Fanen Verinumbe, health economist at the State Primary Health Care Agency in Adamawa State, Nigeria
“To development partners I would say - do not assume you are the only expert in town.”
Fanen Verinumbe (30) is not easily perturbed. Having grown up in Borno State, where in the last few years Boko Haram insurgencies created a lot of destruction and displacement, she was based in Kano commenting on “Lots of bomb-blasts and bloodshed around the hospital where I worked”.
In 2012, she came to Yola, Adamawa’s capital, to help advance primary health care, through a performance-based financing scheme.
The health indicators may be grim, and the work poses a host of challenges. But she smiles when she talks about Nigeria, the complex country of 180 million people.
“It is my home. And however messed up the country may seem at times, home is home” she says. In Nigeria, she concedes, you learn fast. You learn how there are people trying to do the right thing, and others who have huge vested interests in keeping conflicts going and do not welcome change.
“Some days, it would be easy to get pessimistic, if one observes how people have lost their patriotism, and even youth are just fencing to get into positions in which they may be merely repeating the behaviour of their elders.”
But then she says, “You see the communal spirit that surfaces in case of crises, the activism now emerging on social media, or the passing of ‘not-too- young to run’ bill allowing alternative young leadership to flourish.”
Fanen derives her hope from such signs and, “From the fact that our current President seems serious about wanting to tackle corruption”. He may be in a minority but, “Governance and good leadership are crucial and we all know it is not easy.”
Everybody is implicated, including development partners who are numerous in the Northeastern states of Nigeria since the recent conflicts.
Fanen is clear. “To development partners I would say if you make plans and schemes for states like mine: don’t take over. Don’t be so generalized, and do not assume you are the only expert in town.”
To her own government she would like to urge, “Keep up the fight against corruption. But there again corruption is a lot of things, so we have to beware
not to generalize here either.”