The parade of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) drawn to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, by the Boko Haram insurgency now in its sixth year, includes the good, the bad and ugly. In all, according to Borno state governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima , there are 126 of these NGOs, all quartered in the state capital. Of that number, only 8 are doing “real” humanitarian work, he said. The governor listed the 8 to include Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR. “Apart from these eight NGOs, the rest of them merely exist…We have become a cash cow; people are smiling their way to banks (with millions they make) from the agony of our people”.
Shettima lamented: “This is unacceptable. People that are ready to work are very much welcome here. But people that are here only to use us to make money may as well leave. We don’t need them, since they are only here to use us to make money”. As governor of a state that has lost thousands of its productive young men and women and seen its economy ravaged by the insurgency, Shettima must personally feel the pain. Now this pain is worsened by ravenous so called NGOs which, instead of healing the emotional and physical wounds of victims of terrorism, are reopening them.
First, the arrival of the over a hundred NGOs has had an immediate impact on the cost of accommodation in Maiduguri. Armed with deep pockets, their workers pay handsomely to stay in top rate hotels in sharp contrast to where the people they are meant to help live – decrepit refugee camps, called IDP camps. Some hire spacious, well furnished apartments in the Government Reservation Area (GRA). They also drive expensive vehicles past trekking tired, hungry residents.
Their presence has also affected prices of foodstuffs, other essential commodities and services in the state capital and beyond, a situation that drew Shettima’s ire. According to him, the presence of the wealth flaunting NGOs has made houses more expensive in Maiduguri than in Abuja’s highbrow Maitama quarters. The governor sees their lifestyle as extravagant, observing that they pay as much as N18 million to rent just a single apartment. They make “homes in Maiduguri prohibitive, much higher than in Maitama in Abuja”. No doubt, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to safer parts of the town, thereby over-stretching public and private facilities. However, the NGOs have exacerbated the critical situation with their insensitivity.
It is true that some of the NGOs have been able to turn around the lives of many people by providing jobs, improving physical and social infrastructure as well as raising the tempo of commerce. But it is just as true that they are taking as much as they are giving, if not more. It is worrisome that in spite of their large number and the huge grants at their disposal, meant for victims of insurgency, the impact of the NGOs has been disappointing, to say the least.
A lot of things are wrong. The opaqueness of the NGOs’ operations has made it difficult for the government and security agencies and all keep a tab on them.This has also affected an effective measurement of their impact, coordination and synergy in their operations. It is imperative that government initiates proper regulation of the operations of all NGOs in the state. This should include identifying in this regard, the priorities of all prospective NGOs and ensuring they stick to them.
Specifically, the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOHA) should step up its coordination drive. Equally, the source of funding of the NGOs should be established. In this regard, every NGO must file a financial statement with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the reports should be published every year-end. They must also register with their host state government. These measures, hopefully, will remove the cloak of secrecy under which most NGOs in this country operate.