By Fr Chris N Anyanwu

The Catholic Diocese of Maroua in the far Northern Region of Cameroun and that of Maiduguri in the North East of Nigeria have a lot in common. Apart from sharing a common boundary, the people in the area have similar language and culture ; and they do many things in common. It takes at least an average of one hour to drive from Maroua into Maiduguri and vice versa. When the environment was safe, before the Boko-Haram invasion, people from Maroua enter into Maiduguri for business and pleasure. And they go back freely without difficulties. Pastorally, the two Bishops of Maiduguri and Maroua have utilized their cordial relationship to their optimum benefits. They visit each other at will, as well as exchange Pastoral programs and personnel.

Today, and sadly too, the story is no more the same. The border between Cameroun and Nigeria in the North-East is closed because of Boko-Haram insurgency. It is no longer possible to move freely in that area between Maroua and Maiduguri. Boko-Haram insurgency appears to have temporarily destroyed and put to a halt what used to be a peaceful and free exchange between the two boarder Dioceses.

“We have been good neighbours, until Boko-Haram separated us. We can no longer move freely into each other’s domain as a result of the insecurity created by the Boko-Haram insurgency.” said Most Rev Bruno Ateba, the Catholic Bishop of Maroua in Cameroun.

It is in Maroua that over 36,000 Nigerian Refugees who were displaced by the Boko-Haram attacks are being housed by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Many of the Refugees, comprising men, women and children had to trek on foot through long distances for days, without water and food, to get to where they are now. Safety has come at a heavy price for them as they are now sheltering in neighbouring Cameroon. Although happy to escape alive from the Islamic militant group, they now live in camp made with UNHR tarpaulins. They scratch around for food and water in the huge refugee camp north of Manoua which is now a temporary home, while hoping that the situation in Nigeria will be better so that they will go back to their ancestral homes.

“Providing pastoral care for over 36,000 Refugees is not an easy task. It is a big challenge for our diocese. That is why we brought the matter to the attention of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroun, who in turn notified the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria about the plight of the Nigerian Refugees here in our diocese” Said Bishop Bruno, the Bishop of Maroua where the Refugees are camped.

Last Friday(5/3/ 2015), a delegation of the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBCN) led by Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji the Bishop of Umuahia and the Chairman of Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) visited the camp popularly called Minawao Camp in Maroua Cameroun. Also in that delegation were Bishops Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri; Stephen Dami Manza of Yola; Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, Executive Secretary of CCFN, and Rev. Fr. Chris NAnyanwu, Director of Social Communications of Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria(CSN).

The Nigerian delegation was welcomed at the camp by Most Rev Samuel Kieda, the Archbishop of Daola and the President of Episcopal Conference of Cameroun, who led other bishops from Cameroun to the camp.

“We are here on a fact-finding mission.” Said Bishop Ugorji, the leader of the Nigerian delegation. “As soon as we received the information about the plight of the Nigerian Refugees during our First Plenary meeting in Abuja a week ago, we moved into action as a Conference. That is why we are here to see things for ourselves and what areas we can provide succour and immediate assistance.” Bishop Ugorji explained while addressing the Refugees in Minawao camp, Cameroun.

According to him, “We are here to encourage you. We are here to facilitate your going back to Nigeria. We will ensure that your plight here will get an immediate attention of the Federal government of Nigeria who too are aware of our visit. Christ was a refugee in Egypt. And it is only a refugee who understands better the feelings and emotions of a fellow refugee. Christ is therefore here in many ways to guide and console you. Today this camp has become your Egypt. But we want to reassure you that just as God led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, He will lead you all back to your homes.” Bishop Ugorji concluded.

Bishop Ugorji also thanked the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR), for their prompt response to the plight of the Refugees. He expressed his gratitude in particular to the Diocese of Maroua and the entire Episcopal Conference of Cameroun for their hospitality towards the welfare of Nigerians. “Their action demonstrates the ecclesial unity of the Church in responding to human needs irrespective of tribe, nation or even religion.” He said.

But for Bishop Oliver Doeme, the Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri, whose Diocese is worst hit by the Boko-Haram insurgency; it was a moment of re-union with some of his displaced flock.

“I am happy that I’m part of this delegation. It is a fantastic mission and a wonderful show of solidarity which will go a long way to strengthen the Refugees. Our presence here today is a moral boost for them and a reassurance that they are not abandoned.” Said Bishop Doeme.

The joy of the Refugees knew no bound as they saw the Bishops pray and bless them.

The general sentiment in Minawao camp accompanied with the prayers of the Bishops for the Refugees was a great desire to see to the end of Boko-Haram insulgency in Nigeria.

“Boko-Haram is evil and we must use every resource at our disposal to get it out. We don’t have gun. Our gun is our prayer. We urge all Christians to pray especially in this period of lent for a lasting peace and final resolution of the crisis in Nigeria so that our people can live.” Said Bishop Oliver

At the long run, with the operational gains of the military so far in the renewed effort of the Nigerian government to fight insurgency, and coupled with the combine forces from Cameroun, Niger and Chad, there is every reason to believe that the end of Boko-Haram attacks in Nigeria is in sight. END

(Fr Chris Anyanwu is the National Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria Abuja)

 Nigerian Refugees in Maroua camp during the delegation visit of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria



Most Rev Samuel Kieda, the Archbishop of Duola and President of Cameroonian Catholic Bishops addressing the Refugees




Leader of the delegation of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference to Maroua Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji the Bishop of Umuahia and the Chairman of Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) , speaking to the press




The Nigerian delegation marching into Maoura camp: Bishop Ugorj(Umuahia); Bishop Manza (Yola) and Bishop Doeme(Maiduguri)



Bishop Doeme of Maiduguri along side other Bishops prays for the Refugees at Maroua camp

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