Sincerely speaking, this is a subject I try not to dabble into. This is because no matter the position one takes, one is not likely to be a winner. When you tell people to abandon their traditional permanent abode for a new settlement that is plaited with gold, silver and diamond, the mostly conservatives among the concerned would lecture you not only on the history of your forefathers, but that of their ancestors with regards the land of inheritance you want them to abandon.
There are, however, some, who will understand. Calamities have forced people to relocate. Wars have forced many to abandon their former abodes for new homes. Even fear of the unknown could make some scramble for peace elsewhere. With this in mind, I feel protected now to say what I want to say.
From available evidence, the seriousness of various authorities in ensuring that the IDPs are relocated to their various communities from where they were displaced and infrastructure destroyed, is not in doubt. This is more so from the unmitigated disposition of Governor Kashim Shettima in this regard.
However, it is doubtful if all the affected communities, especially all the villages and hamlets in the remotest parts of Borno can be resettled in their previous abode before the onslaught of the insurgency. The urban centres, like the local government headquarters and semi-urban areas can be, but to give the same treatment to the quantum of villages and hamlets concerned seems a mirage. This is because this task outstretches the financial capacity and capability of both the state and federal governments and even the international community and private donors due to its location and geography.
“However, efforts aimed at this exercise must take into account the views and confidence of all the stakeholders as well as take into consideration the factors of ethnicity, proximity as well the feelings and perception of the affected”
Borno is the largest state in Nigeria in terms of land mass with an area of 116, 589sq km. It is 14 times the size of Abia; it is 20 times the size of Lagos and three times the size of southeast fused into one. Besides, Borno shares boundaries with the three neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroun and Niger and the security implication of this is obvious.
The villages and communities in the hinterland of the state are scattered and uncoordinated with social amenities virtually non-existent. This is mostly prevalent in the northern sector of the state where a distance between a community or village and the next could be in the region of about 20 to 30 kilometres and meaningful socio- economic activities almost zero. In the hinterland, life is almost always a struggle.
Apart from the socio-economic challenges of the people in the remotest areas, they are more of moving corpses as they are at the mercy of intruders. Hence at the strike of the Boko Haram, they were ready appetiser for the insurgents who made harvest of their lives, their livestock and reduced their habitation to ashes. Apart from insecurity of lives and property of the rural folks that constitute a substantial portion of the population, they are by location and disposition far away from development. It is therefore imperative, as the rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement programme of the government gathers momentum, to take a hard and second look at the predicament of the IDPs from remote and uncoordinated areas of the state.
Merging or resettling the affected villages and communities has become necessary for obvious reasons. As stated earlier, to resettle all the affected is unthinkable due to the magnitude of financial, logistics and other related issues involved. Besides, policing the population in scattered and uncoordinated areas is too tasking a burden for security operators. In addition, the amorphous size of the state and its scattered population remains one of the challenges militating against the even development of Borno.
But it is time to reverse this trend and the time is now. Sentiments should by now give way to facts and realities. Rebuilding Borno is a task that must be done and seen to be done. The situation in which Borno finds itself today is unusual, unprecedented and unenvisaged. It is a tough situation that demands a tough response and our challenges should inform our way forward. If the coming together of some of the villages or communities will be in the overall interest of the affected and warranted by circumstance, so be it.
Merging together of villages or communities fast-tracks the provision of basic social amenities like roads, electricity, water, schools, hospitals, dispensaries, helps in attracting investment, and enhances purchasing power and security of the populace. In mergers, there are precedents for points of reference or study. There are the Kainji Dam and Bakalori resettlement schemes. Coming home to Borno, there is the Gwoza Hill Peoples resettlement scheme. A close look at these might assist in the way forward.
However, efforts aimed at this exercise must take into account the views and confidence of all the stakeholders as well as take into consideration the factors of ethnicity, proximity as well the feelings and perception of the affected. Above all, the benefit for the greater number and overall interest of the people and the state should be the determinant factor.