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Sunday, April 28, 2013

INSIDE MAIDUGURI WAR-TORN ECONOMY



       The day was Tuesday 23, March 2013; I was on the road to Maiduguri from Kano when a friend called me and alerted me about an explosion along the popular Sir Kashim Ibrahim way, targeting a Joint Task Force (JTF) vehicle. For those that are not familiar with Maiduguri, Kashim Ibrahim way is like the economic nerve centre of the Borno state capital as it gathers along it length most of the major commercial banks (including the adjacent CBN office), and Maiduguri offices of major corporate organisations. This is only one of the many attacks at the city main corporate organisations hub that has killed business people and thereby killing the moral of those that are alive. The stakes are very high when ever one engages in business transactions along Maiduguri very dangerous streets, as you have to watch out for the unknown. Live is indeed very short in Maiduguri! But, the main market centre of the town is located not far away from there, in a central location that is popularly called Post office, after the Nigerian postal office and NITEL offices that are located around. Just a stone thrown from there is the Maiduguri most well known market, the Monday market; I first came to know about this market through my primary school English text books. Monday market is like Abubakar Rimi (Sabon Gari) market in Kano or Abubakar Gumi market in Kaduna, this is to tell you how central this market is to the economy of the state. But, as you might have guessed, the market area is one of the most dangerous spots in the battle between JTF and Boko Haram. A sound of gun shot or a near by explosion is not uncommon around that area. JTF troops can enter the market wielding very dangerous weapons at any hour searching for Boko Haram members or weapons. The same thing applies to Boko Haram as they visit the market regularly to attack their victims.
    Last week massacre at Baga town, located at the shore of Lake Chad (one of Africa great lakes) has further worsen the situation in the state. Baga town is arguable the most important fishing town in Northern Nigeria, which has no other rival in the whole of Nigeria. Its inhabitant are mostly fishers, some of them coming from as far as Sokoto and Kebbi states at the North Western corner of the country; every day lorries loaded with fish left Baga town for the popular Baga fish market located in Maiduguri city. It is from there that smoked fish from Baga find it ways to the other parts of the country. Now that Baga town has been destroyed the number of unemployed and displaced families shall increase throughout the state, further collapsing the remaining economic activities that take place in the area. Last farming season like the one that is about to enter next month will encounter many disruptions due to the war going on in the land. The fact that many of the youth that cultivate the land migrated to safer areas of the country is a devastating blow to farmers and economy of Borno state. Many farming communities have been displaced; while the few that work their farms, produces less output than before the crisis. The annual assistance that come to farmers in form of sending extension workers to farms and subsidized farm inputs have reduced as the government has found herself entangled in a costly war. The recent efforts by the current state government to boost irrigation farming has not succeeded as expected as the insurgents have chased away the farm workers and supervisors who were engaged to developed the program in the far northern fringe of the state.
   One noticeable feature of Maiduguri town is persistent rise in the price of some basic commodities since the start of the crisis. Price of commodities such as food items, electrical appliances, and car parts have increased relative to what is found in more peaceful parts of the country. This is part of the cost that inhabitants of Borno state have to pay. The rise in inflation in the city and high level of unemployment have combined to put its citizens in more hardship and suffering; and this is not to add the pure cost of insecurity that has caused the lost of many lives and properties. The work of JTF troops in the vicinity of Maiduguri has caused the closing of many road side businesses and in some cases burning and destruction of goods worth millions of Naira. One good example here on how ordinary traders have to pay, as a result of an attack by suspected Boko Haram members on JTF vehicle, was an incident that happened at post office some weeks back. In response to that particular bomb attack traders alleged that JTF set their goods on fire and order them to evacuate from the area of their business. Small scale business and artisan have (in their own ways) bear the brunt of  attacks by suspected members of Boko Haram who alleged that their victims are spying on them; in such cases many barbers, petty traders, vulcanizers, drivers and labourers have lost their lives thereby depriving the economy of the state of its very productive citizens. Since the start of the crisis in 2009 the number of people who left the state are in hundred of thousands many never to come back. Do not for get that before the crisis Maiduguri is the most attractive city to petty traders and other business people in the North after Kano, but this has since become history as other cities such as Gombe have capitalised on this to built their commercial base.
      Like most major northern towns before the advent of Boko Haram crisis, Maiduguri remaining industries have collapsed leaving in their trails the shadow of their former self. The aftermath of this on the economy of the state has led to lost of thousands of jobs and investment worth billions of Naira. Now that the crisis has finished what remain of the few skeleton industries and business in the once vibrant capital, what is next for the government? The odious atmosphere of war has a killing effect on business continuity; forcing those business that insist on leaving their doors open to work far below capacity. Now that foreigners such as European, Indians, and Chinese are being hunted and killed, the deterioration in infrastructures that these people help to built is going into a new low. Thus, helping to destroy the economy further and scare away the most needed foreign investment for the development of the region.  Lagos street in Maiduguri is one of the most popular locations in the state capital because of it many shops that sell all kinds of things particularly to the rich. But, the devastating impact of the crisis can be seen glaringly for any one that cares to go there, as sight of burn shops and shut down businesses is there for any one to see. In one of the incidents that took place there, allege members of Boko Haram bombed a moving JTF vehicle killing score of armies including it was said a senior ranking officer. In retaliation JTF troops were alleged to have set fire to shops and vehicles located on the street. Thus, for the risk takers that remain there to pursue their business, they have to do that bearing in mind the risk of bomb exploding, shootings from Boko Haram or JTF retaliation. That is how live is in Maiduguri. It takes courage and determination to stay and do your day to day activities.
     Southern Borno, an area that is mostly populated by non-Kanuri and that shares a border with Gombe and Adamawa states, has enjoyed lower insurgent attacks compare to central and northern parts of the state. Because of that farming activities are less affected by the crisis as I have seen during my recent visit to the area. But, even that does not means the area does not have it own problems. The area has for long surfer from neglect by both the federal and state governments; in my many sojourns around this country I have never come across an area that has bad roads as that part of the country. Couple with the mountainous geography of the area and absence of industries the place is one of the most difficult to live in, poverty stare at you as you enter its hilly vicinities. The near collapse of education sector in the whole of Borno state is very painful. The sight of burn schools is very common in rural parts of the state. The fear of attack on both the students and their teachers make imparting of any knowledge in Borno schools very difficult. During last year admission process of undergraduate students, University of Maiduguri found it difficult to fill it places as it has to come out with many admission lists as those given admission earlier refused to come and register for fear for their lives. Borno state government is indeed overstretched as it shares it meager budget between restoring peace and other sectors such as education and building of roads. In education the continue burning of schools make it more difficult for the state government to pull the sector out of it years of decay and low productivity.
    One remembers how peaceful Borno and Plateau states were, that they were proclaimed centres of peace and tourism. Surprisingly enough, the two states are the most volatile in northern Nigeria today; where peace refuses to reign, killing of people and destruction of properties the order of the day. The famous palace of Shehu El-Kanemi in the heart of Borno, and great Lake Chad in the north have attracted thousands of tourists from in and outside Nigeria, generating millions of naira in the process and creating jobs for others. Alas, that has become history, no tourist come to a place where he becomes a target. A place where light-skin foreigners are hunted and killed for no other crime than that they are in a place where they are not wanted; as a result the state has lost millions of Naira annually in the form of revenue. When Obasanjo and  later Yar’ adua were awarding the contract for the conversion of Kano to Maiduguri road into an express way, one of the main justifications they gave for awarding the contract was that it could serve as part of the much larger trans- Sahara road linkages between West, North, and Central Africa. Maiduguri has (since time immemorial) being the door that link traders from lands north of Lake Chad which is today occupied by Chad and Niger (and other far North Arabian countries) and the Southern part of the lake occupied by Nigeria.
         Before the present crisis, hundreds of trailers full of goods left Kano every week to Maiduguri city en route to Chad and Central Africa republic.  But, that has since change with the advent of the present crisis. One, there develop a kind of moral killing go slow on the road from Kano to Maiduguri due to dozens of check points mounted by security forces on the road; these slow down a journey of five hours into twelve hours or more. Two, the border that linked Nigeria with these Northern countries was blocked with the crisis worsening and entering a new dimension; today, it is only few vehicles that are allowed to cross the border, as a results goods worth millions of Naira have perished. These aforementioned facts have further put the nail on the coffin of Borno dead economy. In conclusion, the strategic importance of Borno state to the economies of the countries surrounding Lake Chad has been done a devastating blow by the on going crisis. The reduction in the movement of goods and people, the destruction of goods worth millions of naira, and the emigration of people from the area is a clear sign of a collapse economy. The earlier the federal government (and neighboring governments) find a lasting solution to the present problem, the better for the people of a region that has suffered too much for too long.

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