BORNO: The Dilemma of A ‘Displaced’ Speaker 

By Abdulkareem Haruna 

Last week, the Borno state Governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, presented yet another budget proposal before the 28 members of the state’s House of Assembly for appropriation ahead of next year’s fiscal year.

The budget is named “Budget for Continuous Sustainability” to buttress the commitment of the state government to sustaining the amazing developmental strides embarked upon since May 29, 2019. 

The proposed financial blueprint is worth over N234.8 billion which the state government intends to use in completing ongoing projects and starting 20 other new ambitious projects for the entire state. 

The occasion of the budget presentation was a moment of happiness for the lawmakers, the Executive, and other members of the Borno community.  

On that auspicious day, the hallowed Chamber of  Assembly continued to thunder with clappings as dignitaries and other distinguished members of the state reacted with joy to the goodies embedded in the would-be budget for 2023.  

It was a moment of rekindled hope for all. 

But that was not the mood for the Speaker of the Borno state House of Assembly, Abdulkarim Lawan. To him, the occasion presented a moment of mixed feelings. He was happy but sad. 

As a leader and the number-3 citizen of the state, it is natural that Right Honorable Abdulkarim Lawan should be delighted about the presentation of a new budget – an exercise he has presided over as a Speaker for more than a dozen times. But as a state lawmaker representing the Guzamala constituency, the occasion has again left him a very sad man. 

If you ask me I’ll say we don’t know exactly where we are to conduct our elections because there is no specific location where we can say this is where the people of Guzamala are being camped.”

R.H. Lawan has every reason to be sad because he would soon be legislating on yet another budget for the state, from which his constituents may not benefit from. The interest of the Guzamala local government area has not been captured in the past three budgets of Borno state for the deployment of critical infrastructure development. And the reason was that the entire council area has been under the control of Boko Haram.

A temporary return to Gudumbali in July 2018. Photo credit: Abdulkareem

In effect, the Borno State Speaker has not been able to step into his constituency since 2018, and that gives him a lot of worries. 

In a recent interview with The Humanitarian Times, the speaker bared his frustration on the situation citing the number of times he had made calls to the federal government on the imperatives of rescuing his constituency from the stranglehold of Boko Haram.

“We the people from this local government area are  affected by this setback because we have been left out for many years in the massive development projects that the state government has been deploying to other local government areas.”

He said his constituency has  received “nearly zero developmental projects under the able leadership of His Excellency Professor Babagana Zulum in the last three and half years.”

“Okay, for example, His Excellency said during the presentation of the 2023 budget that township roads construction would be carried out in local governments like Monguno, Nganzai, and Hawul among others, but places like Guzamala and Kukawa are not listed due to lack of security. This is affecting us adversely and it tells more about what the future would look like for us even when the insurgency finally comes to an end.

He said the federal government has to be worried by this negative development in two of the 773 local government areas that make up the country called Nigeria. 

Guzamala is one of the local government headquarters of Borno that has been holding elections since 2015 in IDP camps. The Speaker said he is not even sure where his people would be voting in the coming 2023 election because the IDPs are “more scattered now” than ever before. 

“We need permanent security presence in Guzamala because it is the hotbed of Boko Haram; we have been hearing about the military setting up super camps and forward operating bases in various locals of Borno state and other states of the northeast that have security challenges, but ours is worse and we don’t understand why that is not being considered for us. 

“I feel sad that the situation has not been improved security-wise in these locations. In 2015 we conducted elections partly in IDP camps, and in 2019 all electoral wards of Guzamala had their polling units in IDP camps, and sadly the same thing may likely be the case for us going into the 2023 election because we don’t even know where we are going to cast our votes because more than ever before our electorate are scattered everywhere now. Some are camping in Monguno local government, some in Nganzai, some in Maiduguri, and many in Niger Republic. If you ask me I’ll say we don’t know exactly where we are to conduct our elections because there is no specific location where we can say this is where the people of Guzamala are being camped.” 

Speaker Abdulkarim Lawan is the longest-serving Speaker of the Borno state House of Assembly and one of the most influential legislators in the state. 

Speaker Lawan with former army chief , General T. Buratai When Guzamala was temporarily captured. Photo credit: Abdulkareem

His local government area which forms his legislative constituency has since 2014 fallen for Boko Haram who continued to hold onto it as one of their strongholds. 

One of the deadliest attacks on Guzamala was the battle of Gudumbali in 2015 when the troops of the Nigerian military battled to liberate the area. Boko Haram reportedly snuck on the troops at night and left one of the heaviest casualties on the side of the government forces. 

The former Chief of Army staff had to visit Gudumbali in July 2018, after the troops had pushed back the terrorists and temporarily liberated the local government, to supervise the return of the civil populace to the locale. The Speaker of the Borno Assembly was in the entourage of the army chief when a cenotaph in memory of the slain troops was erected on the Gudumbali battlefield where the battle occurred. 

But that reopening of Gudumbali was only short-lived. The insurgents returned and chased the few returnees out after the  Metele military base attack of November 2018 during which more than a hundred troops reportedly lost their lives trying to defend the location. 

Since then, Guzamala remained one of the ungoverned local government areas of Nigeria where there hasn’t been a civic authority for nearly ten years now. 

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