Softly, softly: the humanitarian schemes aimed at countering Boko Haram

By Obi Anyadike

Editor-at-Large and Africa Editor

Northeast Nigeria faces a double curse – Boko Haram and deep poverty. Now the government and some private philanthropists are deliberately linking the two by rolling out schemes to provide economic opportunities and humanitarian support as antidotes to militancy.

IRIN takes a look at some of these initiatives:

The Presidential Initiative for Northeast Nigeria (PINE)

PINE is basically a Marshall Plan for the region, allocated US$25 million* for 2015. It links security to social and economic interventions in a classic hearts-and-minds “soft power” strategy. It promises “immediate relief to affected states in the northeast while putting the region on a strong footing for economic resurgence and long-term sustainable viability”, says an overview document.

According to PINE, an estimated 5.9 million people are affected by the crisis: 4 million are food insecure; 1.5 million are displaced (a higher figure than the government’s disaster agency, NEMA, uses); health facilities are closed; IDP host communities are stretched; and humanitarian access is severely limited. The violence has halted infrastructure projects, created massive unemployment and triggered the flight of skilled workers and traders south.

The short-term programme is aimed at humanitarian interventions through existing agencies – facilitating cash transfers, and fast tracking the completion of stalled federal projects.

Medium-term projects seek to revitalize agriculture, infrastructure, health and education. There are commitments to entrepreneurship and skills acquisition for youth and women. The PINE initiative is being implemented by the federal and state governments and driven by a committee with representatives from 20 ministries.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

This is an equally ambitious umbrella programme run out of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). The strategy has three streams:

Counter radicalisation - focused on community engagement, economic and education-based projects to stem the flow of recruits to Boko Haram

De-radicalisation – largely prison-based, to reintegrate extremists and their families back into society

Strategic communication – producing a counter-narrative based on moderate Islamic views.

Forty convicted Boko Haram detainees and a much larger number still awaiting trial will be held in two purpose-built prisons with specially trained warders to oversee rehabilitation. The first facility is due to open in March.

To tackle the impact of violence, the CVE programme has built from scratch a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) capacity within the national health system. The first PTSD centre opened in the northern city of Kano in June 2014; a second is planned for Maiduguri in the northeast. The CVE is also pioneering education reforms to inject “critical thinking and logical reasoning” into the school curriculum. Twelve model schools have opened, and the programme will be expanded next year.

“The solutions are as complex as the reasons for radicalism,” Fatima Akilu, director of behavioral analysis at ONSA told IRIN. “We have to remake society to deal with terrorism – this is a lifetime’s work.”

Almajiri Education Programme (AEP)

Out of choice, millions of Muslim children in the north are schooled under the Almajiri system, where they are attached to a Koranic teacher (with maybe only a shaky understanding of the text) to learn by rote for years. The children support themselves and their mentor by begging, a mendicant tradition prone to abuse. It has also left the north educationally disadvantaged and the children susceptible to radicalisation. 

At the beginning of 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a programme to build 400 schools for Almajiri in Nigeria’s 19 northern states - getting children off the streets and into a formal education system.

The first model school was opened in the ancient Islamic city of Sokoto in April, providing both Islamic tuition and the regular Nigerian curriculum. By 2013 over 100 schools had been built under the AEP and handed to state education boards. But there has been controversy over the use of public money to fund essentially religious education.

Safe Schools Initiative (SSI)

In the wake of the abduction by Boko Haram of 200 school girls from the town of Chibok, the SSI was launched by the Nigerian government and international aid agencies. UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown worked with Nigerian and international business leaders to provide a starting donation of US$10 million, which was then matched by the Nigerian government.

SSI aims to rehabilitate and reconstruct schools, and create safe learning environments in the northeast. Improvements are as basic as providing fencing, sanitation, potable water, decent classrooms and teacher accommodation.

In his 2015 budget speech, Jonathan suggested that 2,400 children could be transferred from high-risk areas of the northeast to other parts of the country.

Civil society groups have questioned that proposal, and expressed concerns about the effort to provide better security for students and staff potentially leading to the militarisation of schools.

Terrorism Victims’ Support Fund

A fund-raising dinner in August 2014 secured US$400 million in pledges to support a presidential appeal to help those affected by Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan kicked off proceedings by donating US$50 million in federal money.

The titans of Nigerian industry then stepped forward; Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, set the tone by announcing only those donating a US$5 million or more would earn a presidential handshake. The Fund is chaired by billionaire shipping magnate Theophilus Danjuma

Questions have been raised over what the fund has actually achieved. News reports suggest that despite the pledges made at the gala dinner, only US$70 million has actually been received. 

The Fund’s website does not reveal any details of disbursements. The only vague reference to spending is a single sentence: “In the past year, kindness supported programmes that served over 700,000 people [in] 23 states.”

 *Currency conversion based on the current Naira to dollar parallel rate. The Naira has depreciated by 25 percent since mid-2014