North East: The new market force
In the wake of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016 where the Northeast crisis was highlighted as the most neglected crisis, the situation in the Northeast came to the front burner and many humanitarian organisations moved into the Northeast to join those already there, as there was hope for more support from donors towards alleviating the emergencies and the recovery efforts. Internally, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) had already moved several sector meetings to Maiduguri, forcing many NGOs to move decision-making level staff to the Northeast. As a postscript, the North East donor conference held in Oslo in February this year with a pledge of over six hundred million dollars to alleviate the situation in the Northeast also means additional presence of NGOs to the Northeast region.
As the agents shared with me, many landlords prefer NGOs because they come with hard cash. Some of the NGOs have paid as much as N15million for blocks of flats, something like a one thousand percentage increase from pre-escalation rates. Many of the NGOs work in sectors such as food security and livelihood, health, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, shelter, protection, camp management and coordination. Although much of the work is outside of Maiduguri city, most NGO offices are in Maiduguri. The high demand for secure accommodation for offices and guesthouses has made the real estate sector in Maiduguri and generally the North East to experience an artificial boom.
It is artificial in the sense that most NGO interventions are projects, which by their nature are meant to be delivered, during a specified time frame. Although there is the possibility of continuous funding of the North East because of the pledges made by some nations, yet what will happen when peace returns fully and the funding dries up and the NGOs have to move away to other troubled areas? There are stories of landlords refusing to renew rent to locals and seeking out NGOs. Only if a local is ready to pay the escalated rates of NGOs would some landlords consider granting them the rent lease. The challenge is that landlords do not distinguish between international non-governmental organisations and national and state NGOs, whose sources of funding might be different.
Many NGOs have direct fund raising activities in their home countries, and or because they are widespread, are able to do direct fundraising in multiple nations. Having developed the culture of philanthropy, many of these INGOs with origins from the Western world, do have legacies given to them by wealthy individuals. Coming over to Nigeria, especially in the wake of the naira crash, a single dollar budgeted for an activity would give them more than N300. Coming also from regions where rents are high and are paid monthly, it is much easier for them to respond to the market force of increased rent rates, whatever that increase might be.
This market force is not restricted to rent. It extends to airport transportation and vehicle hires, as some NGOs are not allowed to buy vehicles by their funders but can lease. Once it is realized that you cannot speak the local language, the power to negotiate is very limited, and so NGO staff end up paying much higher for drops and for vehicle hires than should ordinarily be.
At training sessions, participants now compare the rates paid by different NGOs. In a nutrition program held in Askira Uba and Hawul, participants nearly became violent over the N500 stipend paid them for transport, although in a few cases the amount was inadequate for those coming from quite a distance. But my point is, NGOs should be careful to not lose it, to not do more harm than good, to think about the future, after all said and done. It would be good to disabuse minds right from the onset, that whatever stipends are given are merely to assist, because in actual fact the knowledge gained is worth more than any shortfall of expectation in terms of monetary rewards.
NGOs should work with opinion leaders to reduce the sense of entitlement. There are communities in parts of the North East that would not allow you carry out feasibility studies for projects unless you ‘settle’ them; and there are communities that would make it difficult to site projects that do not have a direct personal reward. In case of some faith-based NGOs, more work has to be done in engaging community leaders, who sometimes are afraid that one has come to convert them from their religion.
While people in other parts of the country could take it for granted that an NGO has come to do good, greater care has to be observed with regard to the Northeast because of the high level of sensitivity to religion. I was amazed when I received a call from the department of state security in Yobe State that there was a feeling of proselytizing with regard to our projects. I immediately asked to be provided with evidence. As a principle, Caritas is an outreach of the Catholic Church to society and staff are not allowed to engage in any form of proselytizing. Caritas staff are guided by humanitarian principles. It becomes worrisome when one goes with all his heart to do good and one’s motives are suspected. Thank God this was a far flung case, as the Borno and Adamawa State governments and other North Eastern governments have been quite supportive of humanitarian initiatives.
One fear an informed indigene raised with me was that many indigenes have had to benefit from cash transfer programs, where they were given vouchers that would make them access markets for foodstuff for several months and they may get used to it. What would happen when these projects ended? Would a sense of dependency be created which would engender violence in the future when the direct aid is no more coming? Going forward it would be proactive for the North Eastern States and the Federal government to study what NGOs are doing across board and create plans to integrate these interventions, especially where it concerns any form of payouts.