Tumsa: How We Averted Humanitarian Crisis in N’East



Pioneer National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress and immediate past Vice Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Northeast Initiative, Alhaji Tijani Tumsa, said the defunct PCNI initiative has brought relative calm to the conflict zones and hinted on the committee operations, including the rebuilding of infrastructure in troubled communities as well as the resettlement of IDPs in liberated areas. He spoke to Onyebuchi Ezigbo. Excerpts:

How would you assess the impact of PCNI in addressing the humanitarian problem posed by the conflict in the Northeast zone?
That committee was created around the personality of General Theophilous Danjuma, who is well known to be straightforward. So, the first thing we did was to create a strategic development plan for intervention in the North East, which we call the Buhari plan. The committee had as members, many critical stakeholders from the refugee commission, the National Emergency Management Agency; NEMA, the Federal Ministry of Justice, including Budget and Planning Office.

So the mandate of the committee, principally, was to intervene in a variety of sectors. As at the time we came on, the situation in the North East wasn’t stable. There were a lot of issues that needed to be handled mostly security and the attendance of humanitarian conditions. So, the committee, with its programmes approached the coordination of this intervention alongside the military and also having intervention programmes that have humanitarian consequences.

For instance there was the need to provide people with medical attention and so on. In that respect, we assisted and distributed alongside with NEMA and the State Emergency Agency to prepare and distribute foodstuff to families that were displaced. Consequently, when peace was achieved in some locations, we also had a programme for resettling people back to their communities and that also attracted the need for continuous humanitarian assistance and also rehabilitating facilities.

The basic job of the PCNI was to coordinate all the efforts that were going into the North East; the interventions by principal stakeholders by the victim support fund, World food programme and so on. So, we are making sure that resources were targeted for people that needed them most. Where there were gaps, the PCNI created intervention schemes.
For instance, in the area of healthcare, we had tremendous support from the West African College of Surgeons and also an organisation called Pro-Health, where we did medical activities to touch the lives of at least 1,500 people across the six states. We had free medical services continuously in collaboration with the states. We also had some local interventions by medical doctors in facilities that were available and with that, we saved a lot of lives in terms of health.

Credit must also go to the Nigerian Military for stabilising these areas as much as possible even though as at now there are some areas that are still contentious but generally, peace has returned to Adamawa, Yobe and a lot of other parts in the North and people are beginning to go back and we are supporting that. With the United Nations programme, we have also been able to create resettlement schemes in these states: Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Taraba, where we have had meetings with stakeholders to be able to determine if it is much better to have small settlements come together in a larger group so that they can get adequate security and other infrastructure that will help in making their lives better.

With that, we have also been successful, because the stakeholder consists of the federal government, the state government, the local government, transitional groups and so on to identify places, where that can happen and that has been done and we will ensure the North East Development Commission will now know what to do in those kind of places. Majorly, the PCNI came in at a time things were difficult in terms of the fact that there were a lot of players in the North East and there wasn’t any coordination and, there wasn’t any targeting.

We were able to come and do the coordination; we were able to ask each player to identify what he is doing; where he is doing it, which allowed for us to see the resources. For instance, when the World Food Organisation was doing a programme there, sometimes we asked for their schedule of the food distribution, with that we were able to know, who didn’t have food, what the state governments were doing in terms of food supply and what we could do to fill in gaps in those areas of needs.

So, we did all that in terms of coordination, having meetings with all stakeholders every month and in the process everyone will be aware of what the other is doing. Before then there wasn’t any coordination, so, there was a lot of disorganisation. You could find people doing interventions always in only one local government, when there were needs in other local governments but the PCMI was able to stabilise that.

Would you say that the committee was able to give right direction?
It was able to give direction intervention wise and also filling gaps that were obvious that no one occupied, because when you have lots of players, one could be doing health intervention in Maiduguri for instance and the other one will also come and do in Maiduguri and then places like Konduga, which desire sure interventions were unattended to. So, we will advise that one of these aid groups goes there. Where there is no person available, the PCMI will go and arrange in those places.

How successful was your committee regarding settling people from Cameroon and Niger? What did your committee do to resettle them and how did they manage it?
The committee was saddled with the responsibility of providing coordination of the agencies that were responsible for bringing in these refugees. It is about to start right now as I speak to you having coordinated the United Nations Committee on Refugees, the Nation office of the Honourable Commissioner for Refugee Commission and so on.
The PCNI provided a coordinating role so that you will be able to see what everyone could do to bring those people back. There are over 50,000 refugees in Cameroon alone and a larger number in Niger. So, bringing them back was also contingent on the security where they were going to be resettled, because you can’t transfer people from a safe place to place that you have issues.

In terms of number, how many camps do we have at present in the North East?
Pruning the camps is also an area we have made a lot of successes. For instance, in Yobe there is no longer an IDP camp. The camps have reduced significantly. In terms of number, they are now between 10 and 15 camps. What we seem to always forget, is the fact that the number of people in the camps is about only 10 per cent of the number of displaced persons. So most of the displaced persons are in neighbouring communities where they have relatives and friends.

Those people will also need medical outreach, food distribution and in addition, we noticed that when we started our programme, it was to provide opportunity for young ones, who wanted to have skills and in conjunction with the federal university we were able to train at least 1,200 youths in graphic design, phone repairing and so on. Just last week, the National Content Management Board, where we took the training of these youths, graduated over a 110 youths in varieties of skills. That way, we intend to impact on a lot of people.

What do you make of reports of abuses of people in IDP camps especially, the females and children and the allegation that children were greatly malnourished?
We addressed issues of food diversion, issues of abuses in the camps and there were also issues that had to do with securing the camps. The PCNI again was able to participate in structuring disciplinary structures and securities for the camps. With that, I am sure you haven’t heard again recently like in the past since the coming of the committee, because I remembered when one of the security officers was disciplined and even jailed for an attempt to molest someone in an IDP camp and we are happy that it has tremendously reduced.

Your committee faced a kind of challenge. That was the grass-cutting scandal. What will you say really played out, because there were lots of misconceptions concerning the grass-cutting scenario?
When the committee was formed, it was tasked to absorb the continental initiative of an office. Now, it was under this office that the scandal happened and so we didn’t inherit that; what we did was to continue from where we found the situation. So, we had nothing to do with that scenario.

For the benefit of insight, would you say that the decision of the federal government to set up your initiative was a right one?
Like I said earlier, I think that was a very wise decision to have an immediate intervention and programme that would go in there, coordinate what is happening, intervene when necessary and also provide direction as to how this was supposed to go on. Part of the committee’s work is in its coordination role; coordinate a lot of financial institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Southern Development bank. They were able to come and we were able to coordinate their intervention into the North East. We now began to spend on the World Bank side over 200 million dollars and the African Development Bank side over 250 million dollars.
The Southern Development Bank negotiation and discussions have started but they haven’t reached the stage where the World Bank has reached at the moment. That was promoted and that was planned in a way that where it’s being taken care of, the State Government can now look elsewhere. One plan is organised in conjunction with the state, which is called the Multi Recovery programme, where the World Bank will target itself on particular projects.

How did the committee get the funds required for its activities?
The funding part, our budgetary requirements were always more than what the government provided for us, but we achieved our targets.

Are you saying the North East is relatively peaceful now?
Yes, it is now relatively peaceful and that is why I said the credit must go to the Nigerian military and to the president for providing that environment for progress to be made in this sector. Without peace, nothing else can happen. We have had places, where our partners have rebuilt classrooms and these classrooms were vandalised almost immediately. So, structures were not necessarily what we were after; we had focused on human development.

What advice can you give the new commission that succeeded your committee to help them achieve the goal of restoring normalcy to the region?
They need to work with the plan we have left behind, which is the Buhari plan and like I said, the implementation of recovery and development of the North East. We had discussions with them on what should be done for the North East.

What measures would you suggest to government in dealing with similar humanitarian crisis in any other part of the country?
What the government is doing is trying to empower the security forces to be able to secure the country. You know things change. Security challenges can also vary. The spate of kidnappings and the rest of them means we have to invest more in intelligence gathering and also rapid response. I think the government is working towards that, to improve its support to the Nigerian police, the Nigerian Army and the National Security Civil Defence Corp. So, while all those areas are being taken care of properly and appropriately even the support that is intended now I am sure the incidence of kidnapping and other banditry will be taken care of.
Why this war in the North East has gone on for quite some time, is because of the nature of conflict. It is no more a conventional warfare, it is a complex situation and it is more challenging to deal with it in the usual way especially when you are dealing with individuals, who believe what they were doing was faith-based. So, a lot of investigations had to go on.
What we did at the PCNI for instance, was to get people together from the Judiciary to other stakeholders and the civil society leaders, which are the traditional institutions and also religious leaders to come together and discuss issues of their integration. We also engaged the repentant Boko Haram men, who have gone through the military safe corridor programme. The military has had successes in the training and repositioning the minds of a lot of people, who have repented from this Boko Haram terrorist group.

What do you say about the persistent claim by the military that Boko Haram terrorists have been defeated?
Like I said, it has been degraded substantially and that is why we are now able to resettle people back in their communities. For instance, in communities in Bama, people are returning to their normal lives and their vocations. When we came on board, there wasn’t a single person in Bama and in Duka, because there was no peace but with the subsequent military successes in those areas, people are beginning to move back.
We are also part of the moves for the resettlement of people back to Bama with support of the state government. We rebuilt the hospital that was there in Bama, which was recently commissioned and also all the schools in Bama were resurrected by our partners in the North East. I would say that the military and the federal government have made tremendous progress in stabilising things, to a level that people will begin to think of going back and begin to go back to their various communities.

But some people are saying the insurgents are the ones that have metamorphosed into bandits, kidnappers and all forms of communal crimes. Is that true?
It is possible and it is also possible that this is a new brand of banditry and because of the limitations it is hard to determine if they are the same ones in the North East coming over to other areas or they are being created from those areas. Generally, for any administration in the country to succeed, peace and stability are very important all over the country, including the Niger Delta, the North East, the North West, the North Central and that is what the government has been trying to approach.

As an APC chieftain, what should Nigerians expect in the next four years in restoring peace and development to the country?
In the next few years, I am sure the government of President Buhari would deploy a lot of resources in stabilising the security situation. Without security, we can’t do anything. So, security is first and any other development comes later. There are a lot of initiatives in terms of education, in terms of healthcare, in terms of providing other facilities and infrastructure but security will also have to address these initiatives such that all these things can take place.

What is behind the high vote score recorded by the APC in the northeast states considering the impact the Boko Haram conflict?
Well as I said, the government has made progress in stabilising those areas in terms of peace. Prior to the coming of APC, those states have lots of insurgency but we succeeded in reducing and bringing calm to these areas. My state has always been a state that has gone through a peaceful environment. The leadership of the party in the state was able to infuse the opinions of the people into what we have now, because we always do things in terms of politics; progressively and also informed by our choices.

Do you think that APC will survive after the exit of President Muhammad Buhari in 2023?
We understand that President Buhari won’t be on the ballot. The APC will have to now come together again and find a suitable replacement. While he won’t be on the ballot, he will still be in the party so that party will have the requisite direction and leadership for it to make progress for it to have the confidence of Nigerians particularly, with the choice of whoever will succeed President Buhari.

Where does APC standafter Buhari?
The chances are very good. Like I said, depending on who will represent the Nigerian public, and of course, it would be presented in such a manner that it would represent the APC manifesto and not the APC agenda going forward. I think the president is also part of the APC and will continue to have significant role in everything in the party.
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