By Zakariya Musa
Luka Tada was a district secretary of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) serving the District Church Council (DCC) Attagara in Gwoza Local Government in Borno State. He began his service as a district secretary before the Christian population of the area was forced out of Nigeria by the Boko Haram insurgents, and fled to Cameroon. Tada, a former carpenter, on receiving Christ embraced evangelism work among the villages around Mandara Moutain, such as Gavva, Kusarhe, Diyaghwe, Ghwa’a, Kunde, Bokko, and Chibok. He received pastoral training at Kulp Bible College, the EYN college in Kwarhi, and at John Guli Bible School in Michika in Adamawa State.
Among other surviving pastors in the area, he fled with his church members to Cameroon where UNICEF placed them in a camp in Minawawo. In 2014, the Cameroon government recorded tens of thousands of refugees in the camp, both Christians and Muslims. Since then Tada has been busy mediating between the refugees, who are mainly EYN members and Nigerian Brethren. In this interview, he tells more about their time in Cameroon:
What happened that moved you to Cameroon?
It started with Barawa, on Nov. 6, 2013, when Boko Haram attacked. Then they attacked Arboko, Baladgaghulza, Gavva, Ngoshe, then came back to Gavva. Afterward they attacked Chinene, Jubrilli, and Zamga. They attacked Attagara several times. Then in 2014 they arrived from the Sambisa Forest with about 300 motorcycles and 12 vehicles including 5 armored tankers. Before their arrival, they phoned that soldiers were coming for peace talks. We awaited them, not knowing they were Boko Haram. They killed 68 people and continued until the villagers and Boko Haram battled. On hearing that Attagara, as the main Christian town in the area, was ravaged, other villages ran to the mountains, to Cameroon, and to different directions.
How many people were killed in those churches, do you know?
In Zamga, Cholera killed 8 people and 1 died from snake bite. Other people moved to Mozogwo where the Cholera outbreak continued and killed 82 plus 68 in Zamga and Mozogwo, including those who died from hunger in the mountains.
Did you move at once or did you run in groups?
We ran in different directions, but other people eventually collided with Boko Haram on their way.
Tell us how you started life in Cameroon.
The Dughwade people first arrived the Minawawo camp, which was in the bush, and were asked to clear the bush. They were well fed at the beginning, even with meat and bread since they were not many people up until six months later when other groups arrived. Then there were no Muslims in the camp. When Boko Haram sacked Bama, Banki, and other Gwoza areas, we were mixed with Christians and Muslims together, to avoid forming violent groups in the camp.
How many church denominations are there in the camp?
First there were EYN members, followed by COCIN, Anglican, National Evangelical Church, ECWA, Redeemed Church of Christ, and Catholic Church–which arrived with 11, 000 people at once. These are the main denominations there in the camp.
How do you worship with such numbers?
Now that the number is large, I have divided them into six different worship places based on distance. The camp is about seven square kilometers.
Do you conduct church activities there, such as Women’s Fellowship, choir, Youth Fellowship, etc?
Yes. We have all the church groups that existed in our former churches in Nigeria.
Who feeds that large number of people?
It was not easy at the beginning, but later on experience was gained on food distribution. In the beginning, for example, you could find 5,000 people who had not gotten food after a distribution. But gradually it became easier. Now they have divided the crowd into three parts, with enough officials to manage us.
What achievement would you say people made in Cameroon?
People are getting education. The Cameroon government is taking it seriously. There is kindergarten, primary school, and secondary school. They have sponsored 12 teachers to go to university.
Tell us about children’s education in Cameroon, which is French speaking, when you are from an English speaking country?
They teach English. Most of the teachers come from Bamenda, an English speaking region in Cameroon, but they teach France as a subject.
Do you have enough teachers?
Who sponsors them?
The Cameroon government or UNICEF pays them.
As a parent, do you think the children are getting enough education?
Yes, they are. We can see from the performances of the children that they are being kept busy in learning. I am even learning French from my eight-year-old daughter.
Tell us about social activities such as marriage, market, etc.
The marketplace is going well. I am proud of many people who are doing something to help themselves through small-scale businesses. And the people of Cameroon are being patient with the crowd around their farms. They have concern for us despite the damages we can to do their farms.
Many people in the camp are even coming to Mubi in Nigeria to buy things to sell in Cameroon just to earn a living. We had issues when one set of soldiers asked the business-minded people from the camp to give them daily payments as they went to their business places, but this has been resolved. And that set of soldiers was transferred.
Marriages are taking place between tribes. We have conducted church marriages and we are happy as pastors. We have tried to avoid cost implications in marriages.
As a pastor what is your view on Muslim-Christian relationship in the camp?
In any group of people you can find violent people. We had some issues with those who came from Potocol and Gamboru Ngala, which I think was because they were not used to living with other religions like Christianity. But there is not much problem now, we are living cordially.
What are people’s expectations on their return to Nigeria?
People want to come back to Nigeria, but to their homelands, not to other places in Nigeria.
What are your main challenges?
No certainty of when to leave the camp. We don’t have enough water. There is no farm land to plant even some vegetables. And where to get firewood. There is no capital for many people who want to start small businesses. Disease goes around the camp when there is an outbreak.
Is the Nigerian government assisting you there?
Not really. There was a time they brought 300 bags of rice, cooking oil, and other things. It could not go anywhere in a population of about 80,000 people. On the church side, we still need our EYN leaders to visit us, and want our leaders to find farmland where people can go to farm.
— Zakariya Musa is on the communications staff of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).