Abuja’s Mother Theresa

No child deserves to feel forgotten and alone. So a young woman is taking to heart the challenges of children and women displaced from their original homes by natural and man-made disasters, writes Chineme Okafor
“When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult.”
At various times in several parts of the country; from the northeast, down to the northcentral and further to the southern parts of Nigeria, women and children have often been displaced from their homes following breakouts of sectarian conflicts and natural disasters like the 2012 deluge that ravaged homes and farmlands across the country and the constant Boko Haram attacks that has increased national data on widows and orphans.
So following an increased arrival of women and children displaced either by natural or man-made disasters into Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, the yellow jerri-can was set up by Onyechere to amongst other things provide succour for internally displaced people whose sources of livelihood have either been swept away by deluge or destroyed in conflicts.
“In Nigeria today we have seen more children become victims of insurgency than ever before. We have also seen women bear the brunt of widowhood and its effect. The statistics from the flood last year was about 2. 5 million children displaced. And despite the intervention by the government, we see more of displaced children than ever,” Onyechere said of the growing figures of human displacement in Nigeria.
She said with specific emphasis on the management of associated social disasters in the 2012 deluge that the government had failed to match its financial commitment with proactive accountability, thus, opening up a channel for financial misappropriation of budgeted funds for the rehabilitation of displaced persons.
“If you match the work of the committee and living conditions of the people, you will see that the handwriting is clear on the wall. There are no communities right now in any of the flooded areas that have been rehabilitated, there are no farmers whose land have been reclaimed back to what it used to be, there are communities that still have schools used as an evacuation centre.
I will like to say that giving a cup of rice cannot equate to N4 billion in funds and it does not equate to shelter. These people want a place they can live and access to education amongst other things. If I am to assess the job of the flood management committee on a scale of 100 per cent, I will score them 12 and that is a woeful failure,” she stated.
Reaching out
Speaking on the activities of the Yellow Jerry-can, Onyechere explained that the foundation works to support displaced persons with the intentions of providing better deals that would cushion the initial shock of dislodgment from their original homes.
She said that the foundation moves into troubled communities with keen compassion for the conditions of women and children whom she said are usually the most impacted in any given situation.
“We are catering for about 120 children in Abuja currently at Kabusa community. These people live in make-shift polythene bags and most of them have come from Potiskum, Kano, Kaduna, Borno and Benue States, the places we have seen rivalry and insurgency on the increase.
We are being helped by self-motivated Nigerians and foundations who believe in change. The CNN Freedom Project has been able to collaborate with us in a lot of ways. We have also had people who wants to foster these children for a period of six months and this to us is a call that we are willing to answer at all levels,” she said.
She added: “The objective for us is to keep shouting until our voices are heard that we need evacuation centres as soon as possible, if we cannot have evacuation centres in all of the affected states, we should have what we call an aid kiosk to cater for the children by the day.
We need to be proactive as far as this government is concerned, enough of the talking, the floods will begin again, NIMET has predicted it and we need not waste any more time.”
She also explained that the foundation conducts Basic English language classes for displaced people within its care, saying: “We teach them English because a lot of them don’t speak English and we give the mothers support in health care.
We support them with reliefs like food, clothes and subsequently we are looking at getting them to be mass dewormed because of the kind of water they are exposed to. They cook, eat, bath with the same water.”
“So, in the long term we are looking at getting them a place where they can live without further displacement, especially with flooding that is coming. We are also going to be advocating for the governments in the state where they came from to rehabilitate their communities so that it will be convenient for them to leave the temporary shelter and return to their communities, to a normal life.
With the skills acquisition they will get from us, they will be better prepared to return to their life,” she stated.
Asked How the foundation identifies a displaced person within the pool of people involved in various menial activities within Abuja and she explained that the foundation conducts strict but open cross-examination of people, mostly women and children to identify their status.
“We had a forum on children’s day and invited members of the National Assembly, the National Orientation Agency and representatives of UBEC to orientate them on the need for instant evacuation centres, because if you lack the things you need you are a potential insurgent.
At the forum, we were able to determine the children that were brought from different states and after interaction with them, we were able to tell who actually is a displaced person and who is a less privileged person.”
She however stated that as much as the foundation can do within its strides, the social responsibility of rehabilitating internally displaced persons still lies within the tasks of the government, adding that a responsible government should be bothered about the rate of internal displacement of persons within its territory.
“It is the duty of the federal government to see the Nigerian need as a value need. Building a shelter involves a lot of permissions and licensing, these are people you want to take from a place where they know how to live well and survive.
So, you need to work out what will be available to them within that space, whether they will have skill acquisition and a mini health care and then for how long will they be in the shelter because they come from various communities.”
It is not enough for us to do our bit, irrespective of how much we can contribute to taking care of this social issue, it is the government that will work with other states in the long term to ensure that the communities are rehabilitated to take back their kits and kin,” she said.