Top officials of the United Nations system in Nigeria on Thursday stormed the Government House Maiduguri, Borno State, for a fence mending meeting with the governor, Kashim Shettima, after his criticism of their humanitarian operations in the state.
On Wednesday, Governor Shettima had asked 126 NGOs and aid agencies to leave his state for alleged underperformance and misuse of funds meant for support of Boko Haram victims.
The UN top officer in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, on Thursday denied the governor’s allegation.
After the public denial however, Mr. Kallon, who is the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator to Nigeria, led a delegation of his organisation to Maiduguri to clear issues with the governor.
At the event, Mr. Kallon made a detail presentation of the UN mission for the North-east and Borno in particular.
Appreciating their visit to the state, Mr. Shettima said the media misquoted him in the report.
He said he did not include UNICEF or any of the top UN organisations in the list of the NGOs he wanted out of Borno state.
In his speech, Mr. Kallon, implored Governor Shettima on the need to understand the dynamics of the politics surrounding humanitarian services.
He also asked the governor to be wary of the media, which he said could stall efforts being made to channel more funding and supports for the victims of Boko Haram.
“I want to touch on the issue of media; I know the media issue has been a controversy,” said the UN Country Representative.
“And I want to bring to your notice that the crisis we are managing here is also competing with emergencies in other parts of the world; for example Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, etc.
“For example the Syria fund that will be launched in March or April this year is about $6 billion. The South Sudan appeal will be asking for about $3 billion to $4 billion.
Mr. Kallon was uneasy with what he described as “extremely too liberal” nature of the Nigerian media.
“So I am really appealing to your government that we need to speak with one voice. As we say in West Africa, if we allow the media to shoot us in our legs, we are not going to be able to walk. Because this is what is happening now…and if we continue to send out different languages with different messages, it is not going to help all of us.
“So I really need your support and that of your administration, for us to speak with one voice and come together as strategic partners.
“I am a West African, but the media in Nigeria is too liberal; is extremely liberal; and they can say anything. I am so impressed with such vibrancy of media in Nigeria.”
Mr. Kallon said the UN has since last year scaled up its humanitarian support in especially North-east Nigeria to about 100 percent since his arrival to the country.
He urged Governor Shettima to always consult them, being experts in the humanitarian business, anytime he has questions or observed something he is not pleased with.
He said Borno government and the UN must always speak with one voice, as having contrasting views on the same issue might scare donors away.
“One thing you have to know about the humanitarian business is that it is a big, big politics. UN are now stabilizing their staffs here by bringing in their permanent staff; they are trying to bring their staff from Syria and other places – people who have the experience in dealing with the humanitarian business.
“I have done this job for more than 29 years, and one thing I can tell you is that, in Nigeria you know how to do your business, but not like the humanitarian business – it is politics. Yes, very big politics. And the only way we can beat the politics is to be on the same page and we speak with one voice.
“Because all what the external actors are waiting for, is to have different views…which is not going to help us moving ahead.
“So I will want to work with you, your excellency to address any remaining challenges on effective coordination on the ground, resource mobilization is our priority; humanitarian access, and because we speak with one voice, Your Excellency, we ought to tell them our story coherently and articulately.
“This is a challenge I have seen in Nigeria, we are not telling our story coherently”.
Mr. Kallon urged Governor Shettima to be soft on the NGOs, stressing that much as they have their shortcomings, they could still be very useful in dispensing humanitarian services.
“The NGOs are our partners with choice; some of them are good,” he said.
“It is just like when you have children; there are good ones and there are trouble makers. But you just have manage them all. And managing them is our job here on the ground.
“Your Excellency, if you want any information on the activities of these people as our Mr. Peter, our coordinator here, and I am sure he will give you the information, you can then cross check. And if you are not happy, that is why we are here.
Governor Shettima said he was “very sorry” for the embarrassment his statement about nonperforming NGOs might have caused the UN system.
“The media are our necessary evil; they are our friend that have stood by us during our dark days of Boko Haram insurgency. But we all know how they operate; they are not interested in hearing me praise UN, all they want is to hear me lambast the UN so that they can have some catchy headlines to sell their news.
“I appreciate the UN, they have been our allies in this crisis. There is no way I could have disparaged the UN. But I insist that the other 126 NGOs that are not doing anything but smiling to banks in the name of Borno must either leave or do the needful.
Mr. Shettima said he was impressed with the vision the UN has for Borno state and as such his government will be disposed to working with them. He added that all that his government wants from the UN is supports in kind not in cash.
“I do not want you to give us money in any form”, he said. “All we want from you is bring in what ever assistance you want to give my people; let your officials monitor how they are being executed.”