What I Saw in Borno

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MAKING COMMON SENSE By Ben Murray Bruce        ben.murraybruce@thisdaylive.com

I was in Borno State last weekend as a member of the Senate ad hoc Committee on the Humanitarian Crisis in the North-east and what I saw tested my humanity. I saw thousands of Nigerian citizens (and could not see hundreds of thousands more because of the multitude) who had lost everything to the Boko Haram insurgency and were now refugees in their own nation. You will not believe the level of despair in the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps in Borno and if not for the Governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima, many of them would have no hope. What that young man has succeeded in doing in the face of incredible odds is nothing short of a miracle.

It would surprise many that though he was a political foe of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Shettima did admit that whatever financial assistance he received from the federal government at all came from the Jonathan administration which sent him N200 million in 2014. Even more surprising is what many of the IDPs had to say. Many of them complained openly and in camera to me and my colleagues led by Senator Shehu Sani that they felt that all the focus of the present administration is on Chibok and the Chibok girls and that no one cares for them.

A particular village head in the presence of the Shehu of Borno, narrated how Boko Haram killed his father in his presence said to us, and I quote: “Are we not human beings? Are we not Nigerians? All we hear is Chibok girls? Are we not also important.” Their complaint (I do not know if this is true or not) is that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor his representatives have paid them a condolence visit or come to see their plight. If President Buhari ever gets to read this, I urge him to find some way to use his executive powers to come to the aid of Governor Shettima who is overstretched. He is, by his own admission (and I believe him based on what I saw) spending N600 million every month just to feed and cater for the needs of the 250,000 IDPs in the camps.

He still has to worry about the one million IDPs who are staying with relatives within the state. I must confess that Governor Shettima is one of the bravest men I know. And no matter what you might say about former President Jonathan, you must still admit that he had the right idea in using education to tackle the insurgency in the long term because the reason why we even have a Boko Haram insurgency in the first place is because we refused to spend our previous oil boom billions to educate the children of the poor especially in Northern Nigeria and more especially in the North-east.

Now because we refused to educate their children with those billions, we are now faced with the spectre of using even more billions to fight adults who were once illiterate children. You see, billions must be spent. Whether we spend them on books or bullets, the choice is ours. But not only is the choice ours, the consequence is also going to be ours and our children.

Only last week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that 70 per cent of the children in Kebbi State are not in school. Now, they could not get reliable figures for Borno because of the insurgency but you can imagine if the situation is so bad in a relatively peaceful Kebbi, how will it be in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa?
Is it a coincidence that the Boko Haram insurgency began in the Borno-Yobe axis which are also the poorest states in Nigeria? What is happening to the almajiri schools that Jonathan built? It seems that after he left office the idea just died with him. But it must not be so. Politics must not be like that. That programme is a good initiative and must be continued.

The Nigerian army cannot fight this insurgency like Nigerian teachers and the idea of combining Islamic education with western education in an almajiri school is an idea that is tailor made to starve Boko Haram off future recruits.
And even beyond almajiri schools, we must also redistribute Nigeria’s wealth and make sure that the elite do not disproportionately enjoy it at the expense of the poorest of the poor.

Whatever must be done to more equitable redirection of Nigeria’s wealth to meet the needs of the poorest of the poor ought to be done. Now do not get me wrong. I am a capitalist and socialism does not work so I am not advocating that we should take the money that comes from the hard work and sweat of other Nigerians and give it to the people of Borno. No. that will just create a new set of problems and open up crises that will be national in scope, not just regional, and may threaten Nigeria’s corporate existence.

What I am saying is this, rather than pay elected and appointed politicians and public servants, like me, handsome wages, that money should be redirected to where there is need. And it is just common sense really. This applies to even our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure and public health and education services.

The Senate and the House of Representatives, the presidency and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the judiciary must be a place for sacrifice and not a place for avarice. The people who occupy and staff these arms of governance should by and large be independently successful people who should in reality be paid allowances rather than salary. If we can do this, then certainly the federal government will have more than the N200 million which then President Jonathan gave Shettima to spare.

This year alone, officials of the presidency have spent more than that on travels. They have spent more than that on feeding. They have spent more than that on new cars. They have spent close to that or even more on foreign and domestic health care. Just as that village head, I also ask, “Are IDPs not also Nigerians? Are IDPs not important?” Nigerian leaders opens themselves to ridicule when they preach brotherly love during Independence Day, Christmas, Eid el Fitrj and other special holidays only to then be seen in their obscene and very unnecessarily long convoys of foreign cars!

Each of those convoys can change the life circumstances of at least a thousand IDPs forever. I remember watching Peter Obi’s unforgettable Independence Day speech in which he exposed the obscene waste that is the reality of governance in Nigeria today. One of the things he touched on was how hundreds of millions were spent on hosting presidential visits.

Is that money well spent? If hundreds of millions are spent on presidential visits, then with all due respect, those visits should be to the IDP camps in Borno. They certainly need the hundreds of millions that go into such visits!
Let me conclude by saying that I watched as the Ondo State governorship election was unfolding and both parties were campaigning. Money flowed left right and centre as did rice, garri and other types of ‘stomach infrastructure’. I then thought to myself, if Nigeria’s leaders are willing to spend so much money to acquire power, why are they not willing to spend even a fraction to save lives?

Let me at this moment thank former President Jonathan for the N200 million he sent to Borno. It may not be a lot, but at least it made a difference. I cannot just see that level of suffering and do nothing, so I have decided to adopt an orphaned baby girl from amongst the internally displaced persons and I urge all Nigerian elite to consider following suit.
• Murray-Bruce is the founder of the Silverbird entertainment group and the senator representing Bayelsa East at the National Assembly