Managing Director of the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), Mohammed Alkali, in a recent interview organized by the Presidential Media Team spoke extensively on efforts to resettle the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), address the challenge of out-of-school children and how the Commission intended to raise N33 trillion requires for the implementation of the Commission’s 10-year North-East Development Plan. LAWRENCE OLAOYE was there
What have you been able to do in relieving the victims of insurgents’ attacks of trauma?
You’re asking about the psychosocial and how the Commission is supporting people out of that trauma. The whole process is compounded with trauma because, in the first instance, these people who are displaced, nobody has given a notice that they’re going to leave this place tomorrow, next tomorrow.
So this one is a form of trauma and you’re leaving your home to come and stay in the IDP camps which initially you are told is going to be for a week of two but sometimes you end up having to stay there about five years or some even for ten years. And this trauma, as you say, has various biomes as somebody told you that if we can find the person who has done XYZ to him, you also want to revenge; and this is normal, natural because somebody who was killed your father and mother when you see him I don’t see you want to shake him.
This why I said, we’re doing a lot and that’s why the thing we are doing is slow process whereby you will sit down with people to narrate the issues and the process is through intermediation and compromise so that people can understand, chat and settle. We know in the olden days, people don’t go to court normally. We have our traditional leaders, the Imams, so we are encouraging this kind of situation. So we have over 300 people who can go around to talk to people to understand that this has happened.
But let’s have it this way, please forgive. So we’re doing a lot in that area and, as you know, this is not going to be an event. You say that, today we’re going to end this No, it’s a process. First, you have to create, understanding the truth among them that wants to sit down. we’re taking the process gradually, incrementally so that at the point, when you have a massive number, then we’re sure that people are now agreed to bring back lost glories and the lost social connections they used to have within themselves. So just take it from us that we are working seriously on that one to see that how many people would go back safely
What have you done as intervention in the lingering issues of farmers/herders clashes and what are the statistics of primary schools you have renovated and the teachers you have trained?
We are in the center as interventionists anywhere, we have this emergency crisis.
We want to provide a solution, not only a farmers/herders crisis. When you look at the magnitude of the issues we’re dealing with in the North-East, farmers-herders crisis in terms of percentage, is just a very sectionalised and is very small, compared to the gravity and damage caused by the insurgency over the 10 years.
But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention to the Farmers-herders crisis. It is part of the traditional justice I am talking about. Somebody will say that the Fulani encroached my farm and this is where the issue started. So a solution will be found. And it is part of all what the federal government is doing to provide a solution to this kind of situation.
What’s the level of collaboration between you and state governments?
It is very cordial. When I was talking about the master plan we have developed, I said, it’s all inclusive. We have factored in what they are doing to avoid duplication and also to avoid confusion in certain areas. That’s why we did our master plan bottom-up and the state governors, functionaries in terms of ministries, whatever were all involved from day one. And that’s why the last time when we were validating the master plan, they were all here, to ensure that what we agreed to do is what is there in the document without any mishap or whatever.
As to whether they are giving us any funding. No! As I said earlier, we don’t get any money from them. What we are getting from the federal government is the federal government’s contribution to those states, in addition to statutory allocations. So, what we’re bringing to them is incremental. Because they’re all struggling to do their own due. If we take money from them it will be a problem.
So we don’t take any money from them. But in some cases possibly you can co-finance, collaborate but not for them to give us direct funding.
Some displaced persons in the North-east are complaining that their places have been taken over by others. Can you give specific details on how much of this issue you have settled?
The question is about resettlement and reconstruction. Yes, everybody wants to go back as his own ancestral land. But their way of doing, in most cases, there are some international laws we have to follow. And also, for them to go back, there has to be certain fundamentals before they go back. There’s no point taking people back only for them to raise secondary issues again.
So all what’s happening is a process. This issue of resettlement is being taken very seriously and this is why Mr. President set up a Committee on Resettlement and Repatriation to make sure that this is done properly. When you go to Borno State you can see a lot is being done by the state governor to ensure that they go back to where they came from. When we go there, people always say, ‘I don’t want to go back anywhere again’. But the issue is certainly better than what was before.
How is the Commission tackling the ecological and development challenges in the North-East?
The issue of ecological problems and the way we are tackling them. Everybody knows, principally, the North-East has a big land degradation problem. Most of the North-East is actually semi-arid and the region faces the problem of desertification. And they are the problems that are common to the entire country, waste management is quite common. The current issue of today: Climate Change is a universal problem. The number of studies we’re conducting and the number of projects that are already ongoing, the number of capacities building related to the environment that we have done, training people for better waste management and recycling, even training some of our artisans.
These are all things related to waste management, climate change, etc. And we’ve gone ahead in all the steps to help in establishing more forest nurseries to help erase deforestation, desertification, etc. So, also, we’ve had research to do profiling of some land degradation problems. One of the problems we face is that some tests, even to package good projects, for the attention of the ecological funds open the attention of any donor. So we have some experts to help us do the profiling and do bankable projects, operational in land degradation which we may take, which other partners may take, or that can be submitted to the ecological office sector. So, in essence, we have looked at generally, what’s the major environmental problems, we have done the profiling, we’re training people on how to do better with the management cycle, we’re training people on how to do better waste management recycling; we’re training people on issues like energy efficiency. and we will continue to look at other aspects of the environment.
Our projects themselves, somehow affect the environment. So we’ve made it a point that although we have to intervene in terms of emergency because under Environmental Impact Assessment Act, there is a provision that if you’re intervening under emergency, the environmental aspect, impact assessment may be, so to say, at least, we can give a waiver. But at the same time, we ask consultants to make sure that even if you don’t do the environmental impact assessment, you should be able to do environmental audits, so that you know exactly where you are and possible impacts of the activities we’re doing, and also at least make some environmental management plans so that we can mitigate whatever they come up.
A recent UNESCO report showed an increase in the number of out-of-school children from 18-20 million, what is the Commission doing about this and the Almajiri system of education?
The number one problem we started with in the North-East when the insurgency came in was the issue of out of schoolchildren, displacement; everybody was displaced; they continue to be displaced unfortunately today. And when we came in at NEDC, we actually said how do we address the issue of out of school children first and the Almajiri system because they are linked and they are interwoven.
So we have now decided that issue of the North-East Development Commission, education endowment fund, to handle the school system at the primary level and then even at the tertiary. Most of the people that are already known because most of them are not privileged to be identified even though the census is going on; we would get the numbers from time to time.
It may interest you to know that in Maiduguri, for instance, the military at the time decided that those out of school children should come to a particular school and be attended to They discovered that most of them were orphans. Incidentally, we are contributing a little bit, in our own little way to support that school. And if you go there, you will be surprised by the way people are there. They are Nigerians different from other Nigerians. If you see them the way they have been trained by the military, most of them are orphans. I tell you, you know that Nigeria, we are going to be blessed even if we’re not now. All of them have the opportunity, irrespective if the fact that their parents have been killed, to be trained by the Development Commission. The military helped to build or to develop human beings that are really going to be the future leaders of this country.
The Education Development Fund has scholarship components to take care of all these out of school children people are talking about, it has another component to building schools from the primary school level. Well, at the tertiary level, we take care of it. We mentioned the issue of mega schools. One mega school can accommodate 1000 students, I tell you that there was a time when we went to Yobe State, in one school, we discovered that they were 18,000 students. And you may ask me why?
You are not attending school at the same time because of the problem of other classrooms or whatever. They were in shifts. So it’s a very big challenge. We have been trying, in our own way, to make sure that we intervene, and the state governments are so happy that we really opened up.
Unfortunately, funding is not a problem, per se; but the state government’s looking up to us all the time. But definitely by the grace of God, we should assume to overcome most of these challenges; both the Almajiri system and the out of school children.
Is there a challenge in resettlement and how huge is it?
We talk about challenges on the settlement. One single challenge that you will have in resettlement is the fact that those in IDP camps have to be moved to their ancestral homes. But you have forgotten the fact that not everybody is in the IDP camp. About 20-30 per cent of displaced persons in the North-East are not in the IDP camps.
They are in their host communities and they are almost settled in these places because of the circumstances they found themselves in. We take care of them; in most cases they are not educated.
They all deserve education in order to get the benefit of being displaced. Of course, some of them have been integrated into the system or into the host communities. They have been integrated and they don’t even want to go back. Their families are with them and that is another way of getting Nigerians together. I remember in 2019 when we went to Bauchi State, we met with the IDPs and we asked the.. whether they want to go back home and they said yes.
So we decided to treat them like IDPs. At the second time, 2020-2021 or thereabout, most of them said if we are ready to provide them what they would need to farm, most of them ould be ready to stay where they were. Most of them really don’t want to go back.
How far has the Commission gone in coordinating resettlement and resettlement of victims, how will the Commission raise the required N33 trillion needed for the redevelopment of the North-East in 10 years? How are we going to get N33 trillion?
Yes, our plan is when you get the details, we are not relying on subventions or basically allocation from the state or federal government. When I was talking to the source of funding I mentioned that we are allowed to source funding from other areas.
We are arranging to source about 80 per cent of it from private sectors or donor agencies. We are limiting only about 20 per cent to our statutory allocations and other sources I mentioned earlier.
In fact, at the end of the day after the Master Plan is finally approved, we are seeking to have a Donor Conference so that our partners all over the world will be able to come in and take some part of this master plan to be implemented.
So, we are not relying 100 per cent on statutory allocations we are getting from the every year. When have opened up the window, the basket included the private sectors, our developer partners, and other sources.. We have NGOs who have foundations who are going to participate.
On the percentage we have achieved on our mandate. If you are talking arithmetically, it’s easier; our mandate is geometric because it follows processes and very fluid. But the fact that we’re able to reach a level whereby we have the mandated Master Plan, the next thing is implementation. So by simple arithmetic I can boast and say that we are done with 50 per cent of what we ought to do.
What measures are you putting in place to insulate your Commission from allegations of graft that has characterized the Niger Delta Commission lately?
We are created for a purpose and at the end of the day if we don’t deliver, posterity us going to be the judge. That’s why we are very careful and very prudent in seeing that we purpose to execute what we can do with the resources available.