In this report, ONUKOGU KANAYOCHUQU JUBAL captures how the Presidential Committee on North-east Initiative (PCNI) is racing against time in the task of rebuilding the North-east region ravaged by Boko haram war.
On Wednesday, October 19, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a 21-man committee to oversee the re-development, reconstruction and re-integration of the North-eastern region of the country.
The committee, led by Gen Theophilus Y. Danjuma (Rtd.), subsumed the earlier Presidential Initiative for North-east (PINE) and became Presidential Committee on North-east Initiative (PCNI), but with the same mandate.
The committee, comprising 21 members, would see to the establishment of the Buhari Economic Plan in the region and help her rise to her feet again within the next three years.
After being brought down to its knees by the activities of terrorists and other insurgents, the time had come for something to be done about the area which had been reduced to rubble, flattened and deserted and left more than 200,000 of its inhabitants and natives displaced.
Her schools, health centres, residential areas, markets, businesses, transport sector and, even the simplest form of common wealth creation had taken a bashing and needed to be restored, especially, as the Federal Government’s plan to get these displaced people to return to their homes gathered momentum..
However, the PCNI, charged with a three-year action plan, has found itself on the back foot, racing against time to get the needed support – both finance and otherwise – and has the mandate of the Federal Government to go all out in search of support.
As much as the committee has the presidential permission to go source for support for the region from wherever it can, it has found itself walled up by a number of challenges which it would have to surmount to get to its goal within its set-time of three years.
The issue of agricultural integration and getting the people in the region to begin from subsistence farming, before they can grow fuse back into commercial farming would be very instrumental to feeding the region. Their farmlands have been destroyed, their crops trampled on and what they little they have in store carted away, but, if households can be made to take to small-scale farming to feed themselves and bigger farmsteads are provided some leverage to engage in large-scale farming, clearly, things could pick up on the agricultural front.
The visit to the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) by the committee’s sub-committee on economic development, led by its chairman, Hon Yusuf Yakub Buba in January was to seek the collaboration of the council on the provision of improved, proficient and quality seeds and seedlings for farmers in the region, seeing as over 96 per cent of them were avid farmers before they were displaced.
“We urge the council to key into the Federal Government’s project for the region by availing the committee of its support in efforts to make the region an agricultural power-house again,” Buba said.
The director-general of the council, Olusegun Ojo, who commiserate with those affected by the insurgency assured that the council would do all in its power to ensure that the agricultural plan of the government for the region was achieved.
He however said that the council only regulated the seed-processing industry and did not engage in seed-making or circulation, and would work with the seed producers, who he said are mainly based in the region to achieve the government’s target.
Though the region boasts a fair share of farmers, it does have a number of entrepreneurs, as well and, to get them back on their feet, they would need loans with lighter conditions and payable over an extended period of time.
Bank of Industry (BoI), the bank’s Managing Director, Waheed Olagunju, assured that the bank would address the region’s issues by formulating an approach and sustaining a number of programmes which it has already began in the region.
“We are on ground in Gombe, where we have a done a lot; we are in Adamawa, where we have thrown our weight behind dry-season farming. We are opening our office there, too. We will take steps to acquire an office. We will work with the state governments, which is part of our partnership pledge to the region,” the managing director of the bank, Waheed Olagunju said.
In the same vein, trying to get more support for small-scale businesses in the region, the committee visited the Small & Medium Entreprise Development Agency in Nigeria (SMEDAN) in the first week of February, to seek what it called “succour for small and medium-scale businesses in the region.”
Buba informed the director-general of the agency that N3trn would be needed to get the region back on its feet – education, health, roads and other infrastructural constructions etc – and help the people to pick their lives up again.
In his response, the director-general of the agency, Umarr Radda (Ph.D) sympathized with the people of the region over their displacement and conceded that the job of the committee, when viewed objectively, was not one to be envied, given the arduous nature of fund-raising.
However, he assured that his agency would be ready to throw in its support whenever it was called upon to play its role in the region.
However, the budget of N45bn by the Federal Government for the feeding of over 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region remained grossly inadequate, compared to what the international community had expended on humanitarian services.
According to a member of the committee, Senator Ali Ndume, who led the committee members to see the deputy governor of Borno State, Usman Durkwa, back in December 2016, about N108bn was required to effectively and efficiently intervene and feed IDPs in camps and liberated communities of the affected states in the Northeastern region of the country.
In another visit by the committee’s security and peace-building sub-committee to the Defence Headquarters [back in January] to request better security measures as the people prepare to return to their ancestral homes, the Nigerian Army assured the committee of its unflinching support and collaboration in line with the Committee’s action plan of ensuring a coordinated frame work for lasting peace and stability in the North East.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, represented by the Chief of Defence Policy and Plans, Air Vice Marshal Bashir Saidu, expressed the readiness of the military to collaborate with the PCNI in every area that would obliterate the suffering of the displaced persons and the speedy rebuilding of the damaged infrastructure. Elated by the quality of the committee’s membership, the CDS said: “All that is needed is a close collaboration between the military on one side and the committee on the other side, until the war against insurgency is brought to a successful conclusion.”
He added that the military would readily assist the peace-building process and urged the committee to remain in close contact with the military for continuous synergy.
The committee, led by Alhaji Tijjani Tumsa disclosed that the visit was to acquaint the CDS on the PCNI’s mandate and its operational plans, as well as roll-out its work plan for all stakeholders in the peace-building process and the rebuilding of the region.
The committee has visited the Bauchi and Gombe states’ government on a stakeholders’ engagement tour, stating its action plan and making its intentions known via a town-hall meeting with all stakeholders i.e traditional rulers, local government chairmen, National Assembly members, State assembly members, Red Cross NGOs, SEMA, women organisations, youths, IDPs etc, with a view to identifying problems which the state faces in areas of Agriculture, international trade, health care delivery etc.
While explaining the mandate of the PCNI at the governors’ offices, Hon. Yusuf Yakub Buba said the PCNI is the apex and coordinating body for all intervention in the North East, he said the N3trn for the redevelopment of the region was an aggregation of all appropriation in the budgets of MDAs, NGOs and international development partners and others.
According to Buba, the committee would ensure, through its subcommittees on security, education, humanitarian response, finance and economic development that money appropriated are judiciously used to avoid duplication of efforts and wastage through its dashboard registration of all intervention to the region.
The Bauchi State governor, Mohammed A. Abubakar Esq. and his Gombe counterpart who was represented by the deputy governor, Rt. Hon. Iliya Ya’u, appreciated the Federal Government’s efforts and pledged their support at alleviating the sufferings of internally displaced people in their states.
Mohammed A. Abubakar Esq said the North East States, prior to insurgency has remained underdeveloped unlike other states in Nigeria and opined that the underlying factor of poverty and illiteracy needs to be addressed quickly. Speaking further, he said before the influx of IDPs, the state consumed about 12.5 million litres of water, but, today consumed 25 million litres of water.
The Emir of Bauchi, Alh.Dr.Rilwan Suleiman Adamu who had earlier received the sub-committee applauded government’s efforts at degrading the insurgency in the region. He said that though the state was not hugely affected by the activities of insurgents, states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa were felt by them through IDPs influx to the state resulting to over-stressed infrastructures and security challenges.
At the end of the town hall meeting, Yakub Buba assured participants that all contributions and inputs would be looked into and infused into the Buhari plan for the redevelopment of the region.
Clearly, the PCNI needs all the help it can get. Sadly, all it is getting is just promises and more promises, as it races against time to fix the region up and give it a new lease if life. Hardly has any agency, government establishment or otherwise pledged finance or manpower to make its work lighter.
The work-load for the committee is neck-breaking, but, gladly and mercifully, for the IDPs, it is not working in isolation. Non-governmental organisations like Oxfam, Mercy Corps, Actionaid, Action Against Hunger, Catholic Relief Services, to name a few, have been to the region and are helping out, daily, withrations, health care, education, mentoring, entrepreneurship training and re-orientation of the populace on the importance of the girl-child education.
Progress is slow, the people are itching to return to their ancestral lands and the region is awaiting the re-wakening which the current administration has promised and the army is living up to its billing, but, just somewhere up the road is the final point and everyone who is involved must pull its weight – void of duplication – to get there. The government is in the lead and must continue to show that its intentions and actions are at par with what the region needs and not just what it wants.
If in the end, the government does what it thinks is right and not what the people think is right for them, it could turn out to be an exercise in futility, another waste of government funds and another let-down for the people in the region – they are yet to recover from the initial inability of the government to watch their backs and shield them from the hailstones of insurgents and terrorists.