Challenges of winning the peace
The trip to Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, the previous week, afforded me the opportunity to have a first-hand understanding of the sheer scale of destruction occasioned by the evil visitation of the Boko Haram brigands on the people and their properties. The affliction that directly affected at least twelve out of its seventeen local governments caused a colossal loss of thousands of lives, pillaging of government and private properties worth billions of naira as well as loss of livelihood and immense psychological trauma to the entire citizenry.
After I had gone round Damaturu to see the scale of work that had been accomplished to obliterate the damage visited on both private and public structures, and what was in progress, I settled for a candid one-to one discussion with Baba Wali, the Secretary of the State Government, whose office was central and from all indications had a comprehensive knowledge of all government activities. We discussed at length the heavy burden of fighting the war against the insurgents, and now that the war has been won, the efforts to bring succour to their beleaguered citizens. It was a heavy burden and as he reeled off the statistics I could only marvel at the enormity of the task.
It was tough work getting to where they were at present, with the level of achievements in transforming Damaturu, in the return of normality in all the local government areas, in the opening of roads to all nooks and corners of the state and in the massive rehabilitation of all destroyed structures. They were fortunate, he said, that the Governor was able to mobilize and focus the attention of all the key actors in this exercise; the security agencies engaged in the actual war, the civil service that were to do the rehabilitation and reconstruction and all other agencies that rendered support to the victims of the insurgency.
Besides that, he added, there was obvious evidence of prudence in the use of government funds because despite the involvement of the State Government in all these heavy outlays, it never stopped it from paying salaries and pension of workers, as and when due. But, as he admitted, there was still a lot to be done and he reeled off more statistics. The state needed at least N30 billion for further reconstruction activities in the educational and health sectors as well as other government facilities such as destroyed court buildings, police stations, and vandalized water works and electricity supplies lines. It would be a great challenge attracting such enormous funds to the state but he assured me that they have commitments from not only those outfits put up by the Federal Government, but also from Development Partners, InterGovernment Organizations and philanthropic bodies and individuals.
I headed to the Ministry of Education to chat with the Commissioner, Mohammed Lamin. He must have been one the most stressed and hardest-hit among the commissioners because the Boko Haram insurgents regarded his ministry, which imparted western education, as their number one enemy. For an arch-enemy of the insurgents he appeared unperturbed and was bustling about among many visitors to his office in the state secretariat. When we met he admitted to me that his main problem was not only that the structural damage had vitiated the educational facilities but the fact that Boko Haram teachings, that western education is evil, had negatively impacted on the minds of pupils and parents alike.
He said that the government had invested so much to rehabilitate and reconstruct damaged school buildings, and the provision of furniture. Three government secondary schools in each senatorial district have been selected for comprehensive renovation and overhaul to be completed before the end of the year at the cost of over N1billion. However, what the commissioner finds as the more insidious task facing the state would be that of the huge challenge of reversing the thinking of some parents who had consumed the propaganda by Boko Haram. This would be a complex exercise for the government in its bid to engage both the political and traditional leadership in the state to continue to re-educate those affected citizens on the futility of keeping their wards from school.
It is on this note that I left Damaturu, retraced my steps to my base in Abuja to ruminate over my findings and plan my tour in the coming days to those parts of Borno State that could be reached. It was also an opportunity for me to discuss my impressions with some of my colleagues who have long been active in the Borno arena. One such person was Fatima Akilu, whose outfit the Neem Foundation has been doing a tremendously courageous work in parts of Borno State on de-radicalization of Boko Haram elements. Fatima, a trained psychologist with a PhD in that field of study from Bradford University in the United Kingdom, is an advocate of the soft approach to counter the ideology of violence such as what the Boko Haram insurgents espouses. She has not just been advocating but had been active in the field.
She had garnered international experience working with youth offenders in the United Kingdom, and also in a psychiatric hospital in the USA, before returning home to settle. She is reputed to have started the deradicalization program in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) that was purposely aimed at Boko Haram captives - a program that has now gained broad national acceptance. Since leaving the NSA’s office, her NEEM Foundation has been very active in the furthest ends of the war front in Borno State where they operate camps which I have promised to visit. She has not only been to Maiduguri but had visited many of the insurgency affected areas.
I had very useful interaction with her in the NEEM foundation headquarters tucked away in a quiet part of Maitama District, Abuja. I shared with her my apprehension on the chances of winning an enduring peace in Borno State which had been the epicentre of the Boko Haram crises ab initio. Some months ago we had all celebrated the routing of the Boko Haram bandits. But it seemed we had celebrated too early. The brigands left the local government headquarters and melted into our vast Borno terrain to attack both the military and the hapless citizens at will, as well as infiltrate Maiduguri with suicide bombers.
Even though the insurgents did not control territory they now terrorize everyone from all directions away from Maiduguri with the exception of the safe corridor that is the MaiduguriKano/Jos highway. The worst part is that the insurgents could always move freely through our long, porous borders with our three neighbouring countries. She agreed and pointed out that this is evidence that the insurgents have developed the capacity to adapt and reinvent themselves and the state must be prodded to innovate to meet these new challenges.
The military would win the war in the fields but the civilian administration would then have to grapple with permanently winning the peace. A de-radicalization programme would be one item in the package but the other which could even assume more importance would be how to reconcile communities to forgive atrocities committed by known individuals within their settlements.
There is evidence that the Borno State is thinking ahead in this direction if one considers its recent focus on its 95.3 FM radio station. We understand that the state government had invested heavily to increase its broadcast coverage from 15% of Borno community to 100% of all the 27 local government areas as well as parts of Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe States and border communities in the neighbouring countries. As the radio is a widely used item of many households this would give the government an avenue to counter violent religious teachings and ideologies through correct interpretations by acceptable religious scholars.