Maiduguri, Nigeria

03 May 2022

Secretary-General's Press Encounter with the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara Zulum

This visit was supposed to take place last week. Unfortunately, I had to go to Moscow and Kyiv, as you know.

It was a visit of solidarity, especially with the victims of terrorism, in the holy month of Ramadan. The fact that I came to Borno State is symbolic of our priority to the world to fight terrorism and to create solutions for the victims of terrorism.

Now, the Borno State I have heard about in many circumstances around my life as High Commissioner for Refugees and then as Secretary-General was a Borno State of terrorism, of violence, of displacement, of despair.

This is not the Borno that I found today.

The Borno I found today is a Borno of hope. It’s a Borno with future and I was very impressed to see the policy that is being applied here, recognizing that we don’t fight terrorism just by military means.

In fact, terrorism – addressing the root causes of terrorism – and the policy of the government, which is aiming at reestablishing fully the confidence between the people and the government is an essential element that I witnessed today being implemented in reality.

And on the other hand, it is absolutely essential to understand that, in a situation like this, it’s not enough to provide humanitarian assistance. I am grateful to all those from the international community that have supported the people of Borno with humanitarian assistance.

But the people I met today want more than that. The people I met today in reality want to go back home in safety and dignity.  And when one looks at the State, one understands that the way to [fight] terrorism effectively, is to provide not only hope, but a future of reality. It is to invest in livelihoods, it is to invest in the reintegration of those that have been in the past recruited by these terrorist groups, by Boko Haram.

I was amazed to see today in the centre [that] those that have been terrorists, they want to integrate in the society and contribute to society. And the policy that is in place here is a policy of reconciliation, it is a policy of reintegration and it is a policy aiming at a development perspective to allow for terrorism to be definitely eliminated …thank to the fact that people are able to construct their future in confidence with those that are governing them.

I want to congratulate the Governor for what I have seen today and to tell him that I want to appeal strongly to the international community to understand Borno as a state of hope, to support humanitarian action in Borno and to recognize the enormous challenges that Borno faces with climate change, with still Boko Haram active even if weakened, and to invest in the Borno of hope, to provide support to the projects of the government of Borno and of the civil society in Borno in order to create the conditions for real development; to create the conditions in which schools work, hospitals work, jobs exist. In which people get to live in peace and people get to live in solidarity.

So, I will be your advocate, Mr. Governor. Your advocate within the international community, asking the international community to support and to invest in the Borno of hope.     

Question: In what way is the UN supporting Borno State in the area of demining so that people can go back and pick up their lives, farming, fishing and so on?

Secretary-General: The UN has its demining programme. I believe that there is a full possibility of cooperation with the government of Borno in relation to that. But of course, it is not only demining. It is as I said, investing in the future of people - investing in schools, in the hospitals, in the creation of jobs, in the livelihoods, in helping those programs so that they are able to deliver, to go to the market and making Borno, as I said, not only a State of hope, but a State of reality, in which there is no room for terrorism.

Question: On the issue of surrendered terrorists. We have over 40,000 Boko Haram members that need to be rehabilitated and reinserted back into society. What commitment is the UN making to ensure a smooth process of reintegration?

Secretary-General: The Governor has told me that he would need to create new facilities able to have effective reintegration of these ex-terrorists, or ex-combatants. I promised that we will be fully supportive of that project and when that project is formulated, I am ready to be an advocate of it and to be telling different countries around the world that they need to invest because the best thing we can do for peace is to reintegrate those that in a moment of despair became terrorists but now want to become good citizens and want to contribute to the well-being of their brothers and sisters.

Question: My name is Chris, Chris Ewoko. I report for the BBC. Mr. Secretary-General, you visited today an IDP camp and the other camp where the militants are being deradicalized. Basically, what is your impression of what you have seen of the conditions of the people who are affected by this insurgency in the northeast and is the United Nations offering any form of support towards stopping violent islamist extremism in Nigeria, especially in the northeast? And let me just add how do you feel about Nigerians being treated the way they were treated - I mean Africans - being treated the way they were treated in Ukraine?

Secretary-General: I will start with the last one. Any discrimination against anybody, anywhere is something I fully condemn. And for those that are in Ukraine, or leaving Ukraine, it is absolutely essential that they are all treated equally, whatever their nationality, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion. This is very clear from our perspective.

Now, going back to the first question. I have to say that of course the conditions in an IDP camp – I was the High Commissioner for Refugees - I visited camps for refugees everywhere. I have never seen a refugee camp or an IDP camp where I would like to live with my family. Of course, the conditions are not good.

And that is why it is so wise the policy to say, let’s do what we have to do about humanitarian support to these camps. But let’s try to find a solution for people and that solution is to create the conditions, security conditions, development conditions for them to be able to go back home in safety and dignity.

And the appeal I heard in the meeting I had with the displaced people said exactly – what we want is to go back. We don’t want to live here.

Having said so, when - I don’t know if you were there – when I went around with the thousands and thousands of people who were there I saw smiles. I saw enthusiasm. I saw hope and this is where we must invest.