A former Head of State, retired Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, has disclosed that the social insecurity bedevilling the country has left 80,000 people dead and 3 million others displaced.
The former head of state noted that an estimated six million illegal arms are currently in circulation.
Abubakar, who is also the Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC), raised the alarm on Wednesday at a dialogue session with key stakeholders in Abuja.
The meeting was attended by traditional rulers including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III; The Metropolitan Archbishop Emeritus, Abuja Catholic Diocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan; Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Kayode Fayemi; Plateau State Governor and Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong; religious leaders, the service chiefs, business mogul, Aliko Dangote, among others.
Other contributors at the meeting also dwelled on the best way to tackle challenges in the country including the role of the media and the need to create jobs to fast-track development.
According to Abdulsalami Abubakar, the challenges facing the country were not only insecurity in the narrow sense of the military definition.
He cited Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, increased poverty, calls for balkanisation of the country from different quarters, threat of hunger arising from threat to farmers, the increasing sense of collective despair and despondency among the populace, among others as the salient issues afflicting the country.
He said, “The proliferation of all calibre of weapons not only in our sub-region in general and in Nigeria, in particular, is worrying. It is estimated that there are over six million of such weapons in circulation in the country.
“This certainly exacerbated the insecurity that led to over 80,000 deaths and close to three million internally displaced persons.”
The ex-military head of state also said that the security forces were not just overstretched but underfunded, assuring that they could perform better with more sophisticated weapons, equipment and funding.
According to him, “We believe Nigeria must find a way out of these problems. Our hope is that perhaps among us, by listening to your different perspectives, we can begin to build up confidence among our people so that we can hold together.
“So our hope is that we shall not only share our collective lamentations about the current situation, but propose some concrete suggestions that can point the way forward, suggestions that can inspire more confidence among our people and ensure that our country remains one.”
Also, a former Head of State, retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon, urged all Nigerians irrespective of religious and political differences to see the challenges confronting the country as ones that must be tackled and resolved collectively.
Speaking at the second leg of the meeting with the media and civil society organisations, Africa’s richest man and President, Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, said that the media had to be careful with the kind of news they disseminate because nobody would invest in countries plagued by violence.
“The question of security is everybody’s business. Even us, today, we cannot do any business without security and that is why the private sector promised to put in N100 billion to support the police in terms of security. If there is no money, no matter how much you push them, they will not be able to move.
“Take the issue of Kagara (in Niger State) where they kidnapped the school children; there were only eight policemen in a big local government like Kagara. So, these are the issues.
“There is no way we would have jobs without peace. We need peace for jobs to be created and I think it is our collective responsibility to make sure that the environment is right. A couple of media people believe that only bad news sells and we need to be very careful.
“I don’t see any county where people just keep propagating bad news throughout. Security is the job for everybody right from the security man at the gate. So, we need to report any suspicious activities.
“One thing I can assure you of is that this committee, led by our chairman, will do its best to make sure that we escalate this suggestion to the highest authority. If you want to be safe, you have to contribute your own quota to be safe. It doesn’t come that cheap.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, said leaders must close ranks in order to succeed.
“We just found ourselves in various places. So, what we need to do is to see who we are and work for humanity because we are individuals. Yes, but we have to close ranks and work for humanity.
Media as divided as Nigeria – NPAN
Also speaking, the Chairman, Media Trust Limited (MTL), Publishers of the Daily Trust newspapers and other titles, Malam Kabiru A. Yusuf, noted the concern about media coverage of conflicts in Nigeria.
Malam Yusuf, who is also the President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), said he recognized that news coverage is an issue that is capable of either making things better or worse.
“But I want us to be realistic. The media is as divided as the rest of Nigeria…Whoever reads our newspapers or watches our television stations will see that people selectively choose what they want to report.
“They legitimise comments they approve of and dismiss those they don’t agree with. This is the reality of the media. It is part of politics. It is part of the social setup. It has a history.
“The rules are there just like everything else in Nigeria, we have the constitution, the code of conduct. We have everything that should be done properly. We all have rules that we should balance our news and tell the truth.
“So, I am not going to be pessimistic, we do speak about these things in the media ourselves. We try as best as we can to correct them; but we realise also that everybody is running his own business.
“He is also backed by his own aspirations and values and the best we can do is to continue dialoguing, to continue calling on our best behaviour in terms of these things in order that we should do what is good for our country,” he said.
“Ultimately, even though the media and our political groups pursue their agenda, they can only do it if there is a country. The responsibility is with the government at the centre. If the peace committee is able to talk to them, they should tell them to really take a good look at themselves and correct what is going wrong. If governments have problems, they change the way they rule. If you have a problem, and you continue in the same way, what you are saying is that you don’t want to solve the problem. And you now come and say it is the media, oh it is the politicians. We are all in this together.
“But I think the bigger job of the committee should be to engage the government if things are not going well on what is to be done,” Yusuf said.
Also speaking, a former Chief of Defence Staff, retired Air Marshal Al-Amin Dagash called for a review of the operations of the Nigeria’s military. He said that during their days, they used to have training for between 18 months and two years.
He lamented that these days, military trainees spent six or seven months and then deployed to operations including battlefields.