Photo: UNDP/Tomas Kral

 

Even from the sky, the difference in vegetation is noticeable. Unlike Abuja with its green spaces within and outside the city, in Maiduguri trees are scattered irregularly across arid areas and tracts of brown begin to surface as the plane descends to the city.

From Maiduguri International Airport, we make our way through narrow roads and periodic security checkpoints to the Red Roof Humanitarian Hub, a base camp and safe nest for many UN staff in the region.

Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno State, has seen its share of conflict in the past, including suicide bomb attacks in crowded locations, in traffic jams and in and around IDP camps. However, years of planning, community security initiatives and concerted efforts by the military, police and local community vigilante groups have succeeded in pushing elements of the conflict to the periphery of the metropolis.

Between 2015 and 2021, intensified action by security agencies greatly improved the security situation in the capital and other locations, although attacks, ambushes and incursions into villages frequently occur. The city itself is a garrison town, like many other locations in Borno and in the Northeast of Nigeria in general. Using security trenches, the military have set up a perimeter with outposted watch towers and vehicular roadblocks manned 24 hours a day, which prevent incursions into the capital and other towns.

Though there have been no recent attacks on the city, the insurgency is visibly etched on the daily realities of its’ residents. Camouflage nets, rows of tyres alternatively painted black and red, walls made of cement bags, the sporadic hovering of helicopters and daily curfew, all signal the constant presence of the military. The tight security environment limits our movements to meeting venues, the UNDP Maiduguri field office and the humanitarian hub compound.

Nevertheless, the city is also characterized by the orderly crisscrossing of yellow tricycles and the hustle of street vendors navigating between vehicles to make ends meet. This is a sign, perhaps, of the community’s resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Central to this resilience is the important role of civil society in contributing to stabilization efforts, preventing violent extremism and facilitating inclusive reintegration, particularly in fragile and conflict-ridden regions. With the support of the UNDP Maiduguri field office, I held several bilateral encounters with civil society organizations, UN colleagues, Borno state authorities and university student leaders ahead of the Abuja launch of the Civil Society Network on Inclusive Reintegration for the Lake Chad Basin.

The CSO network, supported by the Regional Project ‘Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism in Africa: A Development Approach’, is envisioned to create stronger societal alliances and enhance offline and online cooperation in the Lake Chad Basin region. By engaging with key actors in the Screening, Prosecution, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (SPRR) and Community-Based Reconciliation and Reintegration domains, the network aims to facilitate exchanges with similar sub-regional platforms on the continent and complement existing civil society structures in the Lake Chad Basin.

Equally important to empowering civic spaces is the meaningful inclusion of young people. In an effort to ensure youth voices are part of the solution to the crisis in the region, UNDP Maiduguri convenes regular meetings with Borno youth student leaders. In these sessions, they engage actively and ask important questions, illustrating that there is hope and opportunity in the future beyond the face and wounds of the conflict. In one session, we discussed the findings of UNDP’s 2017 flagship report, Journey to Extremism in Africa, which contributed to an improved understanding about the incentives and drivers of violent extremism.

Humbled by the commitment of young leaders to build on recent gains and contribute to ending the over-decade-long insurgency, I left encouraged and hopeful for the region’s revival and return to its former status as a major trading empire at the cross-roads of the four Lake Chad Basin countries of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

Maiduguri mission: 26th June to 2nd July 2021

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