Anguish, pity, and helplessness gnawed at my heart as I waded through the multitudes of man-made human suffering at the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) centres in Adamawa with the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and other members of the Senate delegation on August 5, 2015.
This is just as Kofi Awoonor’s “Songs of Sorrow” also kept reverberating in my ears as we drove back to town. Incidentally, the late Ghanaian poet whose lines best capture the state of ruins and human misery in the North-East died in the 2013 attack by the Al-Shabaab on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
Few days after the Adamawa trip, images of men, women, children, and infants in state of hopelessness still drift past my mind’s eye. I see forlorn figures wondering how on earth they got to this sorry state, wondering if their sufferings would ever end, and if they would ever be able to return to their homes again. Yes, even with all the efforts by government and international agencies to quarter them, the truth is that there is no place like home, especially for Africans known to be so attached to their homes and the graves of their ancestors.
Although these ones are counted lucky to have escaped from the furnace of insurgency alive, yet there is no doubt that some of them would sometimes wonder if life is indeed worth living after all. For instance, imagine a man or a woman that lost his or her whole family members or the 54 unaccompanied children at the IDPs centre at the National Youth Service Corps Orientation centre in Damare, Jimeta Yola. Bereft of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunties, only God knows the raging turmoil in their young minds.
Ironically, while the military forces have recovered most of the hitherto occupied towns, returning home is even more challenging than staying in the IDPs camps as fallen fences, razed homes, destroyed bridges, desolate farmlands, await them. The North East Coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Sa’ad Bello, actually told the delegation that 87 percent of the IDPs in Damare were willingly go home. But, which home do they return to? They are like Kofi Awoonor standing in the middle of nowhere. If they turn here, the rain beats them; if they turn there, the sun burns them. Something has happened to them- things so great they can no longer weep.
The elders have no sons to fire the gun or daughters to wail when they die. They have practically wandered on the wilderness of anguish and calamities where the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives. Death and misery have made war upon their houses- only broken fences stand as the trees in the fence have been eaten by termites. The crows and vultures hover always above their desolate habitats, while strangers walk over their portions.
Barely clothed and hoarded in overcrowded classrooms and tents that hardly protect them from the vagaries of nature, it could be imagined the platitude and gloom life doles out to them daily.
Conversely, it could be imagined against this backdrop the magnitude of hope that the visit by the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led seven-man Senate delegation made up of the Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Ibn Na’Alla; Senator George Sekibo, Senator Binta Garba, Senator Bashir Marafa, Senator Ahmed Abubakar, and Senator Sani Abubakar Danladi restored to them. By the way, Senator Binta is a man-woman so popular among her people. I leave it at that.
Senator Ekweremadu’s words were like drops of water on a thirsty, scorched piece of earth. He said: “We have come to bring you a message of hope- hope that insurgency will end in our country soon, hope that this is not your portion in life, and hope that you will soon return to your homes to live your normal lives again.
“We had highly useful and incisive discussions with the Service Chiefs on Tuesday. I can assure you that the Senate and indeed the Federal Government are determined to restore lasting peace and security to every part of the North- East. Once we return to Abuja, we will mobilise resources as a body and send support to you. We will also ensure that adequate budgetary provisions and funds are made available to government to fix your schools, to fix your bridges, to fix your hospitals, and rehabilitate your homes so that you can live your normal lives. We must do these because these are your entitlements as citizens”.
He exhorted the young not to lose hope as they could still rise above their present challenges to achieve their dreams. “Insurgency is a temporal setback as these camps cannot be the burial ground of your dreams”, he added Meanwhile, it would also be recalled that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki had earlier visited IDPs camps in Borno State on Monday, August 3, 2015. These recent visits demonstrate why the legislature is often referred to as the people’s arm of government.
While it is good to lament the plights of Nigerians in the North-East in the comfort of the legislative Chambers, visiting the war zones to see things for themselves was no doubt a demonstration of true representation and more purposeful and empathetic leadership. Although the media have done well in relaying the ugly events in the North-East, nothing gives a fuller picture of the magnitude of disaster and human suffering in that region like seeing for yourself or hearing from the horse’s mouth. If your heart does not bleed, then you must have eaten a tortoise’s head.
Thus, these visits will not only help the Senate to better appreciate the dire needs and misery pervading the North-East, but will also move members to more forcefully push for a reversal of the horrific fortunes. The Senate’s visits are also boosting the hopes of the people of the North-East that there will be light at the end of the tunnel and that it is near.
More important, as rightly pointed out by Senator Ekweremadu, the Senate’s visits also underscore the fact that the North-East disaster remains a collective national challenge. To think otherwise is to fool ourselves. One, there is no single Nigerian who has not lost a loved one since the beginning of the insurgency. Two, even the South -East and South-South that are far-flung from the theatres of insurgency have also borne the brunt of insurgency in one way or the other. Many businessmen and public servants lost all they laboured for all their lives. Many more who abandoned the North East region as they scampered for safety homewards are already rendered IDPs. So, as often chanted by Ekweremadu, the insecurity of a part is the insecurity of the whole. I must therefore express my personal shock at the attempt by certain persons and a section of the media to politicize these noble moves by the Senate. One columnist in particular (someone I respect) interpreted the Senate President, Senator Saraki’s visit to Borno IDPs centres as testing the waters and trying to outshine the President ahead of 2019. Haba! In the same manner, a recent innocuous concern expressed by Senator Ekweremadu on the resurgence of terrorist attacks and need for concerted, bipartisan, and international efforts to end the bloodletting and suffering was turned up-side-down and politicised by a particular media house. Let us not forget, many have opined that we were overwhelmed by insurgency because we poiticised it in the first place. The same tree stump should not trip a wise man twice.
Certain things are beyond politics and insurgency is one of them. Let our politicians play politics all they like. But, on this insurgency matter, NO politics. It is ungodly and despicable to play politics with human lives. Truth is, the North East in particular has been set tens of years behind, just to put it mildly. Those who can see afar should know that it holds dire future socio-economic implications for the entire Nigeria. Imagine the consequences in the next 20 years or less of not helping the thousands of these unaccompanied child-IDPs to live a normal and productive life.
Even hitherto divided families and countries are bonded by adversities. Ours cannot be different. It is instructive, for instance, that a Peoples Democratic Party Senator from the creeks of the Niger Delta, Senator George Sekibo, spearheaded the Motion that triggered these fact-finding and hope-raising visits and proposed special interventions by the Senate.
Nigerians must rise above the frays of political, religious, and ethnic bigotry to unite around the noble cause of restoring lasting peace, security, and rehabilitation in the North East as is being resolutely championed President Mohammadu Buhari Government and supported by the National Assembly. With elections over, what our politicians owe us is good governance, not 2019. –Anichukwu is Special Adviser on Media to Deputy President of the Senate