Before the insurgency began in north-east Nigeria, Falmata Ali was a businesswoman in Banki, a town near the Nigerian and Cameroon border. She was able to provide for her family of four children on her own and was proud to be a role model for women and girls in her community.
When the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin started, Falmata’s town was frequently attacked. Lives were lost, properties destroyed and means to generating income were halted. Thousands of people were displaced, and most of Banki was left in ruins.
Falmata recalls what happened: “I was at home. The insurgents entered the town, destroying properties and using extreme violence towards the community. Everyone tried to run to safety. I carried my kids and we fled to Cameroon, with just the clothes on our backs”.
Falmata witnessed horrific violence, especially to young girls. Her first son and some relatives were abducted by insurgents. To this day, she still doesn’t know what happened to them.
These direct human tragedies are awful enough, but the cost of conflict also includes the compounding effects of lost opportunities. The once-bustling Banki and this area of north-eastern Nigeria have had a ghastly set-back whose effects will be felt for decades to come.
Where to start when trying to rebuild?
The Nigerian Government with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and generous contributions from the European Union, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom are implementing stabilization activities in an effort to help communities in north-eastern Nigeria build back better. These interventions are providing timely support, with the aim of achieving the stabilization of conflict affected communities, by restoring effective security, improving the delivery of basic services and livelihoods and the revival of the local economy.
In Banki, these measures include the rehabilitation of security facilities, construction of a protection wall, provision of livelihood opportunities through the cash for work activities, provision of business start-up grants, rehabilitation of markets and the construction of learning spaces and children’s recreational centre.
These efforts are working. Banki is beginning to become safer, and the community is starting to return. Falmata and her family have now returned and are living in the IDP camp. Falmata explains what she faced: “When I returned, the town was in ruins. I ran to see my old properties; everything had been burnt to the ground. I was devasted. I did not know where to begin, but I had to be strong and try to provide for my kids.”
Falmata feels safer in the IDP camp, with its new perimeter wall that protects the town from the insurgents. Before the wall, Falmata and her family would sleep in the empty market stalls as they felt safer there than in their own homes. Now, they sleep at home, even feeling safe enough to go out and get water and food even when it gets dark.
She also is a proud member of a new community-level stabilisation committee that gives a voice to women and brings their wisdom to further stabilization work: “Women and girls are hit really hard by conflict. My role is to present their concerns and issues to the committee, where good solutions and recommendations then happen. The committee helps us look out for each other and helps us to highlight the important security issues women and girls face. We’re now working together to rebuild a strong and stable community”.
The Regional Stabilization Facility intervention is laying a long-term recovery path for conflict affected areas. Banki a town once vacated due to insurgency is gradually flowing with human activities once again. As there is still much to be done, the stabilization effort is a starting point in achieving total stability and recovery in years to come.