Thursday, October 1, 2020

America University of Nigeria Secures Legal Protection For IDPs


Braving long queues in 34 degrees of searing heat, the process of securing a national identity card for many Nigerians is a Herculean task.

That is why the American University of Nigeria (AUN) is making it easier for vulnerable groups to secure legal identity and social protection. “AUN is proud to partner with UNHCR to provide the first-ever national ID cards for IDPs. This aligns with our development and entrepreneurship mission and reminds us all about the collective humanity we all share. We are in this together as we stand strong against a global pandemic and threats to security, which compromise livelihoods. Our learning community celebrates this achievement.” Said AUN President Dr. Dawn Dekle.

Dr. Dekle speaks of the milestone achievement of securing ID cards for 40 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) living in the camp at Bama in Borno state. For the lucky IDPs, an ID card not only provides a sense of belonging, it defines them as legally deserving of the full benefits of society. Out of many IDPs existing as vague entities in a mass of displacement, one woman in particular’s life has changed dramatically over the course of four years. She recounts the tragic events that led to her present circumstances. 

It’s almost sundown in Gwoza Wakane village. 31-year-old *Asabe* is preparing the family’s dinner when she hears sporadic gunshots. The loud bangs come in quick succession.

“I know what their guns sound like, Bokoharam hide in the mountains and hills, the sound of their gunshots is different from the soldier’s.” Asabe’s voice quivers as she recalls the events of the day that would change her life forever.

Living so close to Bokoharam hiding grounds, she has become accustomed to the smoky smell of gunpowder. But today, the gunshots are volleying down from the Mandara mountains. With just a piece of cloth wrapped around her body and a thin veil covering her hair, Asabe, her husband, four children, and some neighbors fled their hometown.

“We were eleven altogether. We could not take anything. The soldiers urged us to run to the bushes while they stayed back to fight Bokoharam” She said.

Nigerian troops have been battling the Bokoharam terror group since 2009. The terrorists often kidnap women and children while forcefully recruiting young men or killing them. Over 20,000 have been killed. Hauwa is just one of more than 2 million people displaced by the deadly conflict.

“ We walked for five days in the bushes from Gwoza to Pulka and then Bulabulin. We had nothing to eat. Salisu my neighbor’s five-year-old son died of thirst. We had to abandon his body without even burying him. We came out of the bush paths to look for people and beg for food. We ate “Kanzo” (burnt remnants of a rice pot ) We slept wherever nightfall met us. When we finally got to Banki we were lucky to run into some soldiers who took us in their truck to Bama IDP camp.”

Their journey through bush paths was so haphazard they could not retrace their steps to find young Salisu’s body afterwards. At the IDP camp, Asabe’s husband and about 273 other young men were separated from their families.

“The men were taken to Giwa Barracks. We were told it’s for their safety. They were a target for Bokoharam forced recruitment or killing. So only the old and injured men stayed with us at the General IDP Camp.” She said.

Makeshift Life in Bama

It has now been four years since Asabe saw her husband. She and her four children were relocated to the Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) IDP Camp. GSSS houses about seventy thousand internally displaced people. Here, Asabe found a new lease on life. In her village, she had been making groundnut oil at home to help support her family. In the camp, she learned how to make the traditional Bama hats. She sells each one for between 9 thousand to 15 thousand naira. It takes about a month to sew the intricate designs by hand.

Looking for a way to pool resources, she formed a cooperative with 9 others. The women sew under the shade of a neem tree by day and use a flashlight by night to stitch thread to cloth. The cooperative elected her chairwoman.

“I speak 4 languages, Gamargu of the Mandara people, Mafa, Hausa, and I learned Kanuri while on the run.  So they elected me to be their representative because I can communicate with almost everyone in the camp.”

The women made meager earnings from their hat craft. A sum further shrunk by a middleman whom they needed to take the hats from the camp to the big market in the city. Movement is restricted for IDPs. They require permission from officials to leave the camp. This means they have to share some of the proceeds with a middleman.

Even though Asabe had come a long way, escaping Bokoharam captivity, she pined still. Longing for the simple comforts of her idyllic village life. She had found a way to earn a paltry living, yet she was unable to gain the full benefits of society, she needed an identity to separate her from the masses displaced with no social protection.

“An identity card is a critical requirement that opens up all doors and access to life-saving services. Even in normal times, millions of Nigerians are yet to have it. The ID card is required for the bank account opening. Said Audu Liman, Grants Administrator at the American University of Nigeria. AUN has been providing humanitarian and livelihood support to IDPs in Northeast Nigeria since thousands began fleeing the Bokoharam insurgency. In collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), AUN has trained and empowered about 13,000 IDPs over the past four years. About 100,000 household members have also  been reached through empowerment initiatives.

“With funding from the Government of Japan, AUN was empowering them to improve the quality of the hats they make, increase market access and improve supply all geared towards improving their income and making lives better for them and their families. The need for the ID card is to connect them to global markets so they can sell their products online and get payment into their bank accounts. Without an ID they lack proof of citizenship and cannot open a bank account.” Mr. Liman further explained.

Working closely with Project Finance Officer, Hamza Mohammed, and a dedicated team, they were able to secure national ID cards for 40 IDPs in the Bama IDP Camp thus improving their legal protection.

For Hamza, it was no mean feat “moving from one point to the other convincing the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, the security agents, camp management, National Identity Management Commission, Banks, travel agencies and my colleagues to transport IDPs from Bama to Maiduguri where we got the National ID Card. But he believes it was all worth it because “ I am a humanitarian, promoting human welfare is my passion.” He said.

Having finally gotten her ID card, Asabe is elated. This means she can move freely, take her hats to market herself and earn a little more money. In the context of displacement, it is quite easy to lose the essence of humanity. This is exactly what happened to Asabe. Reduced to destitution and defined by society as less-fortunate she began a new life with no safety net.

“Sometimes, tears roll down my eyes. I don’t even know I am crying until my son Umar asks me what’s wrong? My husband is not with me and I miss the freedom of my home. But with this ID card, I have hope for a better future. That’s why I am so grateful to the UNHCR, AUN, and the Government of Japan”

For Asabe and the 39 other IDPs, their freshly minted ID cards will help them kick-start a new life. It will give them access to social protection including voting rights and security clearance. It also means they will be officially recognized for national budgeting and planning. The ID card is not just a piece of paper for them, It is a shiny beacon with the promise of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.

*Asabe’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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