The past couple of days has seen the outbreak of what might be referred to as a needless controversy over a request made by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Chief Executive of the World Bank, Dr. Kim Jong, for the World Bank to focus attention in its operations and activities in Nigeria, on the troubled and devastated North East region of the country.
The controversy arose following a media briefing by the World Bank President where, in passing, he mentioned that the President of Nigeria had requested that the bank give special attention to the North East region of the country and that the World Bank has largely complied. He then proceeded to reel out the challenges facing the bank in achieving desired result on this very important request.
Ordinarily, the President deserves commendation for the request he made to the management of the World Bank and not condemnation. Unfortunately, because of the state of politics in Nigeria today, and frayed nerves over numerous agitations, the Nigerian people seem to easily forget that all of us have a supreme and joint responsibility to rescue the nation from anything that negatively impacts its well-being.
President Buhari is a concerned patriot who has empathy for the country at large but specifically remembers those parts of the country or the Nigerian population that has special needs. The North eastern region of our country is a basket case. A lot is wrong in the area, and a lot needs to be done in terms of development and infrastructure provision for the economic development and proper integration of the area. The advent of the Boko Haram insurgency worsened the situation to the extent that for some time, between 2011 and 2015, large chunks of territory in that large swathe of land were in the hands of the Islamic Boko Haram terrorists.
As the Boko Haram held sway, destruction and dislocation of the population followed, the social and economic life of the people were adversely affected and set back several decades while thousands were forced to leave their homes, farmlands and businesses while insecurity became the order of the day.
Today, it is estimated that more than 20,000 precious lives of Nigerians were lost to the blood-thirsty terrorists while close to two million people were dispersed, dislocated and currently live in internally displaced people’s camps in the north east and other states of the federation.
It should not be forgotten that the problem of security and underdevelopment in the North east was such a big challenge that it was among the campaign issues in the 2015 national elections that brought President Buhari and the APC coalition to power at the expense of the then ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The majority of Nigerians were in agreement on the special challenge posed by the North East and the need to put in place a government that would deal with the problem and others bedeviling the country.
Before the coming of President Buhari, in little but significant ways, local and foreign non- governmental organisations have been trying to deal with the security and developmental nightmare that is the North East. The Nigerian government through the security forces and private and concerned Nigerians like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Aliko Dangote, the Murtala Mohammed foundation and later, the Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOG) have all lent their best endeavors to draw attention and deal with the humanitarian challenges and nightmare that developed in the north east courtesy of poor governance of the past and the impact of terrorism represented by the Boko Haram.
Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President of Nigeria, and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress comes from the North east, specifically Adamawa State and he has put at the disposal of the displaced people of that region, the personnel, facilities and expertise available at his American University of Nigeria (AUN), in Yola, and other institutions founded by him. However, individual effort and goodwill cannot be enough.
It was under this atmosphere of national need and uncertainty that President Buhari took power in May 2015. It was therefore, logical that when on the 21st of July 2016, Buhari had the opportunity to sit with the top management of the World Bank which does development work across the World, he seized the opportunity to put some demands to the international bank to look with attention and favour on a devastated part of the country. This was because the resources and expertise available in the country cannot make much impact in delivering much- needed infrastructural amenities and development in general.
Therefore, it is not fair to accuse the President of bias or partiality and even if he is so accused, he has committed no infraction in this case bearing in mind that it is acceptable practice that special care and attention should be given to the weaker part of the whole, to prevent total collapse of a system. It should be clear also that President Buhari did not ask the World Bank to neglect or ignore the developmental needs of other parts of the country.
The argument of those accusing the President is that the North east is not the only part of the country with developmental needs and infrastructural deficit. This is true but those other parts of the country do not have a bloody insurgency and social and economic chaos added for bad measure. The needs of these other parts of the country can adequately be met over time by the normal development activities of the government as captured in the 2017 budget and other budgets in the years ahead.
The misplaced controversy on the President’s request to the World Bank President, is born out of misunderstanding of some of the liberties granted leaders of nations. Second, it has again brought to the fore, the fact that most Nigerians look up to the Federal Government to provide all their needs which is an affliction of our present system of government and the type of federalism in place. In a truly federal arrangement where the constituent parts and the citizenry are educated to take charge of their affairs, this misunderstanding and confusion would not arise.
In truly federal states like the United States and India, the constituent parts of the federation are largely responsible for the economic development of their areas and according to their endowments provide most of the infrastructure that they need. However, in times of disasters, natural or man- made as happened during the recent hurricane onslaughts in many parts of the US, the Federal Government intervenes with emergency assistance. In less endowed countries, the country in question requests for international assistance for affected areas to deal with the emergency at hand.
The above means that the average Nigerian need to understand that at the moment, State governments are empowered through federal allocations to provide for infrastructure and other needs of the people in their States. In addition to what States can do, in devastated areas like the North east, the Federal Government and the President can make special provision including requesting for World Bank assistance or other foreign assistance to complement its own efforts. Those who accuse President Buhari, had their minds set on the South East part of the country which suffered devastation during the civil war but did not have the benefit of any special attention till this day, thus providing a fertile ground for agitation.
The lack of special attention on the reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation of the South East and South-South areas of the country after the civil war, 1967- 1970 should be blamed on the then administration of General Yakubu Gowon and those after him! Today, however, through mutual understanding and cooperation, the National Assembly and the Presidency can create a special development commission to look into development shortcomings in areas affected by the Nigeria-Biafra war to make identifiable and feasible restitution. This commission would have an agreed life span and not exist forever. Such a gesture will go a long way to heal festering wounds and stem agitations that create doubts about our unity. This, in future would prevent hostile twisting of good intentions like on the World Bank case.
Okoroma is a Media Consultant and Political Analyst based in Abuja.