After the Second World War, the United States of America – which suffered the least loss in terms of human and material resources, emerged as the pre-eminent economic and military power in the world. That was not a surprise. What was surprising was that within a decade or two, the countries that suffered the most devastation – Japan and Germany – emerged the 2nd and 3rd most powerful economies, beating Britain and France which had suffered comparatively less damage. How and why did this happen?
The damage to Japanese and German cities, towns, villages, factories and infrastructure was so devastating that while the British and French were able to rehabilitate large parts of their countries, the Japanese and Germans didn’t have that option. They had to rebuild most of their homes, villages, towns, cities, roads, hospitals, factories, schools and critical infrastructure from scratch.
The massive reconstruction projects created jobs and economic activity, while the products from their factories – most of which had to be totally rebuilt – played key roles in the recovery of Japan and Germany. This development was critical in stabilizing the two countries and giving them the competitive edge they still have today. The Japanese and Germans were probably more dedicated to the causes they fought for than Abubakar Shekau and his bunch of lunatics would ever be; but with careful management, both countries are now beacons of stability in their respective regions.
The analogy about rising from positions of utter destruction and hopelessness to becoming pacesetters, in relation to the North East of Nigeria is clear. The region has been utterly devastated by nearly six years of guerilla and conventional warfare, as well as mindless killings and suicide bombings. Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured, millions displaced and entire communities uprooted. Agriculture and other economic activity have suffered and poverty has worsened.
Now that with the support of Chad, Cameroun and Niger, our military seems to be sensing victory against Boko Haram, it is important to design a systematic approach to rebuilding the whole region. The aim should be to reintegrate the North East into the rest of Nigeria, given that even before the insurgency, the region – comprising the six states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe – was the poorest, least educated and had the worst unemployment rate in Nigeria.
This is the time for Nigeria and the Nigerian leadership to display ambition and courage. We must bring this painful episode to proper closure by ensuring that a better educated, more vibrant and more prosperous region emerges from the ashes of Boko Haram. The federal government must engage all stakeholders and commit to rebuilding the North East from scratch, borrowing the concept of the Three Rs – Reconstruction, Repatriation and Rehabilitation.
The federal government, along with all state governments, local government areas, community leaders and religious bodies should map out a development agenda for the North East that would be implemented and completed within the next decade. The grand vision must have a code, specific targets, funding and deliverables that are guided by Reconstruction (of homes, villages, towns and infrastructure). Repatriation (of people to their homes and villages) and Rehabilitation (of people, communities and livelihoods).
Since Boko Haram seems to have a special hatred for western education and specifically targeted students and teachers for slaughtering and burning alive, the damage to education is incalculable. Education must therefore be given priority. All schools destroyed by the group must be rebuilt to even higher standards. The region can borrow the model schools system introduced by Governor Ameachi of Rivers state. Students from the worst hit states – particularly Borno and Yobe should be given scholarships to university level – funded and supported by the federal, state, local government and the Victims of Terror Trust Fund.
The federal government should consider building a North-East Highway, linking the capitals and major cities of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states to open up the economies and fast-track socio-economic development. In addition, hospitals, markets, border posts, bridges and other infrastructure destroyed by the insurgents should be rebuilt, as much as possible using local labour and materials as a way of empowering impoverished returnees.
Critically, agriculture must also be revived. The South Chad Irrigation Project – which is one of the largest irrigation projects in Africa – must be revived. With, or without contributions from other countries, Nigeria must move ahead with the Lake Chad/ Ubangi Water Transfer Project which would revive Lake Chad – and the lives of the 22 million people who depend on it. Small earth dams should be built in communities to provide potable water and stimulate irrigation.
Other important aspects include reconstruction of military posts, telecommunications equipment and the formal absorption of ‘Civilian JTF’ and local hunters who helped fight Boko Haram into the local police and other security outfits. After years of neglect, this could be the chance for Nigeria to fully integrate the North East and turn adversity into prosperity.