Ndi ifemelu

Ndi ifemelu (pronounced n-de-e-ph-me-lu) is a composition of two Igbo words that loosely translates as “ndi – a group of people, ifemelu – something happened to”. Look around you and you’ll find a type of ndi ifemelu within us in varied degrees. Just because you don’t experience my own form of ifemelu doesn’t mean you should downplay what happened to me. In the past three days I have been in the midst of two types of Ndi Ifemelu. On one hand I was with people who had directly suffered from the ravages of Boko Haram (BH) and on the other hand people who had suffered the dark years of the Nigerian Civil War aka The Biafra War.

Club de Madrid an association of former democratically elected Heads of State and Presidents organized a two day workshop on “Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) : Effective Narratives and Messaging”. Part of the agenda of the association is to deliver democracy that works and delivers, Violent Extremism has been identified as one of the hindrances to the agenda of democracy. We had a combination of Civil Society Organizations, Religious and Faith-Based Organizations, Academia, Government Officials, Activists etc. A religious leader said there’s a basic sense of mistrust in Nigeria which wasn’t the case in the past and there’s a need to re-understand what religious leaders have believed in the past.

If part of the narratives of BH was on disenchantment hence strategic communication needs to be employed. Research from the field revealed an absence of role models created a space for negative narratives to fill in. If recruitment is strictly based on Islamic religion then part of the solution should come through Islam. Having said that, there’s a need for Islamicness – built on a consensus based on the Koran and the Sunna. Riding on that it’s of utmost importance to profile actors of influence/Clergy and Preacher’s messages. Muslim clerics are needed to develop a counter narrative. I heard of mothers sitting together as both victims and perpetrators where they both have lost their sons, one to killing by BH while another radicalized by BH and killing the other woman’s son. They both had to console one another cos’ they both have a form of ifemelu.

I heard of mothers sitting together as both victims and perpetrators where they both have lost their sons, one to killing by BH while another radicalized by BH and killing the other woman’s son. They both had to console one another cos’ they both have a form of ifemelu.

On the first day of the workshop, a friend I met there told me of an elderly man in our midst who had been very passionate about Biafra with those sitting around him and my friend was hoping the mam wouldn’t ask a question during the question session (part of Nigeria’s fear of discussing Biafra). But on the second day he got up to ask a question and we were scared on what he was going say. Once he started talking everywhere went silent and you could see emotion well up on the faces of people. As a nine year old boy living in the Eastern part of Nigeria in the 60’s he was told whenever you see an airplane, look for the nearest tree to dock. He had seen one on his way back from school and ran into a bush, the helicopter hovered over him for a while and sprayed some bullets, and he was saved that day by his slate. He asked why the issue of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) or Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) wasn’t discussed in the workshop. He went on to say people are expressing their disenfranchisement and no one is listening, if nothing is done now, in 20 years’ time a similar workshop will be convened on account of the havoc they would have caused as a result of VE.

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Thankfully a few people had the foresight of his concerns and put together a conference on “Memory and Nation Building Biafra : 50 years after… a sober reflection”. I attended the conference a day after the workshop. It was indeed a sober reflection, what made it rather interesting was the presence of the Acting President of Nigeria Prof Yemi Osinbajo who titled his speech greater together than apart. For a long time the government of Nigeria had shied away from the discussion of Biafra, people are generally skeptical of talking about it, we have done the younger generation a disservice by giving weak narratives. From removing history from our curriculum (Thank God it’s back) to sweeping it under the carpet as one of those wars that happened out of greed but like Prof Odinkalu said “the vacuum that has been created by the absence of discussing the Civil war has created the likes of Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB and MASSOB”. Prof Osinbajo said introspection is what separates us from beasts, while experience is the best teacher for a fool, history is a much gentle teacher.

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Former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo who witnessed the war asked us what right lessons we wanted to learn. Cos’ truth be told there were lots of lessons, he went further to say Civil war is more difficult to fight than foreign intervention battles cos’ it’s a fight to unite brothers and sisters. The issue of narratives was reoccurring both in the workshop and conference but the question is whose narrative should we listen to? Even in the hall it was obvious from the counter-corrections made by speakers that the narrative one told was usually from their own perspective which is often different. Chimamanda Adichie in her TedX Talk The danger of a single story said “The single story creates stereotype and the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story”. How can we as a nation harmonize the incomplete stories of the civil war to start the conversation of healing, reconstruction and moving forward? Like Prof. Nwala said Biafra is our collective guilt.

The single story creates stereotype and the problem with stereotype is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story

Biafra is a metaphor for discontent, every Nigerian is a Biafra in one way or the other. In the absence of a platform to voice out discontentment, people rise up in leadership position to give the voiceless people a voice. In the case of Nigeria, it could be in the form of militancy in the Niger Delta, terrorism in the North East or Secession in the South East. But what should we know about such leaders who invite us to war? Have they secured the future of their families in another country, do they possess dual citizenship, do they really have the interest of the people at heart or it’s just a means to a political end? Nigeria is extremely diverse, the question isn’t about living together rather how can we live together in peace? My mum’s grand aunt was called Odinchezo (Can it be forgotten), the issue of Biafra can never be forgotten but Ozoemena (Another one shouldn’t happen).

Loads of Love

JMAD

N/B : Photo Credit : Google

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From Maiduguri : No one is born a terrorist

I had come across a Regional Youth Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in the Sahel region in September organized by Search for Common Ground (SFCG). I was pretty excited to apply notwithstanding the venue was in Maiduguri. For those who don’t know about Maiduguri, it’s the melting pot of the terrorist group Boko Haram (BH). That said it was a “dangerous place” to be in but for some funny reason I wasn’t scared. Months later I was notified of been shortlisted, logistics were planned, security briefs were sent out. On the 27th of Nov I headed off to the airport to meet fellow participants from Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. I could literally feel the excitement on the plane, I couldn’t see a trace of fear on their faces. Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

We all settled in with the friendly volunteers who made sure we were all comfortable and ended the day with a welcome dinner. Before I go into the summit, I want to appreciate the management of University of Maiduguri (UniMaid). There are many things we are not told and here I was listening to the Vice Chancellor (VC) and shaking my head. UniMaid was never shut down all through the period BH terrorized Borno state, in the words of the former VC they couldn’t shut down because they would be sending their students out to their villages that had been taken over by BH, it’s either they get killed or are forced to join.

On the first day the Deputy VC pointed out how Borno which is originally the Home of Peace has become the home of pieces. A Malian youth delegate led the discussion on the theme “youth and the fight against violent extremism: how important is the participation of the youths?” While one of the speakers talked about the challenges of preventing violent extremism as the following : – Highly secretive (special means of communication), Identifying and cutting the sources of funds, Insincerity of the community, Politicization, Instilled fear on the citizens, Insincerity and lack of commitment from the leaders, Poor motivation by the government to the military, Lack of clear rehabilitation measures. He went further to give the following as the way-forward: – Education as the bedrock, strict monitoring of community members, regulation of public preaching, strengthening of Islamic school. One of the speakers led the conversation on the common misconception associated with radicalization and extremism. Everyone is a radical in one way or the other the difference in extremism lies in the use of violence.

In the plenary session on Global and National agendas engaging youth in CVE the Cameroonian speaker highlighted the need to involve women in CVE but went further to view women not just as victims but as actors. I think this is a good narrative because seeing them as just victims prevents a holistic approach to CVE. Nigeria has experienced many female suicide bombers, last year a family of nine in Bradford England crossed over to Syria under the guise of hajj. The Nigerian speaker who was a product of the SFCG Naija Girls – a camp involving young Christian and Muslim girls from about nine (9) – fifteen (15) living together to know each other and change the narrative of “us” against “them” prevalent in Plateau State. In her words they were previously “fed from wrong ideologies and fed from wrong plates”. These young girls moved from the camp and started training other young girls on the need for peaceful coexistence. In one of the presentations these quotes stood out to me “no one is born a terrorist or fighter”, “if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace” – Rwandan Youth Movement Leader

if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace”

On the second day the theme for the plenary session was “Challenges and opportunities for youths in CVE”. A Nigerian Youth speaker gave a presentation on gender-based violence and how women are been empowered to prevent their recruitment into such violent groups. One of the speakers gave a profound truth “conflict is always between right and right” He went further to demonstrate between the six (6) and nine (9). Just because you see a six doesn’t mean I’m wrong seeing a nine. The issue isn’t what we are seeing individually rather the ability to accommodate what the other person is seeing.  Everyone has their own truth – this couldn’t have been said any better. If you ask some terrorists, they’ll probably give you their version of truth. Peace building is how I want to reflect on myself by opening my listening mind. Some of the challenges mentioned are youth participation in democratic processes, lack of leadership capacity by the youths and lack of belief by the elders. One of the facilitator was almost eaten up when he said the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. The hall went berserk with participants saying they are the leaders of today, tomorrow may never come.

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We were divided into four working groups namely: – Preventing violence and recruitment into violent groups, facilitating young people’s disengagement from violent groups, producing and amplifying new narratives, fostering effective and meaningful partnerships. I worked on amplifying new narratives, we came up with the following: – Understanding the problem, direct contact with the actors to understand them, bring parties to a common ground, and address misinterpretations of narratives. Something stood out to me, the Country Director of SFCG asked us “not to think of the white elephant”. I’m pretty sure you have the picture of a white elephant in your head. Bottom line highlight your positive message for example instead of saying “Violence is not the answer” you can say “Peace is the answer”.

On the third day we were placed in working groups to come up with an action plan for each country facilitated by some academics. It was brain racking but exciting at the same time. One of the academics from Niger suggested some general action points: – Inter-religious dialogue, inclusion of the female in peace processes, control of the Koranic school (licensing of the Koranic teachers). It was interesting listening to an ex-rebel leader who has made something meaningful from his life. He went back to school and has a PhD and contributing his own quota in CVE.

Friendships were forged over the four (4) days we spent in Maiduguri. Although we had to put on our translators when the French speakers led the discussion, it didn’t prevent our communication. Yes there were times I took a bilingual participant to enable me ask some questions but I enjoyed every bit of it. At the end of yesterday all the various country representatives submitted their action plan and awaiting approval to kick off.  Following the UN Security Council adoption of Resolution 2250 in December 2015 urging member states to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution. We have definitely moved from rhetoric to action. Can we be the ones to end violence in our own generation?

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Loads of Love

JMAD

From Kutara ; displaced but placed by God

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The kids in the camp

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It was one of those conversations you have with a friend, you remember the economic climate and the many job losses in the country and he suddenly says “Chijioke what of IDP camps”? This unplanned conversation ignited a fire that had gone dim for a while, thank you Gbenga. That same week I had gone to visit a friend and found out an IDP camp was close to his house. Oh! I was extremely excited, told my aunt and we took our first set of relief items in the form of clothes and shoes. But the visit left us disappointed, it wasn’t organized, we saw a lot of bags of clothes in a particular container, apparently they didn’t have a proper system for sharing.

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The arrival at the camp
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Tim getting acquainted with the kids. After they had sung their welcome song
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Rachel leading them in the greeting in Hausa language
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Tuboson, Rachel, Ejike and Tochi capturing the moment

I still knew there were more IDP camps and I went further to get a more detailed list of IDP camps at the outskirts of town. Thankfully I found about seven (7) camps and I chose Kutara Camp. Meanwhile a mentoring group I’m part of decided to carry out Charity work with an emphasis on IDP camps. I had posted a status on facebook without asking for help but causing people to think of how they could help towards the displacement crisis in Nigeria and I got private messages as well as comments on how they can get involved. You see when you have a desire to do something God causes the earth to respond. The journey to raise funds for the visit to Kutara started.

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Solar panel for the bore-hole
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The bore-hole

 A little N2,000.00, few baby clothes and it kept coming. I was getting overwhelmed with people’s donations within and outside Abuja. A colleague overheard my conversation over the phone and asked how he could get involved. I explained the needs and he gave $100 and further made others to give $200. Oh! My heart was bursting with excitement, my friend Melford said my excitement was infectious even over the phone. While I was sorting out the clothes, shoes and textbooks I couldn’t believe all the things people sent. They were all new and laundered clothes, I saw the prettiest aso-eke for a little baby girl and I saw tampon too. That definitely made me smile but reminded me I needed to buy sanitary towels too.

I was awake by 3.00 a.m. on that Saturday and couldn’t sleep, not sure if it was anxiety or excitement but I was glad to be up to know a little thought was about to come alive. We were eleven (11) on the trip, three colleagues, six friends and the camp coordinator Adamu. We headed to Kutara in three (3) cars with lots of emotions running through our minds. Only one of us who is a doctor had been to several IDP camps. The trip became pretty interesting when we veered off the major road and kept on driving for another thirty (30) minutes and the camp was nowhere in sight. At some point my friend Efe who was in another car called to ask why I didn’t ask them to bring their passports cos’ it was clear we were leaving the borders of Nigeria. We finally got to the camp situated in the middle of nowhere and beheld the sight of many little children waiting for us at the entrance and singing a welcome song.

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Tuboson and Adamu the Camp coordinator who doubles as their respected leader
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Yea Peace to the world… watch out for that kid
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Women and Children…

When we all came down no one remembered the distance we covered to get to the camp. They are displaced persons from Adamawa and Borno who were attacked by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The name of the camp is Kutara in Masaka, Nassara state. The camp is made up of seventy (70) families, sixty (62) men, sixty (60) women and two hundred and twenty-eight (228) children and they all live in houses provided by the Church of the Brethren Mission in Switzerland through EYN Church Headquarters in Mubi, Adamawa State . The same church owns the land they are occupying. There’s a solar-paneled bore hole in the camp. We all went to various areas in the camp. Tuboson who’s a doctor had a session with the public health worker in the camp, Rachel had a session with the kids where she recited the alphabets and sang the National Anthem in Hausa language, Efe, Ejike, Tochi and I went to view the make-shift school.

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The walk to the school
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Getting information from the teachers. Me, Efe, Ejike, Tim and Tochi in the classroom.
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The make-shift classroom
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One of the teachers
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Tim giving the kids their football. He was supposed to play with them but time was an issue.

There are three (3) structures built with Zinc with a black board gotten by painting wood with charcoal. They have five (5) volunteer teachers who cover from per-crèche to primary three (3). The remaining kids go to private schools in neighboring villages which is funded by the produce from their farms. They are predominantly farmers. Tim had fun with the children while Iztok and Guy were busy strategizing on the next steps. Not to forget Chioma who was gracious enough to document our experience with her camera. I can’t forget what the young lady said when we handed the sanitary towels to her, she said the women in the camp use rags and wash it to re-use. Yes in the 21st century we still have such practices.

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Rachel reciting the alphabet in Hausa language
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Rachel in her element
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They were reciting the National Anthem.

The heads of various groups spoke to us and the head of the camp who we observed to be highly respected said something very profound, “We were displaced by Boko Haram but God has placed us here”. They have made Kutara their home and when I asked him if he will like to go back home, he responded by saying TO WHERE! I can’t say we met all their needs but a child went to bed that day with a new dress on, one had a chocolate drink, another ate noodles while another child used a toothbrush and a bathing soap in the morning not to forget the new shoe a man will put on and the woman who will be using a sanitary towel that day. Or the volunteer teacher who took back money in envelops as a reward for their help in molding the next generation. You see, we all wished we could do more but at the end of the day we were glad we changed one life after all it starts with one.

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Dr Tuboson discussing the medical needs with the health professional in the camp.

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Our amazing driver Stephen who was extremely patient with us and Efe off-loading the relief materials

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Beyond what we gave them, they were excited that we crossed all the seven rivers and mountains to spend the day with them. They said people hardly visit them cos’ of the distance and the few people who visit them make promises but never come back. Although we didn’t make any promises but we’ve decided to be a little different. We have met after the visit and talked about what we can do for them. So here we have it: –

  • A proper school – We plan on constructing up to six (6) classroom blocks with desks and chairs.
  • A better health post
  • Medical supplies – Malaria is the major disease in the camp
  • Mosquito Net
  • Sanitation facilities
  • Fertilizer for the farmers
  • Skills acquisition and initial start-up for them
  • Solar panel for electricity for the camp
  • Improved accessibility for local transportation
  • Publicity – We want to do a documentary to share their story with the world
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The oldest man in the camp
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Not sure what I was saying
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Efe, Rachel and the youth leader behind them

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That moment our great philosopher Tochi gave a talk on the audacity of the youth. He gave a good pep talk

If there’s anything we all noticed there’s transparency in the sharing of relief materials they receive. We plan on empowering them in making them self-sufficient so they don’t rely solely on aids. So like I asked in my Facebook post, what do you have in your hand that can help? Whatever it is, let us know and we’ll take it up from there. Yes we just made a difference last week Saturday but we are about to change the lives of many people to translate to many generations. After all said and done we live to leave a lasting legacy and at the end we all have the same color of blood and that’s all that matters.

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She’s 3 years old and bold…watch out for her
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Who knows, maybe Efe just carried a future president of the country. You just never know
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Did Rachel just take a picture with a future World Bank President? You just never know

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She’s just two weeks old
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That moment Tim led the closing prayer with all our hands clasped together.
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And Tim raises his hand, not sure what he was saying

Loads of Love

Friends of Kutara

 

Are we still playing Church?

Accidents in Abuja are usually crazy; I don’t know if the good roads have become a curse. Cars now fly in town, from seeing a car fly off Berger Bridge to another one using Apo round-about as the run-way to take off. In all of this chaos be sure to see lots of people who become analysers/sympathisers. On my way out yesterday in a taxi I noticed a cluster of people as well as parked cars, I didn’t need a soothsayer to tell me it was an accident. The strangest thing happened when the driver pulled over to the side and when I said Oga dey go now he said I should come down that the affected driver is his brother. This guy didn’t even think of the money he will lose all he knew was an aboki brother needed help. This got me thinking of my Christian walk, how often have I stopped to help a wounded soldier.

For a while now I’ve been questioning some things I’ve observed in our local churches. At some point I thought something was wrong with me but all those lingering thoughts in my heart were justified with a few messages I listened to. During our weekly service on Friday, we basically spent the entire time praying for Nigeria but my heart was really burdened when we were asked to pray for the church.

Division

If you are a regular visitor on this blog, you’ll know my stance on the Church; you can read up Audience of One. We were encouraged to look for a message by Pastor Emmanuel Bosun on ‘Exposing the truth of Nigeria’ he sure doesn’t ring a bell. He’s currently a member of the National Confab. Please I beg of you, if you are a Nigerian search for his message on You-Tube. Remember in this age of information, ignorance is a choice.

I won’t bore you with the entire message but I need to scream it really loud it’s time we killed the enemy known as division in the Church. We gather every Sunday to pray down Heaven and even rain fire and brimstone on our ‘enemies’. Forgetting the worst enemy to fight is the enemy within. We’re supposed to be known first, as Christians before the names of our Churches rather we’ve put the cart before the horse.  We’re all known by our beautiful church names, it’s more of a class thing. If you want pretty ladies go to this church, if you want deliverance or amazing praise and worship then there’s a perfect church for it.

While we are playing Church the devil is sowing seeds of discord among the Churches. You can’t marry outside your church or receive the Holy Communion and so on. My brethren I beseech you by the mercies of God let’s get rid of this baby monster growing. I hear Turkey was once a Christian Nation but as I speak it is 99.8% Muslim with 0.2% Christians and Jews. Can’t we see we are no longer practising what the early Christians did, they all shared everything together and I’m sure they shared the hard times too.

We need to come together and fight the enemy, Nigeria belongs to the Lord. We are crying cos’ Boko Haram is killing our brothers and sisters but if we don’t wake up soon, we’ll one day realise they’ve taken over Nigeria and someone will have to tell our kids who can’t find any church again that there was a time we had more than one church on a street. For the records, this post is written to everyone who identifies with the Church regardless of your order of service.

Loads of Love.

JMAD

N/B Aboki – An hausa word for friend .