The Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate dialogue at the national and sub-national levels to address the country’s security challenges.
In a statement on Sunday, the group said Nigerians are suffering from rising insecurity to lives and properties, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their standards of living.
The statement was signed by Attahiru Jega, a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC); John Onaiyekan, the former Catholic archbishop of Abuja; Martin Luther Agwai, a retired military general; Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor; Aisha Mohammed-Oyebode, chief executive officer, Murtala Muhammed Foundation, among others, who are all members of the group.
The position of the group comes after ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo accused Buhari of driving Nigeria into becoming a “failed and divided” state.
Speaking at a virtual meeting last week, Obasanjo accused the Buhari administration of mismanaging the country’s socio-economic development.
He said old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up under Buhari, adding that hatred, disintegration and separation are “being heard loud and clear almost everywhere”.
But the presidency condemned the ex-president, saying he has fallen from the status of Nigeria’s commander-in-chief to its “divider-in-chief”.
The group said Nigeria is rapidly approaching a tipping point, adding that there is an urgent need for Buhari and state governors to commence a dialogue process to address the rising insecurity in the country.
“Nigeria, like the rest of the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic. However, citizens in Nigeria are facing double the suffering because they also have to contend with rising insecurity and violence across the country,” the statement read.
“The Nigerian government must immediately address the rising insecurity if it is to succeed in the fight against the pandemic. A recent USIP-commissioned survey in Nigeria found new linkages between COVID-19, instability, and conflict.
“In particular, the survey found that victims of recent violence are less likely to trust the government’s coronavirus response measures compared to those who have not experienced violence.”
The group said it engaged in series of consultations with a diverse group of stakeholders and policymakers between May and July.
It said this is the time to offer its key observations and recommendations on how the government can strengthen its efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic by addressing the rising insecurity across the country.
The members recommended that the national council of state should initiate a dialogue process at the national level while the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) would ensure it reaches the grassroots.
“A government strategy to address the coronavirus pandemic without sustainable strategies to also confront rising insecurity and violence poses a significant threat to the democratic development of our country, and could potentially undermine the government’s efforts to address the spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria now, and in the future,” it said.
“Kidnapping for ransom is an acute concern across Nigeria. The North East is witnessing a resurgence in Boko Haram activity, and thousands of people are internally displaced by banditry across rural communities in the North West.
“Criminality in rural areas further complicates the situation by undermining food security, as many farmers have been unable to go to their farms for months for fear of losing their lives.”
The group asked Buhari to direct more training and re-orientation of the police force towards building community partnerships and promoting durable peace in the conduct of their duties.
It said the government should sack the service chiefs if it would ensure an improvement in the security situation.
“There is a growing public consensus that the current leadership of our security agencies have failed woefully, and that our Commander-in-Chief has so far refused to act. This cannot continue. Mr President, you must show more concern and do what is necessary to improve the effectiveness of our security agencies, even if it means replacing the current leadership of our security agencies,” it read.
“The government has been incapable of assuring Nigerians that it cares about our predicament. Numerous conspiracy theories about the causes of the violence continue to circulate, without any reassuring counter-narratives coming from the government.
“Our country is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Enough is enough. The time for action is now.”