Setting the Pace in Humanitarian Intervention with VSF

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Kasim Sumaina delves into the mind of the Executive Director, Victims Support Fund, Sunday Ochoche, whose foray in the past six years in the Boko Haram ravaged North-east has been solely targeted at bringing humanitarian interventions to the displaced
The Boko Haram sect, when it was first formed by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, their actions were non-violent. Their main goal was to “purify Islam in Northern Nigeria. 10 years after he was killed, the group has since been led by Abubakar Shekau, who  keeps reincarnating. Since then, the group has turned into bloodletting and destruction of lives and properties.
Nine years ago, in 2010 to be precise, the notorious terror group called Jamaatu Ahlisunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram unleashed an unwarranted attack on innocent citizens in North-eastern part of the country. Since then, the group has intensified its terror campaign not only against the security agencies  but also schools, places of worship, communities, business places and other soft targets.
Initially, people thought aside waging war against  the security agencies in the country. It was also believed that the group wants to wipe out the Christian community especially in the North  following a series of attacks on churches and even Christian community. However, a number of attacks on Muslims and even mosques have shown that no religion or a certain segment of the society is immune to the cruelty of the terror group. Just last two weeks, the group carried out attack on a mosque even during the holy month of Ramadan.
Victim Support Fund
Nevertheless, to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians caught up in the crisis, especially women and children, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2013, invited Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) to chair the Victim Support Fund (VSF). The VSF was set up to rehabilitate, reconstruct and to resettle the victims of the Boko Haram carnage.
Six years after the VSF came into existence,  it is safe to say that VSF has touched the lives of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) comprising  mostly children and women caught up in the theatre of war. Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, despite the carnage is a beauty to behold as schools and other infrastructural  facilities are being put in place daily.
The Executive Director, VSF,  Sunday Ochoche, while revealing the achievement the fund has recorded essentially in the North in its bid to rebuild the North-east was quick to point out that the major challenge is security. Ochoche told THISDAY that security remains very fragile and with a little relapse in that security situation becomes a major set back to the reconstruction efforts and of course, the needs are enormous and the resources are very limited. He expressed regret that these enormous needs, which are priority, should have been taken care of since yesterday. “So, you are confronted with very pathetic human crisis”, he added.
According to him, “when you have for example, an emir whose palace was destroyed and barely escaped and now the palace is reconstructed and he just can’t go back because he hasn’t still recovered from trauma he went through. That is even at the level of the emir. Now, think of what other regular people have gone through.
“The challenge of the recovery, the rehabilitation and the reconstruction of the human being, remain a major crisis in the North-east. And you know, these are issues really that we have to work hard to address. I think, reconstructing the physical infrastructure is probably the easiest part but, addressing the perception of the insecurity of the individual will take a while.”
Successes
Narrating the success recorded so far, he noted that in the last three months, the fund didn’t actually do much because it was a cycle of the electoral process. He added that usually, the beginning of the year is a period of intensive planning which includes the process of its  budgeting and the process of detailed analysis and assessment of the determination of projects for the year, as well as meeting and consultation with partners and stakeholders and getting to a concrete understanding of agreement of what it’s going to do for the year.
“So, we have tried to do that because, a major challenge many agencies in this country are working without plans or sometimes they plan without facts. We pride ourselves as being a knowledge driven, programme-based agency and therefore, facts, knowledge, understanding, assessment are very important for the way we do things.
 “Evidence-based programming is what Victim Support Fund is about and then for the beginning of every implementation year is one in which we try to have all the evidence at all parameters that would guide us in what we do. So, we spent a good part of the year, doing that but, that’s not to say that we have not started project implementation.
“We have constructed the rehabilitation center in Bulukutu, in Maiduguri, we have just commissioned it. It will be a rehabilitation center for a number of the victims of Boko Haram insurgency including some of the fighters that have been rehabilitated. That is where they would normally be brought to learn trade, to do schooling and we have spent quite some money reconstructing and rehabilitating the entire place so that there could be better facilities and more comfortable environment for these people going to be rehabilitated.
“We have also this year already, commissioned our project in Benue State, especially in Agatu, where we commissioned about eight schools and two clinics. We have commissioned those and they are already being put to use. This year too, we commissioned the biggest project, VSF has ever done. That was the commissioning of the Government Comprehensive School in Takum, Taraba State. It is, the best school in Taraba state as in today. Everything was constructed from the scratch by VSF.”
Focus on Planning
Acknowledging that he who fails to plan, plans to fail Ochoche said, “So, the year is still fairly early and we have spent time planning. We have met with all our partners and Civil Society Organisation partners, government partners  and to preview our performance in 2018 and to plan for 2019. That for us is also a major achievement so that from the beginning, we are on the same page with our implementing partners, so that they understand what we do, get to know what the challenges might be. We get to understand the situation in the field and get to understand what the priorities are that we need to intervene. That we have done and now we have a reasonable idea of what our programmes are going to be in 2019.
“We don’t work on assumption, on hearsay or the superficial appearance of things. We drill down to  understand precisely what the issues are. We have all the data before we move. Like I said, we have to be an evidence-based organisation, so that, the intervention must be that, yes, we do a lot of support for education and even the support for education, we have to collect the relevant data and we need to know the places that are most affected, the type of support that they require and we need to determine how we are going to support and the number that we will support.
“But, right now, we are supporting primary and junior secondary schools, both in terms of the provision of educational materials as well as the reconstruction of facilities for the schools. We have not really intervened in any terriery institutions yet, but; we have many requests from those institutions that, some of them, we may consider in 2019.”
He further observed that VSF takes serious the partnership collaborating approach to the implementation of these projects, adding that ‘we are a very small agency with enormous responsibilities. We needed to cut down on bureaucracy and under administration, and that is why the overhead cost of our projects implementation in terms of sub administrative support whether it is from salary to everything we are talking about comes to under 15 per cent of our cost.
“So, one of the ways we have gone around it is to have a lean and efficient organisation that works with leveraging on capacity that are already out there. We have engaged a number of civil society organisations. All of them are domiciled in the relevant communities or states and we engage them, fund their activities, in terms of understanding the issues on ground and they are very helpful because they know and understand the environment, and we tap into that capacity and when we make a decision about projects whether in the area of agriculture or in education or foster care, we engage appropriate CSOs who help with the direct implementation.
“For many of them, the capacities are usually not as good as we will desire and we would have to work to train them to capacitate them and to be able to deliver. We know that even if the capacity is there, every agency has it own requirements for monitoring and evaluation and we have to bring them up to speed for our own requirements for monitoring and evaluation so that they can do that efficiently for us. So far, I mean,  our experiences with them have been good”.
Fund Intervention for Agriculture 
Speaking on the fund intervention in the area of agriculture, Ochoche said, “We have worked in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe and Taraba States. Those have been the key states where we have provided our agricultural support. And agricultural support comes in a different phase. We have support to the rainfall agriculture, dry season agriculture and we have support to animal breeding. So, each of these, for the rainfall and dry season agriculture, we provide the seed, chemical and fertiliser input that the farmers require and we also provide tractors for the farmers. For the dry season farming, we also provide the pumping machines to the farmers.
“On the animal breeding, we normally provide each family with four goats, three females, one male to the respective family for animal breeding. So, these are basically the type of support that we give to the farmers. Additionally, we also provide cash support to the animal breeders to enable them provide the feed so that they don’t sell these animals off or eat them. Those are the three critical areas that we support in agriculture.”
Women Empowerment 
On women empowerment, Ochoche explained that the agricultural programme “is an intergral part of our economic empowerment programme. The other part of it is the women economic empowerment programme where very early in our intervention, we recognised that there are so many women who have been affected by the Boko Haram insurgency who have now become head of households and have to provide for their children and household in a cultural environment whereby previously these were done likely by men.
“So, the women needs extra support to be able to survive these whole new challenges that they are faced with. So, we came in, we started with 1000 women in IDPs camp in Maiduguri where we are working closely with the IDPs they identified for us a 100 people from each camp, so a total 10 camps in Maiduguri with income generating capacity.
“We gave each woman N20,0000 and now we have scaled up to Adamawa and Yobe but, in fact, we are no longer working in any IDPs camp now in Borno State. It’s only in the community and I think today, we have about 15,000 women on this programme. We scaled up the assistance to them  from 20 to 30,000 and we are now in the process of scaling up from 30 to 50,000 to these women who we grouped according to their trade into what we called the Savings and Loans Associations.
“ So, we are not just giving them the money they are well organised around their respective productive endeavour and these ranges from cap making to vegetable oil production and the rest of it. So, they are usually a group of 20-20 and they support each them and the CSOs we came to work with them organised them into bi-weekly meetings during which they also, they meet their weekly meetings and they keep very good records of these savings and then, today,  many of the associations have become a visiting place where others begin to come and borrow money.
“Members of the association who wants to expand their trade, old members as well go to the association to borrow money. So, that has also gone very well and of course, given the numbers that we are dealing with and the challenges we are dealing with, it was to be expected that a few will get these monies and either not perform well or escape with it. But, generally, that has been very few.”
Infrastructural Construction 
On infrastructural construction Ochoche said: “We started our infrastructural construction in Dikwa Local Government Areas in Borno State, and then, we reconstructed all the schools in Dikwa which were about 11 schools, reconstructed the general hospital, the local government secretariat and a number of staff quarters in Dikwa.
“We also reconstructed a police barrack and a police station as well as revamped a number of boreholes in Dikwa. Then, we moved to Bama. It was the most devastated and destroyed of all cities in Borno State. And then, we reconstructed eight schools and a maternity, and a local government secretariat. In Southern part of Borno State and Northern Adamawa, in four local government areas; Hawul, Damboa, Askira and Chibok that is in   Southern Borno; and then, in Madagali and Hung in Northern Adamawa, we reconstructed 26 schools.
“Then, in Michika alone, we reconstructed the entire local government secretariat complex from the scratch, from the design of it to the completion. Victim Support Fund did that as well as eight schools in Michika local government and a clinic. Then, in Gwoza, all the schools in Damasak, in Gambaru, Ngala local government, all the schools in Magalla, we have finished reconstructing that of Gwoza and we are almost done with Magali and Mogba local government areas.
“In Yobe state, we are reconstructing about 13 schools. In Benue, like I mentioned earlier, we are reconstructing or providing 28 new class room block in Agatu local government, Guma and Logo local government area as well as five clinics in these local governments. Like I told you earlier, we have completely rebuilt the government secondary school in Takum, Taraba state. We are in the process of beginning  to build a six completely new schools in Gombe state. The government has just given the go ahead for allocation of the land and these are areas of very heavy Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) presence with no schools or facilities and we will be going there to provide them with schools.
“VSF recently commissioned 147 public buildings and Water, Sanitation and Health facilities (WASH) in Potiskum Local Government Yobe State. The projects were executed across 11 Local Governments in Yobe State.   The renovated structures include hospitals, primary and secondary schools, local government secretariats, local education authority buildings, a local government lodge and deep water boreholes. The intervention aims to promote the re-establishment of local governance and restoration of basic social amenities while creating an enabling environment for return and accelerated recovery.
“The 11 beneficiary local governments are: Potiskum, Fika, Gulani, Geidam, Yunusari, Tarmuwa, Gujba, Busari, Fune, Damaturu and Buni Yadi. VSF continues to strive to bring succour to victims all over Nigeria while also ensuring that resources are utilised judiciously in the execution of all its projects. So, for schools, I think these are the ones that I can remember.”
“It should be noted that insecurity perception is hate, it doesn’t matter how much physical infrastructure you put on ground, if the person perceived himself as insecure, there’s nothing you can do about it. So, dealing with the perception of insecurity remains a major crisis. Of course, like I said, so, when the former president invited General Danjuma (rtd), to mobilise the private sector to come and support the efforts the government was doing which is its statutory responsibilities.
“We look forward to the government to continue to provide the coordination for all of us who are involved and to provide the guidance which we seek in the areas of our comparative advantage and provide support for quick recovery from the very terrible experience we are in as a nation,” disclosed Ochoche.
An Undefeated Borno 
Also, very recently, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Dr. Abubakar Elkanemi, hinted that Borno is a kingdom that has being in existence over 1200 years without any interference and despite the Fulani Invasion, the ravage and disturbances between 1892-1900, the tussling riffles in 1980 and then the Boko Harram in 2009 till date, Borno was and can never be defeated.
He observed that things has happened to the people of Borno both good and bad, but Borno was never defeated.
According to him, “Before the coming of the President Muhammadu Buhari, we know the situation we used to be in and the situation we are now in. Our airport was closed for commercial flights for over two years before the coming of the president. We did not have any good roads, the only good roads we had was from Maiduguri to Cameroon as all other roads were besieged by Boko Haram
“The borders were very porous, Borno shares border between Niger, Chad and Cameroonian. The criminals were coming in any time they liked, they will kill people and go back.”
He added that at that time, Maiduguri was hosting about 2 million internally displaced persons comprising of mostly children and women. However, he added that the narrative has changed.