Bishop Dami Mamza, the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese in Adamawa State, was recently in the news after unveiling 86 housing units, 12 classrooms and a mosque, among others, that he built for internally displaced persons at Sangere-Marghi village of Girei Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
He recently spoke with BILLY GRAHAM ABEL, and gave reasons for the unusual display of love and generosity.
While regretting the collapsing security situation in the country, Bishop Mamza dismissed calls by Islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, for government to negotiate with bandits, describing Gumi’s relationship with bandits as suspicious. He also urged the Federal Government to engage the services of mercenaries to help address the country’s security situation.
You recently did something unusual: you built houses, schools and a mosque for Muslim IDPs in Adamawa. Why gave rise to the unusual move?
It started in September 2014, when the first three local governments in northern Adamawa were overrun by Boko Haram insurgents.
I was at the Catholic Bishops conference in Warri when I received a call informing me that Michika, Madagali, Mubi and later on, Gombi, had been overrun by Boko Haram, and that our church was flooded with internally displaced persons. I quickly returned to Yola. But I had instructed the Coordinator of Justice, Development and Peace, Yola Diocese, Rev. Father Morris Kwoiranga, to open the doors of the cathedral in order to accommodate as many people that were in need of shelter and food. We had to close down our schools. We opened up our old cathedral, our pastoral centre and so many institutions that we have within Jimeta to house as many internally displaced persons as possible.
They came in their numbers, looking for shelter and food. I instructed that any money available, even if it belonged to somebody, should be used to provide food for the IDPs. That was how it all began.
At a certain stage, we had about 3,700 IDPs residing within St. Theresa Cathedral. But again, there were people that were living within the town but lacked the capacity to support themselves. Take for example, a person who earns N40,000 only at the end of the month but has about 50 IDPs from his village residing in his house because he is the only person from their village that they know. So, such people were coming in to get food or financial support. Since then, after every two weeks, for about three years, we have been inviting these displaced persons to what became a routine food distribution exercise.
Based on our records, about 7, 500 households were beneficiaries of the food distribution for these three years. Every two weeks, we distribute over 500 bags of maize. We have been doing that faithfully without fail until northern Adamawa was recaptured. Even after that, we continued with the exercise, depending on the needs.
Then we have those in camps. We were responsible for their feeding. We feed them three times a day, provide them with shelter and take care of their medical bills. We had to open a clinic here and requested for some volunteer medical practitioners, doctors and nurses to help in providing some services.
We had groups like the Daughters of Charity, who came all the way from Port Harcourt, and provided medical services. That is what we have been doing in the last seven years working with the IDPs.
When most of the local governments in northern Adamawa were recaptured, most of the IDPs gradually returned to their communities. Those that were left at our camps were those who have their houses at the fringes of the Sambisa Forest and these are communities where the Boko Haram insurgents are still active and the communities are still susceptible to Boko Haram intermittent attacks.
I remember that about 17 of our IDPs that returned were killed in 2015. When some of the IDPs in our camps heard about their deaths, they changed their minds about returning home. The 86 families have been with us since then.
What brought the idea of the housing units?
One night in 2019, I started thinking, how long would we sustain the situation of the IDPs and take care of them? Besides, we were having donors fatigue and the IDPs were on the one hand tired of living at the camps. So, I thought to myself whether it would be possible to build simple houses for them to live in as their own homes. Then I asked myself, where do I get the resources to do this? I had no money, no land, nothing. So, I decided to approach government for a land with the thought in my mind that even if it is a round hut that we would build, it would go a long way in easing their pain. The governor, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, graciously offered about 10 hectares of land for the resettlement of these IDPs at Sengere, Marghi. After that, I consulted with my main sponsors, Missio, a German-based Catholic organisation, which supports humanitarian causes across the world and in support of the Catholic Church too. They have been the ones supporting our IDPs. About 99 per cent of the feeding of our IDPs has been funded by them. I wrote a proposal and they were so impressed. In January, 2020, the entire management of Missio came to Adamawa State, and they were able to have an interaction with the governor.
I took them to the site in Sangere, Marghi. There was a school there, but none of the classes had roofs, and all the children of the IDPS were in our school, a very good school. I asked them whether it was possible that they support a school project of 12 classrooms. They had already approved funds for the housing units. But then, if we build houses for them, and if their children have no access to school, then we might be raising another set of children that would be illiterates. That was how we started the building of the houses and the school almost at the same time.
About 95 per cent of the IDPs are Christians, with about five per cent Muslims. We also got funds to build a church. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we could not have money for the mosque building. But we sourced it from our local contributions within the Catholic Diocese of Yola. Because how would the Muslims IDPs feel if they don’t have a place to worship? That was how we built and commissioned the facilities. The school cost roughly about N30 million, we have spent about N107 million on the houses, and about N5 million for the mosque.
Many people, both Christians and Muslims still wonder: why did you build the mosque?
I know building this mosque has generated a lot of comments, some positive, some negative, from both Christians and Muslims, But my message is very simple. We have no option but to live together as brothers and sisters in one family, more importantly as Nigerians.
When I was taking care of the IDPs, I never discriminated. When I built the houses, I never discriminated. When building the schools, I never discriminated. So why should I now discriminate based on worship centres? To me, it is a matter of justice. I have built a church for one group, I should also build a mosque for the other group. I believe that would go a long way in strengthening the bond of unity in the housing units and it would also serve as a lesson to other religious leaders in the country that religion is a matter of choice. That, if, for instance, one decides to convert to another religion, no one should threaten, intimidate or terrorise you.
I believe we serve the same God, and when they all go in to pray, they would pray for Nigeria and for me, irrespective of their places of worship. There are people who felt that I should not have done that as a Catholic priest, but it is my choice and decision. The problem in our country is that, we use religion as the basis to determine relationships, association, etc. In as much as, conversion from one religion into another is not respected, we would continue to have problems.
It only means that there is no freedom of worship and Nigeria is still a secular state. Let’s put Nigeria first and live together in peace and unity.
How would you advise the government to address the security crisis in the North-East and other regions?
The security situation in the country has gone very bad and is getting worse on a daily basis. In fact, the North-East and places like Adamawa State have been more peaceful than places in the North-West. Our government needs to rise to its own responsibility and do the right thing.
Unfortunately, our politicians are more concerned about 2023 polls than the security situation of the country. If our politicians do not put security issues first before their ambition for 2023, I wonder whether if Nigeria does not exist, who are they going to rule over? There is an urgent need for government at all levels to take the issue of security very seriously. Now in Nigeria, everyone is afraid and no one can sleep with their eyes closed. Our government needs to do more than it is doing right now.
The military also need to do better. I think something is wrong somewhere with the way security issues are handled. They are always complaining about lack of equipment, but the annual budget for defence speaks to the contrary because it is always huge. So something is wrong.
The North-East Development Commission should be embarking on projects like the one we just did, but we don’t know what they do at all. They are just there in Abuja doing nothing. As a matter of fact, why is the headquarters of the commission not here in the North-East but there in Abuja? But the bottom line is that, we are not feeling their impact. I can’t see anything being done by them. There are many international bodies and groups working here and we are feeling their impact.
Sheikh Gumi wants government to negotiate with armed bandits, and some Nigerians have supported the suggestion. What is your take?
There is no sincerity in Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s position or what he is suggesting as a solution.
Nobody knows the heart of Gumi or why he is doing what he is doing. What he is suggesting will take us nowhere. There is definitely a link between Sheikh Gumi and the bandits. What is the link? How did he get into contact with them? This is the question that should be investigated and answered.
He is not the only Sheikh in Nigeria or Islamic cleric, yet he has taken so much interest in the cause of the bandits and going about offering explanations to justify the actions of the bandits. I don’t see any sincerity in the actions of Gumi and I’m very suspicious of the role he is playing. Only God knows what he is doing. In the first place, he has not condemned what they are doing. He’s only blaming the government for not giving them this or that. No matter how irresponsible a government is, no one has the right to go about taking other people’s lives and you cannot come our as a religious person to support the actions of the people who go about taking lives.
You cannot support someone going into banditry, killing, maiming, abducting and traumatising people and you as a religious leader would stand to rationalise and explain their actions. Are they the only people without jobs in Nigeria? Are they the only people with grievances against the government and against what is happening in the country? I have a problem with what Gumi is doing. Many Nigerians have a problem with it.
If you don’t agree with Gumi’s methods, what alternatives would you proffer?
I would advise the Nigerian government to hire mercenaries. We have reached a point where our government should say we can no longer handle this problem alone and we should be sincere and with all sense of humility to it. The governor of Borno State, Prof Zulum said we should look for mercenaries, because even our military that are fighting this war, there is no sincerity in them. We cannot say that they are not trying, but it is obvious that there are issues.
I have a relation, a soldier, who was wounded by Boko Haram insurgents some few weeks ago. He was abandoned and had to be treated by the family. So, we don’t know what is happening here in our country.