The Okafors’ Life Of Charity And Succour For The Vulnerable – By Zainab Suleiman Okino

AS soon as their four-convoy cars arrived the premises, residents started trickling out from their make-shift abodes called homes. In no time the excitement and jubilation that rented the air soon turned into a one-line song: “Mama oyoyo, Baba oyoyo, blow the trumpet” in reverence for their benefactor-couple (Mr Bede and Maureen Okafor) that the residents have known over the years. The “trumpet”, when blown alerts on their arrival (and invariably on food availability). On this day again, residents of the camp came out, and almost immediately conversations and throwing of banter started. An atmosphere of conviviality and familiarity enveloped the camp.

Welcome to Durumi IDP camp, Area 1, Abuja, where over 3,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) reside, some as far back as 2011 and still counting. The run-down camp which began to grow when the insurgency started in the Northeast is without basic social amenities. The IDPs came from Taraba, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

Madam Liyatu Ayuba is one of the leaders in this camp. Referred to as the woman leader, she liaised with the Okafors to distribute the items brought and reported on the welfare of residents. She said there are over 400 households in the camp, and the Okafors make it a point of duty to care for them. “Everyone knows them. They are our father and mother here and anytime they come, there is excitement in the air”.

I felt that excitement on the day of our visit. I have heard the story of Bede Okafor’s generosity and charity work at our work-out/fitness club, but I never really gave it a thought until their regular IDP visits got to me, and I thought I should do this to encourage them and inspire others. Popularly called Bob, Mr Okafor’s stride at providing for the needy including IDPs should encourage all to do the little they can to uplift the vulnerable group, left to fend for themselves after escaping the war zone in the Northeast. Under the auspices of their foundation, Bedex Development Foundation, the couple started their monthly provision for the IDPs before the 2020 corona virus lockdown and has never looked back since then.

Madam Ayuba and Umar Gola serve as leaders in the camp. They both revealed their journey to becoming IDPs in Abuja. “I came from Chibok. The missionaries UK brought me here, after my son stepped on mines, and my husband and brothers were killed. He spent two years in hospital before the doctors succeeded in grafting his skin”, the “woman leader” said, adding that the possibility of going back to Chibok is slim, and not “after losing my brothers and husband”.

She noted that the fact that more people are coming to the Durumi camp, IDPs are being sent packing from Cameroon and fragile security situation all combine to make it impossible for her to go back to Chibok.

Ditto for Umar Gola, the camp’s PRO who fled Madagali in Adamawa state. Gola explained how men were being killed for being members of Civilian JTF defending their community and had to flee first to Mubi only for “Boko Haram to issue a quit notice to Mubi authorities to expel us. We had to run to a haven like Abuja”.

Apart from the couple, Madam Ayuba said individuals like corps members, schools like American and Turkish schools, churches, mosques, and good spirited individuals are generally their sustainers at the camp. Among the people inhabiting the camp are the elderly, young agile teenagers (who were probably children when they relocated to Abuja), young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 years.

My attention was also drawn to a signpost of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally displaced Persons Project Educate All. On enquiry about how much and how often the (“project”) intervened, Madam Ayuba replied in the negative. “There was no school project being undertaken by the commission. The schools here— Arise Academy and Bethabel Elementary School were shut because nobody was responsible for the schools and employment of teachers”.

Corroborating Madam Ayuba, Gola added that absence of official recognition by the UBE led to the closure of the IDP schools within the camp. He disclosed that a director from UBE once came for inspection and promised to take their request to the office (UBE), but nothing came out of it. The Okafors, according to them pay the school fees of about 30 children who go to schools outside the camp.

Not done yet, Mr Okafor obliged a request by Umar Gola, the IDP PRO, for a nurse that should come to the camp periodically to check the health of the IDPs especially the elderly, children, and pregnant women. There and then he promised to include the request in his medical outreach. Having witnessed the passion and commitment they put into organising a team of volunteers for the distribution of food items and cash, and their being “at home” among the IDPs, I sought to know more from the couple on what their motivation is to consistently and sustainably do the humanitarian work such that the IDPs now ask after them when they delay in taking food items there.

Mr Okafor who started it on his own volition when he was much younger retorted, “I’ve been on this trajectory for a long time. My driving force is seeing talented individuals show willingness to unleash their productivity and skills and helping others. I have a medical outreach, make provision for the blind (and give glasses where necessary), provide wheelchairs, clutches, which some vulnerable members of the society have benefited from. I’ve sent young adults who are jobless to learn skills and empowered them through provision of tool kits”.

How pleasant it was to watch the couple behind Bedex Development Foundation coordinate the sharing of food and money under the scorching sun on Saturday March 30 when we visited, to avoid stampede now associated with any form of sharing in Nigeria. The fellow feeling was also palpable in the way the couple listened and attended to their welfare needs. On whether he has political ambition, Mr Bob answered in the affirmative with a “but”. “I may activate my political ambition in future, but I didn’t start providing charity services because of that. All my outreaches including spotting sports talents and sponsoring them abroad are self-sponsored without strings attached. Last year, I took four of such young men to Europe”.

There have been some ugly stories associated with IDP camps all over the country, but they do not detract from the plight of people forced out of their homes through insurgency. Many also do not have homes to go back to. Again, IDPs are supposed to be temporary homes pending a permanent resettlement plan. This does not seem to be the case with Durumi IDP camp, hence their reliance on willing donors.

“Government should act responsibly and provide basic amenities like schools, hospitals, and other social amenities. Until we got here, most of the kids were not receiving medical attention”, Bob lamented. Unfortunately, the IDPs are not too keen on working to earn a living too. On how they could be taught how to fish instead of handouts. Mr Bob noted with disappointment “their lack of interest when it comes to skills training and acquisition”.

You’d wonder whether the Okafors have regrets over their self-imposed burden of giving and caring for total strangers who are not of the same region or religious beliefs with them and how sustainable. “As long as God has given me the capacity, I have no regret and even when I’m unable to do what I have chosen to do, I have confidence that my wife (Maureen) would always be there to motivate me” , he said, even as the Okafors are ready to do more in partnership with interested individuals and organisations as long as “there is transparency”.

Mr Bob urged for intervention by well-meaning people and those that have been blessed to help. “The problem is huge. We want others to be helpful to the weak and vulnerable. Those at the camp never thought they would be displaced some 15 years ago, and here they are today far removed from their society and people”. He also emphasised on the inner peace and joy in giving: “When you give, you feel a sense of accomplishment”.

Mr and Mrs Okafor seated in a shade before the distribution started. Below are other pictures of the distribution proper

Okino, is Chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE), her syndicated column appears on News Point Nigeria newspaper on Wednesdays. She can be reached via: [email protected].

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