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Addressing the Crisis in the North-East

The Buhari Plan must embody the vision of leap-frogging the poverty of the zone with a medium-term strategy of transforming the lives of the people for the better. Boko Haram has also set out to close access to education for the people in the zone. In this context, accelerating equal access to quality education for girls, as well as boys…is an imperative.

On Wednesday, the president inaugurated the 21-member Presidential Committee on North East Initiatives (PCNI). The Committee chaired by General T.Y. Danjuma will be the apex coordinating body for all interventions in the region including those by the public, private, national and international development partners. The Committee is domiciled in the Presidency and is charged with responsibility for developing the strategy and implementation framework for rebuilding the North-East region. The PCNI is a special purpose vehicle with a life span of three years after which the North East Development Commission currently being debated in the National Assembly will takeover the relay.

The devastation to human lives and livelihoods by the insurgency in the North-East has been terrible, with over 20,000 persons killed and at least 2.4 million persons displaced. Many humanitarian intervention efforts – national and international – have worked over time to assist in coping with the task of bringing succour to the region and the interventions are becoming anarchic, with different partners devising interventions and areas of work without coordination or direction. It is in this context that the PCNI would play a key role in bringing order and efficiency into the process.

The Danjuma Committee has already developed a comprehensive plan – known as the Buhari Plan – for the restoration of peace, social and economic recovery and the development of the North-East zone. The Plan sets out to reverse the devastating conditions created by the seven-year actions of Boko Haram. The PCNI would provide synergy, leadership and direction to the various initiatives in the zone run by governments, international development partners, charitable organisations and civil society.

The first challenge facing the committee is that of providing humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and resettlement of affected communities – IDPs, refugees and host communities – in the North-East, on the basis of a clear action plan and time frame. Secondly, as the military concludes the process of degrading the capacity of Boko Haram to continue to inflict harm, there has to be coordination with civilian authorities in advancing the the stabilisation and peace building process. The biggest challenge the Committee would face from day-one is that of urgency. Displaced persons are already returning to their destroyed communities; some of the places have been mined and some water sources have been poisoned. Accompanying and facilitating the return process is therefore a massive effort that has to be addressed immediately.

The North-East is the poorest zone in the country and our ambition as a nation has to go beyond “restoring” the zone to its previous level of poverty. The Buhari Plan must embody the vision of leap-frogging the poverty of the zone with a medium-term strategy of transforming the lives of the people for the better. Boko Haram has also set out to close access to education for the people in the zone. In this context, accelerating equal access to quality education for girls, as well as boys, and building social cohesion in the zone is an imperative. Promoting a civic culture that promotes peaceful co-existence must be the strategic goal of the interventions.

The changes in Lake Chad itself have had serious effects on people’s livelihoods and ways of life. Not only has the shrinkage in the lake resulted in collapsed fisheries but also a lack of water locally contributes to the failure of crops, the death of livestock, and a rise in poverty levels throughout the region.

The Buhari Plan has placed utmost priority on resolving the challenges in the North-East by first and foremost ending the war as a prelude to a more effective handling of the humanitarian crisis and implementation of a co-ordinated rehabilitation and resettlement programme. It is in this context that a solid peace-building, reconciliation and de-radicalisation framework; effective reconstruction of social and physical infrastructure; and the deployment of a development strategy that applies advanced knowledge of post conflict redevelopment have been developed. The commitment of the state governments, private sector, the support of international development partners and of local partners such as domestic Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is very important in this regard. As the implementation process is rolled out, community engagement has to be intricately woven into the delivery of PCNI’s programmes. Key stakeholders and influencers in communities must be identified and made part of the process of seeking solutions.

For the long-term recovery of the zone, the restoration of Lake Chad is an important project, even if its feasibility is doubtful. With a former extensive pasture, fertile land and rich fish stocks, Lake Chad has constituted an important economic and environmental area for the states on its borders – Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroun. Climatic conditions have strongly affected Lake Chad and it has been shrinking dramatically since the 1960s. In 1963, the lake’s surface area was roughly 25,000 sq. km. By 2001 it had shrunk to only 1,350 sq. km. Its important to note that changing climate patterns are responsible for only about 50 percent of the decrease in the surface area of Lake Chad. The rest of the reduction is due to human activities and water use. High population growth rate, the construction of dams, and the development of irrigated agriculture in the last four decades have all been contributory factors. Research carried out over the last four decades shows that the main factors in the lake’s shrinkage are: significant overgrazing in the region, resulting in the disappearance of vegetation and serious deforestation, all of which contribute to a drier climate. In addition, Lake Chad has comprised a key freshwater source for irrigation projects in many of the countries it straddles – Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun. The solution is not therefore a simple one of refilling the lake with water. A new approach based on ecological sustainability is necessary.

The changes in Lake Chad itself have had serious effects on people’s livelihoods and ways of life. Not only has the shrinkage in the lake resulted in collapsed fisheries but also a lack of water locally contributes to the failure of crops, the death of livestock, and a rise in poverty levels throughout the region. The soil is also affected, becoming more saline and thereby less fertile. Water scarcity and the reduction of fish stocks ultimately give rise to food insecurity, migrations, poverty and social conflicts.

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A strategy for restoring Lake Chad, as far as possible, is of critical importance for the Lake Chad Basin as a whole and North-East Nigeria in particular. The president is committed to the idea of the Water Transfer Project from the Ubangi River in Central African Republic to Lake Chad, as a regional priority project. The project is expected to cost over $14 billion. The idea of channelling a section of the Congo River towards Lake Chad was first proposed by Italian engineers in 1929, when grand geo-transformative projects like dams and huge canals were in vogue. Today, there is no State in the Central African Republic to even begin the process of negotiations and the river channels through Cameroon have already been dammed. The hurdles of the environmental impact assessment of both basins – Congo and Chad may also be insurmountable. Lake Chad and its tributaries form an important water reservoir in the central Sahel region. Nigeria may need to focus on what it can do. A small amount of Lake Chad’s water comes from the Yobe River. The Komadugu-Yobe River Basin is formed of various tributaries, particularly the Jama’are River which flows from the Jos Plateau and would be damned at Kafin Zaki and the Hadejia River, which flows from the area around Kano where it had already been damned at Tiga and Challawa Gorge. Lets see what we can do with our own part of the problem.


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