By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
Nollywood screen goddess, Bimbo Akintola nurses another passion, besides hugging the camera. As humanitarian Ambassador for Oxfam in Nigeria the talented actress has become an emotive campaigner for urgent national and global action to improve the distressing plight of victims of Boko Haram war in the North East.
Her concern stems from her numerous visits to the war ravaged part of the country, where humanitarian crisis is looming.
Bimbo has been trying to raise awareness on the impact of the conflict on women and children.
In a chat with Saturday Sun, she speaks on her experience and what she feels should be done to address the situation in the area. Bimbo says the government needs to do more. She says: “I have always believed in giving back. No matter what position you are in, you can always positively affect lives around you. The plight of the girl child and women in Nigeria/Africa has always been a concern and I have lent my voice to the journey.
“My visits to the North East have been with Oxfam Nigeria, not only because I am their ambassador, but also because I felt helpless. I wanted more information, truthful information. When the Chibok girls were kidnapped, like everyone, we buried our heads in the sand, I could not process the idea of little girls taken from their homes, taken from their families and being held by Boko Haram.
I couldn’t process how they ate, how they slept, or even what was happening to them. It was too much for my mind to take. Not being able to do anything to bring them back home made me feel a failure at some levels. So, I decided that the North East was an important place to go, not only to see the real situations happening there, but to also help.”
Plea for help
Bimbo has since plunged into campaigning for positive action, starting with her fellow thespians in the movie industry.
Her words: “I haven’t tried convincing everyone, but I have tried to just educate everyone on what I have seen. I tell people that 2.6 million people in the North East including Niger, Chad and Cameroon have been forced to flee their homes. Leaving nearly 11 million people in need of emergency aid. Farmers unable to farm and unable to get humanitarian aid, food scarcity, people (women and children) going hungry and dying everyday.
Recounting her experience to some parts of the beleaguered region including Michika, Bimbo says: “I saw what eight years of violent conflict, of military and Boko Haram operations had done to the North East. There have been alarming levels of sexual violence, human rights abuses and forced recruitments of even young children.
I saw bridges that had been bombed, homes riddled with bullets, water and wells contaminated with dead bodies. I saw hunger, on the faces of the young and the old. I saw the strength in the faces of a people unconquered. This people have gone back to their homes to try and start all over without aid, without help. They had gone back to rebuild their lives.
Specifically, she denounces the prevalent hunger and other ill effects of the insurgency on the people, regretting that the indigenes were unable to eat or even feed their children due to food scarcity. She adds: “Since the conflict began over 20,000 people have been killed and an estimated 2,000 women and girls have been abducted. In some conflict affected areas like Michika , this is the fourth year without harvest. Food prices are soaring in the markets.
Restrictions by the government have exacerbated the situation. As part of military operations, communities have been relocated from their homes to areas that lack basic services, jobs or means of survival. Farmlands, rivers and lakes have been declared off limit, major markets have been closed down. Means of transport, like bikes have been banned, cutting people off from work, living and access to food.”
However, the actress regrets that the security situation remains fragile, as violence continues making it difficult for Oxfam and other agencies to get help to those in need. According to her, suicide bombers have targeted camps, while areas under Boko Haram control are inaccessible to any humanitarian agencies.
High and low moments
“Oxfam is one of the highs for me on any of my trips to the North East,” Bimbo declares, with justification. “They are providing life-saving support in Nigeria, Niger and Chad. Oxfam is providing clean drinking water and sanitation in camps, which has helped to prevent the spread of diseases.”
For her, however, the lows are that across the Lake Chad basin countries, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, 7.1 million (by June 2017) are severely food insecure, with 4.7 million of them in Nigeria and about 44,000 in famine -like conditions. Also, she paints a gory picture when she says: “There are 2.6 million people displaced – 1.9 million inside Nigeria. In Nigeria 450,000 children will suffer acute malnutrition this year, without treatment, 75,000 children are likely to die. That is 1 in every 5 children will die. Some of the world’s poorest people carry the burden of this crisis. The North East of Nigeria is this country’s least developed region.
These are areas of poverty, lacking the infrastructure and resources to deal with a crisis of this scale. You see destruction of entire villages, roads, schools and health facilities. People are in urgent need of food, water, medical care, shelter and safety. Vast majority of people who have fled their homes are living in impoverished communities struggling to get by.
She notes that with Nigerian troops recapturing territory from Boko Haram, including previously cut -off areas becoming more accessible, huge levels of need are being revealed. The actress, therefore, challenges government to address the root cause of the conflict and find a comprehensive solution to the crisis by all means possible. The government, she says, must protect the lives of its citizens.
She urges the Nigerian authorities and the International community to think beyond military and political agenda, stressing that: “Efforts should be put behind addressing the economic, political and social problems that have led to the conflicts. Urgent humanitarian response is required; Oxfam and other agencies need access to vulnerable communities to deliver aid to them. Oxfam works in Adamawa and Borno providing people with emergency food support, clean water, better sanitation including construction of showers and repairing toilets and making sure people have areas to wash their hands.”
She adds: “Community protection groups for women are giving information about access to support facilities for those who have suffered sexual violence, distributing food and cooking equipment, as well as providing seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. Oxfam has reached over 245,000 people in Nigeria since October 2016, but there is still so much to be done. I am using this opportunity to call on every Nigerian and international organisations to please help us.”
Bimbo says her project tagged ‘voices4idps’ is using different faces in the film industry to carry the message across on the need for collaboration and cooperation to tackle the problem head -on. She lists among the actor/artiste-participants Joke Silva, Bishop Okon, OguwsBaba the comedian, Funky Mallam, KunleFawole, Yvonne Jegede Fawole, Chelsea Eze, Bidemi Kosoko, Mercy Johnson, ElvinaIbru, Bolanle Ninalowo, Yomi Fash- Lanso and so many others.