NewsWest AfricaAs Northern Nigeria begins to rebuild


Posted on Thursday, 30 June 2016 15:03

As Northern Nigeria begins to rebuild

By Rosie Collyer in Maiduguri and Yola

A man holds a cow at the cattle market in Maiduguri; thousands of farmers were displaced by the insurgency. Photo©Afolabi Sotunde/ReutersThe reconstruction needs for regions affected by Boko Haram are huge. The government and donors are beginning to mobilise funds, but improving security, relaunching economies and fostering justice and reconciliation are proving challenging.

If you want to drive to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the birthplace of the Islamist Boko Haram militia, only two of the entry roads are regarded as safe. That is, they are passable without a military escort. One of them is the main road that our group takes from Damaturu in neighbouring Yobe State. But we travel together – cars and lorries – in a speeding convoy, hoping to deter ambushes from any Boko Haram fighters lying in wait.

As we speed towards Maiduguri, there are signs that people are restarting their lives in the towns and villages along the way. The faithful heed the call to Friday prayers in Mainok, the site of a horrific Boko Haram attack in March 2014.

Farms and smallholdings remain abandoned as another planting season goes by

Fighters arrived at the mosque there with guns blazing. Some wore suicide vests, and at least 74 people were killed – some as they were praying. Today, local vigilantes, in well-worn black uniforms, stand guard as the faithful kneel for prayer in the town's mosques.

Mainok, as well as the neighbouring town of Beni Sheik, bears the scars of the Boko Haram attacks. There are rows of shops without roofs that had their stocks looted long ago. Alongside them are burnt-out houses that were targeted by the militia's heavy weapons.

These days, workers are busy on rebuilding efforts in Mainok and Beni Sheik. Some of them are financed by the Victims Support Fund, an Abuja-based civic group that has persuaded businesspeople such as cement magnate Aliko Dangote to deliver N24bn ($120m) of the N54bn they promised a year ago.

Other attempts to turn the region's prospects are taking off. Officials and community activists held a workshop in Abuja in April to discuss the government's four-year recovery plan for the north- east.

Meanwhile, a joint assessment by the federal government, the European Union (EU) and the World Bank in April reckoned it would take about $9bn to rebuild areas of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states.

Most of the government money is yet to arrive. The World Bank too promised $800m but it has not satisfied expectations on the ground. "We have been expecting the government to implement a kind of Marshall Plan for the affected states, but so far nothing has happened," says Bishop Stephen Mamza in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State.

Bishop Mamza is speaking at St Theresa's Catholic Cathedral in Yola, which hosts a camp for displaced people, many coming from northern Adamawa and southern Borno states. Some of the people do not want to return, either because their homes have been destroyed or because Boko Haram insurgents are lurking in the surrounding countryside.

Private funds stalled

Later that day, there is another disappointment. Paul Ibe, spokesman for Aliyu Abubakar, one of Yola's richest men, announces that a meeting in Abuja to launch the North-East Development Commission has been cancelled.

At the beginning of the year, President Muhammadu Buhari had asked retired General Theophilus Danjuma to chair the organisation and raise private funds to rebuild the region.

Abubakar and Dangote quickly joined up. The commission's inauguration was postponed because law-makers were yet to pass a bill needed to establish the body.

Back in Borno State, our speeding convoy eventually reaches Maiduguri safely. Our biggest problems in getting there are the chronic fuel shortages and ever-more-insistent officials demanding bribes on the outskirts of the city.

Maiduguri's history as a regional trading hub – and as the target of periodic attacks from invaders – goes back 11 centuries. Now, Maiduguri is coming alive again after five years in a war zone. As Boko Haram fighters attacked towns and villages in Borno State, people fled to Maiduguri, more than doubling the city's population.

The southern shores of Lake Chad, which is on Borno's northern border, have been largely abandoned. Baga used to have a thriving fish market. It was burned down in January 2015 along with most other buildings in the town when more than 2,000 people were killed in one of Boko Haram's deadliest assaults.

Babagana Abubakar, director of the Kanuri Development Association, explains the impact of the violence: "Those who could, fled. Very few have returned because of a lack of security and because there are no funds available to help people rebuild."

About 50 fish traders who tried to return in August 2015 either had their throats slit during an ambush by Boko Haram or drowned in Lake Chad while trying to escape.

Impressed by the generosity of people opening their homes to friends and family running from the conflict, Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for the Sahel, tweeted: "Europe has a lot to learn from the people of Maiduguri." He was comparing northern Nigeria's response with Europe's attitude to war refugees from Libya and Syria.

Enduring threat

Students at the American University in Yola are working to forestall religious division. Photo©©Benedicte Kurzen/Noor-REAAfter five years of military attacks, with some 28,000 lives lost and 2.8 million people chased from their homes in the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram is in retreat. Under fire from Nigeria's reorganised military, the rebels launch far fewer attacks, but often now with suicide bombers on soft targets such as marketplaces.

Boko Haram is by no means defeated. With its loosely federated structure – described as a "network of networks" by the experts at the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group – it still threatens people across the region with its sporadic attacks and forcible recruiting.

Most of those fleeing the fighting were farmers, whose crops were the mainstay of Borno State's economy. Their farms and smallholdings remain abandoned as yet another planting season goes by. Having been a regional breadbasket selling wheat, sorghum and maize to neighbouring Chad and Niger, Borno State has become a begging bowl that is reliant on donations from local and international organisations.

As farmers wait to return to their fields, a fleet of 2,000 tractors bought by Borno State government in October 2015 is parked at Maiduguri's Farm Centre. The state government has sent a few young men from the countryside to learn how farm machinery works.

Borno State governor Kashim Shettima has promised to supply them with combine harvesters on their return. However, there is much work to do first, says Babagana Abubakar: "The roads and bridges need fixing first [...] in many of the areas that would benefit from mechanised farming."

Farmers have little choice for now but to stay in the relative safety of the city. During a two-day visit to Maiduguri in March, former president and military leader Olusegun Obasanjo said that conditions in the city were improving. "A rising morale within the military and the current leadership of this country is the reason for this return to normalcy," he argued.

It was Obasanjo's third visit to the city since the insurgency began in 2009. In October 2009, shortly after Boko Haram's former leader Mohammed Yusuf died in police custody, Obasanjo went to the city to ask Yusuf's relatives to appeal to the group's surviving members to lay down their arms, but that did not work.

Abubakar Shekau emerged as a new and far more militant leader of Boko Haram. On numerous occasions, the military claimed to have killed Shekau, arguing that the group uses body doubles in propaganda videos. Whatever the truth, Boko Haram's propaganda has been much diminished since the end of 2015.


A video released on 24 March featured Shekau, but experts say it was doctored. A follow-up video featured a group of young fighters claiming that Shekau was alive and well but failing to produce any supporting evidence. At the same time, other senior figures in the group have been captured in recent months, such as its chief bomb-maker and a maker of its propaganda films. Hundreds of Boko Haram suspects languish in prisons across the region.

"Lawyers are rarely willing to represent them," explains Ferdinand Ikwang, an architect of a government deradicalisation programme being piloted at a prison in northern Nigeria.

The hope had been to put thousands of suspected Boko Haram fighters through the programme. The EU hoped so too, and built an education block and a mosque inside the prison where the programme is being tested. Forty-three inmates signed up initially, but numbers are dwindling because the programme is being starved of national funds. Those 30 or so remaining appear to have benefited immensely so far.

"I had nothing to do with women [female guards] before I signed up to this course, or other inmates. I was very insular. Now I realise that interacting with all kinds of people is goodforme," says a Boko Haram suspect speaking in Hausa through an interpreter.

The government's 'Operation Safe Corridor,' launched in March, offers the chance to defectors to surrender and be granted amnesty. Security officials suggest that some Boko Haram fighters were surrendering out of starvation as the military's economic blockade started to bite.

Hundreds of Boko Haram suspects languish in prisons across the region

On the University of Maiduguri campus, students stroll around, seemingly confident that the security crisis is under control. Years back, some disgruntled students left to follow radical preachers and ended up joining Boko Haram. Now, the campus is impeccably kept and its facilities are better than those of universities in peaceful areas.

Enrolment is up this academic year and the vice chancellor, Ibrahim Njodi, predicts further expansion of student numbers: "I refused to abandon this campus even during the height of the insurgency, and word spread that [it] is a safe environment," he says.

At a campus around 300km away in Yola, Adamawa State, some students and academics are taking a proactive approach to the insurgency. They set up the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API) to forestall religious division. It was the brainchild of Margee Ensign, dean of the American University of Nigeria in Yola.

By June 2014, insurgents had occupied most towns to the north of Yola. Adamawa has an almost equal number of Christians and Muslims, and their communities are working together. Members of the population and religious leaders meet regularly, and bishops, imams and professors have joined hands to distribute food to displaced people. Play best 3d games on the 3d games site.

Grassroots action

Most recently, the API has started a re- conciliation project in Michika, a local government area in the north of Adamawa State where most people are Christian. Locals who could not escape the recent fighting suffered the worst kinds of cruelty at the hands of the insurgents.

As people, often badly traumatised, return to their villages, there are residual security concerns. Some of those who raped, pillaged and murdered for Boko Haram may also turn up, having negotiated an amnesty.

Bishop Mamza, a member of the API, says that action is necessary at the grass- roots: "We needed to initiate reconciliation because we cannot be sure that our political leaders will." Tens of villagers came forward in March to give their testimonies of what happened to them and their loved ones during the insurgency.

This gives many people a chance to talk about their lives in a region that suffered from neglect long before the insurgency began. Alongside the initiative, aid agencies and some state bodies are springing into action to manage the reconstruction funds. But local people speak of two priorities: security and reconstruction. The military may have wrested control of most of the region from Boko Haram, but there is still widespread fear of attacks.

People say they want investment that will enable them to rebuild the region's farming and trading system rather than short-term palliatives. Fixing that will mean finding the billions of dollars promised by the government, the Nigerian elite, the World Bank and the EU. ●

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