Opinion

Analysis | The Cost Of 2019 Polls And The Nightmare That Is The North-East

ON Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari unequivocally disclosed that the 2019 general elections will cost Nigeria around N242.4 billion. He made this known in a letter he sent to the National Assembly, seeking that the funds be drawn from the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

By Akanimo Sampson

ON Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari unequivocally disclosed that the 2019 general elections will cost Nigeria around N242.4 billion. He made this known in a letter he sent to the National Assembly, seeking that the funds be drawn from the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

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Akanimo Sampson

Buhari explained in the letter that implementing a budget of N 9.12 trillion for 2018 will be extremely challenging and does not consider it expedient, to increase it to accommodate the funds needed for the 2019 general elections.The President had earlier criticised the Legislative arm of the Federal Government for reducing allocations for some projects and including thousands of projects into the budget without consultation with the Executive.

According to Buhari, the National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion, adding, ‘’many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.’’

He is therefore, praying the lawmakers to transfer the funds appropriated for the new projects which are inserted in the 2018 budget to cover the sum of N228.8 billion for the elections, noting also that the balance will be provided in the 2019 budget.

The total amount for the 2019 general elections:

2018 supplementary – N164, 104, 792, 065
2019 budget – N78, 314, 530, 535
Total – N242, 445, 322, 600

Office of the National Security Adviser
2018 supplementary – N3, 855, 500, 000
2019 budget – 426, 000, 000
Total – 4, 281, 500,000

INEC
2018 supplementary – N143, 512, 529, 445
2019 budget – N45, 695, 015,438
Total: N189, 207, 544, 893

NSCDC
2018 supplementary – N1, 845, 597, 000
2019 budget – N1, 727, 997, 500
Total – N3, 573, 534, 500

Nigeria Police
2018 supplementary – N11, 457, 417, 432
2019 budget – N19, 083, 900, 000
Total – N30, 541, 317, 432

NIS
2018 supplementary – N530, 110, 078
2019 budget – N2, 098,033, 142
Total – N2, 628, 143, 320

DSS
2018 supplementary – N2, 903, 638, 000
2019 budget – N9,309,644,455
Total – N12, 213, 282, 455

This huge demand for the 2019 polls alone is coming at a time humanitarian agencies are still struggling to respond adequately to the problem in the North-East axis of the country. Half of the amount could go a long way in resolving the needs of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region. That huge fund could empower agencies of the United Nations and international humanitarian NGOs to engage authorities more proactively and improve their collaboration in responding to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.

Such financial power could mobilise more international funding  which at the moment, is grossly lacking and make for better use of international expertise. If the humanitarian crisis in the North is not vigorously addressed soon, it will have serious security and political implications for the country. In the mean time, it is pushing some people back into Boko Haram. It could also leave the Nigerian state and its international partners tainted, undermining further their legitimacy and capacity to control violence in that axis and the Lake Chad region.

For instance, at the end of 2015, 3.9 million people in the North-East out of a total of 5.2 million across the Lake Chad Basin were in urgent need of food assistance. In April 2016, when Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State and UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer visited Bama, one of the worse hit areas in the state, the governor said afterward that his state was ‘’hanging between malnutrition and famine …. People [were] dying like flies’’.

Of the $248 million required for the emergency response in the crisis axis in 2016, less than 20 per cent was available by May. Donor pledges were higher for Chad and Niger, where the number of persons in need was smaller. Even the World Food Program (WFP) supported fewer than 2,000 people there in March 2016. That figure increased to 50,000 in May, but was still way behind target given that more than half of the 1.5 million IDPs in Maiduguri then were judged by the UN to be malnourished, and the situation in rural areas is often worse. In neighbouring Cameroon, also affected by Boko Haram, UN agencies helped four times as many people (90 per cent of the most food insecure). In July, the total number of IDPs in this part of Cameroon was around 190,000.

Without the doubt, the President Buhari administration’s response has been hampered by constrained resources and multiple pressing security problems. It is facing a perennial rebellion in the Niger Delta, Biafra agitation in Eastern Nigeria, and increasing violence in the Middle Belt, including the worrisome herdsmen bloodletting, as well as a severe economic and budgetary crisis.  And, neither the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) nor its state-level counterparts have the funds or the capacity and experience to manage a prolonged, large-scale humanitarian operation. Already overwhelmed by IDPs in Maiduguri and other established sites, Nigerian agencies are struggling to serve new camps.

Equally disturbing is the fact that many implementation partners of UN agencies lack the capacity to work in the region’s remoter parts where the terrain is extremely challenging and where they do not enjoy the relative protection of Maiduguri (which itself faces significant humanitarian needs). So far, humanitarian workers have been unable to establish credible contacts with Boko Haram to negotiate access and obtain guarantees that can reduce risks to acceptable levels. Particularly in areas of Borno state outside the Maiduguri metropolitan area, some organisations, including from the UN, have depended on the army for protection, assessments of local security conditions and sometimes humanitarian service delivery.

With Africa’s largest population and economy, Nigeria is obviously sensitive to foreign criticism and, understandably, keen to ensure that foreign support in addressing the crisis does not compromise its sovereignty. Many officials remember the civil war (1967-1970) when Nigeria was condemned for the terrible famine in the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra and some secessionist supporters provided military aid under the guise of international humanitarian assistance. As a result, authorities are sensitive to outside aid or reporting. Yet the lack of reporting has made it difficult to mobilise international support for resources.

While President Buhari is praying the National Assembly for an alarming N242.4 billion for just the 2019 elections, children are dying in Bama. They are suffering from lack of food, clean water and medical care. They are the most tragic manifestation of the humanitarian fallout of the Boko Haram insurgency and the state response to it, a crisis that now impacts the lives of millions is weak. The insurgency itself, the aggressive military response to it, and the lack of effective assistance, both national and international, to those caught up in the conflict threaten to create an endless cycle of violence and depredation. Unless efforts to contain and roll back the current crisis are quickly scaled-up, peace is likely to remain a distant prospect in the region.

For those who know better, Bama, once a city of 300,000 is now an army-controlled camp of more than 30,000 IDPs, some forcibly moved there by the armed security forces. There are around a dozen sites like Bama, hosting at least 250,000 people living under the security forces’ scrutiny. The number is growing as military campaigns continue.

Sadly, neither the army, nor the emergency services are up to the task of caring for them. There have been – and still are – too many bottlenecks. Authorities must pay more attention and commit more resources, clarify and rationalise the country’s assistance structure, improve aid governance, promote transparency (more NGO and media reporting), facilitate humanitarian access and address the widespread suspicion that many IDPs support Boko Haram.

Bama

Bama is situated 72 kilometres south east of Maiduguri. It was once a major trade hub on a main road to Cameroon. Overrun by Boko Haram in September 2014, the army recaptured it in March 2015. Most of its inhabitants had already left by then and thousands had been killed by Boko Haram, but the army began bringing in civilians it found during operations in the surrounding rural areas. Citing security concerns, the army has itself been running the Bama camp, notionally the responsibility of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA).

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 244,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition in Borno state and on average 134 die every day from this. A few health ministry officials have been brought in under military escort for short stays and some humanitarian partners have been intermittently giving the army supplies to distribute to the IDPs, though with little supervision. This is not enough and with major deficiencies in water, sanitation and hygiene and the rainy season (June-September) under way, many are concerned that a cholera epidemic could break out. The rains, furthermore, will make many roads and tracks impassable.

Most officials blame Bama’s dire humanitarian crisis on Boko Haram: people began starving while they lived under the insurgents’ control, and the military rescued them. The insurgency has indeed done terrible damage to the lives and livelihoods of many in Borno state, as well as in neighbouring Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe states. Boko Haram ruthlessly targeted some communities, particularly those that set up vigilante forces or helped the military, killing many civilians and forcing many more into exile.

Those who tried to stay and live under Boko Haram’s control faced significant difficulties. The insurgents heavily taxed communities, plundered and forcefully recruited among them and fighting disrupted harvests. But the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the nature of the counter-insurgency campaign. An aggressive, regional military operation has deliberately stifled economic activities, denying Boko Haram supplies, trade and income from protection rackets. Military operations have also made producing and accessing food a lot more difficult for all living in and close to Boko Haram-controlled areas. Trade and mobility, essential for making a living in the Sahel, have become extremely difficult and dangerous.

Many among the security forces and many civilians are quick to look with suspicion on people coming from Boko Haram-held areas. Though there is no evidence to suggest a deliberate attempt to punish a population suspected of complicity with the insurgents, there are alarming signs that their welfare is not being prioritised, whether out of a lack of capacity or concern or due to security concerns. Even women captured, abused or forced into “marriage” by Boko Haram bear the stigma of their association, and their children are suspected of having “bad blood”.

This fear of “contagion” and, more concretely, of suicide attacks by women and children, is part of the problem. This is one reason the only IDPs the army lets into Maiduguri, which already hosts an estimated 1.5 million, are children requiring sustained medical support, though sometimes without their carers.Conducting security operations should be kept distinct from humanitarian actions. If not, those in genuine need of assistance risk being denied help; while entire communities stand in danger of neglect. In such an environment, people are likely to feel increasingly alienated from the state, driving them to seek support elsewhere. Humanitarian assistance must remain impartial and needs-based; while security measures must be proportionate to the risk – which will likely be reduced, not increased, by greater freedom of movement – and non-discriminatoryInadequate National and International Assistance

Risks Ahead

Failure to adequately support IDPs, in part because of suspicion that they support Boko Haram, may push them back into, or discourage them from leaving, insurgent-controlled areas. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Boko Haram’s attacks and suicide bombings in and around IDP camps are attempts by the insurgents to staunch the flow of people from areas under their control. It may be working to an extent.

Some IDPs reportedly are choosing to return to their home areas, despite the risk of Boko Haram attacks, rather than staying in dire camps.In the long term, failure to help those in need could further undermine the state’s legitimacy and capacity to control violence. While the Nigerian military and its regional and international partners may be able to contain Boko Haram, unless the state addresses poor governance and other structural factors that drove people to support the movement, there is a high risk either that Boko Haram will be revived or similar groups will emerge.

To avert the current humanitarian emergency from claiming more lives, prolonging the conflict and fuelling longer term insecurity in the region, the government must match its military campaign against Boko Haram with strong commitment to addressing the immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development and reconstruction assistance to rebuild the north east. That includes granting access to, and facilitating, independent local and international reporting and assessments. This is necessary not only for proper resource mobilisation, but even more importantly as a way to provide independent analysis of outstanding emergency relief requirements.

Governor Shettima, President Buhari, and some army commanders, have been remarkably willing to talk to journalists. However, the President should pay special attention to the governance of aid. Reports of the embezzlement and diversion of food and other aid need to be properly investigated and officials found to have stolen or mismanaged aid must be sanctioned. For example, the report of the Borno state House Verification Committee into allegations of aid diversion, which should be completed soon, should be made public and quickly and openly acted upon.

The government and international partners should have fewer qualms about bringing assistance closer to the war zones. It is possible that some of it could leak to Boko Haram members, but this marginal price should be balanced with the immense relief it would provide, the lives it would save and the goodwill it would generate for the government. Furthermore, improved assistance would probably be more efficient in attracting civilians to government areas than military mop-up operations. Where Boko Haram can no longer use the “rhetoric of plenty”, as it once did, offering feasts of meat and cold drinks to potential recruits, authorities now have that card to play.

Equally, the reluctance to allow IDPs encamped in secondary towns like Bama to move around should be revised. The arguably marginal benefit in security which the ban on movement provides will be far outweighed by the humanitarian gains and goodwill generated by easing up this restriction. As an immediate measure, all those most in need should be allowed to temporarily move to Maiduguri or other cities where appropriate treatment is available.

While vigilante groups have done much to defend their communities, Borno state authorities should stop using these irregular forces to vet IDPs. Further, the Federal Government should begin to put in place a demobilisation process lest longer-term problems result, including increased risks of communal violence based on revenge between vigilante group members and displaced persons.

International partners must drastically increase their humanitarian response, including by releasing all funds pledged to the UN and other humanitarian agencies for the emergency. They must lend greater support to the government, preferably in a high-level forum that includes the military, UN agencies, international NGOs, as well as local civil society and NGOs. This forum should provide a platform for all actors to share knowledge, including their assessments of the gravity of the humanitarian situation and areas of greatest needs as well as clarify guiding principles and improve working relations.

The Buhari administration needs to be far more proactive. A clarification of its assistance framework is pressing, and senior officials need to make clear that they regard the unfolding humanitarian crisis as a first-order priority over and above their principal’s re-election bid.  Periodic visits by senior leaders, including President Buhari himself, to the camps and major communities hosting IDPs are essential to begin breaking down the suspicion faced by the newly displaced, and to affirm to them, as well as to state and government officials, that as Nigerian citizens and victims of the insurgency, they should not be left without food or medical assistance.

For now, without a visible and genuine commitment to providing the humanitarian support needed in these areas, insecurity will persist – and could become worse – and peace will remain far out of reach. With this reality, would it not be in Nigeria’s best interest to scale down the cost of the 2019 polls, and better commit the resources in solving the humanitarian nightmare in the North-East?

Akanimo Sampson is a celebrated editor, activist, and prolific writer.

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