Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “…it’s just a lack of understanding between the two parties”

The following interview was done by Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists of Pax Christi International (YPJ – PCI), and the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS). He holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts in Communication Studies, a doctoral student specializing in Peace and Development Communication Studies and a part-time lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) Nigeria. Currently, he is the blog writer and website content editor for Asante Africa Foundation and an emerging media leader with the Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE).

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Summary:

In recent past, Kaduna, a state located in the central part of Nigeria, having a huge Christian and Muslim population in the south and north respectively. The state has for some time, been marred with conflicts and violence, leading to the loss lives and properties. In this interview, a resident of the state, who for some security concerns, wish to go by the name Mr. Divine, shares his and family’s experience of the conflict and survival of the crisis, with Innocent Iroaganachi, a Peace Journalist, with Pax Christi International (PCI).

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Can you narrate how you knew about the crisis?

Mr. Divine: Well, I went to my aunt’s place at Kujama, because she was having a thanksgiving for the successful restoration of her husband and daughter’s health, my mum and little sister also went there with me. When we wanted to leave, we followed my cousin in his Hilux vehicle to save transport cost, hoping to drop my other cousin and his family first at the park inside town, so they could board a cab and head back to Zaria, where they reside. We had barely left Kujama, when my aunt called and told us that there is a little unrest in Kujama market. We taught it was a minor thing, until when we got to the park and she called again, reiterating that it is serious, saying “they are killing people” that “we should leave town quickly before the information reaches there and they start fighting over there.” So we bought all the sits in the available cab for my cousin and he left immediately. Then we saw a lady that lives in Kujama, with my other cousin, she told her what was happening, helped her pack her load into our car, then tried to get out of town as discreetly as possible.

In which particular ways, did the crisis affect you and your family?

Mr. Divine: Well for starters, we were scared, because we were caught up in the middle of the crisis, in a Muslim area and the rest of our family at home were also terrified and scared for our lives. We barely managed to escape, as they blocked us with weapons in their hands. It was a terrible experience. I tell you, my mum is yet to recover from the shock she had that day. Same with my cousin driving the car.

What were the immediate steps taken by the government to address the situation?

Mr. Divine: Implementation of curfew in the affected areas; improving security, especially in the affected areas; organising peace campaigns to educate the public on the importance of peace, unity and togetherness, irrespective of our ethnic and religious diversities.

What can you say about those suggesting, the crisis to be religious and ethnic based?

Mr. Divine: Well, they might be right and they might be wrong, I can’t really say at this point in time, but I can tell you one thing for sure, that is, no religion supports the massacre and killing of innocent people and destruction of properties.

After your experience during the crisis, do you still feel confident relating with those alleged to have caused the crisis?

Mr. Divine: To be honest, NO! But I’m working on it.

In what ways have the crisis traumatised you and your family?

Mr. Divine: Well, personally for me, I don’t really feel comfortable, anytime I’m around those alleged to have caused the crises. It’s really difficult, especially for me that my school is far. Just last week I was in the park to go back to school and pay my fees, I wasn’t comfortable at all, throughout my stay in the park, I was scared that the crises will just start again. My mum hasn’t even gone to town, where the crises met us since that October 21st, she still has dreams of the incident of that day and doesn’t relate comfortably with those of the opposite religion that attacked us. She is still terrified and it is same with the rest of my family members, we told about the incident.

Who are those most affected and how are they suffering as a result of the violence?

Mr. Divine: It’s mostly the poor and those innocent people, who have no idea of what is going on, but find themselves trapped in the middle of the crises. For the poor, when the crises start, curfews are been implemented and when that happens, there is a hike in the price of foodstuffs, thereby making it very difficult for food to be available for them and there is no movement, so they have little access to food. For those innocent people trapped in the middle of the violence, they might end up losing their lives or properties, and this will affect others too, because some of these people affected and suffering are the bread winners of their families.

What can you say were responsible for the continual use of violence by aggrieved parties during such crisis?

Mr. Divine:  I think it’s just a lack of understanding between the two parties, if we understand that we are all one Nigeria, irrespective of our religious and ethnic differences we won’t result to violence but find peaceful ways of resolving our issues, because you will agree with me, that if you have a dispute with your brother, you won’t choose violence, rather you will find other ways to sort it out.

What was behind the spread of the crisis?

Mr. Divine:  Well, mostly rumors, and as a saying goes, news travel fast in Africa, once it gets to the ears of one person, a 100 people have heard it, especially now that we have things like mobile phones and the internet.

How were the media in Kaduna responding during the crisis?

Mr. Divine: Well, the media really helped in this trying time, because when the crises started, as soon as they got the information, they disseminated it and most people were able to run to safety on time. The media also helped in passing information from the government to the people, especially during the curfew periods. The media was also one of the means, the government used in educating the people on the importance of peace and togetherness, by organizing radio and television programs using the media.

What are the visible steps taken by the community and government to avoid a reoccurrence in the future and to reconcile all aggrieved parties?

Mr. Divine:  The government is working hand in hand with the community, by organizing peace campaigns to educate the public on the importance of peace, unity and oneness, irrespective of our religious and ethnic diversities and difference in culture. They are doing so, by organizing seminars and also using the media, such as radio and TV stations to educate people on this. They are also working hard to repair places which have been affected (damaged) during the crises.

Are their particular efforts by the residents to assist in bringing a lasting peace to crisis of this kind?

Mr. Divine: Definitely, they are organising vigilante groups to keep the area safe and everyone is being advised to be security cautious and avoid spreading false rumors.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Young Peace Journalists Stories: ‘Faking asylum to be in Europe: never an option’

The following piece was written by Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists of Pax Christi International (YPJ – PCI), and the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS). He holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts in Communication Studies, a doctoral student specializing in Peace and Development Communication Studies and a part-time lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) Nigeria. Currently, he is the blog writer and website content editor for Asante Africa Foundation and an emerging media leader with the Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE).

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Few months ago, I was invited to attend a Television (TV) Seminar organized by the TV Desk, of the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS), in Dublin, Ireland, from 25-30 September, 2018. I had lots of doubt on how possible this can be, because I have to undergo the process of getting an Irish visa. Going by the stories making news on the denials of visa and strictness by European countries to issue visas to young people from Africa – Nigeria to be specific, as a result of influx of migrants into their continent, I was reluctant to give it a trial. But after some motivation from mentors, like Professor Walter Ihejirika, President of SIGNIS Africa, Professor. Joseph Faniran and Dr. Inaku Egere, of the Centre for the Study of African Culture and Communication (CESACC) in the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) and Dr. Godswill Agbagwa, the founder of the Centre for Social Awareness Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE) and good friends, I went ahead with the application for an Irish visa. After three weeks of my application, I received a parcel from the Irish embassy, without waste of time, I opened the parcel, behold, on the last page of my passport, was a ninety (90) days Irish visa.

With the visa having been granted to me, many more issues began springing up. Particular among those issues, were people advising me not to come back to Nigeria once I travel to Ireland. I totally understand why they want me to not come back. One will ask, are you coming back to a country that has no plans for the citizens’ development? Like every young Nigerian, who is still struggling to have a better life, I was confused. Even in my confusion, I was sure about one thing, following due process to achieve an aim, thus, I concluded that I will go to Ireland and come back.

When I got to Ireland, I still met people who tried their possible best to discourage me from going back to Nigeria. Popular among the suggestions I got from people, was to come up with a real bad story for asylum. They did gave me instances of stories I could take a hint from and fabricate mine. Particular among them was lying that I have issues with the government, also that I am wanted for sake of my stand against the government on issues about the self-determination of Biafra (a group of Nigerians in the south east, clamouring for independence). Others include, fabricating stories about being wanted for kill by boko haram terrorist group and killer herdsmen, for my stand against their activities in Nigeria. The extent of their suggestions and the opportunities these people suggested that I am going to enjoying, all in the bid to discourage me from going back, made me think at some point, that my decision to go back to Nigeria was not ‘right’.

On my way back to Nigeria, I encountered an embarrassing situation. To enjoy a little bit of the long layover (of Tukish airline) I am going to have at Istanbul, Turkey, I decided to apply for a Turkish visa, to allow me tour the city a little bit, before departure time of the flight to Nigeria. Having arrived at the passport control, I spent over thirty-five (35) minutes been scrutinised by five different Turkish immigration and police officers. At the end of the scrutiny and eventual issuing of the Turkish visa by officers at the point of entry, one of the officers who accompanied me out of the airport and to find my way around, apologised to me for the long delay. When I enquired to know why they had to delay me for so long, I was told that the scrutiny was all in the bid to confirm, if the Irish visa I had was authentic and to verify beyond all doubt, that I will not run away when I am issued the visa to enter Turkey. I was further hinted that this is because they were surprised that a young African from Nigeria (like myself), had an Irish visa, travelled to Ireland and came back way-long before the expiration of the visa. I guess they do not see much of that happening.

Still with all these persuasions to stay back, I was certain about the following, I had a laid out plan for myself and my future, which will include travelling for sake of improving and gaining academic, professional and practical experiences, relating to my field of endeavour, that is, the media, journalism and communication. Therefore, going to Europe or any other place with false intention, staying back after the expiration of the visa, and falsifying stories to seek asylum, were never on the plan and I do not intend for them to be on it. It took lots of personal convictions for me to arrive at the conclusion, to not fake an asylum and stay back in Ireland, especially, after meeting people who claim to have done same and are “enjoying themselves”. Really, enjoying you say! I take an exception to such notion of enjoyment, because it is one built on lies and deceit. I wonder if those of them who frame untrue tales to seek asylum, consider what the consequence will be like, if the truth about their deceit come to the open at some point in their lifetime and stay in such countries.

This article is in no way branding all who seek asylum to be fake, on the contrary, this is about my personal experience and personal opinions, on the extent I encountered direct and indirect pressures from some people, who tried to convince me to fake an asylum, so as to stay back in Europe, a trend that has become so popular for young migrants. I decided not to follow the popular opinions urging me not to come back to Nigeria, not because I have a great job back in Nigeria or that my country has great programmes and polices making life better for the citizens, but for sake of being sincere and trustworthy to myself and the organisations I am associated with, I decided to come back.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: I speak for one camp only

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The following interview was done by Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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In recent times, Nigeria has been witnessing news about misconduct, maladministration and misappropriation in some Nigeria’s internally displaced persons’ camps (IDPs), especially in the north-eastern part of the country. This interview gives a clear view of some ongoing experiences in a typical Nigerian IDP camp. It exposes the kind of administrative challenges; collective and individual sorrows, laughter, sadness, joy, fear and peace; and finally, the humanitarian achievements taking place in an IDP camp, in spite of Nigerian government abandonment. Focusing on Bukuru IDP camp in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, Nigeria (in West Africa), Sr. Antoinette O’Callaghan of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus, a Catholic female religious congregation, shares her experiences with Innocent Iroaganachi, a Peace Journalist with Pax Christi International. This interview was made possible through the aid of Sr. Virginia Shuaibu.

Innocent: What motivated you to assist in taking care of displaced persons?

Sr Antoinette: We heard every day of the atrocities in the North-East. We could do nothing about it. Then one month after the camp opened, a man from our parish took us to the Camp in Bukuru. At that time it was full, over 700 people packed into a disused building of a local secondary school. Initially we could do nothing, there were too many. All the local Churches brought food and blankets etc. After two months we knew we had to do something as there were hundreds of children, no school, and no word of English. We went not because we were Catholic nuns but because there were children in need. If we could do nothing else we knew we could teach them.

What in particular are some of the causes of displacement that the IDPs shared?

Most of the people in our Camp were from villages in Gwoza Local Gov Area of Borno State. Their villages had been attacked repeatedly. People ran through the bush, families were separated. Some went over the border to Cameroon, others went to Mubi, then Yola and finally ended up in Plateau State. We have one widow and her son (father was shot by Boko Haram as they fled). Her extended family are in Cameroon and her youngest child is with them. She hasn’t seen him for three years. All our families share the experience of having to run through the bush, not knowing where they are going to end up. They leave with nothing. One man who had a large farm and his Diploma in Accounting fled through the bush, ended up in Jos, with absolutely nothing, totally dependent. He described for me how back home, he was the one, who after the harvest would take food to those in the village who didn’t have. Now he is totally dependent on what is handed in by charitable organizations.

What are the routine activities taking place in the camp you assist?

We work in one camp, Bukuru IDP Camp. It is run by a group called the Stevenson Foundation. They have developed many activities over the years. Many of the children have been taken to another part of Jos where they are in what seems like a boarding school. They come back to the Camp only for midterm and holidays. The Foundation has linked up with other organizations who have helped them build temporary classrooms and employ teachers. A few of the IDP’s have been employed in the Camp. Many of the men find work locally on building sites, security, selling in the market etc. The women all go out looking for casual labour, example: washing clothes, plates, farming, etc. The Foundation also ran courses for the women, that is, three month course in sowing, knitting, making pomade, etc. Many were given sowing machines. The people are very industrious and want to work but when they came first the local market people did not allow them to sell as they themselves were struggling.

What are the personal difficulties faced by displaced persons in the camp?

The difficulty in Camps is that people are “waiting”. It’s like being in a motor park – waiting, or a hospital, waiting. You don’t know what is going to happen next. Will food come? Will they get money to meet their meager needs (medical needs are particularly difficult)? Will they travel? Would things be better in another camp? Waiting is an extremely difficult situation to be in, and it undermines everything.

What are the situation of young people and children in the camp? Any provision for their education?

Many children have been sent to a boarding school run by the same Foundation. This is good for their education but it is very difficult for children who are traumatized and some very young, to have to leave their parents again and go to “school”. What we notice is that life is extremely unstable, insecure and unpredictable for the children. They have no idea if they are here for six months or two years. They are moved to different educational establishments. They have no idea what is happening to them. What is common to all (the children and young people) is that they all want to go back to Gwoza, even if the education they receive there is not as good as Jos!

Can you describe the conduct of teachers and others who take care of IDPs, especially in this makeshift schools?

Classrooms have been set up in the Camp and teachers are employed. We go there three times a week. We make sure they have books, writing materials etc. But the most important things is to get to know each one, listen to them, and give them special attention. We teach the group but we also try to give as much individual attention as possible. I think they know we care about them.

How often do the government and non-governmental organizations visit this IDP camp and what do they do for the IDP’s during their visits?

The Government does not give our Camp any formal support. It is a privately run Camp, so no formal funding from any government agency. A lot of funding comes from overseas, I think. People are constantly visiting the IDP Camp, and the Camp is totally reliant on what is handed in, in charity. But even this feels intrusive. People (those who visit the camp) come take photos, give speeches. If it is important visitors, all the people in the Camp have to be there and the ‘weariness’ and ‘depression’ is almost visible on their faces.

Are there cases of segregation in the distribution of relief materials in the IDP camp; what could be the cause?

I speak for one camp only. There is segregation when the management of the Camp is not good. The man in charge within (an IDP), was not straightforward. He favoured those from his own area and tribe. Staff took the best food and clothing for themselves. We became aware when we had a meeting for the widows and found out that they were always the last to receive what was donated. The men pushed to the top and women who did not have men to fight for them were left out. We then started giving them priority in whatever materials we got. Later that manager left and now the new man is extremely fair, tries to make sure that everything is evenly divided, but he himself is suffering. He is from a minority tribe and the others challenge his authority over them!

Do occupants of the camp group themselves according to ethnic or religious affiliation?

In our Camp, occupants do tend to group themselves along ethnic lines, and one group is suspicious of the other. All our people are Christian. And many said: “they came to this camp because they could not live close to Moslems again”. In the past many were intermarried in Gwoza but now they say there is no going back living close to one another.

What are the possible activities in the camps through which displaced persons socialize and build good human relation among themselves?

People have their Zumuntan matan ekklisiya (Catholic Women Organisation), etc, men play drafts all day! From what I see, people are crammed into tiny spaces. Their rooms are dark, sectioned off parts of classrooms, only blankets to separate one area from another. Tension can run high and so people keep a certain distance. They have to. I haven’t seen any socializing.

What are the particular programmes through which displaced persons are equipped with skills for self-sustenance?

They (women) have had training in sowing, knitting, I haven’t seen any training course for men, but they are usually out looking for work or they are in other parts of the country. Sometimes they go to Mubi or Yola and rent a piece of land where they can farm. They cannot get land in Plateau and most of our people are farmers. A lot more is needed to assist this people, especially from the government.

Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi is a graduate of communication studies from the Centre for the Study of African Culture and Communication (CESACC), in the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is a member and a video journalist with the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS). He is currently a co-administrator and tutor at a high school in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria. Currently, Innocent is a Peace Journalist with Pax Christi International.