The Real Cost of Boko Haram, By Muhammad Sani Dattijo

St. Thereasa Catholic Church Madalla, after a Christmas Day Boko Haram attack

On July 6, gunmen, suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect stormed Mamudo Secondary school in Yobe State and enacted one of the most vicious mass murders in the country’s history. Within the night, they proceeded to shoot, burn or smother 29 students while injuring several others. Some victims were burnt so badly that parents, have as of yet, been unable to identify their own children from the charred remains nor give them a befitting burial.

On August 11, the group massacred 50 worshippers in Borno.

These harrowing incidents are just samples of recent attacks by insurgents in Nigeria. Despite the chilling details however, it is virtually impossible to grasp the magnitude of these incidences by merely reading reports or watching video clips.

Even more worrying is the fact that the real cost of Boko Haram goes beyond the properties destroyed, the detonated bombs or even the over 3,000 lives lost since the insurgency started. The real costs cut across all sectors of livelihood and may well reverberate for the next decade, even if the insurgency is quelled today.

Take the health sector for example. While the health indices for the North-East have always been worse than the rest of the country, they have plunged further in the last two years. With regular restriction of movement and prohibition of motorcycles in many parts of the region, transportation of doctors, nurses and drugs to hospitals is frequently impossible. Indeed for Borno, doctors yet to request a transfer have been on strike for their safety.

Patients seeking healthcare – including pregnant mothers – have had to resort to ‘do-it-yourself’ home solutions rather than embark on the arduous journey to hospitals under-siege from an influx of dead or dying bodies. The direct results have included a spike in maternal and child deaths and indirectly, a resurgence of deadly diseases including polio.

For education, the short term effects are obvious. The desire to attend school is now literally a matter of life and death – to stay home and live, or go to school and die. Many opt to stay home. Just last week, students in the north-east learnt that they would have to rewrite the critically important WAEC exams- as their previous papers had been “lost” in the crises.

The longer term effects are more saddening; a generation of citizens from Borno and Yobe will be “missing” and unavailable to contribute meaningfully to the country. All because the conflict destroyed critical formative years of their lives.

To make matters worse, the authorities estimate that almost 30,000 people, including academics, civil servants and farmers have either been forced out through the destruction of their homes or migrated to avoid the violence. While the short term effect of this includes separation of families, pressure on neighboring states and countries, and rising prices, the longer term implications include lack of identity and possibly even famine.

Hopefully, these migrants will not be subjected to the trending politics of deportation.

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Private companies have also disappeared from most of the North-eastern states due to insecurity and lack of markets. This has led to a loss of jobs and income, and an increase in poverty. In the long run, the already low state revenue bases will be further depleted as corporate and personal income taxes shrink, bringing closer the soon-to-be reality of bankrupt states.

Finally and most worrisome, the insurgency has driven a deep wedge between already fragile ethnic and religious relationships in the country with a struggle from all sides to claim more of the dead to buttress differing viewpoints. This fracture is perhaps the priciest cost with deep long term effects on the socio-political progress of the country.

In summary, the next decade could see a deeply divided North-east of increasing maternal and child deaths, chronic illiteracy and unemployment, malnourished neglected and orphaned children residing in states without the capacity to pay basic salaries.

Without a doubt, this is a fertile environment for a sequel to Boko Haram.

However, a few of these negative spillovers can be avoided in the future through proactive measures.

One practical option could be through ensuring that any future “military action” anywhere in the country, must be backed by a corresponding “social action” that ensures vital public services can be delivered. A “Social Task Force” (STF) of experts from health, education, works and water ministries could work together with the militarized Joint Task Force (JTF) on a framework that ensures delivery of critical services even in severe conflict areas in addition to building resilience for quick recovery after disasters.

This may include emergency rebuilding of schools and hospitals and innovative ideas like the provision of mobile clinics, web/mobile phone delivered education in addition to a social protection scheme for orphans. Protection for teachers, students and doctors would be an obvious priority.

Implementation will need resources and thankfully resources are available. State Governor’s security votes provide a starting point. Mandated minimums set aside as “conflict-funds” from health, education and water ministries could be added, while the MDGs office, SURE-P and NEMA could provide the rest. This can be coordinated in one “conflict basket” to ensure that in the future, Nigerians caught in conflict are not also neglected by government.

While this short-term plan can be implemented immediately, the government must work on a post-conflict recovery plan that addresses the root causes of insurgency.

The National Assembly, as representatives of the people, should take a lead and mandate these changes as pre-condition to granting any future “state-of-emergency” requests.

It is unwise to defeat terrorism by destroying the current and future opportunities of an entire people. This is unsustainable and only creates a vicious cycle. We must ensure that ordinary innocent Nigerians can continue to progress and live their lives even within conditions of conflict.

Muhammad Sani Dattijo is a Development Economist in New York
msanikd@yahoo.com
www.dattijo.com

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