Boko Haram: Travails of Children in North East Nigeria

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Children at one of Nigeria's IDPs

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Nigeria will mark the Children’s Day on May 27, amidst woeful life of many kids in the crisis ridden North Eastern part of the country, who have suffered tremendously because of the Boko Haram insurgency

By Maureen Chigbo  |  May 30, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

ON May 27, Nigeria will be celebrating another children’s day. Many of the children in various part of the country will be receiving special treatment and accolades. This is the way it should be. But unfortunately, this is not the lot of other children who are caught up in crisis regions across the globe, especially in the north eastern part of Nigeria. These set of children have been trapped for years in the lowly Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps because of the Boko Haram insurgency that has been on in the country since 2009.

Many of these children are caught up in the humanitarian crisis that is being witnessed in most of the IDPs camps due to the unabated insecurity in Nigeria and other Africa States. In the IDP camps, poverty, squalor of the worsen kind, lack of education facilities, social amenities and other infrastructure that can make life livable are the lot of the children there.

In addition, insecurity, drug abuse and other social vices stare them in the face. This unsavoury situation has affected the lives of children born in the camps adversely. Official statistics showed that more than 15,000 children were born in 2015 in the IDP camps in the North.

The worst thing that welcomes these children into the world are horrific reports of violent attacks at some of the IDP carried out by child suicide bombers. On January 30, the New York Post reported how a survivor hidden in a tree said he watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death among 86 people who officials say died during an attack by Nigeria’s homegrown Islamic extremists.

Buhari
Buhari

Scores of charred corpses and bodies with bullet wounds littered the streets from Saturday night’s attack on Dalori village and two nearby camps housing 25,000 refugees, according to survivors and soldiers at the scene just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the biggest city in Nigeria’s northeast. The shooting, burning and explosions from three suicide bombers continued for nearly four hours in the unprotected area, a survivor, Alamin Bakura said, weeping in a telephone call to the Associated Press. He said several of his family members were killed or wounded.

The violence continued as three female suicide bombers blew up among people who managed to flee to neighboring Gamori village, killing many people. According to a soldier at the scene, who insisted on anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak to journalists. The female bomber is likely to be one of the children who are victims of violence ridden North eastern Nigeria.

This scenario goes to show that the IDP camps are not even secure havens for already traumatised children who are being haboured there. For one thing, most of the social amenities and infrastructure such as good schools which the children need for sound education to prepare them for their future are nearly absent. Consequently, the future of children born in the IDPs or in other conflict situations are in jeopardy, as they are likely to be unable to compete effectively with other children born in normal settings.

Nowhere is the appalling lifestyle of children more evident than in the Internally Displaced Persons in Uhogua, Benin City, Edo state. The pitiable situation made the visiting gap toothed Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, who often tugs a smile to weep on February 6, because of the state of the children who are mostly orphans. “It is painful, very painful. You may remember how you left and the people you left behind. Forty percent of you here are orphans. You may be tempted to always cast your mind back over what happened to you. Once you are stuck in that you will be filled with bitterness and anger and if that happens you can’t make progress. I know it is difficult but we have to take our minds off it,” Dogara told the bemused children. He urged them to put their trust in God because “where people have trusted God there is no situation that God cannot change.”

The orphans in Edo may be too young to comprehend precisely what Dogara is saying. But over the past two years, insecurity caused by the conflict in the Lake Chad region has deteriorated into a worsening humanitarian crisis. Over 2.9 million people – including around 1.4 million children – have fled the violence.

In North East Nigeria alone, more than 1.1 million children – over half of them under five years old – have been forced to flee their homes. An additional 249,320 children have been uprooted in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This influx puts additional strain on hosting communities that were already among the poorest in the world before the crisis.

According to the United Nations Fund for Children, UNICEF, children are bearing the brunt of the conflict – many have been killed, subjected to unimaginable violence and abuse; they are losing their homes, being recruited by armed groups, separated from their families. In addition, violence and attacks against civilian populations in North East Nigeria and neighboring countries have forced more than 1 million children out of school.

There are growing reports of the use of children in bombing attacks. During the period from January to October 2015, children – the vast majority girls – were used in at least 27 so-called “suicide” bombing attacks in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger.

Dogara
Dogara

“It’s important to say that these children are victims, not perpetrators. In 2015, we saw a sharp increase in the frequency of bombing incidents. The girls are used to carry bombs that are strapped to their bodies and frequently detonated remotely in public places. Government reports indicate that these children are, in most cases, unaware of the explosives they are carrying. In fact, they should not be referred to as ‘suicide bombers;’ many are unaware of what will happen, and  even those children who knowingly set off explosives attached to their bodies are too young to be able to make informed and rational decisions about such actions,” says UNICEF.

“Children are trapped in the violence and bear the brunt of the conflict; many are killed or subjected to unimaginable atrocities, separated from their families, subjected to sexual violence, recruited by armed groups and held in detention. Already chronically affected by food insecurity, these populations lack access to food and safe drinking water, as well as health, education social services.” UNICEF said.

The height of the nightmare children go through in conflict ridden areas was the abduction of 276 girls on April 14, 2014, from their school in Chibok, Borno State, in North East Nigeria. To date, at least 201 of the victims, including 103 girls under the age 18 at the time of the event, are still missing. Interestingly, two of the Chibok girls have been rescued by Nigerian troops on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Amina Ali, one of the girls rescued on Tuesday, May 17, came back with a four-month old baby at such a tender age of 19. The second girl Serah Luka who is now in a hospital in Borno as at the time of this write up, look just forlorn when she was found.

However, the number of children affected by the crisis goes much beyond the girls abducted in Chibok. Since then, scores of other girls and boys have gone missing – abducted, recruited by armed forces, forced to flee violence. Thousands of others have been killed or subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse.  Recently, there was the harrowing report that children were burnt alive by Boko Haram in the North East. There are also cases of kidnap of young girls from the southern part of Nigeria by misguided elements from the North. The children are forcefully converted into Islam and married off to their abductors. For instance, Ese Oruru from Bayelsa state who was released after a nationwide outcry was discovered to be five months pregnant.

This notwithstanding, there has been attempt to ameliorate the conditions of children in crisis regions especially those in the internally displaced camps. For instance, the United Nations Fund for Children, UNICEF, which has been collaborating with both the federal and state governments in Nigeria to render assistance in the conflict zones is of the view that conflict has been a huge blow for education in the region.

“Violence has kept many children out of the classroom for more than a year, putting them at risk of dropping out of school altogether. The longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups. The challenge is to keep children safe without interrupting their schooling,” according to information provided to Realnews by Doune Porter, UNICEF chief communication officer in Niger.

Chibok schoolgirls
Chibok schoolgirls

There are areas that have not been reached with humanitarian assistance because of insecurity and schools remain closed in those areas. In safer areas where schools have been able to reopen, there is need to be prepared against any eventual attacks by becoming part of the early warning systems in the community. This also means having response plans in place and evacuation plans ready so that children and teachers are prepared to hide or to quickly move to a safer location in case of an attack. All of this requires preparation, education and participation of students in a process where they identify with their teachers and parents the risks and vulnerabilities of their school and prepare a response to limit the effect of an attack on the school, UNICEF said.

This suggests that where appropriate, community-based security systems can also be put in place and adequately trained civilian personnel can be used to provide security. The UNICEF discourages the use of military forces for the protection of schools, in line with the ‘Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict’.

The governments of Nigeria, Chad and Niger have endorsed the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’ (Oslo, May 2015) and committed to establishing and reinforcing mechanisms to protect schools.

Due to the security situation, humanitarian access to people in need remains highly difficult in the Far North Region and in some areas close to the border with Central Africa Republic. This results in difficulties for UNICEF and humanitarians partners to procure assistance to people in need.

To compound the situation, resources are not streaming in from donor agencies and governments both at state and national level are already suffering from dwindling revenue from crude oil whose price has tumbled to about $41 per barrel compared to the above $100 it sold in 2014.  Nigerian budgeted only N10 billion for internally displaced persons in the 2016 budget, an amount considered to be grossly insufficient for the job that needs to be done.

In 2015, UNICEF received only 44 per cent of $50.4 million required for its humanitarian response across the Lake Chad region. For 2016, the funding required for UNICEF humanitarian response across the Lake Chad region is $85.4 million, with almost double the level of needs in Nigeria over 2015.“With more internally displaced persons and refugees combined with a shortfall in resources, our ability to deliver lifesaving assistance on the ground is now seriously compromised,” UNICEF says.

Against this background, many children in the camps may not find much to be happy about as the children’s day is being celebrated in the country. The only silver lining is that they are alive and the hope that their situation will improve in the nearest future.

—  May 30, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT

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