Borno will bounce back within one or two years of post-insurgency – Shettima

Borno will bounce back within one or two years of post-insurgency – Shettima
December 30 11:08 2015 Print This Article

Governor Kashim Shettima bared his mind in a recent chat with journalists in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Simple, humble, down-to-earth and straight to the point. Our Correspondent, Modu Daudu, was there.

How have you been coping with the devastating activities of the insurgents in Borno State?

Honestly, how I am coping is a secondary issue; what is more important is how the over six million people of Borno state are coping. People who even in the best of times were poor and now further pauperised by the Boko Haram insurgency. Parents were killed, their sons and daughters slaughtered by some demented monsters who were trying to impose their alien ideologies on the beleaguered people of Borno, who have turned from givers to beggars; who have been rendered homeless; orphaned, widowed – my heart goes out to them.

Honestly I do not care about my feelings, security or my comfort; but I am more concerned about the welfare of those directly affected, those victims who are in pains; how we can get them back on their feet, this is the issue before us.

We have one thousand years of recorded history – I believe that there is silver lining in the horizon; I believe that we shall very soon get out of our problems especially with successes in ongoing counter insurgency operations. It is not easy; yes we have won the first phase of the war; but the battle is still on. The insurgents have melted into the hinterland. Two days ago , they went and killed 25 people in Kwajaffa; and they have refocused their energy now towards the periphery of Sambisa, from there they have been launching attacks on Askira Uba local government, they killed quite a number of people in Chul village; they have attacked several other communities along the corridors. But by the grace of God, we shall get out of it.

Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima

Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima

What specific things are you putting on ground to address the perennial issue of insurgency in the state?

Well! We have from day one made support for the security agencies our number one priority. We have inspired our sons to support the military; we have trained, equipped and employed them and they are working.

We have created a strong political will, we coordinate community involvement in fighting insurgency and we provide modest leadership. When there were strong fears that Maiduguri was to be attacked in December last year, I flew into the city from the UK where I was on an official trip to be with the people of Borno State who had nowhere to run to. And this was against security advice. I was ready to go through whatever it was with them whether to die or survive.

I had mentally bid farewell to my children when I decided to come into Maiduguri that day because the fears were so intense that Boko Haram insurgents were coming in through Konduga. I didn’t want to be remembered as a governor that abandoned his people to their fate. It is better to die for something than to live for stupidity, die a coward and be remembered as one.

Luckily, the military and the volunteered youths worked very hard. Citizens prayed ceaselessly and with Allah’s help, the insurgents were repelled from entering Maiduguri which is the most populated and responsible for coordinating counter insurgency operations. But the most important thing now is that hope springs from our hearts.

I am by nature, an eternal optimist. My candid believe is that tough times do not last forever but tough people do. I believe that we have a people that have the resilience and the indomitable will to chart a peaceful course. I want to assure you that the government and the people of Borno state will continue to partner with the security agencies in bringing everlasting peace to this part of the world. I cannot but commend security agencies, the army in particular for their unflinching commitments towards restoring peace in our fatherland. The challenges we face also provide us with an opportunity for social re-engineering; to reposition our state to meet the challenges of the future.

I hardly get four hours of sleep each day, because of the problems that confront us. The Chibok girls are still missing; the challenges are still not over. We have over million refugees in the city of Maiduguri alone. We have 276, 000 registered refugees in over 20 IDP camps within Maiduguri while thousands more are taking shelter with families and friends. So, the challenges are daunting, but I want to assure you that we are equal to the task.

We are willing to marshal whatever resources we have. We are determined; we are focused and absolutely committed to the transformation of our state in spite of the challenges confronting us.

Are there any efforts being put in place beyond what we have heard in the past towards rescuing the abducted Chibok school girls?

The Chibok girls issue is really very sad; no responsible parent would be happy with what happened to those poor girls. I am a father of two little daughters. Any time I look into the eyes of any of my daughters, I tend to fight to hold back tears because I remember that girls like them born and so dearly loved by their parents like me are missing, and worst of all in the hands of people that love to kill. It is one issue that has caused so much heartache not only for the parents of the girls, or the people of Borno, but the people of Nigeria as a whole. It is so sad.

Last year, when I read an account of one of the parents of the missing girls, I couldn’t sleep all night long because he said he would prefer to pick up the corpse of his daughter and bury her than have her in the hands of some misguided vandals who do not have limits to what they can do. Imagine a father preferring to see his daughter’s corpse? Look at how leader of the insurgents said he wanted to sell the girls into slavery, that some were married off etc. It is disturbing because their capabilities for committing heinous crimes are beyond human comprehension.

But like I said earlier, hope springs eternally from the heart of men. Only an insane parent will give up on a missing child. We believe quite passionately and realistically that these poor girls would be found. We have been working hard with some international agencies towards their rehabilitation, trauma management and how they can be made to pick up the pieces of their lives once we get them. We believe that at the risk of compromising their safety, the hopeful assessment of most security agencies is that probably they may be in the Sambissa forest which is very large. Hitherto we heard they were being held around the Gwoza and Damboa axis.

For now, Damboa, especially the township, has been recovered and is relatively safe. Gwoza has been recaptured, so our hopeful assessment is that probably the girls are in the Sambisa forest and it is our belief and prayers that they would be found in good shape – the most important thing is to get them alive; and alive we shall get them in shaa Allah.

There was this initial scepticism from the centre that the abduction may not have been true. Does that perception and attitude concerning the girls help in their continued stay in captivity?

You are quite right. Vital hours were lost soon after the attack. Hours that may have paid off if the search for the girls was vigorously done. For about two or three days they were at the bank of a river and some of the commanders were said to have gone into the hinterlands of Sambisa to get directives from their masters. That could have been a golden opportunity for us to recover the girls. But scepticism and sheer indifference really compounded our problems. Some were even compounding theories that it was the Borno state government that abducted the girls and kept them in the Government House. I found it quite amusing; why should we abduct our daughters for whatever political gains and keep them in the Government House? After all, I am surrounded by policemen, who are not answerable to me. They are the employees of the federal government. I have security aides who are the DSS that are from the federal government; so how is it conceivable to connive with Kashim Shettima to score some cheap political goals by abducting those girls and keeping?

But there is no need to cry over spilt milk. It took some time for the federal government to invite us over the issue. Even when I was invited, I was really delighted that at last, some solutions would be proffered as to how to rescue these girls. But it was amazing that the whole crux of the meeting was geared towards scapegoating. The Commissioner for Education, the principal of the School and others were being railroaded to make phantom confessions which were alien to our knowledge.

It is not all about engaging in unnecessary accusation but the rescue of the girls is much more important than the blame game that was played out in the villa. What is important is what we can do to bring back these girls. We have succeeded in rehabilitating the 56 girls that escaped. The state government has committed N100 million for their education in some of the best schools in the country so that they can get their full potentials. These girls, like many of us here, are from the humblest of backgrounds; some are the first generation girls to be educated in their families.

So, we will do whatever it takes to see that the remaining girls are rescued; and once they are recovered, we will spend whatever resources to ensure that they are rehabilitated.

Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima

Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima

The economy of Borno state has been affected as a result of the insurgency which necessitated the closure of borders and firms in the state. What plans do you have to revive the ailing economy?

We have some grand strategies. In fact, in the past, we had a couple of summits where we invited some best brains like Obadia Mailafiya, Audu Ogbeh and Ibrahim Ali to make inputs towards coming up with a comprehensive strategy of reviving the economy of the state. Before the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency and at a point in time, we were the highest cash processing unit of a bank nationwide. At that time, we were processing nearly a billion Naira daily. In a month we were processing a minimum of about N20 billion which gives an indication of the level of economic activities in the state.

Borno is the gateway to the Central African Republic; Borno is just a day’s journey to some of the troubled spots in Africa; if you leave Maiduguri in the morning with a good car, in spite of the terrible roads, you will be in Juba in the evening; you can reach Bangui the capital of Central Africa by 5pm or 6pm. N’djamena, the Chadian capital is few hours from Maiduguri. So, Borno is the economic nerve centre, not only of the north-east Nigeria, but of the Northern part of the country and the Central Africa as well.

With a good framework, with a marshal action that we will draw in partnership with the federal government, believe me within a year or two, we hope to bounce back. We plan to organize what we called Borno Reality and Prospects Summit mainly as a post-insurgency strategy for reconstruction, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims. That summit will bring all sons and daughters of Borno under one roof to take critical look at Borno given the insurgency we have suffered and develop a marshal plan that will require us presenting to the incoming APC Federal Government and also seek all the support we can get from international donor agencies like the Qatar and Kuwait foundation and others in Europe and America.

We have focus as a government, but we want to get varied and maybe superior opinion from others because Borno has sons with serious goodwill and contacts that we need to tap from in order to put the state and its people on the path of sustainable growth and progress.

What specific areas do you intend to develop in order to achieve your targets?

Commerce and agriculture are the mainstay of the Borno economy. Once peace is fully restored, we have to revive some of our companies that are in comatose. We have invested over N30 billion in modern agriculture; that is why agriculture is the centrepiece of our government. Of course, entrepreneurial capitalism is embedded in the psyche of our people. About 80 percent of our people are farmers, but they do more or less subsistent farming using hoes and cutlasses. This is sad because more than hundred years ago, the average of Borno man from the mountains of Biu to the shores of the Lake Chad practice agriculture using hoe and cutlasses. Up till now, 80 percent of our people are still using the rudimentary tools like hoe and cutlasses to eke a very meagre existence. We want to be on the forefront of change; we want to be agents of change so that our people will get out of lowest rung of the ladder of development and out of poverty.

We are fully prepared, and luckily for us we now have an APC central government led by General Buhari who has traced his ancestry to Kukawa town of Borno state. He has had the opportunity to serve as the governor of old north-east. And later when north-east was balkanised into Gongola, Bauchi and Borno states, he served as the governor of Borno state. He knows the terrain, he appreciates our problems and definitely, we are going to partner with the APC led federal government to address some of these issues.

Your administration has renovated and constructed some classrooms in schools across the state but the activities of the insurgents have practically brought everything to ground zero. How do you intend to revisit this school issue?

This is rather a tough question for me. But I disagree with the point that the education sector is near zero level; I think you have grossly overrated the bad situation here. Yes, it is absolutely true we have challenges; but we have a robust framework. Once peace is established, we are going to pick up from the pieces of our lives and restore education to its enviable status.

It pains me so much because most of us are from the humblest of backgrounds; and it is because most of us have access to public schools that is why we are who we are today. Posterity will judge us harshly if we allow the public schools to collapse. I will say with all sense of modesty that what we have spent on education in the last three and half years were not spent by the last three governments before us. We have renovated public schools than the ones renovated by the governments of Mala Kachalla and Ali Sheriff fused together.

We have sent our teachers to India to learn the modern Kayan technology and using projectors to teach in secondary schools. We have increased funds for feeding of our students from N20 million to N100 million every month.

Today, students get very nutritious meals and all of you can bear witness. I often pay visits to school kitchens unannounced and I go with journalists. We have set up a quality assurance team to monitor standards in our public schools. We have invested about $3 million on the Kayan technology alone – all geared towards addressing the issue of education. But, I want to assure you that with re-emerging peace, we are going to address our problems soon.

What is your assessment of the federal government’s Safe-School-Initiative in Borno state?

I am sorry to say that the project like most projects of the federal government in Borno state is more of hype than action. We have been attending several meetings but there is nothing on ground to show for it. We believe that things are in the pipeline and will start yielding dividends very soon.

We understand that your administration has trained youths on various skills and some of them have already been engaged on interlocking business. But there are some that have also acquired such skills that have not been assisted to start up their trade. What plans do you have for these trained youths?

It is frightening when I move around the city of Maiduguri and see the mass of humanity jostling for attention and material benefit. Nigeria is expected to double its population every 22 years; by 2035 we are expected to hit the 400 million mark. Nigeria is expected to be more populous than the United States of America by 2050. It is projected that Nigeria will be the 3rd or 4th most populous nation on earth.

Given these projections, I think it is in the interest of the elite to help the masses. There is more to life than primitive capital accumulation; there is more to leadership than stealing public funds and stocking them in Swiss bank accounts.

I have said repeatedly that if we truly desire to live in this part of the world, we have no option than to work for the people. For us in Borno state, we have no business being poor. Borno state is the largest state in the Nigeria in terms of land mass. And land is the most important of all resources. We are 20 times the size of Lagos; We are 14 times the size of Abia state; we are three times the size of the north-eastern region fused into one. With proper guidance and investment, especially in agriculture, we can help our people on a sustainable basis.

We have the intention and capacity to do it as a government but we have not been able to reel our programmes out because of insecurity. The issue of the interlocking business by the youths is just an emergency measure to keep the youths off anti-social activities. Our major focus is in agriculture and we intend to address youth unemployment through agriculture. We have bought so much technology that would be reeled out after the election.

On the issue of support for the trained youths, after their training, especially in Thailand and India, we directed a cooperative bank to ensure some of them get access to loans between half and a million naira depending on their proposals in order to enable them start their businesses. And we encouraged them to form cooperatives so that they jointly own the outfits. Some did very well, by engaging in cattle fattening, fish farming etc; but some diverted the loans to other use outside their business proposals. This made us to have a rethink, that going forward, government would come in kind and not in cash.

So, we will provide them with the tools and probably some capital to take-off than giving them freedom and discretion to invest. We spent over N69 million to train them in Thailand so that they too can come and train others. We will not waste our money anyhow. We assure the trainees that we will partner with them despite their mistakes. We currently have nearly 100 ladies sent for medical training abroad and on full scholarship to address a serious deficit in female medical doctors in the state. The insurgency has been a major distraction to us but we ‎will get out of it in shaa Allah.