The Victims Support Fund (VSF) an initiative of the Presidency to aid victims of terrorism helped with reconstruction work in Bama, Borno state, northeast Nigeria. The unveiling and commissioning was Tuesday this week 16 May. I was invited by VSF to observe and relay an unedited and unsupervised report of what I saw and experienced, so I accepted and went along.
On Monday 15 May, we left Abuja at 1:50 pm, arrived in Maiduguri at 2:50 pm and were taken to our accommodation ahead of the next day. The next day I along with the team of journalist, blogger and others were ready as earlier as 7:00 am. At 9:20 am we were taken to Government House Maiduguri where everyone on the entourage ie the team from VSF, officials of Borno state government, security officials, etc met. Governor Kashim Shettima later came down to welcome us all. After then we were informed to get ready as we were to take off for Bama soon.
We left Maiduguri at 10:50 am in a motorcade of up to 100 vehicles, amidst tight security provided by the military, police, SSS, civil defence, Civilian JTF, the every security agency available. It was a deserted road, we could travel stretches of up to 30 kilometers without sighting any human being on house, all have been destroyed and deserted. We arrived in Bama at 12:30 pm and went straight to the reconstructed local government secretariat.
Dr Sunday Ochoche, Executive Director, VSF said reconstruction of the local government secretariat was a top priority due to its strategic importance in ensuring that governance returned to the grassroots. He urged the local government Chairman, his Council, and entire staff of the the local government to reciprocate VSF’s gesture by returning to take possession of their secretariat and commence providing work. He this in itself would encourage Bama residents to return to commence rebuilding a normal life.
Next we went to Kayamari Primary School, which is one among the 8 reconstructed schools in Bama. Dr Ochoche confirmed that Bama is VSF’s largest project so far, even though they are in the process of commencing reconstruction of 16 primary schools, 4 each in Damboa, Hawul, Chibok, and Askira-Uba local government areas. However he assured all that VSF’s intervention to support reconstruction and resettlement would not end in Borno alone be would extend to the entire northeast states affected by the insurgency, and even beyond. Generel T.Y. Danjuma (rtd) who is the Chairman of VSF, represented on the trip by Tijannu Tumsah, the Vice Chairman emphasised VSF’s goal in partnering with state governments in not only commencing but successfully completing all projects to provide succour for returning victims.
Governor Kashim Shettima conceded that Bama was the worst hit in this insurgency war, as 80-90% of infrastructure both public and private were destroyed. ‘Our goal is to confront the most difficult challenge in a bold manner so that our task becomes less’, he said. The purpose of this unveiling of projects in Bama was to enable residents to return home and resettle before the commencement of Ramadan which is within the next 2 weeks, but it’s clear this may not be possible due to very clear and present security concerns. Bama remains very unsafe.
Babagana Umaru, the Commissioner, Ministry of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement (RRR) was visibly excited and grateful to VSF for their support. He confirmed that 4 months ago the Borno state government launched the programme to reconstruct 11 public infrastructure, VSF was kind to support the endeavour with procurement of building materials at 295 million naira, and another 73 million naira for labour costs, making a total of 368 million naira. The 11 projects are: the local government secretariat, 8 primary schools (with 42 classroom blocks 4 of which were constructed from scratch, 42 offices and a library), Bama Cultural Centre, and a police station. The Commissioner further appealed to VSF to help with reconstruction of private homes as virtually all have been destroyed.
From there we went to the Shehu’s Place fully reconstructed by the state government, which was our last destination. We saw other reconstruction projects being carried out by Dangote Foundation most of which are almost completed. We left Bama at 4:15 pm and arrived back in Maiduguri at 7:00 pm. It took us 3 hours because we stopped at every checkpoint to show solidarity with our security forces manning them. The next day, Wednesday 17 May we left Maiduguri at 3:40 pm and arrived in Abuja at 4:45 pm.
What I Saw on the Trip to Bama
VSF did a very good job and are willing to do more if they get the cooperation of the concerned state governments. Both its Chairman speaking through its Vice Chairman, Tijanni Tumsah, and the Executive Director, Dr Sunday Ochoche not only said so repeatedly, but demonstrated it, and I have cause to believe them. The VSF team I saw was very coordinated and professional. Everything was well planned and well executed, no stories. VSF has also been transparent in its handling of finances which is rare. This too is commendable.
Bama is a ghost town. The insurgency is far from being over as we are made to believe. I am from Borno, I have been to Borno and the northeast in general often and innumerable times in the past few years, but I have never been impacted as I was this time. From this trip I have more respect for our men and women in uniform and for the sacrifices they make day and night to keep us safe. The men and women in uniform deserve far better than what they are getting, as what is meant for them is certainly not reaching them. They are overstretched and need to be replaced regularly.
The counterinsurgency war is far from being over. Even though our motorcade had up to 100 vehicles half of which were manned by armed security personnel yet the fear was palpable. It is amidst this that VSF risked having this reconstruction work go on.
Borno state government must stop hiding the truth about the real situation on the ground. Covering up will help nobody, opening up will help everybody. We can get more understanding, sympathy, and therefore more support. Bama residents have to rise up to the occasion and rally themselves together from the Shehu of Bama, to all traditional and religious leaders, all eminent sons and daughters, politicians of all divides to community leaders, opinion leaders, youth, even children. They have to be bold to take back Bama their town and local government area, with the full backing of the state. They have to organise themselves to fight back. The military and others have done so much. The residents are the ones who know the terrain inside out. Otherwise VSF’s investment will be a waste.
The state government has to come clean with their finances. Everybody knows VSF spent 368 million naira, how much did Borno state government spend? Who can verify? The state and all 27 local government areas have been steadily receiving their statutory allocations from the federation account, how have these been used? Transparency as this demonstrated by VSF helps in getting more support. I also don’t think VSF should support the reconstruction of private homes, but should focus on public infrastructure for the greater public good.