Nigeria: How Insecurity Costs Nigeria $13bn Annually – Anyanwu

In this exclusive interview with James Emejo, Country Director, Mercy Corps Nigeria, Mr. Ndubisi Anyanwu, assesses the humanitarian situation in the country taking into account its cost implication. Among other things, he said policy consistency; strong institutions and quality leadership are critical for improving deliverables in the humanitarian space

What is the quantum of the humanitarian crisis and its impact on the Nigerian economy?

Obviously, we are working in a very difficult humanitarian context; particularly in the Northeast has been a context that is quite challenging for us for a decade now. We have a situation where you have 10.8 million people that have been displaced due to conflicts and other issues in the region. We have a situation in the Middle-Belt region where you have the farmer-herder crisis and this crisis goes beyond the farmers and herdsmen, it also extends to communities that are at war with each other over natural resources. In fact, we did a study in 2013 that basically looked at a scenario where we have peace in the Middle-Belt states, if there was peace in those states alone, we would have been adding $13 billion per year to the nation’s GDP in a scenario of peace. So, you can see why interventions when it comes to peace and conflict between the farmers and herdsmen or inter-communal crises, or even the banditry now that we are seeing; how it can take a toll on the economy.

So, our approach is to focus on not only providing peace or resolving conflicts, or bringing warring communities together but also combining it with development and that’s where we have some of our programs. For instance, we have the USAID funded Feed the Future program. This ticks the economic development box and it’s aimed at supporting farmers with agricultural inputs and it is focused on improving agricultural impacts and also leading to economic opportunities and providing training to farmers, especially women farmers who are operating in a very fragile context.

So far, we have trained about 540,000 farmers with the inputs and tools needed to thrive in that area and again combining peace and development.

But it has been quite a difficult context operating in the Northeast with the Boko Haram situation which has also given rise to the numbers of displaced individuals. So as an international non-governmental organization, we are also focused on making sure those returning to their communities are safe and I think the Borno State Government has been doing a great job in making sure that this happens in a safe way.

We are not here to replace the government, but we want to contribute our quota and do those interventions that have a lasting impact on our beneficiaries.

In terms of our impact, in 2021, we reached about 1.5 million beneficiaries in areas such as education, income-generating programs, sanitation, peace building, conflict resolution, and agricultural systems. And of course, we want to also make sure that no one is left out when it comes to financial inclusion, which is also a theme across our programs.

I think what sets Mercy Corps apart from other organizations who operate in our space is what I call the three Cs; and one of them is collaboration – collaborating with governments at federal and state levels, different stakeholders, collaboration with the private sector, we work to ensure we achieve neutral objectives. And the other C which I’d to talk about is community acceptance and I think that’s really big for us. When it comes to community acceptance, Mercy Corps really stands out in the community that we operate and they tell it to our face that ‘you really have impacts’, and I think it’s because of the third C which is context- I mean we pride ourselves in the ability to understand the context of Nigeria and that speaks to a larger strategy for Mercy Corps. We are a diverse organization, and our values are through diversity.

We believe that we have to raise African leaders who understand the context in which they operate.

Could you possibly quantify your interventions in the country in monetary terms over the last decade?

Yes, thank you but first, it should be clear that we are not a donor – Mercy Corps is an implementer. We work with donor countries like United States, the European Union (EU), and United Kingdom (UK) – without their support, we won’t be able to do what we do and our strength is in implementing those interventions. We are also looking to of course, diversifying into other mix of donors including some of our national foundations.

But in terms of our interventions, our portfolio is about $127 million, and we have about seven programs running.

Looking at the total sums of our interventions, when you look at Mercy Corps globally, I think we are probably in the top three, in terms of the funding we get for our interventions. And in terms of how we are utilizing that kind of funding as I said, as an organization, we are committed to interventions especially when it comes to conflict situations; when there is a crisis, Mercy Corps is the type of an organization that will be going in as opposed to coming out.

I will just share a few of our interventions: I mention that youth empowerment is a major pride for us, we provide about seven million youths with livelihoods supports. In fact, just this past February we graduated about 5,400 youths from vocational training, which they benefitted from.

We are very sensitive about gender diversity and social inclusion and we try to make sure women and girls are taken into consideration in all our interventions. More specifically, women and girls make up 50 percent of the entire program beneficiaries. I mentioned the Rural Resilience Activity, which is a USAID funded program and, in that program, 70 percent of the beneficiaries are women. I also mentioned the training of farmers, and these are women enrolled in what we called Farmers Field Schools, where they learn the basics of farming and that’s another major area that we focus on.

When it comes to peace and conflict resolution, we have a program called Community Initiative to Promote Peace (CIPP). And I think when it comes to peace and conflict programs, we get some of the largest funding from USAID. We have three of such programs running: Community Initiative to Promote Peace focuses on the farmer-herder crisis in the Middle Belt, looking at all the issues that affect social cohesion. And we also have another EU funded project which focuses on the management of natural resources; not only between the farmer and herder but also you have inter-communal crisis and there are also some elements of banditry which we are looking at as well.

There’s another USAID program that focuses on early warning signals in communities called PARTNER. So that when there is a brewing crisis, we work with the community teams to sound a warning ahead of time before things get out of hand.

I also talked about Small Town Wash, which is another USAID funded program that focuses on the issue of water as a scarce resource. That’s another program that’s very significant when it comes to washing and hygiene, which is helpful in the prevention of diseases such as cholera and other health issues.

Now, going back to the North East, we have a program called ADAPT which focuses on providing our beneficiaries with shelter and resettling them. But like I said, achievements in the North East haven’t come without struggles but we do try to work with the state government and the Governor, Prof Zulum has been very supportive of our efforts and we just try to stick to our mission of supporting Nigeria, empowering people and helping to get the resilience. It’s a very fragile context and we believe that we have to intervene.

As I mentioned, we are under the next phase of humanitarian early recovery and development and we can’t ignore the fact that Nigeria is still a country where there are lots of opportunities to scale up development and to scale up employment to really support youths to achieve their hopes and dreams. Mercy Corps also want to be in the forefront to de-risk the environment so potential investors could also go into some of those places. And we also want to ensure there are opportunities for people to also be part of the financial architecture of Nigeria.

What is the vision behind the work that you do at Mercy Corps?

Mercy Corps is a global humanitarian and development organization and we have been operating in over 40 countries around the world basically to provide urgent life-saving systems for people in need. We’ve been in Nigeria specifically for 10 years now and so 2022 will be a decade of us operating in Nigeria.

We have been working in a very difficult part of the country and our work is around a couple of different strategic objectives and I will talk about a few of them; one is addressing the root causes of conflicts, we are working on our program around increasing trust and accountability between government and the citizenry and also focused on responding effectively to humanitarian needs and we are doing that most in the northern part of the country.

We are big on youths and empowering young people and the fifth objective is looking at improving livelihood and focusing on what we call market systems development, taking the approach of improving people’s lives economically.

In these areas I have talked about, this builds on our global strategy of Mercy Corps, which is focused on four areas; one is food security, water security, and economic development and there is also work around peace and conflict. So when you look at the Nigeria programs, all our programs fit into these categories. That’s essentially our vision globally. Our mission in Nigeria is that we want to support a Nigeria that is empowered, one that is engaged, resilient, and secure.

Our work in terms of our geographical spread – we are in the Northeast including Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, and Gombe. We are also operating in the six states in the Middle belt including Benue and North Central, which includes Benue, Kogi and Plateau states and that work is around peace-building and conflict.

We are also hoping to expand beyond those states into the North West. We now have an office in Kebbi, we are looking at some work in Zamfara, given the context in the North West and what we are seeing there; and we are also looking to work in the South-East; we have programs there focused on wash and hygiene and that should be coming up soon.

And also the urban areas like Lagos where we are trying to focus on programs for boys and girls.

I also want to mention that in terms of our staff strength, we are about 400 team members, 28 of which are expatriates or international team members but 92 percent of our team members are national team members.

Given the level of the humanitarian crisis in the country, do you think more intervention organizations are required to save the day?

I will answer this question in my own personal capacity as a Nigerian. Honestly, I don’t think Nigeria needs these kinds of interventions and I think Nigeria has everything that it needs in terms of natural resources and endowments – it has youthful that is vibrant, very intelligent people, we don’t have any shortage of talent – and I think it’s really about leadership, it’s about competence, and it’s about capacity… there are some inherent issues that naturally becomes a challenge whether you are talking about climate change or managing the diverse people within the country or managing the economic situation due to elements like the COVID-19 pandemic but I think, all in all, there’s an opportunity to really focus and scale-up development in Nigeria.

Having clocked 10 years of operations in Nigeria, what is your endgame; are you calling it quits?

Yes, I think this again speaks back to our mission; we are not really trying to replace the government but we are here to support the development of the country and do our part in terms of empowering the people and helping them resist the shocks that come their way and also help Nigeria to be secure. And I think that’s basically what our endgame is. We’ve come a long way since 2012 and when we came in 2012 we had just one project called Creative Based Conflict Management and Cooperative of Resources and we had another program called ENGINE which was a UK funded program focusing on educating young girls and this was in 2013.

So, again coming from these two programs to the range of programs we have now when you look back, it’s really a landmark for us and we are really proud of the integrations that we have in our ENGINE program… we are really proud of some of our interventions and I think in looking at the priorities going forward is to really expand the development of our interventions beyond the current areas that we are operating in; not only focusing on the fragile areas of the North East and North West but also to support development, support youths and to support programs that are in urban areas, especially places like Lagos. We are also looking at how we can leverage support and interventions from the private sector to scale up development and I think it’s a clarion call for the private sector to really see their role in improving the security of this country because if you don’t have a secured nation your investments may be insecure as well.

Going by your experience, how can government policy improve deliveries in the sector?

One thing I could think of is that the government needs to speak with each other and the different agencies are often disconnected and they have to be more interconnected. For instance, if you are looking at issues of cash movement in the humanitarian sector you have different entities like the EFCC, the immigration services, and the FIRS – these organizations have to speak as one. The other issue for the government is that we need to have strong institutions.

Many countries in Africa, not just Nigeria often times have strong individuals who are heading ministries and agencies but what happens when some of those individuals leave the institutions? So, I think we need to focus on building strong institutions that can really outlast different governments. We are coming into the election year and this government has done some things right. Those things they have done right, would they continue in the next administration? So I think these are some of the things that can really make or break the country.

Moving forward, what is the Corps’ operational template for the next 5 to 10 years in Nigeria?

For Mercy Corps, we are really true to our mission to empower and support Nigerians to make them resilient and secure. Looking back from 2012 that we were just in two states and now we are in 11 states and hoping to get to 19 states. We can really broaden our impact. I also want to mention that Mercy Corps globally recently merged with an entity called Energy for Impact and so when it comes to energy and power, this is probably one of our greatest impediments to development in Nigeria, and by this merger, we are looking at how we can really translate the competencies of this organization to assist the country. This is something that we are going to be focusing on. We want to work in partnership with the private sector and explore the partnership with foundations in Nigeria – we have the Dangote Foundation, we have the Tony Elumelu Foundation, TY Danjuma Foundation – these are entities that really understand Nigeria and can really see where we can have the most impact.

We are very grateful to the international donors that we work with, and we are also trying to partner with foundations. In addition to that, we are also going to empower local NGOs to assist them to get direct funding for our interventions because they understand the context as well.

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