By Aza Msue and Isaiah Benjamin
Governors of the 19 northern states yesterday took bold steps to tackle the security and economic challenges confronting the region by appointing Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State and his Jigawa State counterpart, Alhaji Badaru Abubakar, to head two committees on the twin problems.
The state chief executives who met under the aegis of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) mandated the Masari committee to liaise with the northern states’ attorneys-general and Houses of Assembly to work out modalities to amend the Penal Code to provide for stiffer punishments for bandits, kidnappers, and rustlers, who have killed thousands of people and destroyed social and economic lives in the region.
The governors gave the Abubakar committee the nod to “meticulously study the current structure, mission and vision of the New Nigerian Development Company Limited (NNDC)” and come up with a roadmap on how best to resuscitate the company to realise the set goals of its founding fathers.
The members of the Masari committee are the Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, Shamsudeen Usman, Engr. Ibrahim Ali, Bello Maccido, Ambrose Feese, M.K. Ahmed, and Engr. Abdullahi A. Sule.
The Masari panel was appointed due to realisation that the current provisions of the Penal Code, in operation in the North, were too weak to address the offences of kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery, and cattle rustling.
The governors also elected Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State as the chairman the NSGF effective from May 29, 2019.
And after due consultation, the forum named Malam Tanimu Yakubu as the new chairman of the NNDC based on his vast knowledge and wealth of experience. The governors also resolved that the management of the company which currently operates in acting capacity should remain so until the appointment of a substantive executive management.
These were contained in six-point communiqué they issued at the end of the NSGF’s meeting held yesterday at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House, Kaduna.
The meeting, which was presided over by the outgoing chairman of the forum and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, deliberated on the major issues affecting the northern states and the country at large. It particularly focused the current security situation which they adjudged as deteriorating despite the concerted efforts of the federal and state governments.
The communiqué read in part: “In order to tackle the challenges holistically and in an all-encompassing manner, the forum set up a committee under the chairmanship the governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari to inter-alia develop a comprehensive regional plan of action that could bring lasting solutions to the lingering crises.”
“The committee, as part of its mandate is expected to seek audience with President Muhammadu Buhari and make adequate presentation to him on the true nature of the security challenges.
“It will also make suggestions based on the thorough and insightful analysis and assessment of the situation on the best possible way for the federal government to resolve the incessant problems.
“The committee on the NNDC as part of its assignment should ensure that the board of the NNDC follows due process in the appointment of the new executive management through the advertisement of vacant positions and other extant procedures.
“Similarly, due process must be followed in respect to the new Nigerian Newspapers Company (NNNC) Limited.
“The forum also directed New Capital Properties a subsidiary of NNDC to continue with the disposal of NNNC properties with a view to settling other outstanding liabilities of the company and transforming it into a new media outfit. The forum expressed appreciation to the federal government for settling the pension arrears of the company’s pensioners,” the communiqué read.
The governors thanked the management of Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation (SABMF) for their laudable programmes and other noble activities that have direct impacts on the lives of the people and assured the outfit of continued support.
The meeting was attended by the governors of Borno, Katsina, Plateau, Kogi, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Kano and the deputy governors of Bauchi, Benue and Kaduna States.
Earlier in his address, Governor Shettima (NSGF outgoing chairman) had said that the forum under his leadership in the past four years had made modest achievements despite the security challenges.
Shettima said: “In the face of the increasing security challenges, especially emergent criminal activities such as kidnapping, cattle rustling, incessant communal clashes, inciting religious preaching, and suicide bombings among others, most of which were not properly codified in the criminal justice system of Northern Nigeria, we found it judicially imperative to incorporate such criminal offences into the Penal Code.”
Shettima who appreciated President Buhari, northern traditional leaders and his counterparts for their support for him as chairman of the forum, begged for forgiveness in any way he might have offended anyone.
According to him, “within this period, we have been able to collectively make some modest achievements in various sectors, which are deliberately initiated and implemented for the overall growth and development of the northern region and to some extent, Nigeria as a whole.
“In the face of the increasing security challenges, especially the emergent criminal activities such as kidnapping, cattle rustling, incessant communal clashes, inciting religious preaching, and suicide bombings among others, most of which were not properly codified in the criminal justice system of Northern Nigeria, we found it judicially imperative to incorporate such criminal offences into the Penal Code.
“The forum, therefore, established a committee of attorneys-general of the 19 northern states to critically examine the provisions of the criminal justice system vis-à-vis the emergent criminal activities, with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators of such criminal offences are brought to justice.
“Accordingly, the forum advised all state Houses of Assembly in the 19 northern states to make amendments and modifications to the existing criminal justice system.
“Sequel to persistent reports of drug abuse especially among the youths and women in the northern states, the forum initiated the move to fight the menace in a holistic and all-encompassing manner, by setting up committees of relevant stakeholders in each state of the region, towards eliminating the scourge of drug abuse.
“At the national level, the forum made a passionate appeal to the federal government to frontally deal with the issue of drug abuse and possibly declare a state of emergency in the fight against the scourge. It is gratifying to note that the federal government has heeded our call, which culminated in the setting up of the Marwa Committee on Drug Abuse.”
The governor also disclosed that the NSGF, in a bid to attain some degree of financial independence, resolved to create a joint financial institution to serve as a vehicle for the region’s economic recovery and overall sectoral development.
Shettima said: “In pursuance of this objective, each state is to contribute N50 million monthly for a period of six months. So far, we have N650 million of the expected N5.7 billion.” He, therefore, called on states that are yet to meet their obligation to do so to enable the forum to embark on the implementation of the programmes and projects articulated under the scheme.
Some of the projects, he stated, are the establishment of a renewable energy plant, with the capacity to generate between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
The governor added that the forum took pragmatic steps to resuscitate the NNDC Company in order to restore its position as the business and economic live-wire of the region.
To this end, about N6billion was approved by the forum for the implementation of a five-year strategic development plan, which if properly executed would propel the region into economic prosperity, he said.
Shettima further hinted that a new commodity marketing company was established as a subsidiary of the NNDC to develop and promote agricultural activities in the region.
According to him, to consolidate the economic base of the region, the NNDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Savanna Petroleum Limited for the development of four oil blocks. Also, the NNDC has commenced negotiations with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to venture into oil and gas exploration in the northern region.
He disclosed that plans are underway to revive the Kaduna Textiles Company into full production of textile materials, with among other things, meet the uniform needs of the armed forces and other para-military agencies.
Shettima appealed to the governors to support and cooperate with Governor Lalong to achieve the goals set and do better in office as NSGF chairman.