Despite turbulent times Nigeria still has one of Africa’s strongest economies, yet reports show that over half of the population lives in poverty. Increasing numbers of displaced peoples due to wars and disputes in two of the country’s most impoverished regions has further worsened quality of life for tens of thousands of Nigerians. As people continue to flee from the predominantly muslim northeast where terrorist organisation Boko Haram has reportedly killed about 7,000 people according to the Global Terrorism Index and as terrorist militia the Niger Delta Avengers continue to bomb oil plants, further contributing to the already environmentally ruined once fertile region in the southeastern predominantly Christian oil rich Niger Delta it seems evident to question why the most impoverished regions are the most violent. Truth is it will take a decade or more to repair the damage that half a century of neglectful political leadership and tribal foolishness has caused, as the effects of colonialism still weigh on the developing nation’s shoulders. Looking at the big picture feels haunting but some courageous Nigerians are doing what they can to begin to implement change like founder of the NGO One Nature’s Foundation, Edidiong Ibokete.
Ibokete developed ONE this year after volunteering at refugee camps on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria inhabited by refugees fleeing northern regions that were violated by Boko Haram. During his time in the camps he found that women and children were the most vulnerable to hardships and this worsened when they were displaced. The foundation focuses on empowering women and children through training and outreach programs that provide skills to be able to rebuild for life after-camps and decrease rates of child abuse and sexist discrimination. We talk to Ibokete about some concrete steps the foundation is taking to implement positive change in his home country.
Why did you think it was important to create this foundation?
ONE foundation was created to key into our natures essence of brotherhood and love, the Average individual is preoccupied trying to eke a living that even though they would love to look out for the indigent they rarely do, most of them when you get to speak with them are so favourably disposed to giving back in their small ways to these people in our society but the time to do so becomes a constraint.
Can you give an example of a specific program the organisation has in place to help women and children from conflict areas?
We have developed two programs specifically for the most vulnerable ones which are often women and children, I will briefly explain the programs. The Cluster Education Program (CEP) is a specialised educational package developed by educational professionals for children from violence-prone communities, and has been fashioned to their uniqueness and peculiarity. The CEP employs educated volunteers from within the community who undertake the task of educating the community dwellers with high enrolment consideration for girls, and reports back to a program coordinator. We believe education can be used as a tool to de-radicalise and reintegrate children from conflict areas into the larger society.
Secondly, we have special regular counselling sessions for women from conflict areas, this is handled by guidance counsellors and psychologists, provision is made for one on one meeting with women from conflict areas, some even open up to more personal home-front abuse which we also counsel them through. This program is coordinated solely by a qualified guidance counsellor with training in psychology. The effect of violence and conflict on the mind can be traumatising and depressing, this is a place many of them exist, with the help of the counsellors we help get them out of that place.
You have outreach programs in some of the refugee camps near Abuja, where people displaced by Boko Haram have temporarily settled. Can you tell us about life inside the camps?
Justice cannot be done when describing life in these camps with mere words. Life inside these camps is disheartening, not just because of the physical states but the emotional state of the displaced persons. What kills a person really starts from the inside,
An illustration might help, take for instance the life of a man who has been used to his comfortable home with modest furnishing, his beautiful wife’s sweet meal every day, the warm and tight hugs of his lovely children, the smell of freedom and fresh air, the unrestricted and over-looked freedom to trade legitimately and earn a living all gone in a twinkle and he is reduced to living as a beggar totally dependent on the good gestures of others to earn a living, suffocated by the constant smell of latrine and waste, deprived of the comforting embrace of his children, without the luxury of having to select his meal, sleeping on the bare floor with only wraps of plastic bags as his shield from the cold.
The illustration is the state of mind of persons within these camps, torn away from everything they ever loved, believed and held close, and forced to live in these ready-made shanties. The mindset added to the painful, heartbreaking physical living state is just indescribable for me. Its very sad, it is. Notwithstanding, the enduring spirit of humans, keeps them believing and lighting up their own space in ways they best can, they still engage in social activities like football, dancing and singing just for their leisure. We try as much as possible to connect with this enduring spirit, so we always go visit them with some form of social activity like sports and loud music for them to dance and have fun.
How is ONE helping these people prepare for life outside the camps?
Skill Acquisition Programs (ONE SAP): ONE-SAP (1 SAP) is aimed at training a focus group of people, usually women, in a specific skill set for a number of days or months, as recommended by the tutors and program coordinators. After successful completion the trainees are empowered as graduates with relevant skills to be able to find work in their field. These graduates are closely monitored by our ONE-SAP monitoring team for a given time frame in which we evaluate if graduates are suitable to receive further funding if it is necessary.
What are some of the most important short term measurable goals the organisation would like to achieve in it’s first year?
Short term goals, we would love to increase the number of volunteers, its very reassuring to see so many people getting on the ONE mindset. We believe we could have volunteers in each state of the federation before the year runs out.
What are some of the long term goals?
Some long term goals, we look forward to setting up a mentorship and leadership centre, a centre where accomplished industry icons volunteer their time to mingle and speak with our target audience and youths alike. The centre will also accommodate the ONE SAP graduates, here they will get general business advice from industry experts.
We look forward to grooming the Cluster Education Program into a unique school system for children from violence prone communities, this will be no small feat for ONE foundation but it is very much surmountable.
In the long run we would hopefully expand to other countries and ultimately be a movement of brotherhood, love and selflessness. I can go on and on about our achievable long term goals but I’ll stop at these.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Most people have at one point experienced loss, hunger, or brokenness we would love to hear personal experiences on how they overcame the turbulence. We are creating a separate column on our website which would have these shared experiences posted there to serve as real life assistance to people going through similar challenges and experiences.
A popular quote by Edmund Burke “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Thank you so much for this great good and doing us this honour, hopefully together, we will overcome the scourge caused by bigots in the world. Religious, political and race alike and make our world a bit more habitable for everyone irrespective of differences held.
Thank you for sharing with us Edidiong! For more information: @onefoundation