Bulama: Cost of Boko Haram Havoc in Borno about N1.3trn

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Dr. Mohammed Bulama is the commissioner for Information in Borno State. In this interview with Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Michael Olugbode, he speaks on how the state has been coping with the humanitarian crisis caused by Boko Haram, a deadly group which made the state epicenter of its activities and what government is doing to ensure that displaced people return to their communities and live in peace

There is a belief in some quarters that things are beginning to return to normalcy in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, is that true? Is it something we can take to the bank?
Definitely, things have gotten normal in Maiduguri for a long time now. Maiduguri has been an island of peace in Borno State, for some time now, since the advent of the Civilian JTF, that is the youth volunteers in May, 2013, when they were able to flush out the many cells that Boko Haram had in Maiduguri, at that time. Maiduguri has largely been peaceful for this number of years. Of course, there were a number of attempts by Boko Haram over the years-in 2013, 2014 and even 2015 to invade Maidiuguri. They made several attempts, that is true, but Maiduguri has largely been peaceful for these number of years. Things have gotten even better in the last few months. Definitely, I can say with confidence that Maiduguri is doing very well. It is largely peaceful. As you can see people are going about their businesses.

A lot of the road blocks and army check points that were in the city have been relaxed now. Perhaps, the only thing that somebody who has not visited Maiduguri in a long time would notice is that we still have a curfew regime which starts at 9.00pm until 6 in the morning. Other than that, Maiduguri is doing very well and even the other local government areas now are largely free of these dangerous elements.

How many of the 27 local governments are free of these dangerous elements would you say are enjoying the kind of normalcy that we have in Maiduguri?
For the kind of normalcy that we have in Maiduguri, there are not very many local government in the state that have it. In the sense of people going about their businesses, schools, banks opened and commercial activities and all other sort of activities, I am afraid for the moment, there are not many cities that you can say-there are towns like Biu, Shani in southern Borno, Bayo, those local governments, and now to some extent, Damboa. In the north, it could be Yot and to some extent Mungono. That said, I need to emphasize the fact that all our local government areas, at least the local government headquarters have all been liberated from Boko Haram.

The military is in control. It is just that the residents of many of these towns who had to flee from the attack of Boko Haram and are now resident in towns like Maiduguri have not gone back yet to these local government headquarters and towns and villages in the interior. That is because those places are not yet quite ready for the return of these people. That is the situation. At present, we don’t have any local government headquarters or any town occupied by Boko Haram. Of course, we have Boko Haram elements scattered in the bush and som{ places and the reason why we don’t have people in these towns yet is that we are still in the process of making those local governments and towns habitable.

What kind of pressure does that put on the capital city?
There is tremendous pressure on Maiduguri, there is no question about that. In the last three or four years, it would be safe to assume that the population of Maiduguri has more than doubled.

From what?
Let’s say from about one million to something over two million now, because the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who had to flee their homes and communities, many of them flocked into Maiduguri. Some of them live in the IDP camps, but most of them live in the host communities with the people. Definitely, infrastructure and facility are overstretched.

Which facilities, for instance? Where have you felt the pressure most? Is it water supply, sanitation or what?
That would be water supply, sanitation, accommodation, you find homes meant for a small number of people, may be a family of three or four, now accommodates between 20 and 40 people. There is a lot of pressure, obviously on the economy, as well. You are talking about a lot of jobless people who just walk on the streets of Maiduguri. You can see that the town is filled to the brim. You see a lot of young people who don’t do anything roaming around. Many of them came from the local government areas. There is no question that the facilities are overstretched. Even in the market, you will see this reality staring you in the face.

Is that also not a security issue to have so many jobless young people in Maiduguri?
Obviously, it is a very serious problem. Too many people for so much facilities. That consititutes like a security danger. That could also account for the fact that the security agencies are themselves overstretched and are finding itdiddificult to control the people. That means that if, for instance, there was one police man to 100 people in Maiduguri before these crises, now you have one policeman to 200 people, that means crime would be more prevalent. We are not talking about mundane crime like stealing and armed robbery. We are talking about crime that border on terrorism. It is not a desirable situation. It is taking its toll on everybody-government, residents of the city. It is a very delicate situation.

At the executive council, you are counting the cost, in what area is government feeling the pinch most as a result of the insurgency?
It is the fact that our people are totally displaced. That means that the economy itself is completely dislocated. People are not able to engage in agricultural activities and commercial activities. Homes in many towns and cities have been totally razed and our people are on the run. It is no longer business as usual in terms of governance because people can no longer carry out economic activities in their towns and villages, while government provides services to them, that alone constitutes a very serious problem. In terms of service delivery, it is a huge problem for us. We have had cases where one hospital or one school has been built three or four times over.

You build it with so much money and the next day, it is burnt. That is taking a lot of toll on our lean resources. It means that we have had to commit resources where we necessarily did not have to.
The area that it is most obvious now is in the resultant forced emigration of people into Maiduguri. It has brought a lot of dislocation to the city. We have the feeding of the IDPs. The cost of taking care of them alone is enormous. At a point, we were spending close to half a billion Naira every month, at the height of the crisis. At that time, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was not assisting us. The whole burden was on the state government. That means a lot of resources that should have been used for development was diverted to taking care of IDPs. For a state like Borno that is a non-oil producing state, it meant that when we get our allocation, we pay salaries and the rest is spent on looking after the IDPs.

That is what it virtually boiled down to at a point. Thank God that we now have some relief. It is not as bad as it used to be because NEMA has taken a lot of the burden off our shoulders. They are catering for the IDPs.
Another area of concern is that our children in public schools are not able to go to school because the school premises are used as IDP camps, there are close to 10 of this type of schools – primary and secondary schools»

What is the volume of water you supplied before and what is the volume that you need now and with metric disposal, what is the metric tons of refuse you now have to deal with?
Honestly I would have to find out from my colleagues in charge of those areas. Nigerians are not very good at keeping data. I am sure my colleagues would know better. I may not have the figures but I know definitely that things have increased manifold.

Are there industries that had to shut down in Borno State as a result of the insurgency?
I know that many businesses have had to close. We didn’t really have many big industries. We had some government owned industries like the Borno Clay Factory, the wire and nail factory and the insurgency has taken a toll on those. At a stage, Maiduguri was cut off from the national grid. That means many of these factories couldn’t operate.

For how many years?
At one stretch, for over six months. There was no power supply. People had to be laid off. We had a lot of small scale businesses, semi-small scale, oil mills, rice mills owned by individuals that had to close down, Many were directly destroyed by the insurgents. Others had to close down because just getting access to Maiduguri became a problem, at a point-flights were suspended, the roads were not passable because of security concerns. Many of the local governments shut down completely. Whatever economic activities were going on in those places ceased.
Borno State is the major gateway to East, Central and North Africa from Nigeria. Our neighbours in Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, Niger and Central Africa Republic rely a lot on Nigeria so when the roads became impassable, that means all the business activities taking place on these routes had to cease. These has taken its toll on life-stock

There was a particular time government had to stop some of its agricultural projects, can you let us into what really happened?
We have not resuscitated that particular one in Mate because it is very difficult to get to Mate for security concerns. A lot of the roads are still mined, We need anti-mining activities by the military to take place. That is a largely no-go area. The Borno State government has invested heavily in agriculture, we have bought so many agricultural equipment. We have 750 40-ft containers of modern agricultural stuff in our warehouses which we have started to deploy in safe areas. Some agricultural activities are beginning. Green houses are being installed right now in safe and secure places around Maiduguri. Very soon, we will start deploying the factories and the rice mills and the oil mills. We have already commenced reconstruction efforts.

The state government has created a ministry that is completely devoted to that, the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. This was created about eight months ago. The budget for this year is called Budget of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. I know it is a budget of N120 billion. The whole budget is not allocated to that ministry alone, but it is major beneficiary of the budget and it is doing a lot of work already.
We have some agro-allied industries that are already coming on stream. We have a two billion Naira factory for the production of pipes. That factory should come on stream before May, God willing. A new industrial park is being constructed. All of these are in Maiduguri. We have a factory for recycling of plastic waste. A lot of activities are going on in the area of job creation.

Has Borno State been left alone, you did not talk about assistance from individuals, corporate citizens, international bodies and the federal government?
I was going to come to that. They have done tremendously for us. All we can do is to thank them. No words are enough to express our deep appreciation to the international community and the federal government for what they have done in the area of humanitarian assistance at the IDP camps. Apart from NEMA, we have all these donor agencies and international humanitarian organisations like UNICEF, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the like.

Now that peace is beginning to return, the UN, the World Bank and the EU have come in a big way with the North East Recovery and Building Assessment. This will assess the damage that have taken place. It is a highly scientific exercise. It is about to end. They have seen for themselves. Assessment has been done from information coming in from all the local government areas. They have carried out remote sensing activities by themselves. In the meantime, they are already providing assistance in the camps and in liberated communities. They are assisting us in the area of education, health, livelihood and so on. They are already doing a lot of wonderful work but they are looking to come in a bigger way in the area of reconstruction. They are committed to helping the north east with billions of dollars.

I also want to talk about the effort of the federal government which has already put in place the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). They are doing a lot of work. There is also the Victim Support Fund which is under the administration of Gen. TY Danjuma and Alhaji Aliko Dangote. They have invested a lot. They intend to invest a lot. After consultation with stakeholders, they are about to reveal their big plan for the north east, like a blue print for the reconstruction of the north east. They are already working on that. We look forward to the federal government stepping in to spend billions of Naira to bring us back better than what we used to be.

It is difficult to determine the extent of damage, it is still going on. In Borno State alone, the quantum of damage that has been wrought is something in the region of N1.3 trillion, we have done some assessment with the World Bank. The figures are not yet final, but it is that huge.

When it comes to states, some of them readily come to mind. I know that Kano supported Borno. At the risk of not mentioning other states. Lagos did. There was a time all the APC governors came to Borno and all of them donated some money. Banks have contributed along with individuals, They are too numerous to mention.

Have you been able to figure out how Borno got into this situation and what can be done to prevent reoccurrence?
By now we should be reflecting on the causes and the consequences of these crises. The governor has said many times, it boils down largely to the failure of leadership, at all levels. Families abdicated their responsibilities, in terms of bringing up their children, government at local, state and the federal government shied away from their responsibility. There is no question that leaders and I am not exonerating myself (when you talk of leadership, you don’t have to be in government), leadership has played a very critical role in this.

Other aspects of these include the total collapse of our value system. It is not something that is unique to Borno. It is a national problem. The other contributory factor is excruciating poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. Unfortunately, all these came at a time when the question of bad governance also played a role. Poverty is not unique to Borno, it is a Nigerian problem, especially in the north combining with the neglect of education, although these factors are there in other parts of the country, they did not coincide in a situation where very bad leadership presided over these conditions.

There is a correlation between poor governance and the existing poor economic condition in this part of the world. It is a cocktail of factors. It is very difficult to single out one factor as being responsible.

These extremists, the merchants of this dangerous ideology came and found an environment where such nonsense could thrive. People were ready to listen because they have been pauperized, neglected by the state and they were angry. This is my own believe.

How much has Borno State spent on compensation and what it has spent on the military expenditure?
We have already spent billions of Naira on this area, but we have not really sat down as a matter of deliberate effort to calculate exactly what we have spent, partly because the expenditure is still on-going. Every time, there is a bomb blast, government will definitely assist the victims to pick up their lives. We assist families who lost their loved ones. We take care of the medical bills of the injured. When markets get burnt (and these have happened repeatedly), it runs into billions of Naira.

We don’t have an exact figure. For the military, since this government came to power, we have spent something in the region of N20 billion. At a point, we were responsible for nearly all the logistics of the armed forces, especially before President Muhammadu Buhari came on board. We were providing logistic support for the military. At a point, we provided 400 pick-up trucks for the military. We bought 50 Armoured Personnel Carriers for the police. We bought AK47 and bullet proof vests for the police. We supplied them with diesel for all their vehicles. We were underwriting some of their expenses like salary and so on. We appreciate what they are doing. It is not that we are complaining. These have taken a great deal of toll on our ability to provide services for our people. That is the flip side.

How long do you think it will take Borno to get back on her feet?
The governor has often said it would take years. If we were to do it on our own without any assistance from the state government, probably you would add another 20 years, making 40 years. That is a generation or two generations for us to come out. But I know and I am confident that we are going to attract serious support and assistance from members of the international community and from the federal government. If that happens and we are beginning to see signs that that would happen, it would take us far less than that, may be five or 10 years to get back on our feet. The condition is that we have to have support from the international community.

Is it still possible for the IDPs to go back to their own land by May 29 as the governor promised?
We will do our best. We want our people back home. Our people want to go back themselves-the people in the camps, the people in the host communities in Maiduguri, you are talking about between two million people. They want to go back and pick up the pieces of their lives.

They want to go back to their farms and their businesses. They want to go and live a normal life. Everybody is eager. Everybody wants to go back. But the condition is fluid. Things keep changing. Things are dynamic but we are still hopeful because we see that the military is doing a lot. We are very confident that this crises will be over very soon. At least, when we say the crises will be over we don’t mean that no form of violence will take place forever but we mean that the capacity of Boko Haram to conquer and hold territories has become almost degraded. They are scattered. They are running helter skelter. They are completely disorganised. But there is a lot of work to be done, even when hostilities completely stopped. They planted mines all over the roads. They have poisoned sources of water supply.

You can see corpses scattered all over the place. These are hazardous things. I am hopeful that very soon, some communities should be able to go back home. Some communities are already being reconstructed, especially along the Maiduguri-Damaturu Road. I have no doubt that those communities should be up and running again. A committee was set up to plan how to put the returnees back on their feet, economically and provide them with means of livelihood in the area of agriculture. I am talking about Kaga and Kondiga local government and Mentkuri, Ngamdu and so on. Between the next two and three months, they should be able to go back home. Those places have been largely stabilised now. We have little problems. They should be able to go back home and as they do they are provided little support in the area of agriculture-poultry, livestock and so on. It is going to be a gradual thing. Everybody going back home would obviously take a lot more time, may be between now and the end of the year.

There is an inter-ministerial committee by the federal government to ensure that some element of civil authority is established in the liberated areas before people go back. It is assumed that it is not just safe to say people should go back. The committee draws membership from all the security agencies, from all the relevant department of government in Nigeria-ministry of internal affairs, ministry of defence, the police, some of the ministries in the state, ministry of finance and so. They have started work. It is a large committee. They are to assess the condition of the liberated areas and make sure that before go back, there is some elementary presence of authority like the local government, the police, the customs, civil defense and so on, so that people will feel safe. That has already commenced.

How much do you spend on the IDPs now that you have some assistance?
Honestly, I cannot say, but it is something in the region of between N200 and N300 million monthly because we still provide the condiments. The arrangement is that NEMA provides the foodstuff while the state government provides the condiment, but we as well take care of their health needs and other welfare needs. We bear the expenses when there are unforeseen emergencies. If people are killed, government would have to send a delegation to look after those people.

Beyond that the people living in the host communities, we also look after them, not every time, we provide with assistance. We do it all the time. There is a very serious food crisis because many people could not farm. We are not able to provide them all their needs.

How do you manage with payment of salaries in view of the challenges you have?
We have not failed to pay salaries. We have paid salaries as at when due from five years ago up till now. We have never defaulted. We have a huge salary bill of nearly N2.5 billion and every month we pay salaries, latest by the 25th of the month. Somehow, we have been able to manage with paying salaries and meeting the needs of our people. That says a lot about the capacity for prudent management of our little resources by the government. We have not defaulted because we don’t want to add to our problems. If government defaults we are going to create another big problem. The economy is sustained by what we pay to civil servants .

Things are not easy. The governor has said we must do everything we can to bring down the salary bill without sacking anybody. We believe the salary we pay every month is inflated. There are ghost workers. We have already started the process of blocking these loopholes by biometrics. We are looking to save N500 million every month. Borno State gets about N3 billion a month from the federal government. The local government gets theirs as well, but it is the responsibility of the state government to pay salaries. We spend three quarter of what we get to pay salaries. That is not sustainable. A lot of the money is going to bogus people.