By MIKE EBONUGWO, yola
It was a case of being refugees in their own country at a time of relative peace. But it took an unexpected visit to bring their presence and plight to public attention.
Indeed it was more like a journey of shocking discovery for a delegation from the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative, API, a group of community and religious leaders devoted to peace building and coordinated by the American University of Nigeria, AUN, which paid a humanitarian visit to Mubi, on Saturday, March 29.
Mubi has been emergency home to some internally displaced victims of recent insurgency attacks in Borno and Yobe states.
The delegation led by AUN President, Margee Ensign; State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Father Moses Taparki, and the Secretary General of the Adamawa Muslim Council, Imam Dauda Bello, not only commiserated with the displaced persons at the palace of the Emir of Mubi, Alhaji Abubakar Isa Ahmadu, but also donated food, clothing and relief materials which were received on behalf of the refugees by Hajia Turai Kadir, Project Coordinator of the Center for Women and Adolescent Empowerment, an NGO working in Mubi for distribution to them.
Addressing the over 200 men, women, and children who gathered to receive the Peacemakers, President Ensign commiserated with them and urged them never to lose hope in life in spite of what they were going through. “We are here as your mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. We feel your hunger and suffering; it makes us want to do more to stop the violence. We have come to show our love and support and to tell you that you are not alone,” she said.
Rev. Fr. Taparki, who prayed with them, asked them to remain peaceful and to love one another.
Imam Bello who also prayed with the victims, addressed them thus: “We have come to sympathise with you and pray to God that this mayhem should not ever be repeated or religion used to cause more violence”. He prayed God to mend their broken hearts and grant them divine protection.
A spokesman for the displaced persons, Malam Ibrahim Saliu, expressed gratitude to members of the delegation. He thanked them for their encouragement, prayers and gifts, noting that they were comforted by the solidarity of the Adamawa Peacemakers as they try to come to terms with the tragic loss of their relatives, houses, livestock, and livelihood.
When the delegation visited the Emir to commiserate with him over the plight of the displaced persons being sheltered in his domain, President Ensign explained their mission of peace and the intention of API to build a network of peacemakers by extending the work of peace building, which started in Yola, to Mubi and other parts of Adamawa State.
President Ensign shared with the Emir the plans by AUN and the API to convene a national peace conference in Yola next month, and extended an invitation to the royal father. The Emir welcomed the delegation’s compassionate visit and agreed that their peace initiative should be everybody’s concern. He promised to mobilise his subjects for the proposed conference, but wisely advised the organisers to first seek out the peculiar needs of each community since people’s needs differed from community to community.
The traditional ruler advised the Adamawa Peacemakers to remain steadfast in preaching peace and reconciliation among the various Adamawa communities. There is, he said, no alternative to dialogue and peaceful coexistence.
The visit to Mubi was the latest in a series of outreaches conducted by the API. Recently, members of API commiserated with the victims and families of violent attacks in Madagali and Toungo local government areas, also in Adamawa State. API had also in January, 2012, paid a similar compassionate visit to families and survivors of sectarian violence in Numan, Adamawa State, where relief materials were also distributed.
Right on the heels of the visit to displaced persons of Mubi, an AUN-empowered API delegation had on April 26, 2014, also paid another visit to internally displaced persons from neighboring Borno and Yobe states seeking refuge in two different locations in the Bole ward of Yola South LGA. The team which was led by AUN President Ensign distributed relief materials to the victims, including food, mosquito nets, and clothing, among other necessaries.
The first location visited was Sabon Pegi in Bole ward which harboured mainly men and women who fled the terror unleashed on the two neighbouring states. The second haven was Lelewaji, also in Bole, literally crammed with hapless children and women. The Chief of Bole, Alhaji Abdulmumin Abubakar, a member of the API, welcomed the visit and addressed the audience.
He spoke about his people’s challenges in harbouring the refugees and assuaging the psychological effects of their sad experience. He showed a man whose brother was allegedly slain by terrorists before he fled with his family to take refuge in Bole.
It was a sombre outing as most of these displaced were nursing mothers. Chief Abubakar said that some of the women have between three and seven children and are, in some cases, widows. He also pointed out that it would be difficult for them to remarry because they will be considered heavy responsibilities by would-be husbands.
President Ensign addressed the refugees saying: “We just brought supplies to make things a little better and get them back on a life with hope. We know this violence affects everyone but hits hard on the women and children.” She further stated that it is imperative that the University shows sympathy and love as it is situated in Bole.
One of the victims, Mrs. Laminu Shuaib who is being sheltered at Sabon Pegi, expressed gratitude to AUN and API. She, however, craved for more facilities. “The camp is congested; we lack water, and our children are not going to school,” she said.
Founded in 2003, the American University of Nigeria, Africa’s first development university, is located in Yola, Adamawa State. It is the only private, co-educational American-style institution in sub-Saharan Africa.
Besides its peace-building efforts through the API, AUN is also spearheading the Grand Alliance for Adamawa, which is a forum for exchanging ideas and developing projects that will increase employment in the region, especially for vulnerable youths.