Engineer Satomi Ahmed served as Chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA) when the Boko Haram insurgency was at its peak. In this interview, Ahmed, now an elected member of the House of Representatives, recounts his experiences on the IDP crisis in the North-East. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: You became chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency at the most critical period of the Boko Haram insurgency. How did you cope?
Engineer Satomi Ahmed: The challenges were indeed enormous. First was coordination because if you look at the number of developmental partners that were in Maiduguri at the onset, they were just trooping in and it was at the peak of rehabilitation process. Then, the post- insurgency. At the time, very huge numbers of IDPs were coming in and we had a number of camps that were managed singlehandedly by the Borno State government. So, we have coordination as I have mentioned, we have protection issues that have to do with gender based violence, health issues, sanitation and quite a number of others. Of course, before my appointment, the Agency was a bit moribund, but after my appointment, the governor gave the matching orders, provided the resources and gave us the freedom to implement policies and manage the dire situations then. That accounted for the modest successes we achieved which people are talking about till date.
DT: As a member-elect into the House of Representatives, what are your expectations?
Ahmed: My main expectation is to join other progressives and development like-minded patriots to make laws, do the necessary oversights to ensure good governance for the progress, security, economic emancipation of the people and prosperity of the country. I am full of ideas, I am fit, I am young and I can assure you that I am ready to hit the ground running in the service of my people and country.
DT: What are the core IDP management issues you had to implement to achieve these successes, particularly at the most critical times?
Ahmed: At the outset of my assumption as SEMA chairman, we sat down for a period of 24 days to study the problems and what policy changes were required to arrest them. We realized that without a coherent data there was no way we could manage the IDPs crisis. We engaged consultants and other development partners, particularly the International Organization on Migration. We came up with a tracking system which gave us a very reliable data on movement of IDPs and the rate they were trooping in. We also developed a data base of their immediate needs like food, healthcare and sanitation. Through that, we got a coherent data and made it available to every development partner who wanted to intervene and to help them identify where, when, why, who and what. We sat down afterwards to subject the issues of coordination to serious scrutiny in order to avoid duplication of efforts. It provided all the partners with an idea of what government was doing and in what areas their services were required. So, instead of operating in a cluster form we decided that we should operate on sectoral arrangement in line with international practices. We dissected it into sectors such as food and security, what we call WASH, that is (water, sanitation and hygiene) and above all protection because most of these vulnerable people were women and children and most of them were separated and unaccompanied and had lost everything including their parents and husbands. Then setting up the camp and the central feeding system presented their own peculiar challenges as well as issues like diversion of food, improper utilization of resources earmarked for particular projects. We always operated on international standards and we came up with a feeding ratio per household after the collection of data. We gave food monthly to the heads of households so they could decide what they wanted to cook at any particular time just as is encapsulated in the international best practice system of partnering the WFP.
DT: How was the working relationship with international donor agencies like the WFP and FAO?
Ahmed: The relationship was perfect. It played a critical part in the overall success of our operations. On monthly basis we sat down at a meeting usually chaired by NEMA or my humble self and at each meeting we drove the message home that Nigeria was by no means a failed state. Nigeria never at any point ceased to exist or failed to act on its responsibilities and they must adhere to the rules of the country on humanitarian service operations. They understood that they are not a monopoly and must therefore liaise with the government and must key into the plans of government. It is important for me to recall that before the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Boko Haram had controlled about 20 of the 27 local government areas of Borno State. But Buhari’s coming and the new strategy he worked out led to the liberation of all the hitherto captured territories. After liberation of communities by the gallant Nigerian troops, SEMA was always the first to be called in order to set up an IDP camp. We had 16 satellite camps accommodating over 470,000 IDPs as at last year before I left office to take up my new appointment as the chairman of the Borno State Road Maintenance Agency (BORMA). The camps were in places like Dikwa, Mafa, Bama, Ngala, Banki, Damboa, Sabongari, Kukawa, Monguno, Marte, Mobbar, Konduga, Kalabalge and others. We effectively partnered with the Nigerian military and our key actors in the key sector – the WFP, the International Organization on Migration and other partners as well as the involvement of the federal government, which apart from NEMA came in through specialized interventions like the PINE. This way we started the process of rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement, the post-insurgency mainly on peace building assessment, livelihood support and other protection issues that have to do with women and children through the Ministry of Women Affairs. All the sectors I mentioned were chaired by different agencies of government, especially if an NGO or a donor wanted to do a program on education, for example, we routed them directly to the Ministry of Education because there is a sitting government and SEMA cannot do everything. If you want to intervene in health you go through the Ministry of Health and that sector would be chaired by the Commissioner for Health so that the donor would know the gap where we required intervention. This cut across all the sectors.
DT: How were you able to cope despite the the bloodletting then?
Ahmed: If you work under the mindlessness and the bloodletting conditions in which we worked, you have to keep going by the sheer motivation to provide alternatives to people in the extreme dire need for options. Put yourself in my shoes, how would you behave if you come across helpless and very vulnerable children or women whose parents and bread winners were slaughtered before their very eyes? They have lost everything and are only hanging on to life by the whiskers. I have told you in the course of this interview that as soon as the gallant troops of the Nigerian army liberated a place, we were the first people to be called to take charge and this made us to be the first to come in contact with the hard realities of the atrocities committed. These are innocent children, women and the elderly who are exposed to all manner of dangers of exploitation, abuse and hunger. You are left with no option than to get to work immediately to provide shelter and food in order to stabilize them and get them ready for the NGOs and donor agencies to get in. You profile them, provide the data for intervention agencies to rely on and continue to ensure their sanitation, health and livelihood. We were therefore driven by the stark realities of the helplessness of victims of the mindless terror campaign.
DT: What are your expectations for the future of Borno?
Ahmed: For a professor to succeed Shettima as governor, there must be a deliberate plan, authored by will to ensure consolidation of the achievements recorded. We in Borno are very proud of the decision to elect Professor Babagana Umara Zulum as governor. We acknowledge his capacity as a top scholar, a provost who repositioned a middle cadre polytechnic into a world class tertiary institution and a commissioner whose dexterity and high level of intellect ensured the success of a key component of the rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement programs in Borno State. The succession process in Borno was Nigeria’s most defining and was built on a patriotic template to quicken the progression of fixing a state that was assaulted and set for destruction. We have always believed that Borno will finally rise from the ashes of this insurgency and no one is more qualified to supervise this process than Professor Zulum. The people of Borno State must support and cooperate with our new governor and leader to take us to higher grounds of rebuilding Borno and conceiving policies and programs which would bring about prosperity and security.