New Telegraph

Economic Council and Nigeria’s ethno-religious crisis

A few weeks ago, during the unfortunate incident that led to a crisis in Shasha area of Oyo State, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, delivered a powerful statement on the essence of unity and justice in society. According to the VP, “Shasha market has been a melting pot for traders bringing foodstuff from the North to the Southwest for decades.

Traders from the North have done business with their brothers from the Southwest and they have lived in peace and even inter-married. Shasha represents unity.” The VP continued, “So when a disagreement arises between individuals or a criminal act is committed by one against the other we must ensure that we see it for what it is, a criminal act, which must be punished according to law. Not an ethnic conflict. Every Nigerian has a constitutional right to live, work and enjoy their lives in safety, peace under the law.” In one swoop, VP Osinbajo reminded all Nigerians again of the essence of national unity and government’s commitment to ensure peace and justice for all.

This was sacrosanct especially with the recent clashes between Hausa and Yoruba communities in Oyo State and parts of the South West. Osinbajo further noted that it was “the duty of government through the police and other law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute any person who commits a crime against a citizen of this nation. It is the role of the citizen to assist the police to identify the criminals.”

This was the umpteenth time the Vice President has reiterated government’s commitment and the resolve of the Buhari administration to tackle injustice, insecurity, ethno-religious crisis and other forms of criminality in the land. Expectedly, the National Economic Council (NEC), which is chaired by Osinbajo, has been at the heart of driving government’s actions on ensuring justice for all Nigerians and nipping crisis in the bud.

The actions by the Osinbajo-led NEC is amidst calls for justice by individuals in other previous crisis, prompting the adoption of farreaching decisions by government, including the setting up of judicial panels of inquiry by NEC last October. The Council had directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of Police brutality or related extra-judicial killings so as to ensure justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units.

It is worthy to note that unlike in the past, the federal government took decisive action on ensuring justice for victims of extra-judicial killings, brutality by security operatives, and prosecution of criminals and their sponsors as well as the call for compensation for the loss of livelihoods and property. As analysts have opined, clearly, the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes will go a long way in addressing some of the concerns that are threatening the unity and security of the nation. It would be recalled that the establishment of judicial panels nationwide followed the EndSARS protests.

In a genuine show of commitment to the welfare of citizenry, President Muhammadu Buhari acceded to the demands of the protesters, in addition to NEC’s recommendations. Despite the efforts of the Buhari administration to tackle injustice and insecurity, some critics have, at different times, accused the Federal Government of paying lip-service to the issue of the pursuit of justice for victims of violent clashes and related crimes across the country even as several measures have been deployed to address the concerns.

This is far from the truth. It is in acknowledgment of the fact that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” that President Buhari has between October 2020 and February 2021, taken concrete steps to address the situation head-on, rallying relevant stakeholders in ensuring that the situation does not degenerate. Beyond rhetoric, the Buhari administration has, and is, indeed providing the sort of leadership required to address the wave of criminality and injustice across the country.

The signing of the Police Act, and the endorsement of several reforms in the justice and law enforcement sector, affirm the administration’s commitment to social justice. Recently, the VP stated the reformed Police Act and the Police Trust Act signed by the President was part of government’s efforts in improving the Police while ensuring the rights of Nigerian citizens are protected.

“After 70 years of the Police Act, Mr. President signed the new reformed Police Act 2020 into law. The new law contains in many parts components of a charter of the rights of citizens when being questioned.” He said. It should be stated that the Buhari administration has demonstrated, more than previous governments in the past, rare courage in ensuring the unity and security of Nigeria and Nigerians at all times despite the dynamic nature of the security challenge in the country. Although it is not reinventing the wheel, its policies and programmes have been, undoubtedly, targeted at addressing the problems frontally.

But a more lasting solution to the crisis rests in an effective partnership between the States and the Federal Government, which has been explored under the auspices of NEC. For instance, the adoption and implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), a comprehensive strategy to address the farmer-herder conflicts in some parts of the country. According to the Council resolution, “States are encouraged to promote modernization of livestock and Council, therefore, called for the strengthening of the National Livestock Transformation Plan”.

Also, the overhaul of the operations of the Nigeria Police Force which started over two years ago; and the setting up of judicial panels in the States to resolve cases of police brutality, are some of the manifestations of the fruitful relationship between the Federal Government and States that has clearly marked the pathway to social justice and is defining unique solutions to the lingering issues. This is in addition to the calm demeanor and consistent narrative of President Buhari and VP Osinbajo which is key to resolving the issues, even when situations seemed to have escalated in some areas as witnessed in Oyo State and parts of the South West. Expectedly, both leaders have been applauded for their definitive stand against criminality and acts of injustice, by many who are familiar with recent happenings in the polity especially the workings in the justice and law enforcement sectors.

Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, for instance, reserved special commendations for Mr President, in a recent interview with journalists in Minna, Niger State, where he appreciated the President for “exploring all possible measures to ensure that tensions are lowered.” Restating government’s commitment to addressing the situation at a recent interaction with newsmen in Lagos, Prof. Osinbajo said “we are in government at one of the most challenging times in history. The pandemic has made matters worse and we have also had security challenges that have stretched our law enforcement capacities all over the country.

“What we must ensure is the prosecution of all those who have been arrested for kidnapping, banditry and all other forms of criminality.” Furtherance to steps already taken at other levels, the Federal and State Governments under the auspices of the National Economic Council also restated their resolve to collaboratively tackle all forms of criminality and injustice across the country.

In a critical review of the security situation in the country at its last meeting of Thursday, Feb-acruary 18, 2021, the National Economic Council (NEC) chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN and composed of Governors of the 36 States and the FCT, unanimously recommitted to ensuring the full protection of all Nigerians wherever they reside, without regard to ethnic, religious, or regional status. According to a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity in the Office of the Vice President, “henceforth concerted efforts would be made towards the immediate investigation, arrest, and prosecution of all perpetrators of crime in the country while both the States and Federal governments should ensure the full protection of all residents of all States including non-indigenous communities and religious and ethnic minorities within state jurisdictions.”

The Council had also called for the strengthening of border controls to discourage crossborder crimes and the effective observation of ECOWAS Transhumance protocols. Affirming Council’s position of the ECOWAS protocols on Transhumance, Kano State Governor, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje, at a recent parley on resolving the herder/farmer conflict, advocated what he described as “commercial herding” as panacea to the incessant clashes between herders and farmers in the country. Ganduje reiterated his call on the Federal Government to ban open grazing and block grazing routes from the northern to the southern part of the country, noting that herders would need to abandon “traditional grazing” and embrace “merchant grazing” in order to find lasting solution to killings and wanton destruction of property that had characterised farmers/ herders clashes in the country.

By and large, just as it acted swiftly in containing the nationwide protests against police brutality, and in addressing challenges in the management of COVID-19 across the States, NEC’s renewed commitment and approach to resolving the resurging ethno-religious conflict across the country should be embraced by all and sundry.

As Prof. Osinbajo rightly asserted in his condemnation of the Shasha Market crisis, “a criminal act is committed by one against the other, we must ensure that we see it for what it is, a criminal act.” Truly, we must call a spade by its name. Leaders must unite across different divides to ensure issues of breakdown of law and order are tackled frontally in the manner advocated and adopted by the National Economic Council. **Francis Akwu writes from Deidei in the Federal Capital Territory*

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