The journey continues as Sesôr visits displaced persons’ camp in Gombe state to provide relief materials for these survivors. Below is a diary detailing our experience:
Friday November 21
And so we found a taxi from Namu to take us into Jos where we would get another taxi to Gombe. In between changing cars twice (the second occasioned by a breakdown in a village, Lere, in Bauchi State which our taxi driver had decided would be a shortcut to Bauchi Town) we found ourselves in Bauchi on Friday night. Luckily, we found sleeping arrangements and were welcome with open arms by my friend and colleague, Fatima Mukaddas (Mo’s wife). I got to take a short break and attend a wedding party with my friend where we closed the house gate and danced to our hearts’ content.
One of the women at the party said words to the effect that with all that was happening security-wise, it was good to celebrate life, no matter what. I agree wholeheartedly. No matter what Boko Haram throws at us, we must stand strong together and remember there is more to life than their murderous activities. In celebrating life, we defy these harbingers of death. And we will outlive them. As we danced and ate together, I was reminded that whether Muslim, Christian or Animist, whether Northerners, Middle-Belters or Southerners, we were all God’s children and whatever false divisions being thrown up were being thrown up by enemies of our common humanity.
Saturday November 22
Saturday dawned bright and clear and we set out as early as we could for Gombe in yet another taxi. We arrived the Jewel of the Savannah after passing through towns like Alkaleri, Kaloma, Kirffi, Bara (possibly the watermelon headquarters of the NorthEast) as there were watermelon stalls like the one below along the highway.
We arrived Gombe late morning, rested for a couple of hours and went straight off to the market, accompanied by Ahmed’s friend, Yaya on his okada, where we bought food items such as rice, beans, sardines, indomie noodles and pure water to take to the camp. These we loaded on a taxi and found our way to Akko LGA on the outskirts of Gombe town.
Some Gombe SEMA officers were at the camp ready to receive us. Of course, before we got there, our car got stuck in the sand. Yaya came back for me on his bike and dropped me off at the camp.
Our car gets stuck in the sand… needed a push to make the final meters to the IDP Camp in Akko LGA, Gombe
We were welcomed by the SEMA officers at the camp and very quickly learnt that Nollywood star, Segun Arinze, had come to visit the camp the previous week.
The camp itself (which is a Police Officers’ Transit Camp has been temporarily converted to an IDP camp) was first opened in July 2014 to cater for about 400 IDPs – within a week, that number had grown to over 1,472. There are currently over 14,000 names in the state’s IDP register – most of them from Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Some of these are being sheltered in about 10 other locations in the state.
Many of those we met in the camp in Akko spoke Kanuri (for those not familiar with the tribal dynamics of the North, there are hundreds of other languages spoken in the North – e.g. Kanuri, Nupe, Doemak, Birom etc. and Hausa is the ‘lingua franca’ of Northern Nigeria).
Listening to the stories of some of those who had fled was like ‘watching’ a World War II movie in auditory mode. They recounted the modus operandi of the Boko Haram attackers who came into their town (some of them Kanuri-speaking men from across the border), and went from house to house killing off the men who would not join them – regardless of whether they were Muslim, Christian or Animist and forcibly conscripting the younger boys, after they had killed their fathers and/or uncles, into their ranks.
Most chilling to hear was a report from one of the old women in the camp that as they were fleeing from Boko Haram’s ground attacks, the Nigerian Air Force was dropping bombs from above to fight off the terrorists and they, the villagers, were now faced with the twin threats of being killed by Boko Haram on the ground or by bombs dropped by the Air Force.
We were encouraged but also a little sad to hear that our visit was right on time as the camp was beginning to run out of food. This goes to show that nothing is too small or too late when it comes to following the call to help our fellow Nigerians in need.
After a chat and some pictures with the SEMA officials, we left and went back to our hotel in Gombe town…exhausted but happy somewhat that we could bring encouragement to others.
A City’s Amazing Generosity – Nigerians helping Nigerians:
We were moved by stories of the compassionate and generous response of the Gombe people to the IDPs:
- Several families are hosting displaced persons – people who were, until they arrived Gombe, complete strangers to them;
- A prominent businessman has donated two properties for housing the IDPs – and other people too;
- The state government itself has rented housing to house 1000 IDPs;
- Several people, of all faiths and from all walks of life, brought in food and other items to donate to the IDPs at the camp;
- A relative of one of the SEMA officers also donated a property to host some IDPs.
And there were more stories like these! We saw the same generosity in a relief trip to Benue State earlier this year.
These stories helped show that Nigerians actually do care for each other. It also gives lie to the idea that Nigerians only help people from their own tribe. Kanuri is not a language indigenous to Gombe – the indigenous tribes are Tanagel, Terawa, Waja, Kumo, Fulani, Bolewa, Jukun, Pero/Shonge, Tula, Cham, Awak among others – talk about DIVERSITY!.
For me, this was a confirmation of the compassion and empathy which binds us all in time of need! Not all hope is lost. Our humanity can bind us together and together we can help each other overcome the evil besetting our nation at this time.
photo credit: IER JONATHAN-ICHAVER unless where indicated otherwise.
Below are more images of our visit to Gombe: