Internally displaced persons in Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State are returning to their communities, in droves, to pick up the pieces of their precious livelihoods members of the Boko Haram sect tore apart. The state’s Commissioner for Water Resources, Hon. Julius Kadala believes their return is fueled by the life-changing solar-powered water, electricity and healthcare projects instituted in the affected communities by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), reports Bennett Oghifo
Hong Local Government Area in Adamawa State was one of the seven the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents over-ran and occupied until they were dislodged by the Nigerian Army. But not before they killed some inhabitants and rendered most homes and public buildings inhabitable. They also wrecked public utilities and razed farmlands, all in their desire to make the area derelict.
When the insurgents left their villages, the residents were certain they would not survive if they returned because of an absence of life-support mechanisms. After the invasion of these communities, the poor access to clean energy services there worsened.
Regardless, there is now better security in the local government area and most major roads, including the 135 kilometre Yola-Hong Road, are manned by heavily armed soldiers and Policemen; even officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are back on patrol, as students and everyone else move freely.
Now that the displaced people have started returning to their homes, the greatest problems facing them are: lack of portable water supply, poor primary health care delivery, especially, facilities for storing vaccines for the immunization of children, clean energy access for basic needs like lighting, among others.
Regardless, when they eventually decided to return, their resolve got a much-need boost when they heard heart-warming stories about the UNDP/ECN Solar PV water, lighting and healthcare projects in their communities that were occupied and plundered by the insurgents.
The 12 communities in Hong LGA, Adamawa State, North-east Nigeria that benefitted from the deployment of off-grid solar PV for borehole water supply, health care delivery, street lighting and home solar lighting + mobile phone charging are: Fa’a Gaya; Gaya Silkami; Garaha Mijili; Dilwachira; Gashala Mamud; Mutuku; Shashau; Garaha Lari; Garaha Banga; Kubutafa; Pella; and Kwakwa.
Recently, a team of journalists, led by the focal person of the project, Engineer Ekpenyong visited 10 of the 12 communities to assess the state of these projects, as well as the mood of the people.
A common strand of gratitude, satisfaction and restored hope ran through all the communities visited and this was reinforced by the Adamawa State Commissioner for Water Resources, who resides in one of the communities with his family.
At Dilwachira, a village located, about two hours drive, off the Hong-Mubi road, the village Head, Ardo Musa, 80, said the insurgents hit the town at about 9AM on a market day. “They entered the town, killing people; killed a man and his family and burnt their corpses and took over the village for five days.”
The Village Head said the UNDP/ECN projects “are very good; they have done well, we are enjoying the water and lamps, but we appeal to them for additional boreholes, renovation of the schools and roads.”
The elated youths in Dilwachira all wanted to speak about the solar water system and lighting UNDP/ECN provided but chose Mr. Silat Bitrus, who is better schooled to represent them. Bitrus, who has a National Diploma (ND) in Science Laboratory Technology from Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, in 2010, now has a farm in the village.
The water system, he said is functioning well and that the people were happy about it. “We need more of this water facility because the town is very big and the population is large; there are approximately 4000 people here.”
Dilwachira’s Health Centre is managed by Sule Umar, who thanked the UNDP/ECN for providing the solar refrigerator and lamp used in the health facility. “Both the fridge and the light are functioning well.”
Umar, who said he trained as a Health Technologist in School of Health Technology in Mubi, said before the UNDP/ECN intervention, they used torchlight at night to carry out their duties. “There was no light and we didn’t have generator. One of our community residents brought a small generator but it is broken now. But with the solar light we are confortable.”
Joy at Pella Mothol…
Similar sense of joy and fulfillment was expressed by residents of Pella Mothol, about three kilometres from Hong. Schools just closed for the day, primary and secondary school students were heading home; some on foot and others riding bicycles and a few rode in taxis. The village Head was not present but a senior citizen, who gave his name as Mr. David Mark, described the joy of the community and expressed gratitude to UNDP/ECN for providing them water and lighting in strategic places in the community.
Mark said, “There is no problem with the water system; we are enjoying it unlike the hand pump over there. This one is very nice and the water rushes fast; no problem.”
There are two solar street lights provided by UNDP/ECN, one is stationed by the water reservoir and the other in front of the Lutheran Church of Christ Nigeria (LCCN). Both shine brightly, Mark said.
He was not sure how the solar lamps provided by the UNDP/ECN were distributed and beckoned on a resident, Mr. Ali, whom he said should know and, after brief consultation, he said, “Each house has a solar lamp.”
A staff at health centre, Happy David said “Before the solar fridge was given to us, we used to collect vaccines from Hong, spending close to two hours on the road, but now that we have the fridge, we do not waste time to travel to Hong to collect vaccines anymore. Before now, patients wait for a long time for the vaccines but now our work is fast and easy.”
The Pella Health Centre has eight beds, she said and that they had mainly outpatients, adding that sometimes they admit some people briefly before letting them go.
The Adamawa State Commissioner for Water Resources, Hon. Julius K. Kadala said, “My impression about this project is that it is timely. When you look at the effect of Boko Haram on the people, especially on the 12 local governments, this intervention by UNDP/ECN is a welcome idea and we thank God that they can come to the assistance of people that have been affected.”
Kadala said Hong Local Government, one of the seven that were affected, was the most hit, adding “the effect is so much in Hong, because it where they have burnt personal homes, government buildings and even farmlands with crops. So, this assistance is timely. I thank God that you have responded and you have seen things for yourselves in so many villages and what you have done for these communities is appreciated but we still want to appeal for more things to be provided for these people to rehabilitate them.”
He said it was also important to provide assistance to people in Hong town, saying “it is there most homes were burnt down, including the local government secretariat, hospitals, schools. These should be rebuilt to enable the people go back to their normal lives.”
On the government’s role in providing these facilities, particularly water, he said, “As a government, we have touched the lives of people in some communities, though not much, but we also concentrated on some communities in rural areas with provision of hand pump boreholes. We also rehabilitated some of them but because of the financial constraint of the government at present, we have not reached all the villages, but a certain percentage of villages have been reached.”
On the rate people are returning to their communities, he said a number of people were returning but that some of them have no houses to return to, no schools for their children, and some have no roads to their respective villages. “So, there are a lot of things that prevent them from going back to their homes. Some of the still need rehabilitation mentally and psychologically, because they have been affected by the insurgency. Even children still scream when they hear loud bangs because they remember what happened during the crisis and some of their parents were killed.”
He said the solar projects established by UNDP/ECN “has contributed significantly to our people returning to their communities. The people have seen that a borehole has been provided for them, schools have been rehabilitated. This project has encouraged the return of IDPs to their homes, especially the communities you provided water; I received phone calls thanking UNDP/ECN for getting them water and lighting systems. Most of the IDPs will spend Christmas in their villages by the Grace of God.”
The people, he said were being trained on the maintenance of the existing hand pumps and that they were also being sensitized to take ownership of the solar projects.
He said most of the IDPs from Adamawa State have returned home and that those left in the camps were from Bornu and Yobe States. “IDPs coming from Cameroun and Niger stop-over in Adamawa State before they go elsewhere.”
He said 20 out of the 21 local governments just had elections and now have chairmen and councilors, except Michika. “The local governments cannot do anything for now, because they are barely two to three months old and the allocation they get from the federation account cannot even pay their salaries. So, they are studying the situation and when the economy improves, then, I believe they will do something for the people.”
He said, “On the part of the state government, the most important thing is to have peace. The present administration is trying to make sure that peace returns to all the local governments, making progress in the delivery of dividends of democracy to the people of Adamawa State. It has started in the capital; somebody that has not come to Adamawa for a while may not recognize Yola because of the developmental projects that have been done. The government has been rehabilitating schools, among others. On the issue of water, we have made some critical interventions in hospitals, schools, markets, especially in the Mubi International Cattle Market. The government is trying but funding is so low; Adamawa is a civil service state and it is only when salaries are paid that money circulates.”
Thus, he said the government was making sure salaries were paid to help the people resume their normal lives. “The government is also trying to give small loans to farmers, procured fertilizers but the most important thing is to restore peace because without peace, nothing will work.”
He said apart from Madaga local government out of the seven local governments affected, the others will have bumper harvest this year. Pockets of Boko Haram activities are still in Madaga; one here, two there and so it is not easy for them to go to their farms.”
On lack of access roads to most of the communities, he said the government, though barely a year and half in office, was working according to plan. “Adamawa State as a whole does not have roads, not only in the rural areas, even in Jimeta and Yola. Presently, this administration has constructed more than 40 roads in Yola and Jimeta and these roads ought to have been done maybe 10 years ago, leaving the government to concentrate on the construction of rural roads.”
He said provision had been made for the development of rural roads in the 2017 budget, particularly the construction of culverts.
The government is also considering the use of solar energy to power the rural communities, he said, “It is not easy for the government to extend the national grid electricity to all of these communities. This government has budgeted to provide 10 communities in each local government with solar energy; and there are 21 local government areas.”
Prior to UNDP/ECN intervention…
Before the insurgency, the towns and villages in Adamawa State had basic facilities, particularly in their primary health centres, one of which was used by the family of the commissioner. “That is where my wife and children go to when they need medical attention. The communities need to have some facilities in their health centres, especially water and I try to make sure that as Commissioner of Water Resources, boreholes will be sunk in these centers but with the financial constraints we can only provide hand pump boreholes, which ought not to be there.”
However, these communities, whose energy needs are often basic, depend to a large extent on traditional, rudimentary and inefficient renewable energy conversion devices like open-to-sun drying method, dry-wood or kerosene lantern and the traditional three – stone woodstove for meeting their cooking, lighting and heating energy needs. Similarly, the Community Health Centres are facing serious setbacks due to lack of electricity to power basic medical facilities like vaccine storage refrigerators, lighting in the night, among others.
The rudimentary and inefficient technologies used for solar drying, lighting and cooking with fuel-wood leads to continuous felling of trees, desert encroachment and soil erosion, thus, making it unsustainable.
To address these challenges, the Energy Commission of Nigeria with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiated the project to, among other objectives, improve access to clean energy services in 12 rural communities in Hong LGA affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
This project harnessed the solar energy resources for electricity generation to meet the communities’ demand for water supply, lighting, improved healthcare services and mobile phone charging.