By Femi Ige
Recent efforts by writers to paint the efforts of the Nigerian Military and the Borno State Government as lame duck, flies in the face of reality and previous assessments of the insurgency crisis in the North East.
Francis Abayomi, writing in The Independent newspapers says emerging narratives on Boko Haram in the wake of renewed wave of attacks in the last three months reflect a uniquely Nigerian character of politics which thrives on denials and pretence. But one wonders where the denial and pretense is.
Was Governor Kashim Shettima in a state of denial by devoting the largest chunk of Borno State budget to catering for over 3,000,000 out-of-school children, rebuilding the ruins caused by insurgency, providing healthcare despite the constant threat of bombings by the terrorists or when he appealed for international assistance in taking care of internally displaced persons, (IDPs)?
Perhaps the Borno Governor was expected to pursue the Chibok abductors into Sambisa Forest barehanded while former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Commander-in-Chief fiddled away inside the villa.
While Abayomi cleverly masked his intentions with disguised nationalism, he was soon to expose the purpose of his write up: justifying the period of inertia under President Jonathan. Continuing, he said: “It should be curious that the chicken has finally come home to roost with Borno State Governor, Kashim Ibrahim Shettima. The state governor has in the last two weeks been waxing stronger in acknowledging the reality of the evil of Boko Haram beyond the culture of denial sustained by divisive politics of relevance.”
As far as the writer would have us believe, Shettima is to be blamed for the Chibok girls’ abduction. In his words: “Governor Shettima didn’t give the impression of a leading state actor that should own up to, even if a visceral, sense of responsibility when over a hundred young girls were abducted in Borno State owned Secondary School in Chibok in 2014.”
Here, the writer found no fault with the then Commander- in- Chief for his lethargic reaction to the crime but blames a governor who does not control any of the armed forces.
At the risk of being labelled a Shettima apologist, I think we must understand the enormity of the problem confronting the governor and the lean resources available before apportioning blames. As at the last count, according to official figure released, over three million children have been forcefully removed from school by the insurgents; no fewer than 5,335 classrooms, 501 primary schools and many other secondary schools were also destroyed by the terrorists during their relentless bombings.
- Model schools built by the Shettima administration
In the same vein, a total of 248 primary health care centres, 19 general hospitals in various communities across the 27 local government areas of the state were destroyed, just as the terrorists did to numerous police stations, banks and security outposts before they were pushed out by superior fire power of the military.
- General Muhammed Shuwa Hospital built in Maiduguri
- A General Hospital built at Shani Local Govt Area of the state*
This writer’s recent visit to the state capital revealed that there is serious improvement of security in Maiduguri, which has also encouraged many of those who had been forced by the terrorists to flee the town to return to the state capital. There have been some recent serious security issues but they are nothing to compare with what happened in the past under Jonathan when 75% of the LGA’s came under the control of the terrorists.
As a result, life is picking up gradually with everyone displaying cautious optimism that it could get better. Street life has also resumed with traders displaying their wares at strategic points in Maiduguri township just as commercial motorists, commuters and fun seekers are back on the streets. With the revival of social activities in the town, the Borno State Government has intensified its efforts at rebuilding the ruins and resettling the displaced who were left stranded by Boko Haram.
*Gov. Shettima recently led a powerful delegation from Borno State to the Presidential Villa to present a 10-point demand on how how to bring an end to the Boko Haram menace*
In Maiduguri itself, the town is grappling with five camps with internally displaced persons whose population is at least 1.6 million women, children and young men, whose means of livelihood rests squarely on the shoulders of the government and some kind-hearted individuals and organisations, such as the Dangote Foundation, United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The sheer number of the IDPs and the huge provisions they need daily in order to survive as humans, is a herculean task that the Borno State Government must learn to live with as long as the people find it difficult to return to their homes and communities. It is like a pain on the neck of the government which has also been solely funding over 20,000 civilian JTF fighters since 2013.
The contributions of the over 20,000 volunteers of the civilian JTF have been overwhelming in the fight against Boko Haram, which is widely acknowledged by the military, all other security stakeholders, past and incumbent federal administrations as well as residents of Borno State. The civilian JTF plays crucial roles in intelligence gathering, easy identification and arrest of suspected insurgents and supporting the military in the war fronts.
Naysayers trying to smear the governor over his handling of the Boko Haram war need a clearer understanding of events in order to grasp the correct details. They deliberately ignore the fact that in the last six years, Governor Shettima’s administration has been giving approvals for the operational vehicles and logistics, recruitment, training, payment of allowances, kitting and surveillance equipment to these over 20,000 heroes under the Civilian JTF that have given everything to the fight against Boko Haram.
Perhaps the writer forgot that back in 2013, it was Governor Shettima who drove the process of making the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to approve the operational activities of the Civilian JTF and he has remained the only one funding all their operations, including the coordination of their recruitment and deployments after clearance by the Directorate of State Services (DSS). The same Governor approves funds to support gallant members of the Civilian JTF including allocation of lands to the town houses so as to encourage them and guarantee their future.
If Abayomi was expecting brickbats and salvos between the President, Governor and the Military, it may be an endless wait as the Borno helmsman has no plan for such rooftop theatrics. According to the governor, he’s yet to criticise President Muhammadu Buhari over the insecurity challenge in the state because he is convinced that Buhari is committed to the fight against Boko Haram and he has unfettered access to the President whom he says listens and takes drastic measures when he raises security issues concerning Borno unlike the usual hurried meetings during the last administration.
While not being oblivious of Boko Haram’s recent activities in the state, Shettima prefers to walk through the official communication channel which he says is permanently available. “While we are saddened by the situation, we would prefer to inspire the citizens and military rather than become a scaremonger. I see the Commander-in-Chief at the shortest notice which is unlike previous years when I was treated as an enemy of the Presidency. I prefer to make security matters as discreet as possible,” he said during a recent summit in Government House, Maiduguri.
To some governors, the insurgency is enough reason not to fulfill electoral promises but Shettima is not one to hide under such feeble excuse. Thus, the Borno Governor has pursued his reconstruction of the ruins in the state with single minded determination. He has taken it upon himself to rehabilitate and reset development in his state. In achieving this, he has employed a most laudable and emphatic strategy: educational empowerment of Borno people. Defying the threat and ideology posed by the dreaded sect, the Kashim Shettima administration has embarked on a massive multibillion naira educational revolution in Borno State.
Under the ‘#Rebuilding Borno’ agenda of his administration, what could best be described as the greatest investment in the educational sector in any part of the country has seen the Borno State Government investing heavily in the building of 20 new mega schools, which are being built for 54,000 children orphaned as a result of insurgency in the state in its first phase. The schools which will comprise both primary and secondary schools are spread across the three senatorial districts in the state.
With a minimum of 20 classrooms that have been designed to enroll at least 2,000 pupils in each of the schools, all buildings boast of state-of-the-art facilities in classes and can best be described as sophisticated. It suffices to also state that the schools are rare works of architecture in relaxed English educational style of building. The schools are modern, yet user-friendly with sporting facilities and incorporating traditional structures. The quality of materials used from start to finish such as roofs, doors, tiles, air condition systems, lights, parapets, boards, underline the seriousness of the Shettima Administration to making life meaningful for the orphans in the state.
All schools have a nature-influenced airiness achieved with brick, lofty windows, marbles, colourful paints and sometimes terracotta. A visit to the schools underscores the seriousness with which the Borno State Government attaches to acquisition of education for the underprivileged. For instance, at the Modern Mega Orphanage School located in 202 area of Maiduguri, majestic might just be a word but it aptly captures the ecstatic beauty and ambience that characterizes the imposing structure located few meters opposite the University of Maiduguri. With separate hostels for male and female pupils, expansive dining halls, comfortable classes, common rooms, kitchen, toilets, etc, it is clear that the school which is almost 95% complete will address the dwindling fortunes of education in the state by boosting enrolment in schools.
Shettima, whose achievements in Borno State despite the challenges and setbacks caused by insurgency remain legendary and beats the imaginations of Borno people and visitors, said except the present generation of leaders look to the future and invest heavily in education, the quest for sustainable nation building would be lost. “Our vision and long term plan is to make private schools in Borno less attractive than the public schools. And the strategy for us is to ensure that the environment for learning is not only conducive and attractive but one that also adds value to the lives of the pupils there such that as they grow, they begin to appreciate society and brace up to challenge their peers from other parts of the world as the facilities we are providing are world class,” he said.
“I am particular about education as I know that it holds and remains the key to tackling poverty, emancipating people and of course creating wealth in the long run. Lessons have been learnt from the past and there will be no gaps whatsoever for anyone to take advantage of our people. And we must begin to be futuristic. If we do not invest for instance in quality education for these younger ones, imagine what the future holds for the society too. We will feed them, clothe them, accommodate them as they are our responsibilities and it will cost us funds but in the years to come I tell you, one can only look back and have contentment as the positive impact it would have would then not be measurable in terms of money spent,” Governor Shettima emphasized.
The mega schools designed to accommodate 54,000 children displaced by Boko Haram is not just an ecstatic beauty but clearly a project that depicts a paradigm shift to the ‘the new world’ in Borno’s educational strides. “We have an official number of over 54,000 orphans in Borno State. Unofficially, the orphans may number over 100,000. Half of them may be in Maidugiri. Without educating these youths, they will be monsters that will consume all of us. It is a very huge challenge but we shall overcome it,” Shettima said.
And to further ensure that the educational projects deliver the desired results, the state government, with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has trained about 7,169 teachers who are now set to take education in Borno to the admirable level. At a meeting with USAID officials recently in Maiduguri, it was revealed that the teachers had undergone tutelage in modern classroom and pupils-centered teaching methodologies in five local government areas of Borno including Biu, Jere, Kaga, Konduga and Miaduguri Metropolitan Council. The exercise was supervised and monitored by the Borno State Commissioner for Education, Musa Inuwa Kubo.
While the revolution in the education sector is no surprise at all following his promise during the submission of the then 2017 budget to the State House of Assembly wherein education got the largest share of N33billion, Governor Shettima had promised to leave no stone unturned in revamping the sector. Presenting the 2017 budget then, he had said: “Education is the sector which captures our attention the most. It is the area that has suffered the worst onslaught of the insurgents. Our experiences have shown that its inadequacy could be risky and its neglect could also be recipe for insecurity even in the future. It is for this reason that the education sector alone, excluding the primary level, is allocated N33billion for secondary and tertiary schools. The amount allocated is to enable us continue with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the educational infrastructure and facilities at the secondary and tertiary schools.”
According to the governor, the need to entrench western education in the whole country, especially the Northern region cannot be overemphasized. He said that his access to Western education saved him from being doomed to a life of abject poverty and nothingness. “If not because of our access to western education, I might have been rearing goats or been a Qur’anic scholar somewhere in Maiduguri. I am the first generation graduate of my family and that’s why my administration remains resolute in supporting western education,” he added.
As Borno’s 20 New Mega Schools for 54,000 kids orphaned by Boko Haram is celebrated across the nation by all and sundry, including experts who have described it as a potent weapon that must be advanced and utilized in neutralizing what Boko Haram stands for, it is also pertinent to call on other states to embrace the Borno example as it is proving to be a major weapon in fighting poverty, creating wealth and in the long run the much needed stability and intellect needed for the nation’s development.
While Malcolm X in one of his teachings asserted that “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” Kashim Shettima might have further chosen to spend Borno’s hard earned billions in education believing in the postulations of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher who submitted that “the roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” As the 54,000 kids orphaned by Boko Haram in Borno continue a new march to self-sustainability in life, it is important we acknowledge that the efforts by the Borno State Governor in making this possible is biggest way of tackling insurgency and not shouting on rooftop as Francis Abayomi of The Independent wants.
- Femi Ige, Managing Director of Centrepiece Media and Communications Limited, publishers of The State Magazine and The State Online (thestateonlinengr.com), writes from Abuja.