Buhari’s sermon on democratic principles and choices

President Muhammadu Buhari, last week in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, underlined his resolve to consolidate the country’s political system to improve the quality of people’s lives.
According to the President, his resolve stems from the fact that “the people matter.” After all, one of the most basic signposts of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is the key role of citizens in a democracy. It is not only their right, but it is their duty.

Citizen participation may take many forms including standing for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community or civic meetings, being members of private voluntary organisations, paying taxes, and even protesting. Participation builds a better democracy.

Speaking at the palace of the Emir of Jama’a, Making his address at the Alhaji Muhammadu Isa II, the President said: “We are doing our efforts to consolidate the system for the good of the people because they matter.”Though the President highlighted the significance of the use of police and military in dealing with insecurity, he urged Nigerians to develop confidence in civil authority to build a system “free of chaos.”
“Nobody,” he warned, “should be allowed to raise an army of thugs to force himself on the people.” “This,” he added, “must be very clear.”
And the truth could not be better said than how the President has put it and, lest it is forgotten, the oldest and simplest justification for government is as a protector: protecting citizens from violence.

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and foreign foes. The horrors of little or no government to provide that function are on global display in the world’s many fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. 

Regrettably, for more than two years now, the North-west region has faced devastating attacks from armed bandits, particularly in the states of Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Kaduna and Sokoto.

Such attacks are driven by many overlapping factors, including cattle rustling, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, illicit artisanal mining, youth unemployment, poverty, and inequality. This is further compounded by the weakened, stretched, and demoralised security services, who are deployed in many states of Nigeria and still face their war against Boko Haram, one of Africa’s deadliest terror groups.
According to a report from the West Africa Network of Peacebuilding (WANEP), from January to December 2019, armed bandits were responsible for more than 1,000 civilian deaths in the North-west. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, this is greater than civilians killed by Boko Haram over the same period (though not greater than all those killed, which includes soldiers and Boko Haram members).
These deaths have ripple effects across communities that will last generations. A committee set up to investigate the menace of armed banditry, headed by Mohammed Abubakar, a former Inspector General of Police, reported that in Zamfara state between June 2011 and May 2019, 4,983 women were widowed; 25,050 children were orphaned, and more than 190,000 people were displaced as a result of armed banditry.

The Nigerian security forces initially responded to this issue by increasing the deployment of the military and police to the troubled zones. These deployments were under several code names such as “Operation Puff Adder,” “Diran Mikiya,” “Sharan Daji,” “Hadarin Daji,” “Thunder Strike,” and “Exercise Harbin Kunama III.” 

But these operations have produced mixed results. While the security forces have successfully pushed back bandit attacks, destroyed several hideouts and killed or arrested hundreds of bandits, attacks have continued. Against this backdrop, the governors of Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara, agreed on a peace deal with the armed bandits in 2019.

According to Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina, the negotiation was the best way to achieve lasting peace. The agreement involved disarmament, the release of kidnapped victims and an amnesty for the bandits.

But the agreements did not last. While there was a lull in attacks toward the end of 2019, attacks have picked up again in 2020. One state governor recently admitted that the bandits had reneged on the terms of their agreement.
Thus, the resort to shallow and poorly conceived peace deals is an age-old failure of the Nigerian security and political establishment. To truly achieve peace, the government must start by building trust with local communities vulnerable to attacks by bandits.

Although, like the President has said, “nobody should be allowed to raise an army of thugs to force himself on the people,” the government must not always resort to the use of military force to deal with people who went against the warning of the president.

Interchangeably, the government should set up early warning and response systems, working with vigilantes and community leaders on the ground in violently troubled areas. And the government should, ideally, begin to address the structural inequalities that drive people to violence, like poverty, lack of education and opportunity and government mistreatment.
The military and paramilitary agencies like the Nigeria Immigration Service, in particular, should redirect their attention to controlling the trafficking in small arms and light weapons, specifically by patrolling porous national borders. Banditry, as it is now becoming clear, is not a problem that can be solved through only the use of military force.

Resources constraints shouldn’t deter Nigeria
 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, recently, spoke in a way appreciated by all when he said that despite the scarcity of resources, the federal government would continue to cater for the interests of Nigerians.

Osinbajo said this when he received a delegation from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) led by the Undersecretary/Emergency Response Coordinator, Mr Martin Griffiths, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

“We have challenges, post-pandemic challenges, resource constraints, but we still have to make provisions for the millions of people who expect that government must be in a position to support them in a terrible and challenging period,” he said.

The vice president, specifically speaking about humanitarian matters, said that the federal government is happy with the activities of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“We are extremely pleased with OCHA,” he said, adding: “… especially its contributions to all humanitarian efforts. The experience OCHA brings to the table is one of dealing with conflicts and problems, not just humanitarian concerns, but the political concerns in delivering humanitarian assistance.”

Regarding the reintegration of refugees and IDPs affected by humanitarian crises, particularly in the northeast, the vice president said: “We are looking at mobilising resources for when we bring back refugees. Someone must make provisions for them, provide the right living conditions for them.”While it is commendable to improve living conditions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), in the end, however, the issue goes far beyond settlement and improved conditions.”
Resolving internal displacement and preventing future displacement of persons is inextricably linked to achieving lasting peace. On one hand, unresolved problems of displacement may cause instability and, thus, threaten peacebuilding efforts.

On the other hand, durable solutions, particularly return, cannot be achieved for internally displaced persons as long as there is a lack of security, the property is not restored and conditions for sustainable solutions are not in place.

The process of peacebuilding is multi-faceted, involving re-establishing security and law and order, reconstruction and economic rehabilitation reconciliation and social rehabilitation and political transition to creating more accountable governance structures and institutions.

How IDPs benefit from these processes may well affect the success of country-wide peacebuilding initiatives. For example, if the situation in communities of origin is not perceived as safe by displaced persons, they will not return. Or if they do return, they may move again if security is inadequate.

Similarly, if reconstruction and economic rehabilitation are not sufficient to enable the displaced to resume economic livelihoods, the return will not be sustainable.

Experience has shown that IDPs who return can play an important role in rebuilding their homes and communities and, thus, in contributing to the economic development of the country.
The federal government, therefore, needs to take into account the particular needs of IDPs, for example, to enable them to vote on interim political arrangements and to participate in the political life of the country, even before they return to their communities of origin.

The government should understand that the issues of reconciliation are closely related to issues of justice and to demands for restitution or compensation for losses that have been experienced by the IDPs.