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Echoes from Taraba

Apart from the pain and suffering many people are going through as a result of the insurgency in many places, a proper awareness of displaced…

Apart from the pain and suffering many people are going through as a result of the insurgency in many places, a proper awareness of displaced persons in hidden areas could motivate those who would love to give a helping hand to assist the victims or assist in putting a permanent stop to the madness of the blood sucking “jihadists”. Those who are powerless and scared could offer prayers in their various places of worship. One could even ask: “Where do we start from? How safe is it to travel to support the people in the North East?” Sr. Anne Falola, a missionary sister of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA), felt challenged to go beyond theory and mere words in places where the displaced persons are not popular in the media. Rolling up her sleeves, she decided to share her feelings and inspiration with the department of Mission and Dialogue and CARITAS Nigeria to collaboratively swing into action. This led Sr. Anne Falola OLA, Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua and Francis Agim and Ayuba Elshama to visit the internally displaced persons (IDP) in Jalingo, Taraba State on December 13-15, 2014
 Why Taraba and not Borno State? Although Taraba still carries the scar of communal clashes, the Internally Displaced People (IDP) from Borno and Adamawa States could still find a home in Jalingo. Our partners in dialogue (JDPC and Dialogue Commission in Jalingo Diocese) had been working in collaboration to sooth the pains of the internally displaces persons. In dialogue with the Dialogue Commission and CARITAS in Jalingo, we became convinced that the displaced persons would appreciate any gesture of solidarity no matter how little. This motivated CARITAS and the department of Mission and Dialogue to gather relief materials for the displaced people in Jalingo, Taraba State.
 The fourteen hours journey from Abuja was a serious education on its own. The journey took long because of the time spent at every check point, in every fifty metres. It appeared as if the “security agents” on the checked points were more “displaced” than the real victims of the terrorists. They looked famished in the way and manner they demanded money from drivers. It appears obvious that fighting terror in Nigeria could be compared to swimming against the tides of the storming waters. We had a renewed awareness of the vastness of Nigeria. Passing through Nassarawa, Benue and to Taraba, it is obvious that Nigeria can survive without oil. The middle belt and the Northern part of Nigeria are truly rich and fertile for Agriculture. How rich and homely every Nigerian would be if only the nation would diversify the economy!
We had a stopover in Wukari to visit a parish that had been badly affected by communal clashes. It was heartbreaking to see abandoned farms, villages and houses burnt in various parts of Wukari town. Continuing the journey, we saw camps that had been completely abandoned. The inhabitants had left for safety. Human beings have become wolves to fellow human beings indeed! Reaching Jalingo at night, we were warmly welcomed and received by the Local Ordinary of Jalingo, Most Rev Charles Hammawa, the directors of JDPC and Inter-Religious Dialogue Commission.
On Sunday, we had mass in the Cathedral. The number of people in the church showed clearly that while many displaced people escaped to take refuge in Jalingo, many Christians in Jalingo had left to their states of origin for fear of attack. The displaced people were not in the Church because many of them were not Catholics. Here lies the beauty of what the Catholic Bishop of Jalingo and his collaborators are doing by creating a space for everybody irrespective of tribe and religion.  
Now listen to the echo from Taraba! It was easy to meet with the displaced persons (IDP) because the diocese was already engaged in assisting them with some basic needs like shelter, clothing and food. Interacting with them, they sounded like people who have been neglected and abandoned to die in the hands of the terrorists. To these people, the nation has failed them by allowing them to be displaced from the land that they have loved and cherished for many years. They sounded like the Negros and slaves who in daring nostalgia wept with this echo: “Home my home, when shall I see my home, when shall I see my native land, I shall never forget my home”. The Negroes hoped that when they ever returned home, they would meet their relatives. “I left my father, I left my mother, I left them far away, just to come and suffer, when shall I see my native land, I shall never forget my home”.
For these displaced persons, their homes are destroyed; they do hope to have a native home to return and perhaps some relatives who would survive this violence to welcome them. Many of the women have no idea what has happened to their husbands. Many of the men have no idea of the whereabouts of their wives and daughters. The insurgents have succeeded in dismembering homes and families. It was heartbreaking to see children, young boys and girls, old people, men of substance living in abject poverty and precarious situations under a dehumanized condition in their own country. They are suffering not because they are lazy. They are suffering not because they are disabled. Many of them have travelled for days, weeks and months without security just because some fanatics want to create a pseudo “Islamic State”.  
Behold the narratives of some of the displaced persons! A young woman explained how her village in Bazza was invaded. Her father was killed and the entire family scattered in various directions. An old woman with a walking stick narrated how she slept in the forest and escaped to Cameroun before reaching Jalingo. She said “many of our people spent time in Cameroon, to where we could escape. It was sad that we were looked after by the Cameroonian soldiers who escorted us to safety in a Nigerian border whereas, when we came into Nigerian territory, we did not receive such care from the Nigerian soldiers. It is mostly the religious organizations that helped us with basic needs.” Here is another nagging question which no one has been able to answer:” What has happened to the billions of naira collected for the victims of insurgencies? Is any help ever going to reach these people? Now, displaced persons abide in many parts of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory. Something fast must be done about this!
Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City ([email protected]).

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