INSURGENCY: CATHOLIC CHURCH USHERS IN A NEW BEGINNING FOR THE PEOPLE OF MAIDUGURI, YOBE AND NORTHERN ADAMAWA
By BillyGraham Abel, Yola
Since the outbreak of the deadly insurgency, the boko haram, the catholic diocese of Maiduguri has been the epicenter of the insurgency and Yobe and the entire northern Adamawa state have been one of the worst most affected places in the north eastern Nigeria and these are exactly the geography that constitutes the Maiduguri Catholic Diocese, it is like the diocese of the wounded, the vulnerable, angry, the deserted and the community of people in need of help and support.
Thousands of residents of these area fled leaving everything they ever had behind, some left with nothing but the clothes on them, incurring loss that would take a lifetime to recover from.
One of the worst hit institutions in the north east besides education is the religious institution and to be specific the church which has been a source of inspiration and faith to the people.
Hundreds of Churches in the region were destroyed and church activities completely halted as members of the institution had to flee for their lives.
The Catholic diocese of Maiduguri was probably the most affected as everywhere the church stretches to was crippled by the insurgency.
The Maiduguri diocese stretches from the entire northern Adamawa, the whole of Maiduguri and Yobe states.
No wonder it was symbolic after several years of inactivity and the suspension of the Church programs that a six feet cross was erected at the top of a forty feet high Bazza mountain, a place where just a year ago, it was impossible for just few worships to meet because of insecurity and fear of Boko Haram insurgency.
Now, in Bazza, northern Adamawa state, are gathered thousands of worshippers from as far as Nguru, Gambaru Ngala, Damaturu, and several other parts of the north eastern Nigeria, at one of the worst hit places by insurgency to renew their faith and to draw strength from faith in God to pick up the pieces of their lives to start all over again.
The Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri, Bishop Oliver Dashe speaking on the significance of the occasion said, “The federal government should partner with the Church which has been with the people all through their challenges during the insurgency in the north east, to rebuild, empower and resettle returnee IDPs in the north east.
Bishop Dashe explained that the big event of reconsecration of the Maiduguri Catholic diocese to the Immaculate heart of Mary and the consecration of the largest cross in Nigeria and the grotto of Mary in Bazza mountains, Adamawa state has become imperative and significant in marking the return of calmness and security to the region.
Bishop Oliver commended the federal government for its commitment to the restoration of peace in the region which he said has made it possible for the church to hold the event in Bazza, an area which was completely overran by insurgency.
Dashe said the improvement in the security situation in the north east has, however, left the church with a large humanitarian crisis demanding immediate and significant attention from the federal government.
Bishop Oliver Dashe said, "We are aware that there is a committee that has been set up to ensure federal government's intervention in the north east, I will like to call on this committee to partner with the Church to reach these people.
"The Church has been with these people right from the onset, so we know their pains and struggles.
"So many of our people have left without any of their personal effects and now that they have returned to their home, their food crops, livestock and other valuable possession have been destroyed or stolen, leaving them here with nothing to fall back to.
“That is the situation I am faced with on a daily basis from Maiduguri, to Yobe and the entire northern Adamawa state.
"If the federal government really intends to reach these people, the church is the most effective medium and partner to meaningfully and accurately reach the people."
Bishop Dashe while speaking on the significance of the event said, the consecration of the church has been a regular spiritual function of the church in the last five years and has become symbolic of the dioceses' annual recommitment to the service of God and humanity but the spiritual exercise was suspended last year to ensure the return to normalcy in the north east and the church strategically chose to host the event at Bazza to announce a return of peace and help members gain the confidence to forgive the past and start again.
The clergy said the “15 feet tall symbolic cross and the Grotto of Mary named 'Our Lady Mother of the Cross' that was built on the top of the 40 feet high Bazza mountain, is designed to restore hope and courage to the people of the region and it is expected that it would become a source of spiritual strength to Christians within the north east and the country at large and that by clinging to the cross, they would find grace to go on despite their irreparable loss and trauma.
He said, “Boko haram is a demonic activity and the church in its commitment to prayers and faith, has been a source of spiritual and emotional comfort to the people reassuring them that God has not abandon them in their our of need.
The Catholic Bishop of Adamawa, Bishop Dami Mamza said, the hosting of the church event in Bazza in Michika, was deliberately symbolic to the signal of the return of tranquility to northern Adamawa and a return of hope to an area where people have completely lost hope and an area where it would have been impossible for anyone to imagine coming for an event like this last year.
Mamza said, "The region is in need of spiritual revival after the wanton devastation caused by the activities of boko haram insurgency."
Bishop Peter Okpaleke, the Catholic bishop of Ahiara, “We the Catholic Bishops in southern part of the country have united our voices with other Bishops in the north to call on the federal government to do all that it can to alleviate the suffering of the people in the north east especially the returned IDPs.
“The cross here is a symbol of salvation, encouragement and hope. We encourage Christians to leave everything unto God and to embrace God as the inspiration and the strength for success.”
Rev Father Gideon Obasogie described the event as a great day in the life of the Maiduguri dioceses, Maiduguri diocese stretches from Northern Adamawa, the whole of Maiduguri and the whole of Yobe state.
"There are people from Nguru, Gashua, Shani, Maiduguri town, Biu, Gambaru Ngala, are gathered here, its a day of great reunion for the Christian faithful in this region, a situation which was impossible two or three years ago because of fear of insecurity, fear of the unknown among other negative situations.
“You have seen the grotto of Mary and the giant Cross, it is ushering a new beginning for the our people in the north east, we were chased out of communities and now our people have returned to rebuild their lives all over again, forget the past and leave vengeance to God.
“The cross is a sign of reconciliation, so we urged everyone in the north east to be reconciled to themselves first and then be reconciled to those they taught have offended them and to trust God for the future.
Barr. Aloysius Bahora, a native of Bazza town in Michika, Adamawa state said, "The event is a hope rekindled for the people of northern Adamawa signaling a time for reconciliation and putting behind the bitterness of boko haram insurgency and it’s attendant losses and also a time for spiritual reawakening in the area."
A significant highlight of the event is the consecration of what is said to be the largest cross in Nigeria estimated to be about 15 feet tall from its base to the top and the grotto of Mary, all at the top of a 40 feet Bazza mountain.
This is a time of hope for the people of Maiduguri diocese of the Catholic Church and the entire people of the north east region with the spiritual event expected to help the people move on from the traumatic past of Boko Haram Carnage that has Left the people impoverished, devastated and in need of dire help, a point to note for the federal government.