PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, inaugurated the North East Development Commission, NEDC, with retired General Paul Tarfa as its Chairman. The work of the Board is to rehabilitate the zone which has been devastated by the twin evils of Boko Haram Islamic terrorism and the massive depletion of the Lake Chad.
Handed a N10 billion grant for its take-off and operations for the first year, Tarfa and his six-man team are to commission a comprehensive survey of the damage done by the ten-year Boko Haram conflict, attend to the residual humanitarian needs and rebuild broken infrastructure, especially schools and health facilities.
We commend the Federal Government for this gesture, though we disagree with the political coloration where Buhari said he took the step to reward the people of the North East because of their electoral support for him. Rehabilitating a section of the country damaged by war and natural disasters should not be tied to politics or any selfish motive. It is the job of government to alleviate the suffering of citizens irrespective of their political affiliation.
The people of the North East have gone through a lot of harrowing experiences, with about three million people living as displaced persons in camps and host communities. Thousands of schools, homes, health centres and places of worship have been destroyed. Over 20,000 people have been killed and thousands of women and children abducted. Borno State alone has 52,000 children orphaned by the insurgency.
Tarfa’s NEDC has a lot of challenging work on its hands. The number one challenge before it is that the Boko Haram fighters are still active in many parts of the zone, especially the Lake Chad area. Reports indicate that their ranks have been swollen by the so-called Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP. The NEDC must ensure it does not carelessly expose its personnel to abductions and death. It should not waste funds by building in areas liable to be re-invaded.
Most importantly, it must shun the corruption that decimated the work of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE, headed by the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, who was relieved of his job for allegedly spending over N200 million on clearing of bush.
Many highly-placed individuals from that embattled zone involved in activities aimed at reducing the suffering of the people have been caught profiting from blood money, stealing trailer-loads of food items and pocketing billions of Naira. Tarfa’s NEDC must make a big difference and live up to the people’s expectations.
We hope, in no distant time, a peaceful North East will recover from its travails and become once again, a major source of food and economic boost for the nation.