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Ehusani, IDPs and trauma healing

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Internally Displaced Persons at Dikwa Camp, in Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria. PHOTO: AFP

In 2009, Boko Haram militants entered Monica’s home in the middle of the night. Monica watched them behead her husband and slit the throats of two of her three sons. Then, turning to her, they slashed her left arm as she raised it in defence, cut her throat and left her to die. A neighbour found her still alive and took her to the hospital. Eight years later, after numerous operations to repair her throat and her arm, she still needs more surgery. Speaking to a journalist in 2015, she says that dealing with the trauma of the attack and the loss of her husband and sons is harder than recovering physically.

However, she manages to endure because of the strength she receives from Jesus Christ. Much comfort and solace have also come to her from other displaced widows and friends.

Monica’s story is one of thousands that have emerged from the northeast, where Boko Haram militants have instituted the reign of terror since 2009. With more than 1.5 million people displaced from their homes and livelihoods, more than 150,000 refugees in neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun and more than 20,000 deaths, the insurgency remains the largest single humanitarian disaster since the end of the Nigerian Civil War. At the start of the insurgency, people fled from Boko Haram in stages. Many thought they would be safe in neighbouring villages, but when those were attacked, they were forced to flee again. Some squatted with friends or relatives. Others lived in schools or took shelter in abandoned houses or sheds. Most lost their homes, livestock, food and other personal possessions.

With the technical victory of the Nigerian military forces over Boko Haram, some of the displaced persons are returning home. However, in many places there is still a frosty relationship between Christians and Muslims on account of betrayal and broken trust. Traumatised people returning home face not only destroyed property and lost loved ones, but uncertainty in relationships with their neighbours. In the midst of this situation, the greater work of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction largely remains an uncharted territory for the Nigerian government. The magnitude of reconstruction work that is waiting to be carried out – of schools, hospitals, police stations, churches, mosques, homes and other public infrastructure and social utilities destroyed by Boko Haram is something we are still to fully comprehend.

Amidst these challenges, Father George Ehusani perceived the greater need for healing of traumatised displaced persons and rose up to the occasion. Through his Lux Terra Leadership Foundation in Abuja, and the Institute for Psycho-Spiritual Therapy in Nairobi, Kenya, he harnessed the needed human, intellectual, psycho-spiritual and pedagogical resources to organise a series of trauma-healing sessions for religious, traditional, and community leaders as well as emergency relief workers, social workers and volunteers functioning in the affected states. Some of the Christian and Muslims participants in the training programme were themselves victims of the Boko Haram insurgency at some point. They were taken through a set of spiritual and psychotherapeutic pathways towards facilitating trauma healing and trauma resilience in themselves and in those they work with. The training sessions also included the imperative of individual and collective forgiveness for the healing of emotional and psychological wounds, and towards reconciliation and lasting peace.

For Father Ehusani, reconciliation is not a choice but a necessity, if we are to transcend the hurts and mistakes of the past, and to avoid being susceptible to the danger of a new infection of hate and violence. The primary goal is to see that society is healed and the process that brings about this healing is reconciliation. Although reconciliation is a very painful process, it is necessary because it is the only process that will bring about healing. It is with this understanding that the South African Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Peace Laureate, Desmond Mpilo Tutu made “No Future Without Forgiveness” the title of his 1999 book.

Against this backdrop, Father Ehusani does not exclude the possibility of traumatised victims helping their compatriots to come to terms with their existential situation. This approach draws from the psycho-spiritual thought of the great Dutch Catholic priest and social activist, Henri J.B. Nouwen. In his book, The Wounded Healer, originally published in 1972, Nouwen brings clarity to the issue of how to minister to a suffering world and to suffering humanity. In his view, the service that Christians give to the world must spring forth from recognising in their hearts the sufferings of our time, and making that recognition the starting point of their service: “Whether we try to enter into a dislocated world, relate to a convulsive generation, or speak to a dying person, our service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which it speaks.” In other words, Christians have to make their own wounds available as a source of healing to the world.

Nouwen also speaks about the need for us to articulate the challenges of the present moment. For him, compassion, contemplation, prayer, hospitality and community are avenues by which we can attend to the healing of human wounds. In a world of mercilessness, compassion is the answer. In a world of mindless activism, contemplation is the answer. In a world of hopelessness, faith in the power and value of prayer is the answer. In a world of lack of care, hospitality is the answer. In a world of loneliness, community is the answer. For the Christian, the beginning and end of the leadership he gives to the world lies in giving one’s life for others. It entails, for Nouwen, “the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.”

The tragedy of Christian ministry today in our broken and fragmented world is the fact that “many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant people who do not want to burn their fingers.” Such ministers are unable or unwilling to express their feelings of affection, anger, hostility or sympathy. But the truth is that “none of us can help anyone without really becoming involved, without entering with our whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded, or even destroyed in the process.”

Pope Francis has said that many people looking for spiritual health and healing today are mostly looking for someone who cares to listen to them: “Mostly, people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties.” He calls this listening attitude the “apostolate of the ear.” We have to regain this ability to become concerned, connected and sensitive to the genuine human needs of others. In his 2016 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis addressed this loss of human sensitivity in our attitude to people who are suffering. He calls this attitude “a culture of indifference.” This mentality is manifested in “people who close their hearts to the needs of others, who close their eyes to what is happening around them, who turn aside to avoid encountering other people’s problems.”

Father Ehusani clearly understands all of these and has taken the better option. He has put his vast knowledge, skills and expertise at the service of healing the trauma of victims of Boko Haram. This has made a major positive impact towards the healing of victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, as well as victims of ethno-religious conflicts in the other states of Northern Nigeria. On April 4, 2017, this pioneering work of trauma healing propagated by Father Ehusani received international recognition when the Konrad Adenauer Foundation conferred on him the 2017 Prize of their International Solidarity Fund at the Konrad Adenauer Academy in Berlin, Germany. This recognition highlights and exalts the human possibilities for reconciliation and redemption that arise from the ashes of ruin and destruction. With many more prophetic leaders like Father Ehusani, we can reinforce the peace building and therapeutic potentials of religion against the tendency today to use religion for bloodshed and destruction.

Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.



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