Do we fold our hands as Nigerians become refugees in their country?
In the last few weeks, I have found it extremely hard to close my eyes to and ignore some of the extreme realities that face me and sound through my phone on a daily basis.
William Wilberforce is known to have said
“after seeing all these, you can choose to look the other way, but you can never again say – I did not know”.
I think that is the case with me. Let me help you understand my position.
I have lived in Mubi for close to two decades – that’s nearly 20 years. I no longer live there and so the realities of life there no longer affect me directly. Good! Sometime in November this year (2014), the now famous terrorist group – Boko Haram attacked and took control of Mubi which is a major economic town in North East Nigeria and in Adamawa State. Nearly every normal person in the town has had to flee for safety and life. Property at that point was not even a consideration. People traveled for days on foot through thick bushes and forests, across borders, without food or water, just to save dear life. May people traveled with the added pain of worry about the whereabouts of their families and loved ones. When the bombs began to sound and bullets started flying through the town, everyone practically left from wherever they were. Mothers who had children in school could not go find them, husbands fled without knowing where their wives were. Everyone just needed to first be alive before thinking about where to find the others. The stories of escape and ordeals are something else in themselves.
Now it is more than two weeks or more since this crisis. Nobody has returned to Mubi. Most of the residents of Mubi who in my estimation run into hundreds of thousands are all in other places. This is not counting the thousands of people who had earlier fled from other towns to Mubi for safety weeks before the town itself was taken.
It is saddening to know that so far, no one seems to have taken any organized responsibility for this great a crowd of internally displaced people. It’s like we don’t seem to realize that this is a major humanitarian crisis. I know of families who left all their belongings behind – all they had were the clothes they had on. Students left all documents and academic credentials behind – my own little brother an example of such. Many people whose economy depended on their small scale businesses now have no income. Many people who were gainfully or skillfully employed have suddenly joined the already long list of the unemployed. Major breadwinners for their families now only watch as the entire family is left at the mercy of relatives and friends who sympathize enough to offer temporary help. The situation is really sad.
I particularly thought that by now we would have a major rehabilitation effort in place to respond to this crisis. I have waited for weeks and have heard or seen nothing. No national or international effort. None that we are aware of. Individuals have helped those they know. Churches particularly have become the home of hundreds. Many people have moved into faraway cities. The trauma of leaving everything behind and in some cases even losing family members is in itself bad enough, not to now add to it the frustration that comes from not seeing any ray of hope across the horizon. A few persons have been brave enough to decide to relocate to new cities to start life afresh. Some entire families have had to split themselves among relatives living in different cities, at least until they can see a definite path. I’m told there is a refugee camp somewhere, which most of the people don’t feel safe enough considering the trauma they’ve been through. I can understand what a Nigerian refugee camp will look like, and I have no apologies for that statement.
Is the entire world going to fold their hands and watch the people of Adamawa state lose their land, culture and heritage to terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism? This is vividly and evidently a religious crusade. Find out the details of how they select who survives and who gets killed. While we can’t predict the extent to which this onslaught is going to continue, do we simply ignore the existing casualties? Are they mere statistics? Just numbers and figures? No, these are people!
Calls have flooded my phone, although I initiated most of the calls to check on friends and families I know. I have already received CV’s and resumes in my email of friends needing to secure any form of employment to assist their families and move on with life. I have had calls and text messages with bank account numbers, requesting for any form of assistance – no matter how little, just to survive. I have had so many calls from people asking for direction or referrals as to where they could go or who they could contact as they move into new towns and cities, even if just to ‘squat’ for a while. As I try to respond to these messages, calls and requests, my heart bleeds. How many can I respond to? Even if I am able to respond to all the requests I get – which I obviously cannot, what about the tens of thousands of other people who have nobody to call or ask to send money. For a lot of people, every relative they have is now equally a refugee.
The situation is even made more complex because many of these refugees have fled far beyond even Yola the capital of Adamawa State for fear of the terrorists arriving. (The said refugee camp is in Yola). Now they are scattered across the nation. Children have no schools. Families are separated, have no homes, no income and worst of all, no help coming from anywhere.
As I ponder on these things, sleep gets far away from my eyes. We in other parts of Nigeria may not understand the realities of these things because it’s far away from us. If we fold our hands and say or do nothing, what happens if the tables turn? God forbid you will say. Let’s hope and pray so. But we can’t run from reality.
If you have ever desired to make any significant difference or contribution to life, here is a platter of opportunity. You can never say it does not concern you, or there is nothing you can do. You can assist a family, you can contribute to empowerment or rehabilitation of these people. You run an NGO? Take up this, channel some of your funds here and let’s get hope restored. You run a non-profit or church, advocate for and get some help across. Somehow, anyhow, do something.
If you don’t know what to do, then let’s talk and let me share some of the requests I have with you. Write me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let me link you up with tens or hundreds of families and individuals who need help. Thinking of something bigger than just helping selected people? Want to start an organized help platform, I will gladly be on board and lets share on how to make it happen.
It’s not just about the fact that Mubi is taken, it’s about the reality that thousands of Nigerians are living as refugees in their own country, the same country where you and I walk freely and live comfortable. I think it’s not fair that we ignore this situation. I am not only challenging you, I am inviting you, asking you and begging you to please do something. Anything!