While the military battles to put down the armed Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State, northeast Nigeria, bank customers in many of the state’s 27 local councils have to make long and sometimes dangerous journeys to the state capital, Maiduguri, to conduct financial transactions.
This is because the tens of bank branches scattered across the state have deserted them and relocated to Maiduguri, following several robberies and strikes by Boko Haram insurgents and other armed gangs.
Also, alternative electronic banking channels which can be conducted on mobile phone and internet-enabled computers have been much undermined by attacks of Boko Haram on the infrastructure and equipment of telecom companies which power these services.
Yet business is resilient, innovative and carrying on across the state. One recent development is the springing up of private security businesses which are thriving, as visitors to Borno now engage their services in light of the security situation there. Informed sources also told BusinessDay that security agencies often run escort services for providers of goods and services in the state, sometimes alongside the military, to ward off possible attacks by insurgents and thieves.
The agricultural businesses which the state is known for still thrive, as farmers of sesame, beans, cotton and other products are still in production and maintain patronage from the country and other parts of the world.
“Our sesame business is growing. People are coming to buy it and export to other countries. Many come in, buy trailers of beans and take them to Lagos,” said Mohamed Rijiya, president, Borno Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay.
Cement is not left out as Dangote Cement (Dangcem) is said to be transporting large numbers of trucks into the state, underlining growing infrastructural and housing needs.
“One hundred trucks of Dangote Cement come into Maiduguri daily. If people say businesses are not taking place, why is Dangcem coming in such a large number?” Rijiya queried.
There are 27 local government areas in Borno State, which include Ngala, Mafa, Bama, Biu, Mongun, among others. BusinessDay investigations revealed that almost all major commercial banks had their offices in each of the LGAs before the insurgency. However, incessant attacks by insurgents, which often resulted in theft of large sums of customers’ deposits, forced these commercial banks to relocate to and concentrate on the state capital, where there is relative security.
“Banks are no longer in local government areas because of attacks. They did not have sufficient security personnel and were often subject to attacks and theft,” said another businessman in Maiduguri.
“53 of our telecoms sites were directly affected by the bomb attacks in the northeastern part of Nigeria,” said Osondu Nwokoro, director, regulatory affairs, Airtel Nigeria, at a media briefing in Lagos. “But 193 sites were impacted in all, as huge outages were sustained. The way the network architecture is designed, we have some telecoms masts that are hubs and control other base stations. So, if a hub is destroyed, then other masts that depend on the hub will be affected.”
Borno State, alongside Yobe and Adamawa, is the hub of sectarian attacks by insurgents in recent times. In late January, militants attacked Kawuri village in Borno State as a busy market was packing up, setting off explosives and setting houses ablaze. The attacks killed 52 persons, according to witnesses. In February, over 47 people were killed in an attack in Bama. It is reported that more than 260 people have been killed this year by insurgents.
But businessmen in the state say security has improved in some parts following the Federal Government’s continued efforts to boost security.
“Before now, only one truck moved from Bama to Banki, but last Wednesday, 18 trucks carrying traders moved to the area,” Rijiya said.