By Owei Lakemfa
Bandits Thursday night attacked Gangara, in Jibia Local Government of Katsina State. They killed five, abducted 24, burnt down the market and a number of houses. The attack was one of a number, carried out in the last two weeks in the area. Previous targets had included a military camp and a police checkpoint with several killed.
Meanwhile, there has been no respite even after the December 23-25, 2023 massacres in Plateau State in which over 200 were killed, at least 500 injured and 10,000 rendered homeless. Last Tuesday, despite a 24-hour curfew, over 30 were killed in Mangu. The Boko Haram terrorists continue their attacks in the North-East while bandits reign in the North-West, especially Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto and Katsina states.
Given the state of virtual anarchy, especially in the North, I would have expected the issue of insecurity to be the preoccupation of the Northern Senators Forum, NSF. But when it addressed the nation last week, insecurity was not its concern.
There is the serious issue of 20 million out-of-school-children most of them in the North. But this does not appear to be a main headache of the NSF.
Nigeria is a poverty capital of the world with an estimated 82.9 million Nigerians under the poverty line. Most of these victims of poverty are in the North. But this does not appear to be an issue worth tackling by the NSF.
There are about three million internally-displaced persons in the country, virtually all in the North. But this does not appear to be a headache to the NSF.
The present preoccupation of the 58 senators from the North, going by the statement issued on Monday, January 22, 2024 by their Spokesperson, Senator Suleiman Kawu Sumaila, NNPP- Kano South, are two. He said: “As representatives of the people at the national level (Senate), we are committed to addressing the concerns and feelings of our constituents regarding certain decisions and policies put forth by the Federal Government; and the lopsidedness in the distribution and allocation of resources in the 2024 budget, relocation of some federal agencies from Abuja to Lagos.”
These are tendentious issues which detract from the primary concerns of the Nigerian people who are under siege from bandits, hunger and of course, the political class that primarily takes care of its own interest, not that of the country.
To begin with, since the budget is scrutinised, and passes through the Senate before being adopted by the National Assembly, what stopped the 58 senators, claimed by the NSF, from raising the alleged lopsidedness and correcting it? I do not think it is a case that the remaining 48 senators overrode their colleagues. It will also be an insult for Senator Summaila to insinuate that the NSF members were dozing while the 2024 Budget was being discussed and passed.
Secondly, the Senator was vague on how the budgetary allocation did not favour the North and how inversely it favoured the South. It appears to me a strategy of trying to corner more of the budget in the name of the North.
I am sure if issues were raised in the NSF, the Senator would be more interested in addressing fundamental issues of the budget such as some 30 per cent going for debt servicing. If their concern about the budget was that not enough money was allocated to recruit more security personnel in the fight against insecurity, they would have gotten my support. If the concern of the NSF was that the budget should have addressed the issue of getting out-of-school children into school, it would have received the support of virtually all Nigerians.
In any case, why is it always some noise about allocation of funds, never what contributions are made to the national purse? Why are people like Senator Summaila always obsessed with sharing the national cake, but never about how the cake is baked?
Why are they not interested in building the country like Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dennis Osadebay and Obafemi Awolowo did in the First Republic rather than a mere continuation of military misrule? Why are they merely interested in auctioning the public assets built by past leaders rather than building on the legacy of the latter?
I find the second leg of the NSF protest, even more ridiculous. This is because while reacting to policies, they are expected to analyse them and present their position. But to merely proclaim their rejection like a religious doctrine, is unhelpful and counterproductive.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, stated that the planned relocation of some of its offices to Lagos is a “decongestion action plan designed to optimise the operational environment of the bank.” It added that: “This initiative aims to ensure compliance with building safety standards and enhance the efficient utilisation of our office space.” If any senator were to react negatively to this as Senator Summaila did, I expected him to present facts countering these arguments.
The Senator’s reaction gives the mistaken impression that the central bank of a country must be situated in the capital. This is incorrect. For instance, the European Central Bank is not in Berlin, the capital of Germany, but in Frankfurt.
Government says it wants to move the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria , FAAN, headquarters from Abuja to Lagos because the latter is the commercial capital and the hub of aviation business in Nigeria. Again I expect any senator opposing such move to give reasons. Human beings must show rationality; the aviation headquarters of a country does not necessarily need to be in the capital. In Germany, for instance, its aviation administrative headquarters is in Brunwick (Braurschweig) some 235.3 kilometres from Berlin, the country’s capital.
When the capital was moved from Lagos to Abuja, there was an unreasonable rush by agencies to move to the new capital. The Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, for instance built a huge edifice the Shippers’ House in Abuja as its new headquarters even when Abuja does not have a river. It was President Olusegun Obasanjo that ordered NPA back to Lagos.
In the same vein, I do not see the sense in the headquarters of the oil companies being in Lagos rather than the Niger Delta where oil is produced.
Despite his claims to the contrary, Senator Summaila’s statement is inciting and is maybe getting its intended results with some groups claiming the planned relocation is an attempt to marginalise the North as if Abuja belongs to a section, and not the entire country.
Those who play ethnic politics must know that they are like fleas feeding on the Nigerian dog; if it dies, they are unlikely to survive.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.