Many indigenes of Benue State fled their homes during the herdsmen/farmer clashes in the state. The search for succor took many to places they never dreamt of staying before. CHIKA MEFOR went to one of such places and brings report on how the people are coping in their new found home.
Ado Simon is not the name of a person but the name of a community, far away in Oyo State. This settlement is unique, not only because it is situated in a far place off the city of Kishi, in the headquarters of Irepo local government area, but because it is a place where many natives of Benue State have sought scour after they were sacked from their homes following the herdmen/farmer clashes that rocked the state.
Ado-Simon is a one hour drive from the town of Kishi. The road to the area is untarred and not motor-able with pot holes and gullies, making it a tough job for drivers who dare to ply the road.
Few of such drivers take their cars to the mechanic shop for adjustment. The adjustment consist of fixing big tires, not originally made for the car at the rear to lift the car a bit and prepare it for the journey ahead.
However, there are various traces of tar on the road which indicates that it was once paved, maybe decades ago. Rumour has it that the road was once used to smuggle goods to neighboring Benin Republic.
Why then will natives of Benue State seek succor in such an area? This was the question a team of journalists, with the help of an NGO, PageInitiative, sought to get answers to. PageInitiative has through the screening of its documentary, ‘Uprooted,’ succeeded in building awareness and promoting acceptance of women’s changing gender roles among a variety of audiences, including local women and men, civil society organisations, policymakers, media professionals and other stakeholders.
The documentary screening has not only been used for sensitisation, but has also been therapeutic as the victims of the insurgency and the clash, talk about their experiences and exchange ideas on how to move on with their lives. This project has taken the team to many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Maiduguri. The journey to Oyo State was the first and neither the NGO nor the journalists were prepared for the journey they had embarked on.
No one in the group knew where Ado-Simon was located except a catholic priest, Fr Sylvester Odurinde, who through his mission and selfless service, continues to provide for the displaced people. Fr Odurinde is the Parish Priest of St Anthony Catholic Church, Kishi in the Diocese of Oyo.
The team moved through stretched of farm lands and untarred road. The sight of herdsmen with their cattle did nothing to calm the nerves of the team who were already apprehensive of the long journey to get the settlement.
But for the encouraging voice of Fr Odurinde, who kept saying that the village is just few minutes away, when the village was nowhere in sight, the team would have turned back and returned to Kishi.
“I use bike to go see the people. If we had taken a bike, it would have been faster. Let’s continue with the journey,” Fr Odurinde kept with his encouragement.
But members of the team were skeptical, especially when a member of the Nigeria Civil Defence who accompanied them said in a nonchalant voice, when asked about the security of the place, “Security here, I will be honest with you is in God’s hands.” However, the team decided to forge ahead. And finally arrived Ado- Simon.
The houses at Ado-Simon were made of mud and had thatch roofs with just a few covered with zinc. The houses were arranged to make space for a ground where the people can gather to hold their meetings or church services whenever the priest is able to reach them. There is no electricity or pipe borne water. No schools in sight and no hospital. Ado-Simon is like a community situated in the middle of nowhere.
When the team arrived the area, no crowd was waiting for them as was expected. However, little by little, the benches at the center of the ground began to fill up. The people who were predominantly farmers had gone to the farm and had to leave the farm to listen to what the team had to say.
Through an interpreter, the engagement began. Because of the huge amount of time the group had spent while coming down to Ado-Simon, the screening did not hold. However, the documentary was dully explained to the people and after that, they started to share their experiences on life, away from their father land.
“Our relations were killed, our houses burnt,” Helen Matthew, one of them began in tears.
“I remember that the herdsmen destroyed our farm produce and the governor has asked them to leave the state. They started killing our people. I had to run to the capital city in Makurdi,” she said.
Helen added that even at the capital, there was no help for her which prompted her looking for a better place to stay.
“Life wasn’t easy for me there. There was no farm to cultivate. No means of livelihood. I had to call my people down here and they told me to come. Even when I came, life was still tough. I spoke to Baba Simon who is our chief here and he gave me land to farm. We are trying to settle down fine here. The priest is also helping us a great deal.”
For Joshua Shonu, when the attack started, he was among those who found themselves at the internally displace persons camp but the difficult life in the camp had him seek a better life which made him end up in Ado Simon.
He added that though, he would have loved to go back to his village, he had called many of his relations who told him they were still unable to go back to their home town of Guma.
“I was a farmer there, when I arrived here, Baba Simon, gave me a land which I had cultivated. With time, I hope things will be stable for us,” he said.
Esther James’s story is one pathetic one. Her husband died from a snake bite in Benue. She was managing life with her three children when the attack started.
“My two sons were killed. I had to flee from the town with my remaining child, a girl. I can never return to that place because the trauma is too much for me. I don’t want to remember how my two sons were killed,” she said.
The displaced persons who are mostly farmers, have engaged themselves in the cultivation of rice, yam, tomatoes, cassava and other produce. They stated that though life was still tough, at least they have peace of mind.
Many of the people who spoke to the team, thanked Baba Simon who had helped them start up a new life in a place they had never dreamt of dwelling.
Simon Akwue is the man whom the people owe their lives to. He arrived in Oyo State in 1972 and decided to settle in the area, which obviously has been named after him; Ado Simon. Simon, who refuse to disclose his age, has four wives and children. He however, was not able to disclose how many children he has.
“You can write that we are 30 children,” Daniel Akwue, one of his children told the journalists.
He disclosed that the oldest amongst his siblings was about 40-something while the youngest was few months old.
Daniel, who is 27-years-old and married, disclosed that many of his siblings are also married. The implication is that Simon, who jokingly said he might marry another wife, is still having children, together with his married children.
“They do not know anything about family planning. They keep giving birth here… 21, 22 children,” Daniel stated, as if exempting himself from the issue.
The people have no health care center, they only treat themselves with herbs. When the illness is way past what they can handle, they take the sick person to the hospital in Kishi town.
However, taking a sick person from Ado-Simon, to Kishi is a herculean task considering their only means of transportation, bikes.
“Someone will have to climb and hold the sick person on the bike so that he won’t fall off. It isn’t easy, really because the bad road might compound the sickness but we have no choice. This is where we find ourselves,” Vincent Pius, one of them explained.
Another narrated, “when my wife was in labour, I rushed to look for bike to take her to the hospital, before I came back, she already had the baby.’
Since the people are far away from medical care, they give birth to their children at home. Two women in the community are said to be experienced in delivering babies, Felicia Akwue, is one of them. According to her, she never went to school to learn but has gathered experience from watching her mother-in-law work.
“I didn’t learn it from anywhere. My husband has two wives. And we were living with our mother-in-law, then. So whenever we want to give birth, she handles the delivery. That was how I learnt from her. When she died, I took over,” she said.
She explained that they usually pray and sometimes use anointing oil on the women during delivery, adding that when they have cases they cannot handle, they simple tell the husbands to take their wives to the hospital.
So far, they have been lucky as they have not recorded any death from their birthing method.
The only source of water for people in the area is a stream which the people confessed is most times, not drinkable mainly because they share the steam with the cows reared by herdsmen.
The women who have the bulk of work in fetching water from the stream, lamented that even when they had pleaded with the herders to respect their space and take their cattle to another side of the stream, they normally do not heed to their plea.
“We partitioned the water so that we can collect from one side and the cows drink from the other side but they just come and muddle the water. They said water is water,” Esther complained.
However the situation of their lives, the people agree that no matter how difficult life is for them at Ado-Simon, it is better for them since they sleep with both eyes closed. For them, peace is paramount.
They are extremely happy that they have large spread of land to cultivate. Not just any land, but a land according to them that is fertile.
Also, with the aid often rendered by Fr Odunride who brings clothes, food stuff to them, and who has, through the aid of the his diocese send some of their children to school, the people are in no hurry to go back to their state.