The news releases from Nigeria’s military are beginning to talk about clearing out “remnants” of Boko Haram. While this in no way implies a final end of the terror group and the dislocation they caused to the people living in the northeast of the country, it nonetheless marks a turning point in restoring order to the region. One will talk of remnants only after the main body of the group and the threat it posed to Nigeria have been neutralised.
Evidence of the progress made in taming Boko Haram is in the group’s resort to aiming for soft targets and even this dimension has been largely tamed. Many of its Amirs, commanders, have been killed, arrested or surrendered. Its fighting militants have been pushed into enclaves and it is only a matter of time before something gives along the lines of surrendering, being arrested or killed.
But what lies ahead when Nigeria is able to announce a final victory over Boko Haram? No doubts, drawing from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other places that have battled fundamentalists, there is the reality that terrorists and the cells they have created do not just vanish back into the thin air. There remains the risk that dormant sleeper cells will attempt reactivation while copycats may attempt to cash in on the notoriety created by Boko Haram for the kick of it. I believe the Federal Government through the various security services will come up with something to make Nigeria’s case an exception in the history of nations that had combated terrorism.
From my perspective, the biggest task ahead centers around the victims, survivors and those affected by Boko Haram’s atrocities. Borno state happens to be the epicentre of the terrorists’ activities even though its neighbouring states also bore the brunt of the insurgency. This is why I think Borno state is the centre of rebuilding efforts in the post Boko Haram period.
In Borno state, same as its neighbours, some of the persons that were displaced by the insurgency are beginning to return to their communities while others are also giving thoughts to returning once they are certain that the armed fighters have been pushed farther away from their homes. Those who have been directly affected need psychological assistance, some have over stayed in the IDP camps but cannot go home due to the confusion of what to do and how to get their lives back on track, they require rehabilitation through useful ventures like farming and other ventures they were into before the disruption to the lives.
An immediate requirement is therefore the reconstruction of homes. Many buildings were razed either by fighters or from bombardment during encounters. Other homes have simply fallen into disrepair after being abandoned by their owners who had to flee for safety. These homes have to be rebuilt and in rebuilding or repairing the homes, it would not be out of place to give them modern amenities as a way of ensuring that the residents that are returning have something to blunt the edge off the trauma and deprivation they have passed through both as victims of the insurgents and as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). It would not be out of place to ensure that the new homes are better ventilated, have basic toilet facilities and provision of potable water for communities that do not have it before.
We must also factor in how to strengthen the sense of community that existed prior to the disruption of life in this axis. To this end, facilities like markets, health centres, schools, public libraries and town halls should be seen beyond the function we know them to serve. They must be included in the rebuilding efforts as integral part of the social fabric that will create meeting points among returnees and as assets that will speed up the healing process.
Furthermore, efforts at rebuilding the northeast offer unprecedented opportunity at working with a new economic model that could later be adapted by other parts of the country. Boko Haram’s reign of terror practically destroyed the economy of the region. It is not enough to rebuild homes for those returning, it is as well important to empower them economically to begin contributing to the national economy. My opinion is that the returnees should be set up to return to farming with the provision of the needed inputs. Those into business should be similarly empowered. The additional layer to be added is to organise the willing ones into cooperatives to take up agro-processing to add value to the produce from those farming. Part of the amounts earmarked for rebuilding can be channelled into this venture in the form of a revolving fund.
Building houses and restoring economic activities would however not all that the affected persons need. Till date, many of them are still in shock and would require therapy. If nothing is done to treat those in need on intervention, the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder could turn out to be overwhelming in the years ahead. We must therefore leverage on the abundance of graduates in the relevant fields by asking youths to volunteer to serve in the rebuilt communities. Help must be available to those in need of it before they take a bad turn since the full impact of the trauma people have suffered will begin to manifest when the conflict died down. This must be backed up with Behavioural Change Communication to get the wider society to see things from the right perspective. We can already see the dilemma of female Boko Haram abductees whose relations have ostracised upon their regaining freedom.
Similar to providing therapeutic services, we must immediately address what happens to orphans from the crisis. As the dust settles down in the wake of Boko Haram’s defeat, the true scale of children that have lost their parents and guardians would emerge. There must be a system set up for reuniting lost children with their families just as a system should be instituted for rehoming orphaned children. The various NGOs, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and relevant government departments in charge of preventing human trafficking must be part of this effort to ensure that vulnerable children do not leave the trauma of the war for the horrific ordeal that human trafficking is.
What about the youths? One assertion at the height of Boko Haram’s campaign of terror is that youths were easily recruited and radicalised because they were unemployed and in some cases uneducated. The interventions listed above would provide some of these youths with employment but skill acquisition should be part of the rebuilding efforts. This will ensure that youths that want to seek their elsewhere will arrive in their new society already equipped to be able to seek jobs. As a safeguard measure, the security agencies must ensure that steps are taken to prevent re-radicalisation of the youths processed through the de-radicalisation and re-integration programme for former militants.
This raises the point of how security agencies must work with the communities to be re-established in creating early warning systems to flag extremism and other dangerous trends that could give indications if sleeper cells of the terror group attempt to activate or recruit new members. This must be put in place to ensure there is no resurgence of terrorism again.
All the itemised intervention will however require funding. The federal government, working with development partners, is working on funding the reconstruction efforts of the northeast. However, the extent of intervention as itemized requires more than whatever amount has been raised. Besides, the human contribution needed is beyond what money can buy. Non-Governmental Organisations, Community Based Organisations, educational institutions and other bodies have roles to play in rebuilding the northeast. They must commit to helping the nation’s most vulnerable area at this time of their need.
I must confess that the task ahead is not a joyride but I appeal that we all give it our best.
Ode is Executive Secretary, Peace, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Initiative and writing from Abuja.