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Catholic Diocese in Nigeria Set to Construct Pioneer Residence for Boko Haram Victims

Diocese of Yola Bishop, Stephen Dami Mamza laying foundation for construction of eighty six housing units for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria on Monday, January 27.

The Catholic Diocese of Yola in Nigeria has laid the foundation for the building of a residence that will house Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing from Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria.

According to Fr. Moses Ma’aji, Yola Diocese Communications Director, the facility is one of its kind, the first ever permanent residence for IDPs in the West African country that has been hit hard by terrorist activities for nearly a decade.

“In the past, the country has relocated people because of natural disasters such as flooding. It is the first time we are relocating people because of disasters caused by fellow human beings. And it is definitely the first time we are moving them to permanent places where they can call home, away from the terror in their previous homes” Fr. Ma’aji told ACI Africa in an interview Tuesday, January 28.

The new housing units whose construction began with laying of the foundation at an event graced by Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Yola Diocese on Monday, January 27 will host 86 households that have been coming in from Maiduguri, an area specifically hit by the insurgence.

Each household has an average of six members who, according to Fr. Ma’aji, “have terrible memories of where they came from.”

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Referencing victims of the jihadist terrorist organization, the Communications Director said, “Some of them have no place to call home since their houses were burnt down by members of Boko Haram. Some of them have lost all their loved ones and all they need is a community where to start life afresh.”

The Nigerian cleric highlighted some of the desperate situations among the IDPs saying, “I have seen a mother who came in with her daughter. The woman had watched as her three sons were slaughtered in her presence. There is no way we can tell such a woman to go back home because going back there is likely to bring back terrible memories.”

In a message posted on the official Facebook page of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Bishop Dami of Yola is quoted as saying that villages that the IDPs had come from were “still unsafe due to activities of insurgence.”

In the post, the Bishop exuded confidence that the housing project would be completed before April to take in this vulnerable group of IDPs.

A school, a hospital and a supply of clean water are some of the facilities expected to be constructed at the housing facility that will sit on some two acres of land that have been procured through the intervention of Missio.

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Bishop Dami described Mission as "the strongest partners that have been supporting Yola Diocese for the past fifty years" and appealed to individuals and organizations to support the Church to enable it complete the project in good time.

Meanwhile, Fr. Ma’aji revealed that there are plans to construct an outstation at the housing project where the IDPs will be able to attend Mass.

He noted that a majority of the IDPs who are currently hosted in tents at the diocese are farmers and highlighted the need for the diocese to provide them with land where they can engage in farming activities.

 “We hope that in future, the government will come in to help expand the piece of land so that we can provide bigger farming plots to the IDPs who were mostly farmers before they were driven from their homes,” the Nigerian cleric told ACI Africa.

Emphasizing the Bishop’s message of integration of the vulnerable IDPs in society, Fr. Ma’aji called on members of the new community where the new houses are set to be constructed to “make the displaced persons feel at home. It isn’t enough to give them new houses and new resources. The most important thing is to make these vulnerable members of the society feel welcome and accepted.”

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Victims of Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, started flooding St Theresa’s Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Yola in 2014 when the insurgency started in Maiduguri, Fr. Ma’aji recounted.

He added, “Initially, there were about 150 households coming to the cathedral where we tried our best to put them in tents. Some have left to start their lives elsewhere but we are left with more than 80 households that don’t have anywhere to go.”

Those who sought refuge at the diocese, according to the Nigerian priest, were Catholics as well as members of other denominations who Fr. Ma’aji observes, have gradually become Catholics.

“We have received in the camps people of different denominations including members of the Church of the Brethren and members of the Lutheran church but their stay here has seen them convert to the Catholic Church. I see this charitable activity as a perfect way of ministering,” he said.

Fr. Ma’aji recounted that on arrival at the diocesan premise, some five years ago, children of IDPs who had dropped out of school due to the insurgence were placed in school around the diocese and some of them had already completed secondary education.

“The much younger ones were enrolled in primary schools in Yola,” he said and added, “There is a plan on the ground to see that a primary school is established for these children in their new home.”