by Stephen Davis
It is now well known that I have been working for the release of the Chibok girls and the other at least 300 girls who have been captured by Boko Haram in this last 12 months. I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram, I have seen first-hand the devastation and talked to families of the attacks.
These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine. In the mist of this ongoing tragedy there are people who have courageously helped to support the work of finding kidnapped girls and boys and helping them receive medical care and food until a more permanent solution can be found to their situation.
In Maiduguri there are small groups of young men and women who go out into the community each week to provide food to the widows whose husbands have been killed by Boko Haram.
Others repair the humble shelters used by widows and orphans to shelter from the rain. These humanitarian efforts are undertaken with the meagre funds these generous local people have from their equally meagre salaries.
One such group of community servants is the Shehuri North Community Development and Youth Empowerment Association in Maiduguri. It is a registered association with very admirable goals. In an overview of the group its mission is stated as:
To promote peace, unity, love and understanding in our community.
- To assist the people of the community such as widows, orphans, and the less privilege by upgrading their standard of living.
- To assist in sending the orphans and any interested fellow within and outside the community to Western and Islamic Schools to acquire a reputable education and knowledge that will prepare them to be useful members of the community.
- To empower youths in our midst by creating suitable job opportunities.
- To enter into association with any local, regional and international organization, engaged in assisting community development.
I heard of this group while seeking the handover of Chibok captives in Borno State a few months ago. I met with the group in Maiduguri to learn more of their community work. I was convinced of the outstanding humanitarian work of this group with such meagre funding from their own private resources.
It is quite an amazing story how this group has managed to find girls who have escaped from Boko Haram camps and support them and their families with food and medical care until the girls can be connected into Federal Government support through the President’s Victim Support Funds chaired by General (ret.) Danjuma.
The Shehuri group has made formal application for funding to continue the victim support work and the additional work they do in locating and verifying the identity of escaped girls for relocation and protection from the Federal Government.
This week we learn that the State Security Services has arrested many of these fine young community workers on the pretext that they are Boko Haram sympathisers.
A tweet from someone known as Aye Dee posts a photo of me with the management board of the Shehuri North Community Development and Youth Empowerment Association whom Mr Dee says “were hired to play the part of Boko Haram fighters/commanders in the Stephen Davis saga of being in contact with the terrorist organisation”. Nothing could be further from the truth! What a monstrous fabrication! Mr Dee may be misinformed from his SSS source as these photos were taken from the phone of one of arrested community workers. The photo for which Mr Dee claims proprietorial rights and one of several taken on that occasion was taken on my camera and is printed here in full detail.
Mr Dee is correct in saying that I have contributed some funds to the organisation which has found its funds stretched as more escaped girls are being supported. I have also provided a photo of the rice distribution which these workers conduct and to which my funding has been applied. The escaped girls are in great need of trauma counselling. As most are not Chibok girls there seems to have been little media interest in telling their stories and assisting them.
I am in no doubt that President Jonathan wishes to provide support for any victim of Boko Haram and particularly for captives who have escaped Boko Haram camps regardless of whether they were captured at Chibok or any other village in Nigeria.
On hearing of the arrest of members of the Shehuri North Community Development and Youth Empowerment Association I immediately sent a message to the DG-SSS. I have not yet had a reply but am very hopeful that as he is well aware of my work in seeking the release of the captives and arrest of the sponsors of Boko Haram he will equally be aware of the innocence of these community workers and their outstanding service in providing food, shelter and medical support for the escaped girls and restore their families into a stable community life.
If the DG-SSS would care to check with the office of General (ret.) Danjuma and Ambassador Gana I am sure he will find these facts as I have set them out to be supported and thus enable the immediately release the members of the Shehuri North Community Development and Youth Empowerment Association.
I am optimistic that General (ret.) Danjuma, as Chairman of the President’s Victim Support Fund, will also find the case for acknowledging the valuable work of these community workers deserving of his support.
These are people we should be honouring for their outstanding, selfless work conducted at considerable risk to their lives, not arresting and incarcerating.
Dr. Stephen Davis is an Australian academic and priest who covertly helped negotiate peace deals with insurgents in the Niger Delta and in the North East of the country at the behest of the Federal Government of Nigeria
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.