From the air the city looks like any other on a Sunday afternoon-many children were out playing soccer and thousands of motorcycles could be seen moving throughout the city.
But at the moment, this city -- Yola -- is one that many consider to be ground zero for the recent violence in Nigeria. Located in Adamawa State in the northeastern part of the country, it is also the home of one of the only American-style universities on the continent: the American University of Nigeria.
On Friday approximately eight people were killed in a local Church, a pattern of violence that has increased in Churches and mosques throughout the country. CNN, BBC and others have said that Nigeria is "on the brink" and perhaps headed for civil war. Strangely I have not seen any reporters in our city, and the few who were in Abuja were staying at and reporting from the local Hilton. Most reports have come from Lagos -- hundreds of miles away.
By watching international news reporting, it is easy to develop a distorted view of what is happening in any part of the world, and it is also possible to be too optimistic while living in a community. This I know: today Yola is calm, and children are outside playing. I passed people walking back from the market and Churches. Both Muslims and Christians waved at me when I pulled into my neighborhood, and we are getting ready to reopen our university for our spring semester.
Here is an excerpt from an email that I just sent to our university community:
As all of you know the security situation in Nigeria is cause for concern. I want to reassure you and your families that our first priority is the welfare of the AUN community -- faculty, students and staff.
I am back in Yola now and we are watching the situation very closely, and have taken several steps to improve campus security. Staff have been added, security experts from the US and Nigeria have been retained and above all we are gathering all information that might impact the security of the University.
For the moment things in Yola are calm (I have just come back from a tour of the city, faculty housing and our campus) and we are moving ahead with plans to start the semester on time. Should there be any threat or concern raised that changes this scenario we will immediately inform all members of the community. If there is a need to charter planes to bring back our students (both our secondary students as well as university students) faculty, and staff, we will do that and will inform you of your options.
Protection is primarily about being informed and aware of any risks. We will continue to issue periodic reports of the security situation on campus and keep all of you informed of any issues that may impact our collective safety.
Thank you for your support and calm during this difficult time for the country and our community. We need to all work together to insure that our lives and our very important educational mission are not compromised while at the same time being aware of what is happening around us.
Killing anywhere is abhorrent -- whether it is in Los Angeles where numerous people were gunned down by a disgruntled power employee or in Yola where people were killed at Church. Those of us privileged to work at AUN know that our educational mission and work in the community is one of the solutions to the violence and problems facing this big and important country.
The mission of the American University of Nigeria is to be the world's first "development university" contributing to improving lives of people in our community and country, and ensuring that our students understand and learn solutions to their country's problems. Our students teach literacy in prisons, work with orphans and HIV aids patients and teach local teachers how to use computers. It is only with education, employment and better access to health care that the problems facing Nigeria and many poor countries will be solved, and at AUN we will continue our important work.