Northern Nigeria is in dire need of direct foreign and local investments. The north with its arable lands good for agriculture and abundance of solid minerals have not attracted much investment due to myriad of problems, most important of which is insecurity.
According to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics, which oversees and publishes statistics in Nigeria, 10 states are the poorest in the country with over 70 per cent poverty rate. Most of the states, indeed nine of the states are Northern States and the exception was Ebonyi State from the South.
Poverty in the North is most of the time associated to factors such as illiteracy, people’s attitude to economic prosperity, corruption, bad governance, child destitution (like almajiranci, begging), income inequality, ethnic clashes and poor economic roadmap, however the biggest threat to the North’s economic prosperity presently, is insecurity.
The news media is constantly awash with killings in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Borno, Yobe among others. Some of the killings are attributed to Boko Haram or the bandits. Others are blamed on herdsmen. Yet others are blamed on ethnic rivalry and religion.
While the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has done a lot in the last four years to drastically curtail the activities of the Boko Haram in the North East, it appears that the insurgents have morphed into bandits, cattle rustlers, and kidnappers and spread its activities across North Central and North West. This has gotten to the point where it appears as if government is not doing enough. One of the major stakeholders who believe that the government is not doing enough to tackle insecurity is the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN). Recently the SCSN said that it is unhappy with the federal government over poor efforts in tackling insecurity in the country. The group in a communique which was signed and read by the SCSN Secretary General, Nafiu Baba Ahmad, emphasised on the need for federal government to change tactics in dealing with security challenges. They particularly noted that government’s effort in checkmating insecurity in North Eastern States and in Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Taraba and Benue States, “is grossly inadequate”. To this end, the Islamic body advised that government should live up to its responsibility by reviewing current security strategy as well as holding security chiefs accountable for their actions and inactions.
Aside the loss of human lives by the activities of these outlaws, another major, concern to the North States is the economic consequences of their actions. The bandits terrorising innocent citizens and preventing them from carrying out their economic activities are exacerbating poverty in the region. In November last year there was reports that armed bandits in Zamfara placed levies on farmers before they are allowed to harvest their farm produce. Farmers in the state have suffered series of assaults by the armed bandits especially when they attempt going to work on their farms. Dozens of farmers have been killed and hundreds of hectares of farmlands remained uncultivated. Most of the farmer victims were trapped on their farmlands and got killed. When President Muhammadu Buhari launched Operation Harbin Kunama in 2016, a military taskforce targeted at banditry and cattle rustling in Zamfara State, many thought that the end had come for the bandits. This is not to be.
Despite the efforts of the government and security forces, attacks have not stopped but taken a worse dimension. Farmers in different parts of Zamfara have abandoned their farmlands over fear of being kidnapped. What is happening in Zamfara is also happening in Benue State and other parts of the North where farmers have abandoned the farms out of fear of being killed.
Owning herds of cattle was once a means of financial security in the North. Not anymore as the owner and his herds are also targets of kidnappers and cattle rustlers.
With agriculture which is the main economic activity in the North endangered by the activities of insurgents, bandits, and cattle rustlers, there is urgent need to find a lasting solution to the problem. This is more so because government has to provide security for the local investors who want to invest in the agricultural sector, before it could attract foreign investors to come and invest in the rich solid mineral sector of Northern Nigeria that desperately need revitalization by foreign capital.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s order on security agents to stop the activities of the bandits and other non-state actors making life difficult in parts of the North is commendable, it is however not the lasting solution. The lasting solution can only be found, when the government carries out honest investigation on the reasons for the emergence of such killer groups in the region, their sources of arms and their sponsors. Until the sponsors of these groups are found it would be difficult to totally curtail their activities. Another area to look into is public enlightenment on the consequences of banditry. There is urgent need for the youths to reject recruitment by bandits and insurgents. This is where the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is expected to play a major role. There is urgent need to reach out to these youths and discourage them from life of banditry, terrorism, kidnapping and insurgency. The campaign by the NOA should also be accompanied with skills acquisition programmes by National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that promises a better life with peace of mind than what they are getting as bandits and outlaws. This is also the time that religious and traditional leaders in the North must speak with one voice to save the region. This is not time for grandstanding. The traditional institutions must also cooperate with the security agencies to get to the root of this menace. The North is resilience; it shall overcome these outlaws and unleash its economic power. What is required is for all hands to be on deck.