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Africa

Nigeria’s president commissions unfinished projects in Lagos

media Muhammadu Buhari commissions a boarding school in Maiduguri on Thursday 18th April. Audu Ali MARTE/AFP

President Muhammadu Buhari has made whistle-stop visits to the cities of Lagos and Maiduguri this week to commission various projects built during his first four-year tenure, including several that are still under construction.

Lagos was on lock-down from the moment the presidential jet landed on the tarmac at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos where the outgoing governor Akinwumni Ambode was waiting to receive President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday.

A massive convey of 4x4s escorted by mobile police transported Ambode and Buhari less than a kilometer from the airport. They commissioned the ten-lane Airport Road together. The road is still under construction.

Ambode and Buhari continued their commissioning spree around Lagos for most of the day cutting ribbons at the Oshodi Interchange and the 500-seater Lagos Theatre along the way, neither of which are finished or in use.

There have been mixed reactions from thespians to the commissioning of the new theatre in Oregun. Filmmaker Kunle Afolayan told the Punch newspaper that “this is a very good innovation. Beyond the arts and entertainment, I see it as a commercial hub".

Critically acclaimed playwright Wole Oguntokun is “not impressed. There have been no art practitioners involved from the outset. Who is going to run the new theatre?”

Yellow versus red buses

Four hundred red buses were also unveiled by Ambode and Buhari at the Ikeja Bus Terminal. The same bus terminal that was commissioned by Buhari during a state visit in March 2018, and has remained empty ever since.

The buses are meant to replace the iconic 14-seater yellow minibuses that currently transport Lagosians around Africa’s most populous city. Drivers and owners of the yellow buses are resisting change. So the red buses may remain parked in the bus terminal for several months or even years to come.

The expansion of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital’s maternity ward is complete, but like most government-run institutions in Nigeria it is dependent on the current administration for funds.

Federal and local government have been paralyzed since the general elections in March saw a changing of the guard. Governor Ambode was voted out of office and his commissioners who administer local coffers are likely to leave with him. His successor – Babajide Sanwo-Olu – will take over on the 29th May. Until then, the commissioned projects will remain unfinished and unused.

Rebuilding the northeast

A day later, the presidential jet touched down in Maiduguri, a city in the northeast where the Boko Haram insurgency began almost a decade ago. Buhari paid a courtesy call to the Emir of Borno as has been the tradition for any dignitary visiting the Borno Emirate for over six centuries. It was in Borno that Islam first entered the region in the 16th century. Corruption by political elites in recent years and extreme poverty of the masses has created fertile ground for Boko Haram.

In contrast to Lagos, all the projects Buhari commissioned in Borno are complete. Buhari was led around Maiduguri by another outgoing governor, Kashim Shettima, whose two four-year terms coincided with the height of the Boko Haram conflict. Together they commissioned several of the 40 boarding schools meant for the victims of Boko Haram that are being built around the state.

“Without Governor Shettima’s confidence in me, there is no way I could have built these schools,” explained Ahmad Buba, a 33 year-old architect who has designed 13 of the so-called mega schools. The largest of which can house up to 3,000 orphans.

Architect Buba has also built six mosques with classrooms attached as part of Governor Shettima’s drive to rid Maiduguri of the almejeri system in which unqualified Islamic scholars teach children the q’aran but nothing else. Many of these children have been recruited by Boko Haram.

Western education

Only one of the schools Ahmad has built is being used so far. It is not yet clear how the schools will be financed to ensure that children have learning materials, meals and uniforms. A bigger problem is how to convince children to go to school in a region where Boko Haram have kidnapped scores of children, including over 300 from Chibok in 2014. Boko Haram means, “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.

Shettima has survived two attempts on his life by suspected Boko Haram militants while serving as governor. His resolve for developing his war-torn state is clear. “I don’t want my people to live in camps. They are places of vice,” Shettima said in 2017 during an interview with RFI’s sister station France 24.

An estimated two million people have been displaced by Boko Haram, many of whom live in overcrowded camps. There have been scandals over sex-for-food, and there is a high rate of drug abuse in the camps.

Shettima’s successor is a former professor at the University of Maiduguri, Babagana Zulum. His career in academia suggests he is likely to value education and so may appeal to parents to send their children to school. He is yet to lay out a plan as to how the mega schools will be financed during his tenure.

Humanitarian entrepreneurs

Over 3 billion euros has been pledged by international donors to the Presidential Initiative for the North East since it was established in 2014. In 2016, it was unable to account for 20 million euros it received. In 2017, the third most senior person in Buhari’s government, Babachir Lawal, was suspended for alleged stealing from the fund.

While the fund remains vulnerable in a country ranked 144 out of 175 on the Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Index, it has helped finance a budding crop of young entrepreneurs. Mary Igbazua set up the Northeast Humanitarian Innovation Hub after applying for a grant, “we have received over 100,000,000 naira (40 million euros) that we use to incubate entrepreneurs with great ideas for solving the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast of Nigeria.”

Projects include a 3D printing company that designs limbs for victims of Boko Haram bomb blasts. So far interns at the project have fitted an arm on a young boy and a policeman. There is no money to expand the initiative. Although the interns have a skill that is highly sought after in the private sector, that is not an option for Kabiru Adama, “I want to give back to my community and to the victims of Boko Haram.”

Of the two million displaced people in the region, many are women of menstruating age. So Zainab Lawan has created the ‘Dignity Kit’ with the help of the Northeast Humanitarian Innovation Hub. She has trained local people to make antiseptic, body crème and soap, which go into the kits together with sanitary towels that are imported.

The kits cost one dollar, which is a considerable sum of money for someone surviving in an internally displaced person’s camp. Lawan is reliant on finding partners among NGOs or the government. She has manufactured and distributed 12,000 kits so far. That is a drop in the ocean considered how many women and girls are displaced and in need of basic hygiene products.

Buhari jetted off to London on a private trip on Friday. He is due to begin his next four year term as president on the 29th May. Nigeria’s dynamic and young population are expecting him to go beyond cutting ribbons and find ways to make the projects completed during his first tenure into sustainable services.

 

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