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The Rebuilding and Restoration of Nigeria

Seven years of terrorist activities by Boko Haram have let Nigeria devastated. Thousands of Nigerians killed, millions displaced, towns and villages flattened, both public and private property, and utilities severely damaged. The challenge to rebuild is huge and multi-pronged. Many have compared it to the extensive rebuilding that was required in Europe after WWII.

Of course, the first prong is funding. The level of financing needed will go into the billions. Nigeria’s Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) pre-financing assessment conducted in alliance with the federal and states governments and global partners, such as the United Nations, World Bank and the European Union estimated that upwards of $9B would be needed for the six states that took the brunt of the insurgency damage in the northeast part of the country. There is support on the horizon from the world community. The World Bank pledged to commit $2.1 billion to the program in the form of low interest loans and similar benefits via their ‘World Bank International Development Agency’.  The European Union is also seriously committed to the cause and has pledged to spend millions of Euros. Likewise, the United Nations partners are offering their support, with the United States representative pledging just over $20 million recently.

On the home front, the Nigerian army has stepped up to the plate to also contribute to the relief efforts providing additional funding as well as some of the necessary safety and security efforts that will be needed during the transition. There have also been many more local and organic fundraising efforts. The Daily Trust newspaper raised $1 million in a local fundraiser, and a local group in Chibok banded together to rebuild the school there that is infamous as the site for the kidnapping of 200 girls approximately 2 years ago. Perhaps the most touching are the tiny contributions being made by individual citizens who barely have enough to survive themselves.

The second prong of the challenge is getting folks to leave the refugee camps that provided some level of safety and return to their villages. In many cases, there is still extreme fear of Boko Harem and whether they will also return. And then there is the fear of what exactly they will return to and what the conditions will be in areas that used to be called ‘home’.

Finally, a big part of the problem is actually getting the repairs done. Most building have been severely damaged in the bombing, losing roofs and walls, and then further damaged during the rainy season when the remaining interior and possessions have become water damaged. The infrastructure doesn’t exist as it would in a more developed region where you could enlist a water restoration company to do their part of the repair and then hire other construction services to complete the rebuild.  Many of those services are either not available in the region yet, or unable to access the areas due to severe damage to the roads. However, once again the Nigerian army seems to be coming to the rescue, and although certainly not in their list of job responsibilities, they are picking up shovels and doing the work. Once again this also provides the security presence that the returning displaced citizens are looking for, and has empowered many of them with the confidence to do their part in the clean-up, and may be the paving the way to get more and more professional services back in the area as well. It will certainly be a long journey, but the Nigerian people have shown themselves to very resilient, and the desire for a ‘normal life’ again after all the years of suffering is certainly strong.

The Challenges of Planning a Nigerian Wedding vs. United States

So…That special day is approaching…The day many young girls look forward to, and fantasize about growing up…their Wedding Day!

Does a young bride-to-be in Nigeria approach that life changing event any differently than their western counterparts in the United States? How does the planning process, and the big day compare?

One thing that certainly seems common on both continents is that most brides want a fun party with music, food, and dancing for themselves and their guests! So how does the happy couple get started planning this epic celebration? In the United States, a very busy (or perhaps more wealthy) bride might opt to hire a ‘wedding planner’ that would take care of all the details based on the requests and input from the wedding party. The wedding planner would be responsible for the overall success of the event, which could be a great relief for the bride, but would also certainly influence the choices of design and theme based on their experience and preferences. In some cases, the bride may feel she is losing control of her own wedding and the father of the bride, if he is footing the bill, may feel he is losing control of the cost.

Alternatively, in many cases, the bride or her family may have a clear vision of how they want the celebration to unfold, and therefore want to plan a lot of the details themselves. They can do this by leveraging a local event rental company that can provide almost anything a bride would need —dance floor, tables, chairs, lighting, music, photography and many other specialty items. All the bride and groom need to provide is the quantity of items needed based on their guest list, and the date and location to deliver all requested items. This way the bridal party has control over the details and a very clear picture of the cost for the setup of the venue before moving on the catering requirements for the event.

So…this is where the divide between a U.S. and a Nigerian wedding startsthe guest list. In the United States the guest list is a very finite item whereas in Nigeria the guest list can be more of a suggestion and actually define the ‘least possible number of attendees’. A wedding guest in the U.S. would never consider bringing additional attendees that were not specifically invited without making that request to the bride (who would most likely decline). That practice is not always adhered to in Nigeria and sometimes the size of a wedding can double or triple what was planned for since invited guests may bring multiple uninvited guests with them. In the U.S., this might be seen as rude and disruptive, whereas Nigerians may view it as expanding the celebration and bringing extra good tidings for the bride and groom. No matter the reasoning a Nigerian bride must be flexible! Extra tables and chairs on stand-by, a second wave of food that could be called upon if needed. And certainly, an expandable dance floor to accommodate all the additional well-wishers that will certainly want their turn to dance alongside the bride and groom.

As they say in Nigeria, “Eku ori ire” or in the United States “Congratulations”!

 

 

 

Fake News Controversy

The Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, recently sparked some controversy when he stated that the spreading of ‘fake news’, (predominately by social media, he reported), “is so serious that it threatened to break the country rapidly even more than insurgency’’.

This was part of a speech he gave in early February at the National Security Seminar in Abuja with the theme “Consolidating on the Gains of Counter Terrorism Operations in Nigeria’’, organized by the National Defense College of Nigeria, the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Alumni Association of National Defense College.

Minister Mohammed shared his belief that different groups continued to use, (and generate), fake news reports to tear the country apart by driving a wedge between different religious groups or other affiliations, potentially inciting more violence and discord. The minister cited several examples highlighting the problem, one of which was the claim across social media that the military was funding the Fulani Herdsmen responsible for killing over a thousand civilians in the North-central Nigerian state of Benue. Although the reality of that violence is not in question, the minister vehemently denied that there was any actual evidence that the military was funding these herdsmen in any way, and such a belief by the citizens was generating extreme fear and mistrust of the military for no reason.

It does also appear that Nigeria is not the only country that is seeing a rise in social media circulating ‘fake news’ to drive a public perception and initiate actions in response. For anyone familiar with the recent U.S. presidential election, the notion of incorrect information or fake news being propagated across social media, is certainly not something ‘new’. During the U.S. election, there were numerous ‘stories’ that were posted as facts across social media with to foster support for one of the candidates, or in some cases, generate hate for the other candidate. If the reader of the article agreed with the content of the story it would be blasted out as fact again and again. In one example, Trump supporters circulated a story that the Pope was endorsing Trump, and Clinton supporters circulated another story indicating that the Pope was in fact supporting Hillary and praying for Trump. Both stories were accepted as fact and reposted with no attempt to understand the actual source of the story by either side or whether it was an accredited news organization authoring the information.

In Nigeria, another example that Minister Mohammad cited to support his point was the recent case where social media widely reported that President Buhari was dead and not in London on a medical vacation (link here to previous blog article about missing Prez). This began to increase the unrest in the country and alarm citizens for no reason. The only way that this fake news was refuted was when the ‘real news’ of President Trump’s phone call to President Buhari in early February was verified and widely communicated through well reputed news organizations. (Link here to previous blog on Trump phone call to the Prez).

So how will Nigeria or other countries combat this problem of fake news? … Minister Mohammad is lobbying for a much more robust and comprehensive communication strategy that also utilizes social media. He recommends having members of the government and military be very active on social media, monitoring and correcting stories as needed, ‘beating the fake news propagators at their own game so to speak’, or at least levelling the playing field. This would be of course in addition to continuing with extensive communications in the more traditional news channels to reinforce the true messages.

Will this new strategy succeed? Only time will tell, but it is certainly something other countries will be watching and hoping to learn from as well.

Where oh where has the Nigeria President gone and is he coming back?

The ongoing saga of the ‘missing’ President Buhari of Nigeria continues and the Nigeria people are left guessing and wondering about his return…

In what seemed like a normal action, President Buhari requested a medical vacation on January 17th and flew to London, where, it was communicated, the 74-year-old president was receiving treatment for an undisclosed condition. He was scheduled to return on February 6th but on February 5th, the President requested an ‘indefinite extension’. So, what exactly does that mean, and what is President Buhari doing? These are questions that have the Nigerian population swirling with confusion and concern. Is the President hiding a grave illness or is he just taking a nice long holiday trying to escape the turmoil and problems in his home country?

It is certainly true that President Buhari has a lot of problems to solve back in Nigeria. The fight against the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram continues to be a long and difficult one. Thousands have been killed and many more have fled their homes to escape the violence. (It was reported that the President himself received death threats from the terrorists in 2016 and the United Nations is warning of a large-scale humanitarian crisis due to all the displaced citizens). In addition, the President must continue the fight against the endemic corruption in his country, particularly in the oil industry.  This corruption has been, and continues to undermine Nigeria’s biggest natural resource and what should be a huge economic advantage for Nigeria. Instead it is reported that between two and twenty billion went missing last year. (The fact that an actual number is elusive is also a factor of the corruption and lack of oversight).

For many Nigerians, a missing president invokes Deja-vu of 2010. In late 2009, the then President Yar’Adua was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, leaving the country without an official replacement for 3 months. This cause and already struggling government and economy to degrade further. The seriousness of Yar’Adua’s condition was not shared with the citizens, and although President Yar’Adua returned to Nigeria, he died a few months later in May 2010.

To his credit, President Buhari did transfer power to his vice president Yemi Osinbajo before departing on leave so governing can continue. However, this has done little to assuage the fears of the Nigeria people about his health (some even suspecting that he is dead) and more recently some anger that perhaps the President is really just enjoying himself in London at the expense of the Nigerian citizens.

Many Nigerians were heartened by the report of the February 13th phone call with U.S. President Trump (learn more) indicating that the President was indeed alive and well enough to meet with world leaders, but some Nigerians were skeptical that the phone call was not even real, asking for proof. Certainly, this indicates the lack of trust many Nigerian citizens have for their leadership and the long credibility journey ahead.

Although President Buhari has not officially spoken to his people since he left, the government has recently communicated that the President is returning soon. Time will tell… hopefully we will all be pleasantly surprised and see his plane touch down in Nigeria again soon.

President Trump reaches out to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Less than one month into his presidency, newly elected Donald Trump has reached out to President Buhari extending his first official phone call to the Nigerian leader. The topics of conversation were reported to include trade and security issues, including a commitment by the new U.S. president to help broker a deal that would enable Nigeria to obtain military weapons that would be used in the fight against the terror group Boko Hara. (This extremist terror group has been reported as responsible for over 100,00 deaths and other atrocities in Nigeria since 2011). President Trump also extended an invitation to President Buhari to visit Washington at a “mutually convenient time”.

This initial contact seems to indicate a positive step forward in the relationship between the US and Nigeria– a relationship often strained in the past—but more recently improving with the election of President Buhari in May, 2015. Prior to that, the U.S. would not support the sale of weapons or advanced equipment to Nigeria, and partnership between the governments was limited. During Presidents Obama’s eight years in office he never visited Nigeria during any of his three state visits to the African continent.  The lack of a state visit, (a great disappointment to the Nigerian people!), and the United States governments’ unwillingness to broker a military weapons deal were both due to the prolific and horrific human rights violations rampant across Nigeria at the time by the then corrupt government and military.  (The military was believed responsible for 1000’s of civilian deaths, and the government did little to alleviate the crippling poverty & lack of services in many areas). The United States could not, and would not, risk inadvertently supporting Nigeria’s blatant disregard for the life and safety of its own citizens.

However, the election of President Buhari brought a new political climate to Nigeria as he vowed on election day to ‘fight the nation’s endemic corruption’, and then later to eradicate the terrorist faction Boko Haram. President Buhari has taken several actions during his 20 months in office, but the road to a safe, healthy and prosperous Nigeria is a long one, and the support of the United States will certainly help on that journey. President Obama did acknowledge the changes and positive intentions of the new regime before he left office, and although he did not visit Nigeria before the end of his presidency, he did host President Buhari in Washington in September of 2016, the last quarter of his presidency sharing encouraging words and hope for the future.

Now Presidents Trumps words are also bringing new hope to the Nigerian people. In his phone call he “encouraged President Buhari to keep up the good work he is doing, and commended him for the efforts made in rescuing 24 of the Chibok Girls and the strides being taken by the Nigerian military.”  He also underscored the importance the United States places on its relationship with Nigeria, and he expressed interest in working with President Buhari to expand the strong partnership.

This must certainly be good news for the Nigerian people, but much more than words are needed. Continued, and stronger action is needed from President Buhari to heal his country, and President Trump must make good on his words to support President Buhari in fighting terrorism and corruption.

This writer and many others in Nigeria and around the world will be waiting and watching to see now this new partnership evolves, hoping to see a safe, secure and thriving Nigeria in the future!