by Mark Amaza
In 14 days, Nigeria will have a new president, General Muhammadu Buhari, who after three unsuccessful attempts has finally triumphed at the polls. Without doubt, the expectations on the Daura-born general and former Head of State are enormous considering that he is highly respected across Nigeria and that he campaigned on the mantra of change.
For the people of the North-East, the past four years have been especially rough, particularly for those in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. The terrorist group, Boko Haram, which was thought to have been crushed in July 2009 in Maiduguri came back with surprising efficiency and mercilessly caused the deaths of at least 13000 people through their mindless campaign of bloodletting and violence. At a point, they controlled about 30 local government areas across these three states (a territory about the size of Belgium) including major towns such as Mubi and Michika, and caused the displacement of 1.2 million people.
It was the failure of the government to effectively nip this insurgency in the bud that caused the region with precious little support for the PDP to completely turn against it.
The discontent against the incumbent administration has never been higher, especially in Borno State where I come from, where everyone personally knows someone lost to the insurgency.
For this region, the starting point for Buhari will be the complete squashing of Boko Haram. This means that the mistake of 2009 should not be repeated where our security agencies went to sleep after Mohammed Yusuf was killed (extra-judicially, if I may add) and his fighters scattered only to regroup. Although the last few weeks have witnessed a massive turnaround for Nigeria with gains by our armed forces and the recovery of almost every inch of territory, the job should not be assumed to be over even if its current leader, Abubakar Shekau is killed or captured.
There needs to be a reform of our security apparatus, from border security to better intelligence gathering and policing. If these are improved, we will be able to better prevent small issues of insecurity from snowballing into security crises that might tear a nation or an entire region apart. The Buhari administration will have to literally be on top of every security issue in conjunction with the state governments and show political will to deal with each one as they arise.
It is without doubt that terrorism even of the religiously motivated type, does not occur within a vacuum. It is catalyzed by economic and social factors such as high unemployment, high poverty rate, poor school attendance rate and youth restiveness. The North-East region sadly leads on all these fronts – its poverty rate of 52% is the highest in the country while its school enrolment rates and children immunization rates of 20% and 3.6% are the lowest in the country. These statistics present a recipe for disaster which has played out and will likely play out again unless urgent action is taken.
To the credit of the incumbent administration, a Presidential Initiative for the North-East (PINE), styled after the Marshall Plan that was launched by the United States of America to assist in rebuilding Western Europe after the Second World War has been similarly launched to help rebuild the North-East. However, the initiative needs to be broken down into set goals and targets, articulating how it will be funded.
Emphasis should be placed on cooperating with the state governments on how to improve education by increasing attendance and quality, especially from the basic education level. This should be a priority for the Buhari administration, and one expects that it will easily cooperate with the state governments, especially as all but one of the states will be led by APC governors.
There should also be an emphasis on economic programs that will create sustainable employment for people in the region. For example, the government can use the reconstruction of schools and government properties destroyed by the insurgents to do quick skills training for unemployed young people in the region in construction and have them used to do the reconstruction.
Another area that attention should be paid to is agriculture which has taken a severe hit from the insurgency.
This part of the country which is a major supplier of grains such as millet, wheat, rice, and sorghum and legumes such as groundnuts and beans has seen its fields lie fallow due to insecurity. The FG must pay attention to reviving the agricultural fortunes of the region and also improving power supply to the region (Borno, for instance has to manage 20MW for the entire state) so that value can be added to produce through industrialization.
Lastly, I will conclude by advising General Buhari to shelve his idea of using government funds to lead oil exploration in the Chad Basin. Like it was beautifully explained in this newspaper editorial, the Buhari administration will be better off giving exploration permits to private oil firm while it focuses on other areas. This is because oil exploration is an expensive business and there is no assurance that we will strike black gold. However, if the same money is applied to solving other problems, there is no doubt that we all will be better for it.
I have the faith and belief that at the end of the next administration, the North-East will stand in stark contrast to what it is today as a much improved region.
Delivering the second highest votes to the APC in the presidential elections must not go in vain.
– Mark Amaza is a branding, strategy and innovation consultant. He is the team leader at MINDcapital. Follow this writer on twitter: @amasonic