COVID-19 global pandemic and banditry in many states of Northern Nigeria. Both of these have disrupted the fragile value chains across the country and negatively impacted the ability of Nigerians to produce, process, and distribute food. The result is a continuing rise in the prices of food items beyond the reach of many Nigerian families.
“On top of all these, fuel prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months as announced last November by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. When this happens, as the government has planned, it will push many millions deeper into poverty.
“Young people and women are the demographic groups most affected by the country’s dire economic outlook. For example, estimates by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that while the national unemployment rate stood at 33 per cent by the end of 2020, unemployment for young people between ages 15 and 34 years was 10 per cent higher at 42.5 per cent,” he added.
The political context
“The worsening economic and security situations in the country during an election year make for a very challenging period for Nigeria that must be carefully managed by all concerned. Already, calls for restructuring Nigeria and for reviewing the constitution have reached fever pitch. There are calls too for how the resources generated in the country are shared by its constituent parts.
“Also, for the first time in Nigeria, Southern governors have ranged against their Northern counterparts, each demanding the Presidency for their region. Meanwhile, some groups would like to balkanize the country and go their separate ways.
“In addition, politicians across all parties are already jostling for power at all levels. Some are using inflammatory political rhetoric to achieve their ends. Others are stoking political fires that will be difficult to put out even after the elections. Some, yet again, are lying low, looking to spring surprises on their opponents.
“Worse still, political rivalries are sometimes turned into personal fights between supporters of one politician and another. In some instances, these rivalries have degenerated into violence and deaths.
“None of these is new in Nigerian politics. And yet, none of them has been fully resolved. It appears that Nigeria is stuck politically in the same place and our democratic experiment has refused to grow beyond these issues, even after more than sixty years of national independence and self-government.
“All of these developments make 2022 a very crucial year for the country and its people. Whatever we do or don’t do this year will linger for a long time to come. This election year calls for statesmanship and patriotism. It calls for restraint among all politicians in words and deeds. And above all, it calls for serious social and economic programmes that would help pull Nigeria out of the woods,” the retired general added.
The way forward
“Our unity, and our large and youthful population remain are our greatest strength. We must not compromise these.
Instead, we must consolidate on them to chart a way out of current challenges. As we in the National Peace Committee have been doing for years now, all stakeholders must work with an open mind towards building peace across the country.
“The government should channel redouble its efforts and channel more resources towards securing peace. Traditional rulers, and religious and community leaders should support the government towards securing peace for our people. Without security, there is no country.
“Our political class must realize that the fate of Nigeria lies in its hands and choose to do good in this moment of history. As they jostle for power in the coming elections, all politicians must watch their words and deeds carefully and avoid saying or doing things that will further heat up the polity.
“We must all remember that no one can rule over a nation in ruins. Leadership is a collective responsibility, and we must all play our parts positively.
“In November last year, this government through the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. (Mrs) Zainab Ahmed unveiled a National Development Plan with an investment size of over N348 trillion naira.
“This investment is expected to be funded collaboratively by both federal and state governments, and by the private sector. If implemented faithfully, the plan will build infrastructure all across the country, expand the private sector, develop social services like all health and education for all Nigerians, and create millions of jobs for our teeming youth over the next five years,” he further said.
We need a leader capable of solving our problems – Atiku
Also speaking, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar said what the country needs to bounce back to reckoning is a leader capable of addressing the problems facing the nation.
“What is important now is to identify a competent leader that can get us out of these crises.
“We have the capacity to pull this country out of her present predicament. We must do the needful and most importantly, I believe a leadership that will prioritize education is desirable,” Atiku said.
Dialogue, way out of our woes- Sultan
On his part, Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar III called for continuous dialogue as a way of building national consensus.
His words: “I am one of those who so much believe in dialogue and I believe there cannot be too many sessions not only in this country but across the world.
“Let us close ranks and come together to see what we can do to move this country forward in peace and prosperity.”