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Nigeria: Celebrating the lives of three fallen heroes

15 Mar 2018


On 1 March, Dr. Kachi, Yawe and Ibrahim, aid workers with the United Nations, were killed in an attack by a non-state armed group, in the town of Rann, Borno State, near the border with Cameroon. They died as they lived, as heroes, serving the people affected by conflict in one of the most remote and hard to reach areas of north-east Nigeria.

“The horrific and gratuitous nature of the Rann attack has struck us with profound grief and shocked us to our core,” said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon. “We remember our friends not for what was lost with their passing, but for how they used their short time in this world to make a difference and improve the lives of others.”

Dr. Kachi, 33

Doctor Izuogu Anthony Onyedikachi was from Imo State, and the 10th of 11 children. Everyone called him “Kachi”. In 2015, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Surgery, here, at the University of Maiduguri.

When he started working with UNICEF less than a year ago, leading the health and nutritional response in Rann, it was his very first official job as a medical doctor.

“He was cordial and committed to bringing people together to provide the women and children in Rann the best possible health services,” said Mr. Mohammed M. Fall, UNICEF Country Representative for Nigeria.

Because of Kachi’s training and instinctive understanding of the humanitarian response, he also quickly became the inter-sector coordinator for the locality, supported by OCHA, an additional responsibility that he accepted without hesitation as he felt it would help improve the overall living conditions of the people in Rann, beyond medical care.

As the security situation deteriorated in the area, Dr. Kachi was offered many times to be moved to an easier location but he chose again and again to stand by his people. “This is where I’m needed”, he told his supervisor.

Through the 2017 rainy season, for months on end, when food supplies, clean water and other basic things could not reach Rann, Dr. Kachi endured the hardship and deprivations and repeatedly placed the comfort of others ahead of his own.

When hostilities intensified in December, he was asked once again if he and his colleague, nurse Alice, wanted to move to a different location and he once again rejected the offer: “You can’t be serious,” he said, “we just finally started providing ante-natal care. We have to stay.”
“No words can describe this kind of courage, determination and unconditional generosity,” said Mr. Edward Kallon.

Yawe, 28

Emmanuel Yawe Sonter was originally from Benue State. Trained as an economist and an alumnus of the University of Maiduguri, he ended up dedicating his entire professional career to volunteering for various causes, starting as a polio vaccinator for three years.

Yawe, as everyone called him, went on to volunteering for the Care Trust Foundation, in Benue, where his mission was to raise awareness on the importance of girls’ education, and HIV/AIDS prevention and management. In 2016, he joined the humanitarian response in Borno and, with the NEEM Foundation, he helped dozens of children by providing psycho-social support to boys and girls associated with armed groups and armed forces. His strong character and his remarkable team spirit did not go unnoticed: in early 2017, he was recruited by Action Against Hunger to support their efforts against malnutrition in Maiduguri.

For the past eight months, he worked with IOM as a camp facilitator. Yawe worked around the clock for the people in Rann. His colleague Hosea said: “He was the first to wake us up every day, and he would never tell us he was tired”. His smile, his positive spirit, and his constant focus on finding ways to address the complaints of displaced families, have stayed with all who had the privilege to see him in action.

But Yawe was much more than just a dedicated aid worker. “He was an empathic person who saw the best in people; he cared, he showed compassion and he found joy in humanitarianism,” said Ms. Enira Krdzalic, IOM’s Chief of Mission.

He leaves behind his wife, Joy, his son Nathan who is 3-years-old, and his daughter Nuella who is 1-year-old.

Ibrahim, 29

Ibrahim Lawan (far right) was from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, though he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yobe State University, in Damaturu. Trained as a social worker also, he joined the humanitarian response in north-east Nigeria only three months ago, as a site facilitator with IOM.

“Ibrahim was loved by all who were lucky to work with him. His gentle soul, his humility and his constant wish to learn from others are remembered,” said Mr. Edward Kallon. According to his colleagues, he carried out his work with patience, calm and above all, true kindness. His colleague Fati recalls meeting him on the day she was called for her interview with IOM. “We instantly became close as if we both came from the same family,” she said.

“We will miss his generosity and friendship, but most of all, his thoughtfulness,” said Ms. Enira Krdzalic.

Ibrahim had lost his elder sister earlier this year. After the funeral, he nonetheless bravely re-deployed to Rann, ready to serve despite the grief his family was undergoing.

Ibrahim was hoping to get married soon and start his own family. “His life was unfairly cut too short, too soon,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon.

North-east Nigeria has been grappling with a brutal conflict for nine years, which has claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people and left 7.7 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid. Civilians bear the brunt of this conflict and humanitarian workers continue to risk their lives daily to meet their people's most basic needs.