The charity forum organized penultimate Thursday by the Media Trust newspaper stable (publishers of the Daily Trust newspaper) referred to as Advocacy and Fund Raising for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in the North East is more significant than may be ordinarily realized. In one vein it offers every Nigerian the opportunity to play the brother’s keeper with respect to the Nigerians in the war ravaged states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. In another vein the occasion accentuates the role of the whipping-boy played by the victims in these states on behalf of the rest of the country. For these Nigerians are suffering not by any fault of theirs, but as sacrificial lambs who bear the brunt of the grievances of the Boko Haram insurgents against the entire country.
After all but for the vigilance and dexterity of the country’s security forces the outrage of the insurgents would have traversed the entire nation. The bombing of the United Nations Building in Abuja four years ago, the attacks on churches and mosques in Abuja and other areas that are ordinarily far removed from the North East, as well asthe assassination attempt on General Muhamadu Buhari in Kaduna, long before he became president, easily attest to the gaze of the insurgents over the entire country. Beyond the foregoing the fear of Boko Haram insurgents, especially with respect to the suicide bombers in their ranks, has defined a new security consciousness which manifests in heightened citizen vigilance, reinforced gates for public and sundry private buildings as well as a quarantine mentality across the land.
It is difficult to identify any of the more than 300,000 souls that have perished so far from gunshot, beheading, accidents associated with attempts to escape attacks by insurgents, and other means, as well as the millions that have been injured or displaced, whocan be blamed for offending the Boko Haram insurgents as individuals.As victims they are merely innocent hostages who are just paying whatever price is their lot, on behalf of the rest of Nigerians who are presently out of reach of the insurgents. That is why the rest of the country needs to ask the question – if it is the North East today whose turn will it be tomorrow? The typical Nigerian answer to that question will be ‘God forbid bad thing’ or ‘Allah kiai’. Yes, God forbids the bad even as men must do the needful.
Admissibly, the immediate thrust of the Media Trust initiative is to facilitate the matter of cash availability, which is the key to the immediate provisionof soccour to the victims of insurgency- the IDPs, or refugees which many Nigerians will identify better with, and for whom life must go on. It was the late Afro-beat music maestro Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who sang that “me I no go gree make my brother suffer, make I no talk oh”. Thanks then to Mallam Kabiru Yusuf and his team at Media Trust for speaking up for the IDPs and of course, the less fortunate Nigerians who have passed on as martyrs of the Nigerian state.
Most Nigerians who are far removed from the epicenter of the war zone may not easily appreciate the gravity of the plightfaced by thesecompatriots for no fault of theirs. Beyond the trauma of escaping gruesome death at the hands of the insurgents is the syndrome of scarcity of even the basics of life which hitherto were taken for granted. Several of them had been abused, some ladies raped and impregnated, while the men were enslaved. Family members were separated. Indeed, the litany of outrages is endless. Thesense of despair is heightened by the realization that the bizarre spectacle is taking place in one’s own country.
The net effect is an acute sense of deprivation even in the IDPs camps, driven by the uncertainty of when the next meal will come, and in some cases acute despair over whether missing loved ones shall be seen again.That is why at the slightest sign of dislodgement of the insurgents and restoration of normalcy by the gallant Nigerian military in any the war zones, many of the IDPs rush home, or whatever is left of such.
For good measure the news of returning IDPs is cheering, given that such developments serve as positive indicators of progress by the gallant Nigerian military in the war against the insurgents. Expectedly,hundreds of thousands of IDPs may have returned to their original bases. Yet what they are returning to is better imagined than witnessed, especially for the faint-hearted. Desolation. Stench of decomposing human remains. Burnt out houses that were once thriving homes and shops. And a sense of loss over where to start life all over. This is their Nigeria today. This is their world for now.
That is where the Media Trust initiative enjoys commendation for defining an agenda which inspires attention on these IDPs, by the rest of the country. As a national media stable with a leading readership in the northern parts of the country, the stable has commendably demonstrated its sense of corporate social responsibility, and added another feather to its cap. The realization of the handsome sum of N230 million naira tells a lot about the passion which the plight of the victims has generated in Nigerians and the legitimacy as well as primacy enjoyed by the Media Trust stable.
Yet against the backdrop of the scale of damage in terms of loss of life, limbs and property along with the challenge of rehabilitating the returnees, this sum as well as other relief gestures in the past such as that by the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administrationand the interventions by NEMA,are not more than a drop in the ocean.Indeed no amount of money can be too much to cater for these IDPs.Yet something must start somewhere, somehow and by somebody.
The need exists to see the North East crisis as a national emergency, which demands intervention at the highest level of government. The whole country needs to share with the people of the North East the expectations of a future that offers a new deal. For instance it will be a disservice for returnees to come back to the corn-stalk houses they occupied before their flight to safety. These were the type of structures which when the insurgents set fire on one it spreads and consumes the entire hamlet. No wonder that in the face of little or no protection in such huts the level of damage to the ravaged communities was monumental.
What the organisers assembled the rest of the country and the world to think and act in respect of is to restorethe humanity ofthe victims of the ravage in a sustainable manner that will assuage their pains and usher in a future which shall guarantee that never again shall they see this scale of ravage. This calls for a new deal that goes beyond the replacement of former buildings and lifestyles. Rather it entails a reinvention of the affected communities.
More significantly the country can and should benefit from the crisis if it allows the plight of the North East to serve as a catalyst to reinventing the social compact between the government and the governed all over the nation. If the principle that the actual strength of a chain is its weakest link then the state of affairs in the North East serves as a metaphor for the vulnerability of virtually all similar communitiesin the country in economic and other measures.
The North East is not an isolated area of the country. If it bleeds Nigeria bleeds, if the people weep Nigeria is weeping. The IDPs are citizens to whom the country owes obligation of protection from danger. How we treat them today is a pointer to what any other so affected community will fare, if similarly distressed.