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TRIBUTE: Owolabi, the journalist caring for IDPs

TRIBUTE: Owolabi, the journalist caring for IDPs
September 21
09:04 2015

President Muhammadu Buhari has said Boko Haram would be defeated on or before December 2015. The pessimists say Boko Haram is not just a battle to be won, but an ideology to be conquered, and December is not feasible for that. Optimists on the other hand say they stand with the president that all things are possible.

Both schools of thought are perhaps correct, but if or when Boko Haram is finally conquered, Nigeria will have on its hands another battle to reintegrate to the society, more than 2.1 million people displaced by insurgency in the northeast. UNICEF says over 1.2 million children who should be in school are includedin this demographic.

This won’t be a battle of bullets, or a struggle of swords. It will be a rain of care and showers of affection. It won’t by military might but by human love and humane deeds.

Young Nigerians are preempting a time as this. Though unsung, they keep adding their mite for a better life for victims of insurgency. And one of them is freelance journalist, Femi Owolabi. Concerned for the northeast, he frequently shuttles between the comfort of his Lagos home and Maiduguri, hotbed of insurgency, trying to assuage the pain of millions in the region.


Owolabi did not just visit the zone to report stories or amplify voices, he also went with bags of relief materials. On arrival at Gubio road IDP camp – one of the largest IDP camps in the entire northeast, which is a government-owned uncompleted building – he was confronted with “overwhelming” realities of IDPs.


Femi owolabi 2

Owolabi distributing relief materials to IDPs at the camp

“I was in Maiduguri last month, I was at the Gubio road IDP camp, which has more than 7,000 displaced persons at the moment, and I discovered that their needs are overwhelming,” owolabi told TheCable.

“They have a clinic in the camp that is with no beds, the patients brought in there are to be laid on the floor – the bare floor.


“There’s a three-room classroom meant for the displaced kids. There are no chairs. The pupils seat on the floor,;they don’t even have a black board, just a portion of the wall painted black. They struggle with chalks and teachers. There are only few volunteer teachers there.

“The first time I went, I only went with two bags of relief materials, one for clothing, one for toiletries. It went nowhere. So, upon my return to Lagos, I thought to call on friends to see how we can mobilize for more materials.”


Femi owolabi 4

Virtually everyone who has had an encounter with Boko Haram has a sad story to tell, but Mary Maliki’s story is heart-rendering.


“Maliki’s community of Gulak, Madagali local government, was ransacked by Boko Haram. All the houses were attacked, but some people were fortunate enough run into the mountains for hiding.

Maliki had the opportunity to escape as well, how could she leave her aged parents and younger behind? She ran back home to see if she could “save” anyone, but when she got home, her younger ones had run into the mountains. She was trying to help her feeble parents when the insurgents; she had to run.

She hid herself somewhere and watched as the insurgents shot her parents to death. The following day, she escaped to the mountains. But after five to six days without food, she sneaked back home in the dead of the night “with the hope that before dawn she’d be able to return with food”. Maliki would drift into sleep at home, and when she tried manoeuvring her way back to the mountains, she was caught in the process. That was the beginning of her journey to captivity.


Femi owolabi Relief

More relief waiting to be shipped to Maiduguri

The rest of Maliki’s story will be told by Maliki herself, at an event to raise funds and relief materials for these IDPs who are practically lacking all the basic amenities for a decent life.


“We are planning an event for September 27, to bring friends together to bring relief materials and funds to support these people.

“We will also be moving around so it won’t be a load burden for people who are unable to come around or bring the load themselves. So we will be moving around Lagos to pick the goods; we just ask that you give us the address and we come.”


The event holds at Charis Family International Church, 62A, Beside Union Homes, off Salvation Bus Stop, Opebi, Ikeja.

“We have about 24 IDP camps in Borno state, and we are raising funds and relief materials for the largest one in the state. We want to see how we can get chairs, tables, blackboards, for the pupils there.


“We also want to see how to we can arrange some stipends for the voluntary teachers there.”


Owolabi wants the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari to probe Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential intervention fund committee, which he believes did not judiciously expend billions of naira raised for these IDPs.

He believes that Buhari must probe them, recover the funds and adequately cater to the internally displaced.

“Under the past administration, we heard there was one presidential intervention fund committee whose agenda was to raise funds for IDPs and we heard that billions of naira was raised.

“But I was at the largest IDP camp in the northeast and not even a feel of one billion naira at all. These people don’t even have mattresses; they struggle to eat, poor healthcare system, no chairs – nothing.

“Where are these billion of naira raised by this presidential intervention fund committee? The new government should probe this committee and ask for the return of the money.”

As Owolabi says, these stories never end, but the wounds can be transformed to memorable scars on the resilient spirit if appropriate care is made available for all.


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