Opinion: Don't let reconstruction in Nigeria become a cliché

Shelters and traditional huts for the swelling population of internally displaced people in northeast Nigeria. Photo by: Roberto Saltori / CC BY-NC

Boko Haram is being forced into retreat. Aid agencies are waiting in the wings to provide multimillion dollar packages aimed at rebuilding Nigeria’s Borno State and the wider northeast region. In the coming months and years, plenty of development clichés will unfold. Lives will be saved, money will be made, resources will be wasted and the impacts will vary from profound to disappointing. If we are to avoid familiar mistakes it will be critical to harness local talent and embrace innovation.

Last week, I visited a small camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Abuja. Just three weeks ago, 20 residents at the camp set out to return to their homes in Gwoza but they could not get further than Maiduguri. People do want to go home but they can’t do so if there is nothing to go home to.

Reconstruction in northeast Nigeria is among the toughest challenges the international development community has faced in the 21st century. Borno State was already one of the poorest states in Nigeria before the emergence of Boko Haram. If basic services were substandard before the violence they are nonexistent now. It isn’t simply a case of building schools, hospitals and roads — these will require teachers, doctors and surveyors, who in turn will require teaching materials, medicines and construction materials as well as accommodation, sanitation and remuneration. Above all though, they will require security.

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Meeting these needs effectively and sustainably will easily account for the vast pot of aid already earmarked for the region. Some of the challenges around procurement, supply chain, compliance and risk management are ones Crown Agents is well placed to meet. Others are more contextual. It isn’t always possible to solve political problems with financial solutions. Ensuring buy-in from federal and state governments is essential for sustainability. There is a range of institutions who are well placed to bolster the impact of development efforts in the region including the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative, the National Emergency Management Agency from the center and the Project Coordinating Units and State Emergency Management Agencies in the States, and their impact will be stronger when lessons are properly distilled and shared. In addition, engagement with local actors will provide critical intelligence about the cultural and political complexities that need to be navigated by savvy partners. Without good governance, we can’t expect success.

There are two specific ways that aid agencies can supercharge the efficacy of their interventions. The first is to pay proper attention to some of the technological innovations that can be used to support reconstruction efforts. Solar power is becoming an affordable alternative to grid energy and can be used to power essential medical facilities. Outside of their military use, drones are now able to deliver critical supplies at previously impossible speed to remote regions. They can also be used to help plan and monitor reconstruction efforts.

Secondly, monitoring and evaluation needs to be a constant focus rather than an afterthought. There are a new range of technologies that make it easier than ever before to ensure this work is done by local people who are best placed to elicit the most accurate data. With young people facing significant challenges, training and employing them to tell stories about the reality of changes in their communities can contribute to better development outcomes as well as building skills and contributing to household incomes.

Like all countries, Nigeria contains tensions and contradictions. The proximity of poverty and prosperity is not unusual but as a middle-income country with one of the continent’s biggest economies, there are fewer excuses than ever before for not dealing effectively with the acute need and desperation that Boko Haram has left in its wake. Seasoned development professionals regularly cite the failure of the international community in Haiti as an example of how reconstruction can go badly wrong. All our best efforts — in partnership, knowledge sharing, cost effectiveness, local leadership and honest scrutiny, are going to be needed to ensure the work that is yet to be done in Nigeria becomes a powerful example of how the development community can get things right.

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About the author

  • Img 1504

    Jiru Bako

    Jiru Bako is Crown Agents' country manager in Nigeria.