By Kemi Yesufu
That North-East Nigeria has witnessed monumental destruction, killings, kidnappings and rapes courtesy of the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Data shows that since the insurgency started in 2009, no fewer than 20 thousand people have lost their lives while an estimated 2.3 million people were displaced from their homes.
It is therefore no surprise that Boko Haram was ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group in the Global Terrorism Index in 2015. It is also wasn’t a surprise that the year Boko Haram won the inglorious award as the deadliest terrorist organisation, the promise to totally defeat it contributed greatly to the election victory of President Muhammadu Buhari, who contested the presidency on the platform of the All Peoples Congress (APC).
But some still felt that beyond having a retired general and former Head of State president from the north, who had dealt squarely with the extremist Maitatsine group in the 80s, there was still a need to have a political anchor for the North-East among the top four positions in the country. And the battle was taken to the National Assembly.
In the heat of the contest for the office oº Senate President, Senator Binta Garba who led other elected officials of the Adamawa APC to visit Buhari as President-Elect and sought his support for the rebuilding of the North-East, told Daily Sun that it would be better to zone the number 3 position to her beleaguered region.
According to lawmaker, who also showed interest in the office of the Senate-President, a North-East Senate President will spearhead the rebuilding and rehabilitation of the region. Supporters of Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe state, who eventually lost to Sentor Bukola Saraki, also marketed his candidature, pointing to the good sense of picking the country’s number 3 citizen from the region that needs ample attention from the federal government.
Garba had argued: “My district is one of those worst hit in terms of the insurgency. In fact, on May 1st (2015), the governor elect and I braced the odds to visit Michika LGA, so we can get first hand information on the current situation. What we saw was too disheartening. The insurgents destroyed farms, schools, countless homes even as they destroyed bridges and blew up boreholes. It was in Michika that I first saw an emaciated pig in my life and it was the only domestic animal I saw. It is the same in other parts of the North -East. So, we really need someone from the North-East and even a district which is most affected to be in the highest office in the Senate to push for the much needed rebuilding of our region and the rehabilitation of our people.
“The insurgents destroyed homes, they burnt farms, they destroyed boreholes, bridges, electric installations, roads and now with the victories recorded by the armed forces, our people are gradually returning home. They will be looking up to us their leaders to rebuild their homes, their farms and generally work towards starting all over. I can inform you that senators-elect from my region, my state inclusive have agreed to work on a bill for the creation of a North-East Development Commission (NEDC)”.
While Lawal lost out in the Senate Presidency and the issue of having a North-Easterner to fight for the course of the region wasn’t such a big deal in the lower House. Again, contrary to the wishes of the ruling party, the House of Representatives elected Yakubu Dogara, who represents Bogoro/ Tafawa Balewa federal constituency of Bauchi state, as the Speaker of the 8th Assembly.
The dashed hopes of the North-East was restored in someone from the zone unpredictably clinching the number four seat and even when Dogara’s supporters necessarily didn’t sell him as the fair choice who will place his region’s rehabilitation on the front burner, the speaker has been doing just that.
The first pointer to how Dogara would be using his office to mainstream the rebuilding of the North-East was the creation of a Standing Committee on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Refugees and Initiatives on North East, headed by Sani Zorro. Perhaps, the fact that the House in its much touted legislative agenda for 2015-2019 agreed to taking legislative action on the North-East and Niger-Delta has helped the speaker. The Senate doesn’t have a committee on the North-East or IDPs.
Beyond creating a relevant committee, Dogara has being visiting IDP camps. Twice he has been to the Wassa, Abuja abode of displaced persons. In January he donated food items including; 250 bags of rice, 550 bags of maize, 600 bags of millet, 200 cartons of Indomie noddles, 80 bags of sugar, 250 bags of beans, 100 bags of table salt, 100 jerry cans of vegetable oil, 700 units of Super Print wax and 700 units of brocade material to be shared among the four IDPs camps in Abuja.
He also made few promises on providing makeshift infrastructure at the Wassa camp and recently he returned there to commission a clinic donated by the chairman of Vantage Habitat, Capt. Hosa Okunbo.
The Speaker explained that the provision of the facility became a top priority to him after he visited the camp on January 7 to distribute food and non-food items and he was greeted with demands for a health care facility by inmates.
“I remember in the course of the ceremony, there was one rallying cry that there was no health facility, and we promised that we were going to do something about it.
“On getting to town, we started talking to corporate bodies and donors who said we had to wait until the budget was passed. And since I wasn’t satisfied with the responses I was getting, I had to mention it to close friends that this is one of the immediate needs of the IDPs and fortunately, Capt. Hosa took it upon himself to partner with us and do this.
“So I want to commend him for this gesture. That’s why I’m happy that through their efforts, we have been able to put this in place. Some may express disappointment that this is small, thinking that it would be a gigantic structure”, he disclosed.
Earlier in the year, Dogara lost composure and shed tears on sighting hundreds of orphaned children living in the Uhogua Edo state, IDP camp.
The Speaker who was in the camp to donate relief materials to the IDPs could not hold back his tears over the situation of the orphans even as he pleaded with spirited individuals to help meet the needs of millions of Internally Displaced Persons in the country.
In order to meet the immediate needs of the children, Dogara pledged to write off the fees of hundreds of children who sat for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination(SSCE) conducted by the West African Examination Council(WEAC) National Examination Council(NECO) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME)
Though the Speaker’s kind gestures are commendable, what is much more important to observers and relevant stakeholders is the “Bill for an Act to Establish the North-East Development Commission (NEDC)” sponsored by him.
For many like Senator Garba, even beyond policies, it is a strong and innovative legislation such as the NEDC Bill which passed second reading in the House on December 15 2015 and was referred to the committee on IDPs, Refugees and Initiatives on North-East, that will bring lasting succour to the people of the region.
On the day of the debate on the bill, the unselfish disposition of Nigerians to the rehabilitation of the North-East was best displayed by House Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Alluding to recent reports of how money running into billions of naira was disbursed by the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki who is currently standing trial for money laundry as well as the many reports on the controversial “Abacha loot”, Gbajabiamila who contested against Dogara noted that the sums being reported by the media could be used to reconstruct the communities affected by insurgency. This is even as he urged that the bill be passed “with the speed of light”.
Speaking on the bill, Dogara reminded his colleagues that not less than 2.3 million persons had been displaced following the destruction of their towns and villages by Boko Haram. This is just as he said that there are 700 thousand “casualties” of the insurgency.
He stressed that the reconstruction of communities destroyed by the insurgents as well as the rehabilitation of IDPs needed to be done holistically, hence the importance of establishing a development commission for the region.
Dogara who stepped aside for his deputy Yussuf Lasun to preside over plenary while he presented two other bills for second reading on the floor didn’t have to deal with any dissenting voice as all three of his bills were passed with a loud voice vote of “aye”.
It was glaring, that his colleagues in the chambers wanted to be seen as supporting the Speaker and observers believe that for Dogara to be recorded to have pioneered the reconstruction of his region, he would have to use his clout to get concurrent passage of the bill in the Senate and even presidential assent for it on record time.