By Christine Ishanpepe Vihishima
Sometime in August 2017, I had the rare privilege of documenting the stories of a special set of people with my lens. Known as the people of ‘Yokassala Sullubawa’, they are IDP’s (Internally Displaced Person’s) affected by Boko Haram, who have come from around the North East; Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states, and have settled in this land graciously given to them by the Ardo of Mbamba (Village Head).
Such happy, peaceful and hospitable people, the people of Yokassala are estranged from civilization with no access to electricity or pipe-borne water. They still reside in huts and their “classroom” is a wooden skeleton of a hut, with one mat on the ground. Their major source of livelihood is animal husbandry and the production of locally fermented milk (nono) and millet (fura).
Without any form of pipe-borne water, the people of Yokassala have been confined to drinking water from the water puddles in the ground, which of course is not clean or healthy. Knowledge of this information drove myself and Nelly Ating, to pay these people a visit and hear their story. We found out that the members of this settlement should be almost 1,000 in number, including men, women and children. Some of them have been living there for 5 years, some for 4, and other for less. They may seem far from civilization but this is not totally true as they have their own village head with assistants who advise him and who sit together once in a while with him to discuss problems affecting the community. They are also responsible for discussing how to share aid when it comes. They are governed by rules as well. Some of the rules include the fact that they must all live in peace. Having been victims of the ravaging crisis in the North East, living in peace is definitely important to them. Other rules are to avoid fighting, stealing, taking cows to other people’s farms to graze and finally, there exists zero tolerance for drug abuse. Anyone found guilty will be flogged and may be taken to the Ardo as well. The Yokassalan’s have two schools; one that teaches western education and the other, Islamic education.
We had a chance to see the water which the people drank and we were surprised at what we saw; brown looking water, fetched from puddles in the ground which cars and other vehicles drove through. This was normal drinking water to them and was considered as “sweet”. We all know that water is colorless, plus, whatever happens when the rains stop and the puddles dry up?
It was a challenge to do something, and quick. And so, with the images we got from our visit we used social media to tell their story and successfully raised funds for a borehole to be dug for them. The Yokassalan’s now have water.
What is the challenge? It is that our fellow Nigerians are displaced from their homes and scattered across the country. What are we doing to make this experience bearable for them? The onus rests on us as fellow citizens, to lend a helping hand in any way that we can. The government will obviously not do this for us. It is our responsibility now.