ISSUES WITH THE NORTH EAST AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
As part of measures to restructure the north east region, the Senate recently passed the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) Bill into law. The bill empowers the federal government to set up an independent commission to fast-track the rehabilitation and development of the states in the North-east region devastated by insurgency. The states to benefit are Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Kano and Plateau states. The fund to restructure the region is expected to come from a 3% allocation of the country’s Value Added Tax (VAT) for a 10-year period.
This determination by the federal government and the NASS to initiate laws to support the restructuring of the devastated north east region, and bring succour to the IDPs in the region, should be seen as a welcome development. In the last six years, the North East region of Nigeria has witnessed heavy economic devastation following the activities of insurgency. Several thousands of lives have been lost and displaced from their homes, while properties worth billions of dollars have been damaged in the region. The kidnap of over 200 school girls in Chibok since two years, some of whom have been released, was one of several incidents that took the sail off the winds of the ship of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
According to a Vanguard newspaper report, it is estimated that no fewer than 20,000 lives were lost, while 2.1 million out of the 14.8 million people (mostly women and children) were displaced by the insurgency in the last six years. If that is true, Nigeria would need something close to $9 billion for the reconstruction of the region, while the sum of $6 billion would be needed to carry out recovery efforts in the crisis-torn area. Borno state suffered damage worth $3billion in housing alone and about 84% of the 2.5million IDPs suffering from malnutrition and who need protection are children. Hundreds of schools have been damaged with over a thousand teachers and school children killed, leaving one million children with little or no access to education.
For us to understand the critical issues to be addressed in the North East, let us juxtapose the situation there with that of the Niger Delta. In the case of the Niger Delta region, there are still indications of rising tension despite the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta (MND) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). These institutions have yielded little contributions to the growth of the region, since their creation over a decade ago. The region has gulped about $40billion which came from oil companies, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, 13% derivation and other intervention funds. The region has struggled to annex its potential and liberate the people from poverty, unemployment, insecurity-borne out of increasing militancy, and humanitarian crisis. Leaders in the region have continued to enrich themselves at the detriment of the ordinary people. The lack of accountability and transparency, politicization, poor implementation of projects, has worsened the environment and deepened poverty rather than bring peace in the host communities. Consequently, the people in the Niger Delta region have become poorer than they were even before the commissions were established. A critical example is the state of oil pollution in Ogoni land, which has crippled the economic sources in the region, bringing untold hardship to the people.
To avert such malicious experience of the Niger Delta from repeating itself, the NEDC must do everything it can to dismantle the obnoxious Almajiri caste system. Rather than blame the plight of children in the North East to the insurgency being experienced in the North East let us look inwards and tell ourselves the truth: that years before the Boko Haram insurgency the Almajiri caste system had already confined the life of the boy-child to one of uncertainty. On a good day, the boy-child in the North East is usually left to the battle with the elements. Left without food and decent clothing and recreation, he easily becomes prey to powerful religious predators lurking in the wings that will use him to foment trouble. The system exposes children, mostly boys, to the streets where they become potential danger to society and ready tools in the hands of mischief makers. Therefore, if the recent bill passed into law for the North East will be expected to deliver on the quality of life of the people of the North East, and especially of the children, that caste system should be tossed out of the window. As part of its plan to make the NEDC work and not go the way of the NDDC, government must fully eradicate the Almajiri system and ensure that funds made for the development of the north east are put to the building of schools, the provision of security and safety that will take the children out of the street, and yank the rags of vulnerability from off their tiny frames.
Furthermore, the NEDC must be fully committed and focused on establishing infrastructure such as good roads, housing, information technology centres, building of schools, primary health care centres, address ecological challenges, support agriculture and technology industries, among other issues Germaine to rebuilding the region.
Also, the newly established Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative (PCNI) – must be ready to provide effective coordination and support, towards addressing the humanitarian crisis. There must be plans to resettle and reconstruct the region, as well as the installation of social and public services due to the massive destruction of public and private infrastructure. Both agencies must work hand-in-hand to sustain the effective management of resources within their jurisdiction and avoid duplication of roles. Part of the responsibility of these bodies should also be to work with humanitarian organisations in further sensitizing the IDPs on the importance of peaceful cohabitation and the need to embrace religious, political and ethnic tolerance.
In conclusion, the constituted commission, relevant agencies, CSOs, security operatives, religious and traditional bodies, should morph to achieve significant milestone. The relevant authorities involved in the restructuring of the region must shun corruption, nepotism, religious bigotry, and embrace transparency and accountability in the rebuilding process. All hands must be on deck to achieve the expected goal set out for the restructuring process and attract the needed peace and security in the region.
Charles Iyare is of the Monitoring & Evaluation unit, ANEEJ, Benin City.