Sesôr embarked on a journey to two states; Plateau and Gombe, and so the journey continued all the way to Adamawa where we visited the camp of displaced persons and donating relief materials for them. Below is our diary:
Last Stop: Numan, Adamawa – Sunday November 23, 2014
Come Sunday, we were back on the road, in a chartered car, heading to Numan in Adamawa State, one of the few towns we had been advised was relatively safe to get to in the state. Numan is about 131kilometres from Gombe Town.
Breakfast on the go: Egg-fried yam…
We passed through several towns including the coal mining town of Kumo, Billiri, Ahmed’s own home town of Kaltungo (home to the famed Kilang Hill), Tula (a mountainous town with the Tula Prison at the top of the mountain – prisoners are reportedly unable to escape as there is only one entry/exit at the front gates and the back of the prison faces a steep cliff drop), Bambam, Putoki and Cham. The state of the road deteriorated as we left Gombe behind and crossed into the Adamawa towns of Lafia-Okro, Ngbalang (a town situated on the banks of the River Benue and home of dried fish).
I was in food heaven, buying lovely delicacies (most and sadly sold us by children) such as egg-fried yam for breakfast, awara (a local tofu fried with peppers as an accompaniment) and dankwa (a mixture of ground millet, groundnut paste and other spices) for snacks and the most filling of them all, the thick dairy drink with some spicy grains, fura de nono.
We had called the Adamawa SEMA the day before and arranged to meet at the Government Secondary School (GSS) Numan which was hosting some of the displaced persons. We stopped over at the local market to buy the relief items and then went on to GSS.
We arrived GSS Numan in the early afternoon and were met by SEMA officials, the Principal of the school, some of the officials of the camp and other officials from the Red Cross. They informed us that they had asked the people at the camp to gather round after church (it seemed most of the people at this camp were Christians) so as to receive the relief items brought for them.
The SEMA Executive Secretary addressing the people in GSS Numan
A SEMA official informed us that GSS Numan was one of several camps in the state, mentioning that there were 4 camps in Yola, the state’s capital. Most of the people in the camps had come from towns such as Gombi, Gwoza, Hong, Madagali, Maiha and Michika. Some of these towns had been taken over by Boko Haram. Many of them had fled from places such as Chibok to Mubi and then fled again from Mubi to Numan after Mubi was attacked recently. Some had fled into Cameroon, registered as refugees and then returned to Nigeria. The Adamawa State government is currently providing transportation for those who want to move on to other states. They put the number of those displaced in Numan alone at over 10,400 people. There were much higher numbers in Yola.
IDPs at GSS Numan
He further stated that Nigerians need to understand that Boko Haram does not care whether you are Muslim or Christian – what they care about is that you bow down to their ideology and ‘get initiated’ into their group. And if you refused to be ‘initiated’, you would be killed. There were also reports that food supplies were being stolen by Boko Haram as they attacked the different towns.
As soon as those who were in the camp had gathered, the various officials addressed them and introduced us. We addressed the people telling them the same message we had passed on Plateau and Gombe – that they were not forgotten by their fellow Nigerians in the South. We told them that we came with good wishes and prayers for them from their Southern brethren of all faiths and that there were people in the South and all over the world who were concerned for them.
It was interesting to see how differently this camp was organised – whereas in Plateau and Gombe, the items were all received in front and then handed over to the different heads of the camps for immediate distribution.
Ahmed overseeing the loading of some of the food stuffs and water at the market in Numan. Some of the sacks of rice etc. loaded in the car… we barely had space for ourselves afterwards.
In Numan, the list of the items was received by the camp officials, tallied up and then the list read out, in our presence, to all the people in the camp and distributed after we left. Taking the goods themselves to the camp and having them received before all in the camp minimises the risk of having the materials diverted.
All those whom we spoke with carried themselves with quiet dignity and were keen to return to normal life and work and look after their families. Many came up to us afterwards to pray for us and wish us well.
One of the camp officials reading out the list of donated items
The Sesôr Team, Ier Jonathan-Ichaver & Ahmed Magem (2nd & 3rd from right)) with the SEMA, Red Cross & Camp Officials
The End of the Mission – For Now:
We left the camp and said goodbye to Numan. As we drove back to Gombe and then left the following morning for Lagos via Abuja, I thought about the many impressions and lessons I had gained on this incredible journey which I share below. I also hope to dispel any stereotypes our Southern brethren might have about our Northern Nigerian brothers and sisters.
Some things we learnt:
- Nigerians generally care about each other. The villagers in Qua’an Pan share what little they have with others especially when others are distraught or in danger and are ready to offer food, shelter and clothing.
- There are many unsung heroes in this humanitarian crisis, many of whom work in our state governments and ministries – the likes of Dr. Juryit and other civil servants in the relevant ministries and local government areas hosting IDPs; the SEMA staff in the different states and other relief workers such as those in UNICEF and the Nigeria Red Cross who work tirelessly even on weekends. Some of the civil servants and NEMA staff use their own money to facilitate and speed up things as they work to meet the needs of those displaced.
- There are several crises contributing to the worsening humanitarian situation – some of them, like the herdsman/mercenary attacks have been going on for a long time and continue to affect thousands of Nigerians.
- We need more psychosocial support and trauma counselling for women and girls who have been raped AND for all who have witnessed great atrocities committed against their families and their person.
- These crises impact everybody – both the displaced and host communities. The last community we visited in Plateau State had taken shelter in a primary school and were given an old building to sleep in – so in the day, the pupils would come to school in the midst of the displaced persons setting up house in their school compound. Adamawa State was also housing some of the IDPs in a secondary school.
- Relief visits are a necessary but short-term solution to the displaced persons crises we are facing. What we need is for peace to be restored to the affected areas – and for the lives and properties of our fellow Nigerians to be secured. This is the primary responsibility of the Nigerian government and cannot be left to anyone else.
We also learnt a lot about Nigeria’s Northerners:
We are more similar than different: While some of us may worship differently and sometimes dress differently, most of us share the same desires… to live at peace and work at peace; to make something of ourselves; to provide a decent living for our children and aged family members; to be able to unwind sometimes no matter what our income level.
And while we may have different ways of expressing those desires, we do express. It was sad and interesting to see so many children selling food – just like we have in the South. It was a little disconcerting for a middle-belter like myself to see the distinctions between girls and boys at so young an age and to see girls as young as 4 already in hijabs. Beneath the hijabs of course are women just like you and me who desire the best for themselves in life. Who yearn to throw off shackles imposed by society and just be. Dance even.
I found that music knew no barriers here… P-Square, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Davido etc. blared from speakers as we drove through the different towns. Although the children did not dance as freely as those down South, they still tapped their feet in rhythm to the beat. And I thought some who did dance might have been a little out of practice but dance they did, with all their heart.
The religious divide is not as sharp as we believe it to be: There are also all kinds of churches in all 3 states. From Catholic to ECWA to Living Faith. The Baptists are there too. As are the Lord’s Chosen and many others. In Gombe particularly, there are several families with both Christians and Muslims and entire Christian towns.
The Northern population is not a homogenous one: Just as the South West is not occupied by only Yoruba and the South East is not occupied by only Ibos, neither is the North a homogenous region. In Gombe State for example, there are Yoruba settlements and communities. We also know of many Ibos, Tivs, Yorubas, Urhobo etc. who were born and have lived in Kaduna and several other places for decades and are more Kaduna people than Enugu or Gboko or Lagos or Warri people (for instance).
These crises are NOT a Northern problem. They are a NIGERIAN problem: As we heard over and over again from IDPs in the different camps, the attackers, both Boko Haram and the attacking herdsmen and the mercenaries they hire do not discriminate between Animists, Atheists, Christians and/or Muslims. They do not care about your state of origin or tribe either. In Boko Haram’s case, they kill, at will, whoever they perceive to be their enemy – read that to mean whoever they deem not to agree with their ideology. And in the case of the herdsmen-mercenaries, they attack people whom they believe to be threats to their livelihood and may well be in land grab mode from villages across the North Central (Nassarawa, Taraba etc.) Any crisis affecting one part of the country, if left unchecked, is likely to spill over to other parts.
Below are more images of our visit to Adamawa state and a video clip of one of the survivors: