In our series of letters from African journalists, Mannir Dan Ali, who edits Nigeria’s Daily Trust paper, considers the hard task of rebuilding lives and communities now that the worst of the Boko Haram insurgency seems to be over.
Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno State covers 92,890 sq km (35,865 sq miles) – an area bigger than Portugal.
It straddles the Lake Chad region bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger and has been worst hit by the seven-year Islamist militant insurgency.
Its capital, Maiduguri, was at the epicentre of the conflict, and now hosts tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting.
Borno seems to be taking the initiative in pushing ahead in efforts to rebuild lives – and has been given a boost with pledges of help from the government and international partners.
But it is a colossal task.
World Bank figures put the cost of destruction in the affected region at nearly $6bn (£4.2bn), with more than two million people displaced.
Leaked World Bank report on Borno State destruction:
- 30% of 3.2 million private houses
- 5,335 buildings at 512 primary, 38 secondary and two tertiary institutions
- 1,630 water sources
- 1,205 administrative buildings
- 726 power sub-stations and distribution lines.
- 201 health centres
- 76 police stations
- 35 electricity offices
- 14 prison buildings
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Some people have started to trickle back to their communities, as seen in recent television reports from neighbouring Yobe state showing the residents of Buni Yadi, scene of the slaughter of 59 schoolboys, being escorted home by a posse of soldiers.
Elsewhere, roads linking some communities in what was once a stronghold of Boko Haram have been opened with soldiers escorting convoys of private vehicles several times every day.
However, those who are returning will find a scorched and flattened landscape with entire towns and villages destroyed.
The area that was home to largely farming and fishing communities was already lagging behind in terms of development – one of the reasons given for the militants’ ability to create such chaos.
Boko Haram promoted a version of Islam which made it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.
What schools, hospitals and municipal buildings there were in areas once under the group’s control have been destroyed.
Bringing back life to such a huge swathe of territory will require what some have called a Marshall Plan for the north-east, in reference to the big reconstruction plan for Europe after World War Two.
So far the federal government has set up a Victims Support Fund Committee to help raise funds to help in the reconstruction of the region.
Authorities, individuals and organisations have been called upon to contribute whatever they can to the fund, with the government making its own donation.
There is also a steady traffic of local and international groups seeing what they can do to help.
One of the recent international visitors to the north-east was Samantha Powers, the US representative to the UN, who pledged just over $20m to help Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, which have also been affected by the insurgency.
In a meeting last month with the Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, the president of the World Bank announced an $800m package for rebuilding and demining the region.
Although thankful for the help, the governor said the amount was a drop in the ocean compared to the bank’s own assessment of the devastation.
He called for more help, saying: “We need far more support from our international partners to be able to complete the rebuilding of our communities.”
Ordinary Nigerians have also been helping out through faith-based groups in providing food for displaced people and training in carpentry, tailoring and brick-making to give them some skills to resume their lives when they get back home.
The Daily Trust newspaper raised about $1m through a fundraiser to which big companies like the Dangote group donated.
The most touching effort has been the donation from ordinary people in other parts of Nigeria who have been contributing as little as a dollar or two to help their displaced compatriots.
One group has mobilised funds to rebuild the girls’ school in Chibok town, where more than 200 girls were kidnapped at the height of the insurgency two years ago and are yet to be freed.
The Borno state government has acquired tractors, combined harvesters and other farming machinery that it hopes will be put to use in many of the ambitious agricultural projects that it plans to launch with the return of peace.
With the onset of the rainy season, many have called for more basic help like improved seeds, fertiliser and simple farm implements for those going back to areas where they have not tilled their farms for several years.
Others, like the UK Department for International Development, are looking at ways to make people less susceptible to the militants’ proselytising.
A local FM radio station has been set up to keep communities informed with broadcasts in Kanuri, the language of many of Boko Haram’s members.
As funding trickles in, the overall strategy seems to be to attack the problem from several directions.
Officials hope it will result in creating an environment for the affected people to resume their lives while tackling the abysmal poverty that became a fertile ground for the ideology of Boko Haram.
More from Mannir Dan Ali:
- Should new calls for Biafra worry Nigerians?
- Does Nigeria run better without a cabinet?
- Savouring democracy in Nigeria