Open Letter To President Buhari By Faika M. Ahmed



Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,

Let me start by congratulating you on your seventh year anniversary in office, it is indeed a milestone,  in your historic leadership of this country.

Your Excellency, as you mark this significant milestone , I am sure, the rising insecurity in many parts of the country continues to occupy your mind and  is your utmost priority  as you and your administration enter  the last lap of your term in office. Many Nigerians including myself applaud the work and effort  you and your administration  have put into combatting insecurity. This we know includes significant spending which has enabled the retooling of the armed forces with state of the art equipment including combat aircraft and also improved welfare of the armed forces who are at the forefront of this fight. This commitment you have made is indeed improving success in the battle against insurgency and terrorism in Nigeria. We also know that these long term investments which were missing prior to your coming into office, will continue to help Nigeria long after your term in office is over.

Your Excellency while the focus on the kinetic approach to tackling insecurity is needed and indeed necessary, it is important in my humble opinion that we pay as much attention to the non-kinetic approaches as well. I know this administration has also done some work in this area, but Mr. President, I say this will all sense of responsibility that it isn’t enough and more needs to be done.

An Unfolding Catastrophe

There is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Northwest region  of Nigeria and if a bold, urgent non – military intervention is not implemented, I fear the troubles we see today will  pale in insignificance compared to what is to come. I know I am not a security expert Excellency but I have spent the last 4 years working  for those whose lives have been upended by these conflicts  and so my conclusions are informed. It is with the knowledge of all of the pain, destruction and carnage that I have witnessed , first hand, that I am calling , unequivocally  for the establishment of the Northwest Development Commission .

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The already devasted Northwest region  has a  prolonged history of humanitarian crisis with roots in conflicts that many today don’t even remember.  From the Kano Maitatsine crisis in the 80s, to the religious crisis in Kaduna, to the troubles with the  Shiite’s movement in Zaria, and the conflict between pastoralists and farmers which has metamorphosed into raging banditry which is now  again mutating before our very eyes and is being incorporated into the terrorism groups currently at war with Nigeria. The human and economic cost of these conflicts has been heavy. Kidnapping, cattle rustling, sexual assault of women and girls  and murder are now a regular part of life in Northwest Nigeria tragically. This particular conflict is also particularly dangerous because it also involves the willful destruction of property and peoples livelihood. Undoubtedly and by all definitions and magnitude, what we have is a  regional crisis that threatens the very fabric of Nigeria.

Your Excellency, I know you are fully aware of the wanton destruction of livelihood sources, social facilities, ranging from schools, to farmlands, to market and water sources among others. Far different from the ideology war of Boko Haram and ISWAP crisis, the killings and destruction in the Northwest have no specific ideology, motive or even demand making it even more difficult not only to  grasp and profile effectively but also to receive the international help given to the fight against terrorism although this is changing.  The provision of a coordinated humanitarian response for  the people of these states through the   establishment of Northwest Development Commission could make all the difference and help attract the required assistance including from international bodies.

This is critical because the devastating impact of this crisis on the overwhelming majority of the peoples in these states is horrific. Sadly, the region has lost significant population of people living in the rural areas, translating into abject poverty in both rural and urban communities. Analysts believe that within the states most affected, you won’t find  small communities of a 1000 or so people which use to be the case. All have been forced to move into bigger towns with devastation consequences for their livelihood especially agriculture with the attendant consequences on food security and poverty.

According to the NLSS 2019 report, the poverty headcount rate for these affected states is below the National average, with Sokoto State recording the highest in the country. No wonder, the attention of the International community is shifting towards addressing  this growing disaster  with many showing interest in assisting the states, and by extension, the federal government towards surmounting this challenge.  The effectiveness of this though will largely rely on having a coordinating structure.

Mr. President,  the  Boko Haram and ISWAP conflict in the Northeast tremendous negative impact on that region in particular and on the country as a whole. This is now equally the situation in the Northwest and the regular, poor innocent citizen are paying a really high price. Their lives, and this is no exaggeration, because I have seen it first hand, are living hells.

Education

The education sector in the Northwest has been particularly devasted by the ongoing conflict. For a region that was already dis-advantaged  educationally, this is a total disaster. Again and again, schools have been attacked, children abducted and some of the premises turned into headquarters of the bandits and criminals terrorizing communities.  You may recall the visit of Dr Gummi to a bandits den. The video from that visit showed what appears to be a primary school building which has been taken over by those nefarious criminals.   From Funtau Islamiyya school, Kankara government school for boys, FGC Birnin Yauri , GSS Kagara , to Tagina islamiyya  to  Bethal Baptist school and many other schools, all have experienced terror at the hands of kidnappers and terrorist. Schools and students have become fair game to a group who clearly have an interest in ensuring children don’t have the faculties to resist being radicalized into terror and criminality.  College of Forestry, Afaka, the Greenfield University,  the girls school in Jangebe , the College of Agriculture Bakura and Kaya-Maradun school , all have were attacked  suggesting a deliberate strategy aimed at destabilizing education . It has thus far been a successful one.  Education in many parts of the region is shambolic, we have more more school drop outs and significant  increase in out of school children with all the attendant implications this has in many areas including insecurity.

Agriculture

As you know Mr. President,  farming which is the bedrock of economic activities in the Northwest is now totally derailed. This livelihood source of over 80% of population has seized to exist. People find themselves torn between going to the farm and risking getting kidnapped  or worst killed,  or paying ransom to enable them cultivate their farms. It is damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation because as you can imagine, criminals have no honour and do not always keep to their word  not to  harm the farmers. The have been occasions on which despite the payment of ransome,  people are killed. In addition, many times the income and produce from these farms is hardly enough to support families to begin with and cannot be  stretched to paying off criminals living people with little choice except to flee their homes.

Some of the most celebrated arable areas  in places like Birnin Gwari and Tegina, the fertile lands of the Shiroro and those on the Sokoto Rima Basin axis in Kebbi are laying fallow.  Farmers in the very productive areas of  Dansadau, Mada and Bagega districts, who for decades enabled Zamfara State, for example,   answer the name “Farming Is Our Pride” are now roaming the streets,  with no work and no income looking for what to do, living in destitution.

While intervention programmes like the  Anchor Borrower Scheme are well intentioned, they are failing partly due to insecurity. The  ongoing work at the  Bakalori Irrigation Project has stopped abruptly due to this unprecedented attacks on  the project workforce. In a recent twist, the destruction of food markets, food stores and anything related to agriculture has completely demoralized the agrarian population, not only in Zamfara, but also in Kaduna, in Katsina and in Niger, as well as in Kebbi and Sokoto states. It is almost as if there is a determination to completely wreck the region and usher in hunger and famine.

Health

The Health system in the Northwest region has always been inadequate.  Apart from long existing  child killer conditions and diseases the States and Federal governments and international development partners are still dealing with, the emerging health challenges associated with trauma, acute malnutrition and starvation have become widespread and present a  serious crisis that requires urgent attention.  Primary healthcare centers in Katsina, and Sokoto states are deserted.  So too those  in Zamfara, Niger and Kebbi states. Thus, there is increasing pressure on secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities in all the affected states. Mental health problems which are as a direct result of suffering from  violence are increasing. So too, reported cases of gender based violence  and child labor . Life, Mr. President is now brutal and brutish and children are  the most vulnerable victims.

The nature of the conflict engulfing the Northwest means there are critical areas that require urgent intervention  through the establishment of the Northwest Development Commission. The commission, if created, like its counterpart in Northeast and other regions, would greatly serve as focal organization. It would be responsible for assessing , coordinating and, harmonizing  and reporting on all intervention programs, and initiatives by the government. It will enable the adoption of a unified  approach to dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the state. This will enhance and consolidate the success of these interventions.

Your Excellency, the Northwest Development Commission will, if set up, undoubtedly foster rapid reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction of this politically and demographically important region. The entire people of the region would I believe, if they had the opportunity  add their voice to this call for the urgent  establishment of  the Northwest Development Commission.

Finally, let me call out all our distinguished senators from the entire region, the members of house of representative, members of the federal executive council, religious and traditional leaders and the elites to join me in calling for this important instrument of development  and security for this region. The Northwest Development Commission is long overdue.

It is time to do the needful if the Northwest is to stand a chance. Yes, the guns and soldiers and boots on the ground matter, but if we do not deal decisively with some of the humanitarian crisis and underlying issues of the conflict, we may win battles but will lose the war.

Yours Sincerely,

Hon. Ahmed is the Commissioner, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Zamfara State. 

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