From: TAIWO AMODU, Abuja
In spite of the security challenge occasioned by the menacing attacks by the Boko Haram sect( western education is sin), the Borno State government has been able to make appreciable impacts on the lives of the people of the state.
Honourable Inua Bwala, Borno State Information Commissioner, made the claim at an interactive session with journalists, penultimate Friday in Abuja. Bwala enunciates developmental strides in the state, as he assures investors that Governor Kashim Shettima is committed to restoring lasting peace in the state. Bwala further alleges that the Federal Government has abandoned Borno to the macabre attacks of Boko Haram, because the state is under the control of an opposition party.
Despite the security challenges, can you tell us how your government has been able to cope in terms of delivering dividends to the people of Borno State?
We are conscious of the fact that over the years, certain things that need to be done for the state have not been done adequately. That is why our governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima on coming into office, mapped out how we can develop Borno state and we mapped out five areas of priority. Number one is agriculture. We are blessed with abundant resources and if we deploy such resources, and what we can get elsewhere, we can really develop Borno and bring it up to a modern city state. Our priority area has been agriculture.
As I speak to you, we have purchased over 1,000 tractors and distributed same to all the local government areas. We have brought in over 50 million improved seedlings for our farmers so that we can improve the yield of our local crops. We have brought in large quantities of fertilizer and other farm inputs which we hope will help us turn around the agricultural output in the state. Most importantly, we have put on ground a Task Force to turn around the agricultural fortunes of Borno state. It is headed by Engineer Ibrahim Ali, a renowned farmer, engineer and agriculturist. He along with Audu Ogbe and other prominent agriculturists are putting their heads together on how best we can invest in agriculture and maximize our yield from this investment. The second area is education. We have complained that Borno is educationally disadvantaged mainly because the infrastructure is not there.
For this, we have embarked on aggressive renovation of public schools in the hope that we can re-engineer interests of the public in public schools so we can make them compete favourably with private schools.
As it is, we are renovating 24 secondary schools. We have actually renovated all the primary schools in the state, some are even converted to model schools. We are embarking on a unique programme, which is the Songhai model in which we teach western style of education and Islamic education side-by-side and this has tended to appeal to our people because most of the schools we converted to Songhai schools are filled to capacity with student that are willing to learn.
All these are intended to turn around the education fortunes of the state realizing that uneducated youths are vulnerable to the type of crisis we are facing and we understand essentially that why our youths become vulnerable for recruit into this kind of unwholesome activities is because most of them did not have the benefit of enjoying education to a certain level that will invoke their consciences to understanding the implications of the anti-social activities they engage in.
His Excellency, the Governor is worried that at a time in a particular senatorial district, only two people qualified for enrolment into secondary school. Having realized the disadvantages our people suffer in terms of education, we are encouraging parents to come and send their children to schools through provision of incentives.
We have revolutionalized the feeding system in secondary schools. We have raised the feeding expenditure from N10 million to N100 million monthly. We have introduced a unique feeding system whereby we introduce one egg per student per day in each of the boarding schools across the state. We have also included in the meals, certain essential nutrients that are needed for a child to grow up heavy and intelligently. So, we have reviewed the contents of the meals and reviewed the costs per student per day and we have set up a Task Force to monitor the feeding so that people will not divert the funds for other purposes.
Besides agriculture and education, we have realized that there is the need to improve on the health care system. In the first 100 days of his Excellency in office, we commissioned five Health Centers equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for treatment in five different locations. These health centers were built by the previous administration and this government being an offshoot of the previous administration, we equipped them and commissioned them.
As I speak, we have embarked on the renovation of 18 other General Hospitals across different locations in the state. On one of our trips outside the country, we procured seven ambulances and some of them are more like clinic on wheels with all the equipment needed on board. We plan to deploy these ambulances to each of the senatorial zones so that we can respond to certain distress calls especially on the outbreak of epidemic.
We have also procured one X-ray equipment and a scanning machine that can only be found, may be in the National Hospital. We want to install one in Maiduguri metropolis and the other in Biu. We shall also train some of our staff on the use of these equipments. Unlike before, the out-of-stock syndrome associated with drugs is a thing of the past. You get all the drugs you require at subsidized price in every hospital including cottage hospitals. On poverty alleviation, we discovered that part of our problem is unemployment particularly among our women.
This is the most vulnerable group. As at today, we have commissioned six Skills Acquisition Centers in all parts of the state so that at the end of the training, we can accommodate some of them into the civil service and the rest can be encouraged to set up business of their own and even employ people. We believe that by the time we take off 50,000 youths from Maiduguri metropolis and get them gainfully employed, greater percentage of the problems of youth unemployment and redundancy on the streets will be significantly addressed.
That drives us back to agriculture; we intend to partner with the Chad Basin Development Authority and Hadejia Jamare River Basin Development Agency by providing 10,000 hectares in the Chad Basin area and 7,000 hectares in the Hadejia – Jamare area and on these, we intend to employ not less than 22,000 youths who we shall provide with all the seedlings and farm input they need and at the end of their harvest, we intend to mop-up their harvest so that we can empower them. You can see that at the end of the three years of this administration, we would have deployed our energy and resources to the restoration of peace.
We have been collaborating with the federal government in trying to see how we can find a solution to the security situation we have been facing in Borno state. Part of the misfortunes we have been facing is the dwindling resources of the state as a result of the security challenges and insurgency.
But as a government, since we don’t have the wherewithal to compel cease fire, that is why we have always insisted on dialogue and the federal government has seen the need to go into that. Government and our people have seen that we have no cause, as brothers and sisters, to take up arms against each other because at the end of the day, we are the ones to be affected.
The greatest threat of this insecurity is that our future productive force is being wiped out because greater number of the people engaged in this thing and the victims are very young people. Having realized that the future productive force is being threatened, we have come up to aggressively pursue this part to dialogue. We have been talking to our elders, religious leaders, community leaders and traditional rulers to see how we can reach out to some of our people who feel aggrieved by certain past policies so that we can sit down and find a solution. Borno has always been known as a home of peace. I think it is very sad that Borno is in the news, not for good either. Regrettable as it is, the government is determined to achieve peace.
His Excellency is so passionate about this issue of peace that every time he talks about it, you can see sadness in his face. There are times when tears stream down his face, especially when he visits sites of these devastations by this crisis. So, I may not tell you the technical details of what we are doing to achieve peace in Borno state as we have decided not to take it to public gallery but I assure you that we are not only burning the night candles; we are also wearing out the soles of our shoes and the tyres of our cars in trying to reach out to see how we can achieve peace in Borno state and the governor is passionate about this and is the arrow head in this effort.
We come in only as support personnel to actualizing his lofty dreams he unfolded at his inauguration as the executive governor. Given all that you have said, how come that Borno was described as a failed state by top personalities like General T. Y. Danjuma and some others? Unfortunately, some of the comments and views held about Borno were over-exaggerated, they do not capture the real situation on ground.
And some of these people who criticize Borno state are people who have not and may never visit Borno state and they may never understand what is going on there. Very often, you find people on television who do not even understand our sensibilities discussing the situation in Borno. We cannot pretend that we do not have a situation in Borno state but I have always said that Borno is not the worst case scenario in this matter. It may have lingered on but you will agree with me that when it happens in other places, in one fell swoop, the casualty far out-number what happens in Borno state over time. Unless we regard it as a national problem capable of affecting any part of this country with every Nigerian capable of falling victim, we will be missing the point. I want us to look at it as part and parcel of this country. Borno is after all, part and parcel of this country, a federating unit and so, it should not be treated as a pariah.
Rather, we should be given a fair hearing, be encouraged. We expect Nigerians to share in the plight of our people; to sympathize with us; to come to us and see what we are going through so that as Nigerians we can collectively proffer solutions to it. Our hearts bleed, when elder statesmen who we would want to respect, make remarks that cannot be substantiated scientifically. Globally, there are indices of failed state and there is none indicative of Borno state.
And so, as much as we do not want to join issues with people who say Borno has failed or is failing, we want to state that Borno is working and Borno is up and doing and we are going to come out of this crises better than when we had not gone into the crises. The Borno star will shine again. It is not for any reason that Borno is referred to as the Home of Peace. We can beat our chest anywhere and say that Borno people are very peaceful people but so many factors have culminated into the problems we are facing and part of the problems included the failure of leadership at all times including those who think that we are not doing enough.
I challenge them to say what they have done for Nigeria to forestall the occurrence of what is happening today. So, we expect fair comments from Nigerians; we deserve sympathy from Nigerians and more importantly, we expect useful inputs from Nigerians on how we can resolve this problem and not being condemned to doom as is the case with some people and elders.
The comments by the elders that the governors are power drunk and they don’t respect anybody. Could that inform why the meeting that was convened in the zone, was shunned by your governor?
If that is the rule in some other places, Borno is an exception. I have worked with some other governors but I have never seen a governor so simple, so intelligent, so pragmatic, so respectful and so passionate about the development of his state like my present governor, with due apologies to all those I have worked with before. So, I don’t want to say my governor shunned the meeting. Given the weight of the problems we are facing, there are times when he cannot leave the state to attend such functions because we have a lot more problems at home to attend to.
But, we sent a very powerful delegation to that meeting and we made very useful input into the discussions of that meeting and the outcome of that meeting will be made available for us to see where we can come in. We fully identify with any initiative anywhere that will bring peace in Borno and in the region in particular. So, it is wrong to say our governor shunned that meeting. By the time that meeting came in, our governor has already scheduled another important meeting, we are not saying that meeting is more important, but, when you make commitments much earlier than others, you have to be at a place at a time; you cannot be in all the places at the same time.
But the fact that we sent a powerful delegation to that meeting tells you that we share in some of their beliefs.
Could you quantify what the state has lost over the period of the crisis ?
I don’t have the figures but it will be uncharitable if I say the state has not lost much in terms of Naira and Kobo. Every economic activity has been reduced at least by half. Banks that had daily turnover of minimum of N150 million per day are now netting about N50 million per day. Traders that used to sell goods of more than N10 million to N20 million per day now sell between N5 million and N7 million per day. Certain areas where businesses were thriving, out of fear, have also been reduced. So, coupled with those who may have been affected one way or the other, the picture being painted of Borno state by some people outside, at times are so scary that you find willing visitors not willing to come forward. But the governor is making passionate contacts with multi-nationals and that is why they are still coming in.
Some of the roads are being constructed by Chinese companies; some of the state-owned companies: United Shoe Factory (very soon we mop up all the hides used during the Sallah for use by this factory), the Borno Clay Industry is back on stream, the Borno Bags and Plastic Industry is back on stream. As I talk, five Borno state-owned companies are fully back on stream and they employ not less than 10,000 youths. So, we are being proactive in resolving this crisis . We want the Federal Government to make special intervention in our case by providing us with special funds so we can re-fix Borno state. We have great potentials and we are ready to partner with the federal government but we are not also going to pretend we do not have challenges.
But I want to tell you that Borno is not as terrible as people paint the picture outside.
With the story of Boko Haram dropping the names of prominent personalities to mediate on their behalf and the unfolding drama, would you appeal to these personalities and the Federal Government to talk so that this thing can end and what about parents who do not want their children to come to Borno for NYSC?
We want to appeal to them that so far as I talk to you, there is no school in Borno, secondary or tertiary school that has been attacked.
You may recall that in the wake of this crisis, some institutions, including tertiary institutions were hurriedly closed down in the fear that they were going to be attacked. As I talk with you, nothing has happened in these institutions till date. Primary schools that were attacked during the period, we were made to understand, were not attacked actually by these insurgents. There are three main proponents of the so called Boko Haram.
We know that we have Boko Haram, our own brothers who have certain ideological disagreement with us, as a result they took vengeance on certain individuals and institutions that they perceive to be against their interest at a particular point. That’s the actual Boko Haram. But this thing, [the sects attacks] is now political and that’s why the greater number of people being killed today are from a particular political party, they are all from ANPP. General Muhammed Shuwa was a member of ANPP, all of them are from the ANPP, there is no single PDP member that has been killed today. So, even if it were a coincidence, we are of the conviction that this thing has very serious political undertone. Politicians now find Boko Haram, a perfect alibi to commit all sorts of crime.
Armed robbers find Boko Karam, a perfect alibi to loot and attacks banks; businessmen who have disagreement with their business fellows find Boko Haram a perfect alibi to unleash terror on their business partners, to the extent that you cannot clearly define, which one is Boko Haram, which one isn’t. Even this offer for ceasefire as much as we are very enthusiastic towards it, as much as we want to embrace it, we still have our suspicion, because he who comes to equity, must come with clean hands.
You have stated your terms, allow the federal government, or whoever it is to produce the team that they feel can adequately represented them, because the mention of names as subsequent negotiators have far reaching implication and that’s why some of them are opting out. I agree that those who have been mentioned so far, as possible negotiators are very eminent Nigerians. But then, one cannot say that some of these demands, is actually from Boko Haram, but from some other people who want to use Boko Haram, as an alibi.
Boko Haram has a modus operandi, one of which is that, at venue of their press conferences, you see display of Arabic inscriptions, which is what they believe in and one of their principal demands has always been the enforcement of Sharia, in some states, even across the federation. That was missing in the last offer for ceasefire.
Boko Haram, often addressed in Hausa; the last address was in English! So, sometimes when you begin to read between lines, you find it very difficult to understand which one is coming from them and which one is coming from some other sources. So, doubt has already been cast on it, but as a government, we believe in dialogue, whoever comes to us for dialogue, so be it, even if it is coming from those who aren’t actually Boko Haram, we will embrace it.
Recently the Amnesty International alleged that there were high level of human rights abuses from the security agents, which the federal government has denied. What is the state government position?
Well, from all I know, the Amnesty International hasn’t accused the Borno State government of either maltreating or engaging in extra-judicial killings. Amnesty International hasn’t in any way implicated Borno State government in any activity that is unwholesome in trying to bring peace to Borno State. So, it isn’t for us to respond to what Amnesty International is saying. It is left for agencies so accused to defend themselves and explain to the world that what Amnesty International said were out of tune to what is actually happening.
Have you made efforts to reach senior citizens of this country, particularly from the North to come to the state, see things for themselves—in a way that will give moral support to the people and government of the state?
You see, I want to be fair to the President, the Vice-President, the Senate president, the Speaker and all federal government top officials, who have failed to come to Borno state, but I will not justify their action, because Borno is part and parcel of Nigeria. Incidents of less intensity has happened in other places and they were there and they have assisted them.
Because the problem is taking place in Borno state doesn’t take away the fact that we are part of Nigeria and we are entitled to such privileges enjoyed by every Nigerian, no matter the situation. So, if as a child they think it is our own misbehavior that is causing this problem, you don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. They should have shown concern, even for political reason. Our impression is that we are being given this treatment, because we are in an opposition political party, otherwise we expect the president to have gone there; we expect at least the vice-president to have gone there and showed sympathy with the plight of our people.
Even the Senate President and the Speaker, all of whom are northerners! As I speak with you, except for different missions, we haven’t received FG official from the rank of minister that has visited Borno State, specifically to assess the situation and advise the government on what needs to be done on the Borno situation. So, we feel sad that our President hasn’t visited us, but we are hoping that some day, he will find reason to come over.
We don’t have to tell them their obligations to their citizens. We don’t have to remind them that Borno needs their attention, but what we are saying is that, if they do come over they will realize that we have sufficient justifications to ask for special fund from the federal government to assist Borno State.