Lifeline for war-weary Borno people, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today — Malcolm X

#TrackNigeria: One of the tweets I did about the progress in education and industrial leap in Maiduguri recently, Jones Abiri, once imprisoned for two years on trumped up charges of subversion, responded thus: “this is unbelievable and is contrary to what we have been hearing about the state”.  Abiri was not alone in his pessimism. Until late last year and penultimate week, it had been over 10 years since I went to Borno state, and going as far as Southern Borno. 

 Like everyone else, since Boko Haram took over the North East,  the thought of going to that state is not just suicidal, it sends shivers down my spine,  yet, here is a region, including parts of Yobe and Gombe  like Damaturu, Potiskum, Gashua, Gombe, Askira Uba, Michika we used to cruise through with my fearless and daring driver, Ahijo (he is not from Cameroon though), while  raveling in the vast environment in the ‘as-far-as-you-can-look’ beautiful desert lying fallow, with the exception of  herders and their animals that could  be sighted from afar. These were before Boko Haram took over these same lands.  

The administration of Governor Kashim Shettima is predated by Boko Haram and its devastating consequences for years. However, but for the recent thawing and degrading of BH, who would have thought that paradise was not already lost in Borno state to the dare-devil insurgents. 

 Besides, despite the disruption of daily normal living in Borno state and destruction of lives in hundreds and property worth billions of Naira in the many battlefronts that abound in the state, the people of Borno state led by their ebullient and affable Governor Shettima are equally ready to obliterate insurgency with optimism, hope, transformation and development of their state, and restore it to its past glory, no matter how tortuous the journey is.

So, while driving through Maiduguri metropolis might be apprehensive for visitors just arriving the town, based on prevailing security situation reports they get every day; for the residents of this huge and vibrant city, life is becoming normal and daily activities are going on without glitches. It should be noted that it is neither the reduction in the number of attacks nor suicide bombings that has given residents renewed confidence. There is more to it— hope, assurance, empathy and concrete rebuilding efforts by government. These subtle messages of government and development of critical infrastructure engender trust and expectation, that people can live their normal lives again, work and walk freely and feel the government has their back. The Kashim Shettima government, the federal government’s massive deployment of troops and humanitarian interventions, the reconstruction, and rehabilitation efforts under the supervision of the now governor-elect, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum are all proven antidotes to despair, which have given the people the happy faces we saw in Maiduguri. Although the fringes and outskirts, not too contiguous to Maiduguri, still record some form of attacks, the certainty of a renewed Borno state is on the horizon. 

Western education, to be or not to be, was the focus of BH’s war even though some of their leaders are ‘educated’. Meanwhile, if the 44 mega schools and other educational facilities receiving attention of the current administration had been in place years back, perhaps many of them would probably not have turned out to terrorise their people and environment. In other words, they became outlaws because they had no good educational foundation. Conversely, the kind of schools I saw in Borno state, many of which surpass private and public universities in Nigeria, could be the answer to reverse the ugly trend of insurgency in the region.  Benjamin Franklin said “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. So, while the lack of investment in this sector has come back to haunt us all,  Shettima’s investment in education is the appropriate way to avoid the mistakes of the past; having  built the best primary schools in the state including boarding facilities that serve as home and school for orphans of insurgency. “Each of the schools is designed with air-conditioned classroom, digital teaching aides built with K-YAN technology that is customized with local curriculum. The schools have libraries, playgrounds, dining halls”, and meals are served gratis and uniforms are provided free of charge too.

 Most of these schools are named after prominent personalities including former governors Modu Sheriff and late Mala Kachala, the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari and business mogul, Aliko Dangote, for supporting Borno state and victims of the war. 

With his interest in education seen as the antidote to the current malaise of misguided youth drafted to the war, perhaps Shettima is at one with Malcolm X who was quoted to have said “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”.  For Borno children attending one of these schools, their future is somehow secure with the solid foundation already established by today’s government. And for the first time in the history of the state, under the guidance of Shettima, Borno already has a university. The bill establishing it has been passed into law and major structures are already in place waiting for academic activities to commence.

Apart from the attention given to education, other social services such as health and infrastructure and industries to absorb the teeming unemployed youth are also not left out. The industrial hub caught my attention. The practical demonstration of their works to show how chairs and desks are being produced was such a sight to behold.  They produced one for me to sit on and I attested to its aesthetics and durability. So also is their solar panel assemblage which has the capacity to produce 120 megawatts of electricity annually.

The health sector is not left out. Besides the fact that the equipment are modern, state-of-the-art and some of the best in Africa, such as 1.5 MRI Tesla machine; the 4D ultrasound; the S70 echo cardiogram; the digital and internet enabled 500 MA X-ray and the ICU containing care space R860 and P450 ventilators and monitors, and going by the sophistication of the equipment, healthcare surely occupies a special place in the Shettima administration’s priorities. Not forgetting the Green House project to harness and recycle waste produce, packaged for use in a sustainable agriculture value chain. With that in place, waste will be avoided and farmers will get value for their money, but the bottom-line in all these is that employment will be generated.

With elaborate foundation in education in the state as being established by Governor Shettima, who says Macolm X’s prognosis that education is the key to liberating the mind has not come to stay in Borno state?

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