Nigeria: Three Borno Local Govts Largely Deserted After Recent Boko Haram Attacks - Lawmaker

Borno State.
22 December 2019

The recent attacks by members of the Islamic State's West African Province (ISWAP), a faction of the Boko Haram, has displaced the majority of the residents of a federal constituency of Borno State, a House of Representatives member, Usman Zanna, has said.

Mr Zanna, a first-time legislator who represents Gubio, Kaga, Magumeri federal constituency of Borno State, said more than 20 separate attacks were carried out by the insurgents in the three local government areas of his constituency in October this year. A situation, he said, has displaced most of his constituents from their ancestral abode.

Mr Zanna, who spoke in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said due to increasing pressure mounted on his constituency by ISWAP, he can only access a part of one of the relatively safe local government areas, Kaga.

Kaga is located, largely, along the Maiduguri-Kano highway.

"One cannot but appreciate the efforts that the Nigerian troops are putting on the ground to see that they secure the entire Borno state and especially my constituency," he said.

"But I will not shy away from saying the fact that my constituency is one of the most challenged by insecurity posed by the ISWAP faction of the Boko Haram. Particularly, Gubio local government was attacked for about 9 times within the month of October alone. Magumeri was severally attacked in the month of September where all government institutions and presence like the secretariat, the government lodge, schools, health facilities, private properties, including my own house was burnt down by the insurgents."

Mr Zanna also mentioned that Gajigana, one of the large towns in Magumeri Local Government Area "was attacked more than six times in the month of October this year."

He said though the military was able to repel and "kill many of the insurgents" the attacks came with a huge casualty on the civil populace.

"In Gajigana, we lost many members of our gallant youth vigilante volunteers known as Civilian JTF," he said.

"I have to commend the military for moving in swiftly in Gajigana and other attacked towns to repel, mitigate damage and killing some of the Boko Haram members including one of their commanders that was killed in Gubio town in October.

"But the truth of the matter is that the ISWAP faction of the Boko Haram is putting a lot of pressure on the two local government areas of my constituency which are Gubio and Magumeri, and this has been setting back government efforts to restore civil life in those vast locations."

Mass Displacement

Describing ISWAP as one of the most deadly arms of Boko Haram, the federal lawmaker said it would be suicidal for his people to remain in that hostile area. He said despite the attacks and displacements, his constituents are the only displaced persons that are not living in any official IDP camp.

"It is not wrong to say that my entire constituents are in displacement, but the interesting thing is that none of them in the three local government areas live in IDP camps," he said.

"They are either living in the local government headquarters, some in a rented house in neighbouring communities like in the Maiduguri metropolis. So this even makes it difficult for me and even the government in reaching out to them in a very organized manner to support them with livelihood needs and so on. But that won't be an excuse not to take supplies to them.

"So I have approached NEMA to help in that regard, the state government, I must say, is highly supportive, especially the recent flooding that plagued Ngamdu town of Kaga local government where the governor promised to rebuild destroyed houses and also provided food supports for them.

"And I have to commend the government for that. I have also approached the Northeast Development Commission for assistance because my people are in serious need of help and support because if insurgents can attack a local government nine times in a month, it is natural that the entire populace would flee the area else they would all be killed. For now, most of the populace in these two communities have moved en mass to Maiduguri."

Pressure From Helpless Constituents

The House of Reps member said the mass displacement has caused his constituents to mount pressure on elected public officers to provide for their basic needs not met by the government.

"There has been serious pressure from the constituents who have been calling us to help in the areas of paying their house rents, children school fees, food and so on," he said.

"As a legislator, one can only do very little in this regard. But the only way to bring ample assistance to them is to approach the federal government agency and commission charged with such kind of responsibilities to come to our aid. Last month in early November, I was at the NEMA office, after I had written a request letter to them for assistance, and I was assured that it was being approved."

Frustrating Oil Exploration

Gubio, Kaga and Magumeri towns of Borno fall under the Northern Borno senatorial district that is rated as the most disadvantaged district in the state in terms of education.

There is no conventional tertiary institution in the 10 local government areas that made up Borno-North.

It is expected that if federal government-backed oil prospecting efforts of the state oil firm, NNPC, leads to the discovery of crude, the region and the people may begin to witness development from the proceed of the oil resources.

Mr Zanna said the Boko Haram activities have not only caused his constituents massive loss of lives and property, but the years of insurgency have also robbed his area the chance to join the oil-producing regions of Nigeria.

It was at a village near Gubio that a team of geologists from the University of Maiduguri engaged by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to carry out oil exploration in northern Borno were attacked in July 2017.

"Oil exploration started in our area, within part of my constituency precisely in the '80s and it continued gradually until around 2001 when I was the chairman of the local government; it was at that time that one of the drilling sites was closed during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo.

"But actually we believe that my area, Magumeri, and Gubio has a lot of prospect for oil; that's why the federal government under this current dispensation deployed the NNPC back to the location to resume oil prospecting before it was later suspended due to the attack and killing as well as abduction of some of the Geologist working there.

"Despite that, we believe that when peace returns to the area, oil would be found there even in commercial quantity if the NNPC returns to work. Diffa province, in the Niger Republic where oil was recently discovered, is not far from Gubio local government, I see no reason, both scientific and logical, to say that oil cannot be found on the Nigerian side.

"If they said that there is a high quantity of gas in our area, then there is hope that crude oil could also be found. We believe there is oil in my constituency because there are rumors that even this Boko Haram conflict in that region and northern part of Borno, is a conspiracy theory by some foreign bodies to frustrate the process of discovering oil in our area.

"But thank God the federal government is committed to seeing that oil is discovered, just like it was recently discovered in Bauchi State. So we are very confident that with the return of peace, oil would be discovered in Borno state as well.

Water is Gold

Mr Zanna said one of the major challenges the Boko Haram activities posed in his constituency is that it is frustrating efforts to provide potable water to the people. He said it takes extra engineering efforts to tap water in the locale. This situation, he said, makes water a gold to the people.

"Water is the major challenge for our people in my constituency. Last month even the state governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, had kindly asked me if there is something I felt should be urgently provided for my people and I told him we need water, to which he approved some borehole projects for us," he said.

"You see in my constituency, water is gold. In Magumeri, it is not easy to get water by drilling a borehole. The idea of shallow boreholes is not easy there, except when you drill up to 300 meters to 400meters before reaching the water. That is why we say water is gold in our areas and it is for this reason that we always mount pressure on governments and their relevant agencies to come to our aid in that regard."

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