Sunday, 3rd December 2023

How acknowledging people’s traumas in Bauchi helps them heal

The first time I was robbed was a difficult but mildly comical affair. In a car park in London, a hooded boy, far taller and bigger than I was, grabbed me in a choke-hold and demanded...


The first time I was robbed was a difficult but mildly comical affair. In a car park in London, a hooded boy, far taller and bigger than I was, grabbed me in a choke-hold and demanded, although quite politely, that I give him my phone. It was a Motorola 350, a silver weirdly shaped phone that I had become incredibly fond of. I was small and wiry at 13 and an easy target. I tried to explain to him that the phone was new, bought with my parents’ money, that I would have to explain to them how I’d lost it so soon. We debated this a bit before he sprinted off with it.

The second time I was robbed however was less diplomatic. The boys had knives this time, tapping them against my cheek. What I lost to them was trivial. Again, a phone, my wallet, things that were easily replaceable. But beyond those things, I lost a lack of fear. Either walking home from school, or on a bus with too few people, or in irrational circumstances like a queue with people behind me at an ATM or in a store, I would struggle to feel settled. Now, over 13 years later, those fears still resurface sometimes. I don’t feel the same degree of fear, but I’m not completely rid of it.

I thought about my relatively trivial trauma when listening to members of the community led NGO called ECWA in Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi State. In an open space next to a mosque, the group, with both Christians and Muslims retold what they had lost and suffered during the ethno-religious violence prevalent mainly in Jos but also in surrounding cities from 2001-2013.

Their traumas are far more visceral and scarring than mine. In both instances the police in London set up investigations. It didn’t lead to any prosecutions but there was at the least an acknowledgement that I had been wronged, and something was being done about it. But in Bauchi, as with many such injustices in Nigeria, this acknowledgment, or regard for what people have gone through is not provided for by state institutions.

The NGO was formed by Dr. David Abidan, and is led by a partnership between Muslim and Christian leaders. The group formed in response to the spiral of reprisal attacks between mainly Muslim and Christian communities in Bauchi. The local mosque was burnt as were churches, homes, and much of the market place. But the partnership between key religious leaders, administered by Dr. Abidan, meant that they could work to achieve a relative peace.

When a Muslim farmer’s cattle or farmland was attacked, Christian leaders would get youths in Christian communities to help rebuild and re-plant. The local Mosque in the mainly Christian area of Tafawa Balewa, which was destroyed by Christian youths has now been rebuilt with the help of Christians in the area.

When Christian homes were destroyed, Muslims would compensate or help in the rebuilding. Even though a fraught peace but it is administered because of the invaluable shared forum that ECWA provides.

Many of the members of ECWA have lost family and property to the violence. Hundreds of people died in constant attacks, leaving hundreds more displaced, homeless or without a means of livelihood. Tafawa Balewa is still partially segregated, but over time, decreasingly so. In ECWA, people get a chance to see how people they were in contention with are essentially the same as them. Both communities have lost loved ones and are dealing with the consequences of it.

The group allows those who lost breadwinners in their family a financial safety net, making it easier to heal. People have gone through much but it is acknowledged, and listened to, even if the hurt is still there.

Tafawa Balewa has moved on from the near constant attacks but there is still a degree of segregation. The market is now a free space between Christians and Muslims but the Muslims who owned shops there on the whole haven’t yet moved back. In ECWA, a Christian widow explains to me that whilst she is grateful for the help of Muslim leaders in ECWA and no longer sees Muslims as a threat, it will take a while before she can countenance living side by side Muslims again.

Nigeria is often a place where people suffer terribly yet their suffering is scarcely acknowledged or addressed. In several communities affected by the religious violence, the presence of shared forums like ECWA is not there. People have gone from killing each other to living in segregated pockets, with little transition, or honest dialogue, or justice.

Trivial trauma’s like my own never really go away, and so where they are more severe, the need for empathy, justice and acknowledgment is important. It doesn’t erode what happened or the fears or consequences that those events have caused. But it makes living with it easier. Acknowledgement is an important aspect of conflict resolution and healing especially in multi-ethnic communities still living in fear and suspicion of each other.

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