Abuja — Governors from the North-east of the country yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to equip the police to bridge the manpower gap in the military as a way of routing insurgents who are waging acute war against the region.
The insurgency, the governors pointed out, has decimated the region's economy.
The governors, during a meeting with the president at the State House, Abuja, also raised the alarm at the rate at which the insurgents are recruiting more members into the sect.
At the meeting, Buhari, again, thumbed down the army on its performance in combating terrorism, saying intelligence reports at his disposal has indicated that the army ought to do better in fighting the insurgency.
Buhari also said his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), magnanimously lost some states to the opposition during the last general election because it chose to be humane and refrained from using the security forces at its disposal to overrun the opposition.
At the meeting attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, service chiefs and heads of other security agencies, the governors made 'save our souls' call on the president over the effects of terrorism plaguing the region.
Briefing journalists after the meeting, Borno State Governor and Chairman of North-east Governors' Forum, Prof. Babagana Zulum, said the meeting was a follow-up to the meeting of North-east governors on Saturday where they discussed challenges confronting the region.
He listed the challenges to include insecurity, economic crisis exemplified by hunger, infrastructure decay and what he described as rock projects.
"But most importantly, there is a war against the economy in the region and I think that is why we are here," he stated.
Zulum said they told the president that he needed to get to the root of the insurgency ravaging the region, which has worsened the living conditions of the people.
According to him, people of the zone can no longer access their farmlands because of insecurity.
He said residents needed to be resettled in their original places of abode so that they could start a new phase of life.
He said, insurgents exploit such challenges confronting residents to recruit victims into their terrorist group, adding that creating an enabling environment for people to operate has consequently become compelling.
He said they advocated at the meeting, the need to empower the police in the region and provide them with sophisticated equipment, including armoured personnel carriers, to bridge the loopholes in the military.
He said: "We told Mr. President that there is the need for the federal government to address the causes of the insurgency, which are not limited to the endemic poverty, hunger, among others.
"One of the root causes is that of access to farmlands. People need to go back to their farmlands. People need to be resettled in their original homes so that they can restart their means of livelihood.
"This is one of the reasons, the insurgents are recruiting more into the sect. Therefore, creating an enabling environment that will enable the people to go about their normal duties will no doubt reduce the cases of insurgency.
"We also recommended that police should be empowered, to be provided with certain state of the art equipment, armoured personnel carriers and so on with a view to bridging the manpower gap that we are having in the Nigerian military."
On the criticism that trailed his accusations against the military after his convoy was attacked on his way to Baga in his state recently, Zulum said meetings had been held after the attack.
He said collaboration among all tiers of government was necessary to tame insecurity.
He said: "We have had a series of consultations after the attack and I think security is not only about the federal government.
"There is the need for the federal, state and local governments to come together with a view to proffering solutions that will end this crisis in the region.
"So, I think the government is taking a bold step with a view to ensuring a speedy resolution of some of the gray areas that we have in the region."
President: Intelligence Shows Army Ought to Do Better
In his speech at the meeting, Buhari told the governors that intelligence reports before him showed that the army ought to do better in fighting the insurgents.
The president, who affirmed that the intelligence is true added that the frequency of the coming of the intelligence convinced him that it is true that the army is not doing enough.
But despite the president's affirmation that the military is not doing well, he has ignored persistent calls to sack the service chiefs.
However, Buhari, who said the country had the problem of resources, added that the people of the region would appreciate what his government had done.
According to him, while Zulum is currently on the spot because his state is the hotbed for insurgency, other North-east states, including Adamawa and Bauchi, on the other hand, are enjoying relative peace.
Buhari said: "We have problems of resources and security. You know what we inherited. The people of the North-east will appreciate what this administration has done.
"The general report I am getting, others from the conventional ones [and] from the intelligence sources are that the army should do better and this is the truth.
"It is so often coming to me that I have to believe it. I listened to your representation - the governor who is on the hotspot now in the North-east (Borno governor). Adamawa, Bauchi, and the rest of them are enjoying peace. I hope they are respecting the sacrifice made by the military.
"I assure you that the government is doing its best. Lack of resources has hit us very hard. COVID-19 is a phenomenon. It has no respect for colour. You can't smell it.
"You can't see it. You can't hear it. America and us are the same. It is a fantastic phenomenon. I think we should all go back to God," he stated.
He added that his administration is spending substantial time thinking of the plight of the people, noting that security is a responsibility of the government and formed one of the cardinal points of his campaign.
He added that when he was campaigning for re-election, he apologised to Nigerians that his administration did not do enough in four years.
He said: "I assure you, North-east governors, especially the governor of Borno, that we go to bed and wake up thinking about you and how to secure our country.
"That is the fundamental responsibility of a government - security. In our party, we recognise this. We campaigned on three fundamental issues - security, economy , and fighting corruption.
"Nigerians, we thank God, understood us and they voted for us. In 2019, we went around the whole country, saying the same thing and apologising for not doing better, but we are doing our best. I think Nigerians believe us and we did our best."
The president also said his party, the APC, magnanimously lost some states to the opposition during the last general election.
According to him, with the army, police and all the security apparatus at the disposal of his party, it could have overrun the opposition, but it chose not to do so because it is being humane.
He said: "It is true that we lost some states as a ruling party in a developing country, which is normal. I am proud of that because we are impartial. That means we have our own mistakes.
"Some of those that defeated us are sitting here. We know we are a developing country but we respect our country.
"Otherwise, with the use of the army, the police, and the rest of them, we could have overrun you. We just want to show that we are humane and we are Nigerians. We will continue to do our best."
Beside Osinbajo, others at the meeting included the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha; National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd.) and the Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari.
The six North-east governors at the meeting were Zulum (Borno), Ahmadu Fintiri (Adamawa), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Inuwa Yahaya (Gombe), Darius Ishaku (Taraba) and Mai Mala Buni (Yobe).
Others were the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd.); the Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi; Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu; Director-General, Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Yusuf Bichi; and Director-General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ahmed Rufa'i.