In view of the various controversial issues in the polity, Global Mission Leader, Peace and Social Justice Advocate, Revd Gideon Para-Mallam, in this interview with TAI ANYANWU takes a look at the security situation and its impact on food production, social and economic lives
What is your position on the hijab crisis currently going on in Kwara State?
There are too many serious issues confronting Nigeria right now than a state government such as Kwara to engage in provocative acts of promoting wearing of hijab by students of all secondary schools regardless of their religious belief. Just the mere thought of it suggests disregard for freedom of worship. This is an absolutely diversionary tactic from dealing with the problems of unemployment, hunger and security in the Kwara State, among other challenges.
What exactly is the issue? The state says: grant-aided mission school students should wear Hijab. What a slap on the face of tax-paying Christian parents in Kwara State! When has Kwara State money become Islamic money?
Why have our governors and their policy advisors easily become reckless and visionless? Why should the fundamental right of Christian students be violated by over-zealous public officials who hide under religion to create religious chaos and stoke the fires of religious violence, while pretending to look pious? Some of these people are hypocrites of the highest order in the public space.
Now, we are told that the House of Representatives has a pending bill on Hijab at the Second Reading. If indeed this is correct, then we have an issue of great concern at hand. Such a bill is discriminatory, divisive, and unconstitutional. How do you legislate on such religious matters?
Our honourable members of the House should never allow themselves to be lured into becoming time wasters and create gargantuan religious problems.
But I am very encouraged that the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and the Anglican Church have taken a firm, principled stand and said No to this needless and timewasting Hijab controversy in Kwara State.
The Christian Association of Nigeria has issued a strong statement of condemnation in the same vein. What a country?!
Torments of diversions and distractions have become the order of the day while real governance issues are left undone. Is wearing Hijab in schools such a top priority deserving the attention of a whole state government and even our House of Representatives to get involved in, yet there is much hunger and unemployment all around Nigeria including Kwara
What do you make of the assassination attempt on Governor Samuel Ortom and how do you see President Muhammadu Buhari’s silence on the Fulani menace in the country?
One of the most dedicated, focused, and humble governors I know in Nigeria today is His Excellency, Samuel Ortom.
Why is he being haunted for standing up for the truth in defence of his people? Why are these unseen dark forces making all efforts to create a crack and disunity among the good people of Benue State and this purpose-driven governor? Governor Ortom is simple and direct. He desires to govern according to the wishes of his people.
Why is he being persecuted just for standing up for the rights of his people in defending their right to the ownership of their God-given land? Who are the brains behind the destabilisation of Benue State?
What do they stand to gain apart from confusion and destruction? Should they be allowed to succeed, what value would it add to Nigeria?
How could such a brazen attempt be made on the life of a peoples’ sitting governor? What a huge joke as some people are even suggesting that the governor himself stage- managed the attack on himself in order to engage in land-grabbing from his own people! It’s so illogical.
This is both comical and laughable. It is a case of politics of wonders that never ends in Nigeria.
What has happened is a serious thing and an indictment on our democracy. This is mafia politics at a high level. Thank God for His divine protection and deliverance of Governor Ortom on that fateful day when he was targeted by agents provocateur, merchants of destruction and conflict entrepreneurs. Why Benue? Why are people bent on creating a reign of fear in Nigeria?
Well, it is consoling to read that Governor Ortom has himself briefed President Buhari live and direct. Mr. President has asked that a thorough investigation be carried out into this shameful and unacceptable attack. It mustn’t be allowed to stand or repeated. No stone should be left unturned until justice is done on this matter.
These are things common in Banana republics and failed states. Nigeria has a way of always moving towards the precipice and only stop short at the flipping over the cliff.
For how long will such deadly political gerrymandering continue? I will not discuss the case of FUNAM who claimed responsibility based on the unsigned statement circulating on social media.
How do I discuss an unsigned statement? Glad that the President’s golden silence has been punctuated with his directive for a thorough investigation into the sad incidence. Let’s wait until then.
Those who ‘proudly claimed responsibility,’ should show their heartless bravado by visiting the panel, take full responsibility and their exact identity will be known. As for those seeking to poke fun at Governor Ortom who is 59, they asked how could he run for one and half kilometres?
Well, they are wrong and seem not to know the rules of regular exercise. Governor Ortom has worked hard physically as a governor and farmer. He walks long kilometres within the farm, so there is no rocket science about his ability to run one and half kilometres race.
This isn’t farfetched and those of us who engage in regular exercise know that this is very possible, pure and simple! Frankly, that to me, isn’t the issue.
The real issue is that nothing must happen to Governor Ortom. Killing him will be unacceptable to peace loving Nigerians. A battle line will be drawn if anything happens to him and I say God forbids such. Is Nigeria up for conquest? By whom and for what? Is this craze for conquest in the 21st century?
Touch Governor Ortom and you touch Benue; touch Benue and you torch political fire. The consequences will be far reaching and those who attempt this may never live to celebrate their evil agenda.
War isn’t as simple as some are inviting. It looks simple to start one but you can never determine the cataclysmic consequences. Don’t try it!!! This is my honest advice to those who care to listen
Could you comment generally on the state of the nation today?
Things aren’t looking good at all. This is the truth and anything to the contrary is political spinning.
Now, a true medical doctor cannot successfully treat a patient without an honest prognosis and diagnosis. Nigeria deserves to be a better country than what we see today. Nigeria is blessed with excellent world class leaders and a variety of talents. Our greatest asset is our human resource capacity. We need to harness this properly. Our leaders have mismanaged both our natural and human resources.
Our leaders are part of the problem in Nigeria. Everything starts and ends with leadership. In no way am I suggesting that Nigerians are saints? We the people, I inclusive, also have our failings and unacceptable contradictions. But a visionary and missionary leadership can always re-make the Nigerian brand. Our major problem is leadership. But all hope is not lost.
Now, in terms of our politicians, whether Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressives Congress (APC), have huge trust deficit problems. The blame game is a facade. It is usually a typical case of kettle calling pot black.
The current upsurge in oil revenues could be a positive one if those corrupt elements in and out of government stop their endless looting (thief, thief).
What is it like when darkness descends each day, in the North?
The North is bleeding right now. The North has been bleeding but blinded by the lure for political power and control – never really tended to its mortal political wounds.
The North will continue to bleed and may reach a non-reversal level if she fails to listen to her own cries and voices of reason within which by the grace of God are not in short supply.
The saddest part is that the North’s wounds are mostly self-inflicted as religion which should have been a healer has wrongly been turned into a destructive fan on the flames of discord and damage. The North has never been one and will never be one! This may sound hard and bitter but appreciating this fact may turn out to be the beginning of our healing.
Can religion heal right now? The prospects are there for this to happen but only if we stop injecting politics into religion. The biggest fundamental and foundational error is that any religion which lacks godliness will never bring healing and does not unite. Now, do get this straight.
This practice of being religious without becoming righteous or godly is a huge Nigerian spiritual disease. It requires a cure but should not be any kind of Jihad as pursued by those who are now making the North to bleed silly.
Greed, wickedness, and murder can never make religion attractive. It may attract the blind bigots and indoctrinate the fanatics with fanaticism, but that will only lead to more rivers of blood-letting. Jihad as is being wrongly clamoured for by extremist groups in the North is not the solution of the North and will never be the solution of Nigeria.
Just as political subjugation never works so also is religious subjugation. It is as simple and also as complicated as that. Discern the point I am making here, if you may.
How has insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other types of violence which are prevalent today in the North affected education in that part of the country?
One newspaper, The Vanguard, has been keeping a monthly journalistic tap on the impact of insecurity and killings in Nigeria of recent particularly the unfortunate state of the North today in 21st Century Nigeria.
Last Sunday, March 14, she reported that 5,330,631 million school children are being disrupted. This same report added that between December 2020 and March 14th, 2021, when over 800 students were abducted – all in just roughly three months. How can education survive in such a context?
A recent publication by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) asserts that one in every five out-ofschool children in the world is in Nigeria. The total figure of out of school children, aged five-14 years old in the country currently stands at 10.5 million. Boko Haram said Western education is forbidden and they have used all available means within their power to disrupt education in Nigeria.
Now, the Fulani herdsmen and bandits are also attacking educational institutions and abducting both male and female students for a number of reasons, among which are sex slaves, financial extortion, and other heinous reasons. A UNICEF report in 2020 suggests that 47 per cent of children in the North are out of school.
This number is even bleaker for girls with 53.3 per cent in the North-East and 53.7 per cent in the North-West. Funds are not really the issue here because basic and secondary education are free in the country. In just three northern states (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe), 2.8 million children are out of school and in critical need of education.
Now, even if the government somehow manages to bring these children back to school for education, there is a serious deficit in infrastructure. Eight hundred and two schools remain closed in these states today due to insecurity, and 497 classrooms are destroyed completely while 1,392 others could still be repaired. Now these are figures from just three states. And with the recent spate of kidnapping of school children in Katsina, Zamfara,
Kaduna and Niger states, parents are unwilling to send their children to school. It is noteworthy to add that there are children in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps who are also without education.
But how will they get education when even the Federal Government denies the existence of these IDP camps in certain parts of the country and prefers to place emphasis only on those in the North-East?
What about North Central especially parts of the Middle Belt areas? No one wants to be so negative, but education is in a pitiable state in Nigeria today. One would have expected radical action to stop this nonsense, but we aren’t getting this, and I must place the error squarely on the government. The kid-gloves treatment isn’t a solution right now.
When this impunity continues, it won’t just be these small numbers, but the entire North may become a full hostage zone. I am bleeding inside as I answer this question. With no education, darkness descends on a nation. Unless things change, radically and honestly, the North is finished! There are too many lies, denials and wrong narratives.
The government is sadly part of the problem and not the solution in my humble mind. I pray I am proved wrong. What I want and I believe it is the same for every Nigerian, are solutions not explanations. Could
you take a look at social dislocations in this same North at this time?
Culture is lost. One of the major attractions of the North has always been its rich and beautiful cultural diversity. When families are dislocated, cultural integrity is inevitably lost.
Displaced families are often dysfunctional and core family values are negatively affected. Insecurity has indeed left the North in tatters. As at today, 2.583 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria and most of these figures are in the North. In 2019 alone, there were 248,000 new displacements across the 19 states.
The North-East insurgency which triggered 105, 000 criminal violence; North-West recorded 88,000 and North Central region alone contributed 55,000. So, we have a combusting social malfunction in the North right now. So, when you look at it, all the displacements in the country in 2019, was in the North alone.
Now what about education, health, and commercial activities? What quota of Nigeria’s GDP is the North contributing today to the commonwealth of Nigeria? I asked just to suggest that the North could do better in this area. It did so in the past; it can still do so now if we change the security paradigm of our situation.
So, the North is witnessing both social dislocation and lack of cohesion while some of us are trying the best we can under God to help promote social cohesion between our diverse groups: ethnic nationalities and promoting inter-religious harmony.
Our Peace Foundation, in partnership with the British High Commission, is currently promoting a pilot project in four local governments in Southern Kaduna to promote inter-religious harmony for peaceful coexistence under the hashtag: I-Peace SK meaning: I Stand for Peace in Southern Kaduna.
How has the killings affected agriculture and farming and its consequences on food security in the North?
Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, the activities of bandits in the North-West and Fulani herdsmen in North Central have led to displacement of several farmers.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Northern Nigeria has 2,872,823 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with 2,144,135 in the North-East, while 419,457 in the North-West and 309,231 in North Central. Most of the displaced persons are farmers. Attacks on these farming communities have greatly disrupted agricultural activities in the North.
There are also the traditional and historical farmer-herders’ clashes which used to be settled peacefully in the past, but have now taken on dangerous dimensions in which cows are released to graze on farmlands and crops destroyed.
Then cattle are destroyed either through rustling, poison or killed. These attacks on farm produce and livestock are severely affecting the agricultural output in the North.
The fear of ambush and attacks by AK-47 wielding herdsmen has prevented farmers from working their farmlands which has led to non-harvesting of the crops as the farmers are now IDPS.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FOA) suggests that there are an estimated 2.6 million people facing severe food insecurity in just Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. FOA also projects that this number may increase to 3.6 million by 2021.
Another report by UNICEF indicates that 2,000,000 children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition, 32 per cent of children have stunted growths and 29 per cent are underweight.
Majority of the victims affected are in northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is facing a food crisis as a result of insecurity. IDPs are barely managing to feed on a daily basis. Children are malnourished and dying of starvation and a lot of other families can barely afford to eat twice a day.
The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) in their February 2020 situation report asserted that at least 20 per cent of IDPs in the North- West and North Central regions are minimally able to meet food needs.
What other sectors of the economy in Northern Nigeria have been negatively impacted by insecurity?
The health sector is in grave danger right now. Although the education and agriculture sectors have been gravely impacted, these are not the only sectors affected by the incessant insecurity in the North. Several other socio-economic sectors such as health have also been gravely affected.
An impact report by the World Health Organisation in 2016 suggested that of the 743 identified health facilities in Borno State, 35 per cent have been destroyed completely; while 29 per cent are partially damaged and only 34 per cent are intact and only one third are functioning – no thanks to the current insurgency.
The situation in IDP camps remains deplorable and pitiful. UNICEF reports that an estimated 2,300 children die daily from diseases which are easily treatable, while several children do not receive basic vaccinations and fewer than two of every five births are supervised by qualified medical personnel.
Some of these statistics are countrywide and when analysed, the largest figures come from northern Nigeria.
A critical but often neglected reality is the post traumatic and psychological effect most northerners have to deal with from the brutal loss of their loved ones. Losing their ancestral homes, basic means of livelihoods and their communities has its own devastating traumatic individual effects.
Women and children are most vulnerable and hundreds of thousands of women have been widowed in the most gruesome ways and left to cater for their children without any resources.
When it comes to the economy, it is noteworthy to take a look at the internally generated revenue in Nigeria by states.
Only two northern states appeared in the top 10 (Kano and Kaduna), while the bottom 10 is dominated by northern states. Lagos State alone generates revenue which supersedes the total revenue from all the northern states.
This paints a picture of where the North is economically today compared to the South. Investors are skeptical about investing in the North. Existing businesses are struggling to survive while some have already crashed, no thanks to the present effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the insecurity which has tormented the North.
Markets are burnt down and destroyed in the North -East. Generally, the North is perceived as a dangerous region by serious investors due to the recurrent security situation in the North.