Former Head of State and Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC), Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), Wednesday expressed concern over the proliferation of all calibres of weapons in the country, which he estimated at six million.
Other leaders like former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd); the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar and President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, also raised concerns over the negative effects of growing insecurity in the land and sued for peace.
Abdulsalami and others spoke at a dialogue session of the NPC with key stakeholders in Abuja.
They spoke on the day Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) charged the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Baba, to address the multiple threats to the nation’s public safety, law and order.
Abdulsalami lamented that the proliferation of weapons has heightened insecurity in the country and led to over 80,000 deaths and close to three million persons internally displaced.
He stated that the challenges facing the country were not only insecurity in the narrow sense of the military definition but that it had assumed an all-encompassing nature.
He listed the challenges to include the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, increasing poverty, balkanisation agitations from different quarters, the threat of hunger arising from insecurity that farmers have faced and continue to face and the increasing sense of collective despair and despondency among the populace.
Abdulsalami said: “The proliferation of all calibres 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 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.”
He added that the situation is dire because security forces were not just overstretched but underfunded.
He said the security agencies could perform better with more sophisticated weapons, equipment and more funding.
“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,” he said.
While welcoming the stakeholders, which included traditional rulers, the Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Plateau State Governor and Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Hon. Simon Lalong; religious leaders, military, police and other security agencies, Abdulsalami said President Muhammadu Buhari was aware of the meeting and he supported it.
He said the expectation was that the meeting would find out the causes of the conflict and how to mitigate them.
Gowon, who spoke via zoom, urged all Nigerians, irrespective of religious and political differences, to see the nation’s challenges, including insecurity, as ones that must be tackled and resolved collectively.
On his part, the Sultan urged Nigerians to learn to love one another irrespective of religion or tribe.
He said: “As individuals, we need to add value to ourselves and we should know that we did not create ourselves; God created us and when God was creating us, he did not ask us where do you want me to bring you into the world? 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 rank and work for humanity and while we are working for humanity, you have to respect your own religion, if you respect your own religion, you see what is right and wrong for you.
“Before, there was nothing like whether this person is a Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or whatever.”
He added that everyone saw each other as human beings.
“We as leaders, we have to know that we are going to account for this leadership that God gave to us on the final day. So please let us look at the various problems we have; let us look at being our brother’s keeper. We should not allow the elites to break us because they are the ones shouting break up,” he said.
In his remarks, Dangote pleaded with Nigerians to guard against sensationalising reports of crisis so as not to heighten tension in the land.
He said security issue should be everybody’s business because no one can do any business in the absence of security.
“We have to be careful with the kind of news we disseminate because in areas where there is no peace, nobody will invest and that is why it is always good for us to talk good about the country and not just to be spreading rumours that are not there,” he said.
Some of the prominent Nigerians who attended Wednesday’s dialogue session were Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Cardinal John Onaiyekan; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah; and His Royal Highness, Alfred Diete-Spiff.
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has charged the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, to address the multiple threats to the nation’s public safety, law and order.
Osinbajo, while decorating the new IG with his rank at the State House, Abuja, also tasked Baba to restore police’s dignity and reputation.
Osinbajo said: “IG, you are assuming office at a very turbulent time in the life of our people. There are multiple threats to law, order and public safety. The role of law enforcement and particularly that of the police force as the primary agency charged with maintaining law and order has never been more important. The police are our institution of first resort, the first line of defence against crime and anarchy and the first sign of the strength of the state.”
He said the challenges before the new police boss were onerous ones that would test his mettle, adding that the security organisation he is leading is also faced with several challenges.
He said: “Your officers still work in extremely difficult conditions. And some face the threat of physical harm by terrorists, hostile non-state actors while in the line of duty but they have lived up to expectations. There is no question at all that there is a lot that needs to be done. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The vice president also challenged the new helmsman to ensure that the highest standards of professional conduct begin to manifest in all the dealings by men and women of the service.
“Under your leadership, the force must live up to all of the highest standards of professional conduct and compliance with the rule of law. It must significantly improve the welfare and working conditions of its officers, while rapidly scaling on its forensic, logistical, logistical and operational capacities to meet today’s challenges. You must stamp out the excesses and abuses and the culture of impunity, demonstrated by some elements of the force which provoke public outrage against the institution,” he added.
Osinbajo expressed the readiness of the government to help in repositioning the police.
He added: “In short, your mission is nothing less than the restoration of dignity and high repute of the policing professional and the continuous oiling of that machinery of the police force that enables it to be one that is respected by the populace and by the international community. The testimony of your pedigree and your career thus far is that you are up to the task.”
Speaking with reporters after his decoration, Baba promised to rejig the operational strategy of the police as an improvement to what was left behind by his predecessor.
He said: “I came in at a very challenging time. I know it. I recognise it and I will work on how to improve from where my predecessor has left. I have been a member of the management team. We have tried to do our best, but it’s not enough. There is room for improvement.
Definitely, we are going to rejig our operational strategies.
“We have the blessing of Mr. President and we are hoping to get more of what we have requested through the Police Trust Fund very quickly.”
He urged the public to expect improvement in the security situation in the country while calling on Nigerians to cooperate with the police towards achieving a crime-free society.
“With all the inadequacies we have, we still require everybody to be part of policing in this country. And that is why the emphasis on community policing will continue and the emphasis of collaborating with all other sister agencies will continue and we hope to have a better situation very soon,” he said.
Deji Elumoye and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja