by Eromo Egbejule
You hear a lot of stories about North-East Nigeria, a slice of the country that has been at war since 2009, at the hands of Boko Haram. But we have largely only heard a single story. Sending a reporter across 7 cities, we tell a more complete story – personal tales of survival and recovery – that speak to hope, to strength and to faith. Stories that speak to life. Across 20 narratives over the next 3 weeks, you will hear the most inspired and touching stories about Nigerians – at their best, even when they have only just recovered from their worst.
Earlier this year, Tabitha Ari was in her office one day when she was told that the head of the Department of State Security Services in Biu, Borno State had come around looking to arrest and detain her.
“He said he came to arrest me for bringing musicians to the IDP camp to come and take photos and shoot a music video,” said the Head of Programmes at NTA Biu who is also a respected member of the community. “I was so surprised. It sounded like a joke but it was real.”
The ‘music video’ in question was a documentary shot at the Government Girls’ Secondary School camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) by one of several doctors who had come as part of Adopt-A-Camp, a Lagos-based charity.
Between 2013 and 2014, a series of unending attacks by Boko Haram across the state had left many displaced but even though the insurgents passed through Biu a few times, the town was never captured and the destruction was minimal. So late in 2014, the Kashim Shettima administration sent trucks to bring IDPs from everywhere – Chibok, Gwoza, Hawul, Shaffa and even as far as Damaturu and Potiskum in the neighbouring Yobe state – to the camp in the town. “There were even some who were released from Sambisa forest but because they were not part of those Chibok girls, only their families celebrated their release.”
Then officials of the Red Cross took over the administration of the camp and providing food with varying levels of support from UNICEF and officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).
So in December 2015, Tabitha whose cousin, a clergyman was killed by the insurgents, organized clothes, cardigans and other relief materials together with some other friends in Biu and took them to the camp. She had heard that many of the IDPs were sleeping in the open and there was no aid for those who were ill.
The next month, her path crossed with that of Adopt-A-Camp and its founder, Bukky Shonibare when a mutual friend introduced them to each other. Soon after, the organization raised funds to improve the living conditions of the IDPs and brought along a huge bonus, a team of doctors.
“Madam Bukky is a very nice woman; very helpful”, Tabitha says of her new friend. “She is always asking for details about how to help the children and I do my best to account for every kobo she sends because this is a woman who trusted me without even meeting me.”
When the team came, they built sixteen blocks of toilets and bathrooms, furnished a mini-clinic and also established a school.
So on the day of her ‘arrest’, Tabitha told the DSS chief the story from the beginning and pictorial evidence. “I showed him photos of the doctors treating and offering advice to patients for the five days they were here and that was how he left.”
Whenever she visits the camp, the children come running to her looking happy and grateful. “The last time we did a drive and brought some clothes for the children, I was looking at them trying it. One of the little ones who I think her mother was pregnant when she was captured and taken to Sambisa, came to me in her new clothes and told me XYZ [Hausa for ‘Thank you; it is so beautiful’. My heart melted.”
Ms. Shonibare is returning to Biu soon, says Tabitha. This time, she is bringing books, crayons, pencils, toys and schoolbags for the children under what is aptly called the ‘School-in-a-Bag’ initiative. “The children are happy now but they will be able to learn properly when those items come.”
There’s no telling if the DSS chief will pay her another visit.
Not that she cares.
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.