ISSUES IN THE ‘PULAAKU’ INITIATIVE
The parameters for the initiative should be clearly defined
At a roundtable organised last week by the Coalition of Northern Groups with the theme, ‘Multi-Dimensional Approach to Tackling Insecurity in Northern Nigeria,’ Vice President Kashim Shettima disclosed that President Bola Tinubu has approved a non-kinetic solution, dubbed ‘Pulaaku Initiative’ to deal with insurgency and banditry in the North. “Every part of the country is equal to the rest, and the government treats the needs of each region as critical,” declared Shettima who announced an initial allocation of N50 billion. “For the North, we are also embarking on a transformative journey to address the root causes of the challenges.”
‘Pulaaku’ is a Fulani word for ‘shyness’ while the initiative, expected to enhance security and the living conditions of the people, will kick off in the bandits-ridden Northwest states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara in addition to Benue and Niger States in the North central. Other good intentions of the initiative include the construction of residences, roads, schools, and other essential facilities that will catalyse the fortunes of the region. Indeed, as the former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar rightly noted, investments in education and the economy could address the root causes of insecurity, and ultimately restore social stability.
It is heartening that the federal government is looking beyond the use of targeted application of military force to stem the protracted security challenges in the north and beyond. For almost a decade and half, Nigerian authorities have been making use of mostly military or kinetic approach to deter a galaxy of threats – from Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency, terrorism to farmer-herder clashes, banditry, kidnappings for ransoms, and all manner of criminalities. In as much as progress had been made in neutralising many of the non-state actors, and in restoring peace and order to some communities, the collateral damage is not only high, but there is also still much mess to clear.
Many remote communities in the Northwest states as well as Niger and beyond, still come under regular and prolonged attacks by bandits and insurgents but they are unable to contact the authorities. And even if they did, like the recent Plateau crisis, the response was often late in coming. As Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki of the Savannah Centre in Abuja once noted, the security agencies “seem not able to keep pace with wide public demands for better protection of lives and properties of citizens.” Meanwhile, the number of violent unprovoked attacks on citizens appears to be on the increase. Thus, beyond lamentations, authorities in Abuja must see the growing violence in different theatres across Nigeria as a challenge to the future of a country that is fast becoming a killing field.
Even so, the Pulaaku initiative is being greeted with much cynicism. Why, for instance, is the birth of such a fundamental project that will affect millions of people almost hushed? And even more important, what are the non-kinetic measures that the initiative is subscribing to? What is the scope and who are the major stakeholders in its implementation? Is there a timeline? What is the total amount of money allocated for the project?
We are worried because this is not the first time that the federal government will be applying soft options as a measure of ending the protracted conflicts, particularly in the north. The Goodluck Jonathan administration adopted the carrot option at some point in form of schools and others to address the menace to no avail. Most of the schools, built at huge cost, were largely abandoned. Besides, many Boko Haram repentant terrorists, said to have been de-radicalised under Operation Safe Corridor reportedly went back to crime. Nigerians should be informed of what they are paying for this time around.