Given the seriousness of the issue raised by the Daily Trust today, the Office of the President would like to issue a response.
The growing instability and violence in the North of Nigeria and elsewhere is unacceptable. No one, not least the Presidency underestimates the seriousness of the situation. Everyday, the President holds the victims and their families in his thoughts and prayers. Above all, he wishes to reassure them – and all Nigerians – that tackling the scourge of banditry and terrorism remains this government’s first priority.
Sadly, in this respect, Nigeria is not unique. Violence and terror have risen steadily across the entire African continent over the last decade. The Economist magazine in a recent publication wrote about “The Next Afghanistan,” warning the global community of the horrifying security in our neighborhood, citing specifically the states of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. So we understand the frustrations of the Daily Trust and Nigeria’s northern communities about the ongoing challenges of security and the Buhari administration is no less worried. But it is only fair to say that Nigeria’s persistent and continued efforts to suppress that instability have seen results, with the terror group Boko Haram among others reduced to a shell of its former self.
Yet, now we Nigerians face a new threat: the worst global health crisis in living memory. Even Nigeria that proudly holds the mantle of Africa’s largest economy is not immune from the debilitating economic impact of COVID-19. The economic instability that the pandemic has wreaked has proven an effective recruitment tool for bandits and terrorists across the continent.
Indeed, the Daily Trust has correctly identified the source of the violence as “an amalgam of many complex issues” such as poverty and unemployment. It is equally right to note that, in tackling the violence, “force alone will not be enough.” It is quite wrong, however, to suggest the problem of insecurity is intractable, and more wrong still to claim apathy on the part of the government.
So what is the government doing?
First, our military efforts have not let up. It is true that in the face of today’s growing number of threats from Boko Haram, kidnappers and IPOB to your run-of-the-mill bandits, our forces are stretched increasingly thin. But our dedicated soldiers are working around the clock to keep Nigerians safe.
Second, alongside military force, this government is seeking to address the violence at its economic source. Massive infrastructure projects like the coastal rail and new train from the southern coast through the north-east to our neighbour Niger, aim to expand employment and opportunity across the country, bringing hope to our more remote and poorer regions where bandits and terrorists thrive.
Third, even as the West continues to extricate itself from Africa militarily, we are lobbying our Western allies aggressively for partnership, investment and support in other areas, such as proscribing Boko Haram, bandits and IPOB as terrorist groups, which would severely dent their funding; for investment in trade and infrastructure, to help lessen economic instability; and to help with technical assistance, advanced weaponry, intelligence and ordinance.
This will likely be small comfort to the families and loved ones of those already lost. But make no mistake: this is a battle we are fighting without let up. The Daily Trust’s suggestion that the President exchanges violence for the support he got electorally is beneath a publication that claims any kind of political neutrality or integrity.
Now is not the time for this sort of lurid political journalism. Now our focus as Nigerians must be on coming together and ending the violence. As President Buhari wrote recently of the terrorists in the UK paper, The Financial Times: “We will defeat them, one highway, one rail link – and one job – at a time.”