Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
Seven years after economic, social activities and governance were disrupted in Borno State by the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, there is visible evidence of gradual return to normalcy, particularly in Maiduguri, the state capital which was once an unrestrained killing field.
The state Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture, Dr. Mohammed Bulama said it may take close to 40 years, if the state government were to go it alone, and an estimated N1.5 trillion to rebuild the state; going by its current monthly income of N3 billion from the federation account, out of which N2 billion is expended on its work force.
To underscore the importance of the rebuilding process, according to him, the state government has established a Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement.
Other stakeholders including transporters, marketers and leaders of non-indigene ethnic groups in the state agreed that it is still a long walk to full normalcy, while confirming Bulama’s assertion that although Maiduguri metropolis and the adjoining Jere local government area are now completely salvaged from activities of the insurgents, many roads in and out of the capital city are still barred by the military to prevent people from filtering back into the unsafe areas.
Out of the 27 local governments in the state, seven still remain hotbeds of insurgency, while the remaining areas have been liberated, according to Bulama. He explained, however, that restoration of the full presence of government agencies and authority in many of the restored areas has not taken place.
Bulama also disclosed that an inter-ministerial committee of the federal and state government is working in concert with the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) to resuscitate institutions like the Nigeria Police, the fire service, Nigeria customs, immigration service, local government administration, banking, electricity, water, sanitation and health services in the liberated areas.
“We are working with the report from the military. There are lots of mines and bombs planted in these areas by fleeing insurgents which must be swept away. Another major concern is the epidemic that may arise from decomposing corpses that litter everywhere. Once we are able to overcome these challenges, governance and economic activities will be restored and we will encourage people who fled their homestead to go back.”
Two of the once thriving motor parks in Maiduguri: Tashan Joni and Post Office Baga Road are also beginning to witness a trickle of business, according to Mohammed Abubakar Bishara, Chairman of the Borno State chapter of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
He said the number of commuter buses and taxis which peaked at over 300 daily at the two popular motor parks dropped to between seven and nine when the crisis was full blown. He noted that with the gradual return of normalcy at the beginning of the year, the number of vehicles travelling in and out of the two major motor parks have shot up to between 30 and 40 daily.
Bishara attributed the slow pace of resuscitation of commercial transport services in Borno to the cordoning off of major roads leading in and out of the state capital by the military.
He said, “our vehicles are essentially on the road to move goods and passengers, if the routes we travel to various destinations are blocked by soldiers, there is nothing we can do. The few trips that we embark on now are done by people who are willing to bear the cost of going through alternative, but longer routs.
Although, a few inter-local government and inter-state roads have been certified safe by the military, I cannot say that we are fully back at work, as many of our members who fled to other cities are still weighing the option of returning to Borno State.”
Two airlines, Medview and Azman have since commenced scheduled flights to Maiduguri, while the last train ground into the city over 15 years ago. At the renowned fish market at Baga Motor Park which is reputed as the biggest market for fresh water fish in West Africa, Alhaji Abacha Madalama, Chairman, Fish Producers/Marketers Association, Borno State noted that trading activities have picked up again after plunging from 40 trucks of fish taken out of the state daily to three trucks now that peace has set-in gradually.
The situation was not different at Bank of the North Road area of Maiduguri, which is populated by automobile spare part dealers. Isaiah Ezieke, president of the market segment said the trade is now sustained by 20 per cent of its previous volume.
According to him, this comes from sales to customers within Maiduguri metropolis. “Our biggest customers used to come from Sudan, Chad and Cameroun, but since these borders are still closed, we are just surviving on the paltry trade with customers within Maiduguri city.”
Dr. Maclaw Maduabuchi Nwaogu, an Assistant Director, Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) who also doubles as President-General of Ndigbo in Borno State said although a few members of his group who fled to safety at the height of the insurgency have returned, its present strength of 2,500 is a far-cry from the teeming population of Igbos in Borno which used to be between 800,000 and one million.
He said his kinsmen and their businesses were targeted for destruction during the crisis, particularly those who operated hospitality, pharmaceutical, books and the retail trade.
His Yoruba counterpart, Alhaji Hassan Adio Yusuf said there were over 600,000 of his kinsmen in Borno State before the crisis. Many of them who left the troubled state, according to him, are returning in trickles. The majority have opted to remain in their safe haven.
A pointer to steady return to normalcy in Borno State is the resumption of academic activities in public schools which were shut for about two years. All the school premises in Maiduguri that served as camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been vacated for resumption of studies.
Although, restriction of movement of persons and vehicles has now been moved to between 9pm at night and 6am in the morning, there is still copious presence of the military all over Maiduguri metropolis.
At many worship centres, soldiers now mount a defense sentry at the gates. Worshipers and visitors to the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and the Redeemed Christian Church of God Regional Headquarters in Maiduguri were screened with metal detectors before gaining entry.
Banking services have also witnessed a slight improvement in the number of hours open to the public for transaction. From complete closure for days on end during the crisis, to four operations, many financial institutions in Maiduguri have started operating for six hours, sometimes closing between 1pm and 2pm.