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Catholic Diocese in Nigeria to Relocate Boko Haram Victims in Pioneer Housing Project

Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Nigeria's Catholic Diocese of Yola at the new residence for IDPs left homeless after Boko Haram attacks in Northeastern Nigeria.

The leadership of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Yola is completing the construction of houses meant to accommodate victims of Boko Haram who have been living in camps within the Diocese located in Northeastern part of the West African country for more than five years.

Confirming the relocation, which has been slated for the first week of March, Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Yola told ACI Africa that the project is expected to provide a more sustainable solution to the challenges facing the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who were displaced from their villages and their homes destroyed.

“It has not been easy taking care of the internally displaced persons who have been living at our Diocese for about six years now. The people are also tired and they want to start their lives afresh,” Bishop Mamza told ACI Africa Monday, February 8.

He said that those who have been supporting the IDPs are also experiencing donor fatigue and that it has become difficult for the Diocese to sustain the victims’ livelihoods.

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Victims of Boko Haram insurgency, coming from villages surrounding the Catholic Diocese of Yola located in the country’s Adamawa Estate, started flocking the Diocese in 2014 leaving behind their homesteads, which had been ravished by the militants.

Bishop Mamza who had been at the helm of the Diocese for three years recalls that the people arrived in large numbers, occupying the Diocese’s pastoral center, catechetical center and the premises of Catholic schools.

He recounts that between 2015 and 2016, the military took over the control of the local governments that had been seized by militants, enabling many of the IDPs who had been housed at St. Theresa’s Cathedral of Yola Diocese to go back home.

However, there are a few villages that still experience significant levels of insecurity, the Nigerian Bishop told ACI Africa.

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“There were many IDPs here but many have gone back home after the security in their villages was restored. But there are villages near Sambisa forest where Boko Haram militants are staying. People from these villages can’t go back home and we are still hosting them,” he said.

At the moment, some 86 families still live in tents within the Diocese and their children are enrolled in the neighboring Catholic schools.

Life at the Cathedral, which is located in a city of Yola is not easy for the IDPs whose way of life has always been farming. Additionally, some families are large and are forced to share a single room in the camps, a situation that Bishop Mamza says denies the family members privacy.

He says that the idea to construct permanent houses for the IDPs was born two years ago.

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“I started thinking about the possibility of getting funding to resettle our IDPs and presented the idea to Missio Germany, our main funding organization who gave us all the funding we needed. The Governor of Adamawa Estate also came in and donated a whole 10 hectares of land for the facility,” Bishop Mamza told ACI Africa February 8.

Today, the Diocese’s housing project comprises 43 apartments, which are divided into two houses each, to accommodate all the 86 families. Each of the houses has several rooms including a parlor, a kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet.

Bishop Mamza says that each apartment is surrounded by enough space to provide room for those willing to expand their houses.

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Those interested in farming have enough farming land at the housing facility, which sits on the vast and fertile land.

With the support of Missio Germany, the Diocese has also constructed a school that will admit the IDPs’ primary school-going children as well as children in the neighboring villages.

The residence, which is one of its kind in Nigeria, is also complete with a church and a mosque to cater for the spiritual needs of the IDPs.

The Nigerian Bishop who has been recognized widely for his peace initiatives in the country that has been riddled with attacks that target Christians told ACI Africa that constructing a Mosque is supposed to foster inter religious unity.

“For years, we have hosted many IDPs, Christians and Muslims alike. We are constructing a Mosque that will allow our Muslim brothers to have a place they can worship comfortably,” Bishop Mamza told ACI Africa February 8, adding that the constructions are set for commissioning on April 12.

Commenting on the challenge of resettling people who are internally displaced by Boko Haram, the Local Ordinary of Yola said, “Boko Haram is still a big problem in Nigeria and there are many places that are still under their control.  Our region is better in terms of security since only a few villages still have the militants occupying them.”