The North-East of Nigeria which has been the epicenter of the Boko Haram terrorism activity, particularly the states of Borno, Yobe and northern part of Adamawa is no exception to this. The war – it has gone beyond an insurgency – which is now in its seventh year has wrought a lot of destruction on the area in addition to the estimated 17,000 people that have lost their lives as a result. Schools have been burnt down and destroyed, roads and bridges blown up, power installations damaged, and entire swathes of farmland have been forced to be left fallow for years, causing food prices to rise in not just the area, but across Nigeria as the area is a huge grower of grains and vegetables.
Beyond that, the war has exposed the reality of the extent of poverty in the region. It is one thing to know through statistics that the poverty rate in Adamawa State is 74.2% or that only 15.21% of 31,983 candidates who sat for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in Borno State in 2014 passed. It is another thing to go to those areas and see how bad things are. In all honesty, this situation predates the Boko Haram conflict. As someone who comes from and lived in that area, this poverty and economic backwardness was very apparent. When I seemed to be getting used to it, a trip out of the region and back will once again remind me of how far behind we were. In many ways, it is this situation and many other factors that has brought the emergence of the conflict – after all, terrorism does not happen in a vacuum. The conflict has made an already dire situation much worse.
Even as the war is far from over despite the massive gains by the Nigerian military in the past year, it is important to begin the job of reconstructing the North-East and not just restoring it to the way it was before, but putting it on a path to prosperity.
It was based on this that the previous administration started the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), the Presidential Committee on Distribution of Relief Materials and the Victims Support Fund (VSF), all aimed at intervening and providing relief for victims of insurgency. The current administration is aiming to streamline all these various efforts, and has even gone ahead to appoint former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen Theophilus Danjuma as the coordinator of all Federal Government initiatives on the North-East.
Although the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd) had in October announced that the Federal Government was putting in place a N116.4bn North-East Marshall Plan (NEMAP) for short, medium and long term interventions, there are neither details for how this will be funded nor any inclusion for the plan or parts of it in the 2016 budget proposal.
Without doubt, these reconstruction efforts will need a lot of money – to reconstruct schools destroyed and hire teachers, to rebuild and restore damaged infrastructure, and to recreate sustainable economies in the area so that the people can be able to have decent livelihoods. Unfortunately, this has also come at a time when Nigeria’s revenue has fallen due to the low price of crude oil, along with the fact that there are a lot of competing demands on the scarce revenue available.
This is why the recent suggestion by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara that an international donor conference for the North-East be organized is an excellent idea. Such an international conference will not be without precedent – just last week, one was held in London for Syria and was even attended by President Muhammadu Buhari. One was also held in July 2008 for Kosovo’s socio-economic development as convened by the European Commission. Also, the most famous and biggest post-war recovery effort, the Marshall Plan which was led by the United States of America to help revive Europe after the Second World War was preceded by a similar conference of participating European states.
Although the Boko Haram conflict has primarily affected Nigeria, its impact extends to the larger Lake Chad area and can further complicate unstable places to the east such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan, parts of Congo and up to Rwanda. It also has significance leading up into the Maghreb and all the way into North Africa, and has contributed in its own small way to the stream of migrants into Europe.
While many foreign countries and developed nations especially are aware of this, their involvement and assistance has largely been militarily only. There is also the need to tackle the underlying economic and development factors, else it will be easy for another insurgency to emerge once this present one is needed.
Already, the World Bank has announced its intention to spend $2.1billion in low-interest loans to the FG for the North East, but there is still room for a lot more. An international donors’ conference will not only bring more donor countries and agencies on board but will also bring intervention to their efforts by highlighting what areas specifically need assistance and how to go about achieving that.
It will be excellent for the Presidency to act on Hon. Dogara’s suggestion and work towards convening such a conference in order to expedite action on reconstructing the North-East.