Alhaji Tijani Tumsah is the immediate past vice-chairman of the defunct Presidential Committee of North-east Initiative (PCNI). He was the pioneer national secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with BODE OLAGOKE, he reveals how the committee managed humanitarian crisis in the North-east; what the newly inaugurated North-east commission should do and how President Muhammdu Buhari’s government has been able to substantially degrade Boko Haram.
The Presidential Committee on North-east Initiative (PCNI) was created to deal with the threat of humanitarian crisis in the region as a result of insurgency attacks, how would you assess the progress made?
That committee was created around the personality of General T.Y. Danjuma who is a well-known person to be straight forward. So, the first thing we did was to create a strategic development plan for intervention in the North East which we call the Buhari plan. Now, the committee had as members, many critical stakeholders from the refugee commission, from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Federal Ministry of Justice and the likes including Budget and Planning. So, the committee principally was to intervene in a variety of sectors. As at the time we came on, the situation in the North East wasn’t stable. There were a lot of issues that needed to be handled mostly security and the attendance of humanitarian conditions.
So, the committee with its programmes approached the coordination of this intervention alongside the military and also having intervention programmes that have humanitarian consequences. For instance, there was the need to have people get fed; there was the need to have medical attention and so on. In that respect we assisted and distributed alongside with NEMA and the State Emergency Agency to prepare and distribute food stuff to families that were displaced. Consequently, when peace was achieved in some locations, we also had a program for resettling people back to their communities and that also attracted the need for continuous humanitarian assistance and also rehabilitating facilities. The basic job of the PCMI was to coordinate all the efforts that were going into the North-east; the interventions by principal stakeholders by the Victim support fund, World Food Programme and so on. So, we are making sure that resources were targeted for people that needed them most. Where there were gaps, the PCMI created intervention schemes. For instance, in the area of healthcare, we had tremendous support from the West African College of Surgeons and also an organisation called Pro-Health where we did medical activities to touch the lives of at least 1,500 people across the six states. We had this continuously with free medical services in collaboration with the state. We also had some local interventions by medical doctors in facilities that were available and with that we saved a lot of lives in terms of health.
Credit must also go to the Nigerian military for stabilising these areas as much as possible even though as at now there are some areas that are still contentious, but generally peace has returned to Adamawa, Yobe and a lot of other parts in the North and people are beginning to go back and we are supporting that. With the United Nations programme we have also been able to create resettlement schemes in these states; Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Taraba where we have had meetings with stakeholders to be able to determine if it is much better to have small settlements come together in a larger group so that they can get adequate security and other infrastructure that will help in making their lives better.
With that we have also been successful because the stakeholder consists of the federal government, the state government, the local government, traditional groups and so on to identify places were that can happen and that has been done and we will ensure the North East Development Commission will now know what to do in those kind of places. Majorly, the PCMI came in at a time it was difficult. Difficult in terms of the fact that there were a lot of players in the North-east, there wasn’t any coordination, there wasn’t any targeting. We were able to come and do the coordination, we were able to ask each player to identify what he is doing, where he is doing it which allow for us to see the resources. For instance, when the World Food is doing a program there, sometimes we ask for their schedule of the food distribution with that we are able to know, who doesn’t have food, what the state government are doing in terms of food supply and what we could do to fill in gaps in those areas of needs. So, we did all that in terms of coordination, having meetings with all stakeholders every month and in the process everyone will be aware of what the other is doing but before then there wasn’t any coordination so therefore, there was a lot of disorganisation. You could find people doing interventions always in only one local government when there are needs in other local governments, but the PCMI was able to stabilise that and had it obvious what everybody is doing.
How successful was the committee regarding settling people from Cameroon, Niger; what did it do to resettle them?
The committee was saddled with the responsibility of providing coordination of the agencies that were responsible for bringing in these refugees. It is about to start right now as I speak to you having coordinated the United Nations Committee on Refugees, the national office of the Honourable Commissioner for Refugees Commission and so on; the PCMI provided a coordinating role so that you will be able to see the capability of what everyone can do to bring those people back. There are over 50,000 refugees in Cameroon alone and a larger number in Niger. So, bringing them back is also contingent on the security from where they came from because you can’t transfer people from a safe place to place that you have issues.
In terms of size, how many camps are we talking about in the North-east?
The camp is also an area we have made a lot of successes. For instance, in Yobe there is no longer an IDPs camp. The camps have reduces significantly, in terms of number they are now between 10 – 15 camps. What we seem to always forget is the fact that the number people in the camps is about only 10 per cent of the number of displaced persons. So, most of the displaced persons are in neighbouring communities where they have relatives and friends. Those people will also need medical outreach, food distribution and in addition we noticed that when we started our programme it was to provide opportunity for young ones who want to have skills and in conjunction with the federal university we were able to train at least 1,200 youth who were trained in graphic design, phone repairing and so on. Just last week, the National Content Management Board where we carried the training of these youths graduated over a 110 youths in varieties of skills. That way we intend to impact on a lot of people.
There was a time we started hearing that there were abuses of people in IDPs camps especially the females and also the fact that some where saying that they were greatly malnourished. How do you manage such situation at that time? How did you address it?
We addressed issues of food diversion, issues of abuses in the camps and there were also issues that had to do with securing the camps. The PCMI again was able to participate in structuring disciplinary structures and securities for the camps. With that I am sure you haven’t heard again recently like in the past since the coming of the committee because I remembered when one of the security officer was disciplined and even jailed for an attempt to molest someone in an IDP camp and we are happy that it has tremendously reduced.
For the benefit of insight, will you say the decision of the federal government to set up your initiative was the right one?
Yes, like I said earlier I think that was a very wise decision to have an immediate intervention and programme that would go in there, coordinate what is happening, intervene when necessary and also provide direction as to how this was supposed to go on. As part of the committees work is able in its coordination role, coordinate a lot of financial institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Southern Development bank. They were able to come and we were able to coordinate their intervention into the North-east. We now began to spend on the World Bank side over $200 million and the African Development Bank put side over $250 million, the Southern Development Bank negotiation and discussions have started but they haven’t reached the stage where the World Bank has reached at the moment. That was promoted and that was planned in a way that where is been taken care of, the state government can now look elsewhere. One plan is organised in conjunction with the state which is called the Multi Recovery programme where the World Bank will target itself on particular projects.
Is the North-east relatively peaceful now?
Relatively peaceful and that is why I said that credit must go to the Nigerian military and to the president for providing that environment for making progress in this sector without peace nothing else can happen. We have had places where partners have rebuilt classrooms and these classrooms were vandalized almost lately. So, structures were not necessarily what we were after, we focused on human development.
What is your take on the military’s declaration that insurgency has been degraded?
Like I said Boko Haram has been degraded substantially and that is why we are now able to resettle people back in their communities for instance communities in Bama, people are returning to their normal lives and their vocations. When we came on board there wasn’t a single person in Bama and in Duka because there was no peace, but with the consequent military successes in those areas people are beginning to move back. For instance, we are also part of the moves of the resettlement of people back to Bama and with the support of the state government we built back the hospital that was there in Bama which was just recently commissioned and also all the schools in Bama were resurrected by partners in the North-east. So, I would say that the military and the federal government have made tremendous progress in stabilising to a level that people will begin to think of going back and begin to go back to their various communities.
But some people think the insurgents are the ones that have metamorphosed to the bandits, kidnappers and other criminals. How possible is this?
It is possible and it is also possible that this is a new brand of banditry and because of the limitations it is hard to determine if they are the same ones in the North-east coming over to other areas or they are been created from those areas. Generally, the administration of peace and stability is very important all over the country including the Niger Delta, the North-east, the North-east, and the North- central and that is what the government has been trying to approach.
Going forward, what should Nigerians expect in the next four years in terms of restoring peace to the country?
In the next few years, I am sure the government of President Buhari would deploy a lot of resources in stabilising the security situation. Without security we can’t do anything. So, security is first and any other development comes later. There are a lot of initiatives in terms of education, in terms of healthcare, in terms of providing other facilities and infrastructures but security will also have to address these initiatives such that all these things can take place.
In 2023, it is obvious that President Buhari won’t be on the ballot. What will be the fate of the APC considering the state of affairs in the party as it stands?
We understand that President Buhari won’t be on the ballot, the APC will have to now come together again and find a suitable replacement. While he won’t be on the ballot he will still be in the party so that party will have the requisite direction and leadership for it to make progress for it to have the confidence of Nigerians, particularly with the choice of whoever will succeed President Buhari.
The ANPP which was one of the parties that came together to form APC. Looking at it going down memory lane do you think that these parties have indeed come together or are there areas that there are linkages that efforts should be made to fine tune to make the party a truly united one?
I was the secretary in the ANPP; so, in the formation of the APC, the parties that came in initially were able to fuse, but as you know as we fused we had a year to go for elections and we were able to project to the Nigerian people this formidable change agenda. So, I would say the three parties were able to come together because right now there isn’t the discussion of the legacy party you are from, but the discussion surrounds the party itself – the APC.