Cosmas Omegoh

Many people hanging to life on the fringes of the North East region are living on the edge. This was the revelation at a recent two-day meeting of representatives of Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) in Abuja.

According to CHAN’s officials, the plight of the people mirrors the grim impact of years of Boko Haram insurgency and the unending onslaught of animal herders on the people.

Yearly, CHAN’s national and state advocacy committee members gather in Abuja to review their activities and plot new strategies.

At this year’s meeting, the challenges of mission hospitals in the North East region dominated attention.

A representative of the region covering Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Borno and Yobe states, Rev Robert Tombrokhei, gave chilly accounts which mirrored the compelling realities facing the people.

He lamented how the mission health workers are incessantly hampered by the unending wave of insecurity in the area, raising genuine fears that the residents need more than a mere miracle to be free.

His narrative erased the hope that the strength of the Boko Haram insurgents is on the wane. When that is added to the impact of regular conflict between the herdsmen and other rampaging hoodlums on the local people which erupts on a regular scale, the picture one gets is that the area is grossly unsafe.

In his narrative, Rev Tombrokhei said: “As the Boko Haram insurgency raged, health facilities in the region, especially our clinics and hospitals were completely destroyed.

“But we thank God for the Church of the Brethren in the United States. Their assistance has been awesome; they have been sending money for the reconstruction of some of the damaged facilities. And now, we are resuscitating some of them.

“But the other big challenge now is that the locals are not returning home.  Even the clinics we have managed to rebuild are experiencing low patronage because the majority of the people from the area are still languishing in various internally-displaced persons’ (IDP) camps.”

He regretted that everybody living in the crisis-prone area, including health workers, lives at the mercy of the Boko Haram insurgents, many of whom are

lurking around in the mountains and bushes.

According to him, “from time to time, they storm our facilities to harass the workers, steal food and medical supplies. Don’t forget that they also have medics who treat their wounded and sick colleagues.”

Recalling the level of damage done to health facilities in the area, he said: “The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria clinics in Shua, Michika and Madagali and the Catholic clinics in Shua and other areas around which were earlier razed to the ground by the insurgents are still the way they are. The insurgents carted away the equipment in the hospitals and stole their cars and motorcycles.”

The clergyman was unhappy that past administration in Adamawa State did little to help the people and the churches to rebuild their facilities. But he is hopeful that the present Adamawa State government will settle done fast and assist.

“Right now, people find themselves in difficult situations. When they are in dire need of healthcare, they travel long distances, some as far as 50 kilometres to either government or mission clinics that are still functional.

“But another tragedy is that sometimes the people don’t have the means to get to such clinics because they live in remote towns and villages.

“And what else do I say, the roads to such hospitals and clinics are extremely bad, especially now that we are in the rainy season. The pregnant women among them, the aged and the children are the worst affected.

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“Besides, the region features constant clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and local farmers. Everyone is on edge. When trouble erupts, no one is safe. So, people live in perpetual fear.

“And there are marauding hoodlums all over the place; they attack at will intending to steal. They also kidnap for ransom. We still have pockets of insurgents snatching anyone in sight whether they are health workers or locals.”

As the chairman of CHAN Adamawa State Advocacy Committee, he appealed to the federal and state governments to do something urgent to alleviate the plight of the people living in Adamawa.

“Insecurity is our big challenge. If security is restored to the area, the people in IDP camps will return home. The churches will begin to reconstruct their hospitals and clinics and the people settle down to put their bits and pieces together and be ready to move on.”

He also felt for the refugees returning from Cameroon, regretting that they were only walking into terrible situations, which their counterparts in various IDP camps are facing at the moment.

“As a healthcare worker and a clergyman, I regularly visit various IDP camps in Adamawa State. The situation there is grim. The IDPs are not being taken good care of in terms of accommodation and feeding. They are, to say the least, victims of corruption in this country,” he said.

His counterpart, Felixson, who is CHAN’s Zone A, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, and a TV host based in Jalingo, buttressed the frightening security situation in the area and how it hampers healthcare delivery in the zone.

“You need to pity the locals still living in Gembu area on the Mambila Plateau. No one is safe going there because of the high level of insecurity in the area. The Fulani herders in the zone are always on the rampage.

“The people are simply in a world of their own with no access to any form of healthcare. Some of our health clinics in that area have closed down because of insecurity,” he lamented.

In his short admonition, CHAN President, Col. Dr Andrew Imogu, enjoined the representatives from various states to keep faith alive.

“Amid the mounting challenges, we have to persevere,” he said. “Our mandate is not social, neither is it government mandate. Our mandate is our Lord Jesus Christ. With Him in mind, we will continue to work effectively for the good of the poor in our midst.”

Similarly, CHAN’s new Secretary-General, Mr Mike Ida, told the representatives not to despair.

“We are making progress,” he said. “We need to bring these challenges bedevilling the poor we serve to the public domain.

“That is why we must continue to strategise with the Federal and state governments so that they can assist us in our avowed duty of providing quality health care at the grassroots.

“If we are providing about 40 per cent of the health care needs of the people, governments and various donor agencies and philanthropic Nigerians need to listen to our pleas for assistance,” he said.

CHAN’s National Advocacy Committee Chairman, Dr Wale Okediran, a former federal lawmaker, said the plight of many living in hard-to-reach- communities in the country calls for increased collaboration with various faith-based agencies and international and local donor agencies. He said there was the need to once again, approach the National Assembly with a bill seeking to have a portion of the Federal government budget dedicated to faith-based healthcare institutions for them to be able to cater for the health needs of the poor.

In the course of the meeting, CHAN’s 2nd Vice President, Dr Zipporah Kparnor, gave a lecture bordering on the National Health Act and what it holds for the body.

Present at the event were various medical doctors, Catholic and Anglican clergymen, Catholic reverend sisters, pastors of various churches and lay people representing various mission hospitals scattered across the country.