In April, Kano State Government announced a decision to adopt 100 kids orphaned by the Boko Haram insurgency. As part of the package, the children would be trained in special schools from primary to tertiary levels. Looking emaciated and worn out, it was immediately clear that in their short lives, they have seen too much. Many of the children, with age ranging from three to six years were so young that they could not even remember their own names, that of their parents and where they hailed from. None knew why or how they became orphans or even made the 750-kilometre journey from Maiduguri, in the North East to Kano. They were lucky because all things being equal, their future is already guaranteed. Most of the millions already orphaned like them or would be orphaned like them have their fate currently hanging in the balance.
Although there is no reliable data on the overall number of children orphaned by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s North East, a reasonable estimate will put it at least 1 million. In May 2014, the Catholic Church in Maiduguri disclosed that it had 1,500 orphans. The Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) recently organised a fact finding trip to parts of the North East and other areas in the country where the impact of displacement due to terrorism is being felt. The trip highlighted the issues concerning orphans and what is likely to be their fate after Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps would have been disbanded in a country where social security safety net has not been institutionalised.
The Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Maiduguri, turned into an IDP camp since October 2014 houses only women and children. It has a population of 6,149 as at August 21, 2015. Of this figure, 3,614 are children and 40% or 1,446 of these are orphans. In the North East alone, there are at least 30 officially recognised IDP camps. There are others not recognised while camps have sprung up in many other towns and cities outside the North East in places like Abuja, Kano and Edo State. Thousands of Nigerians are also currently refugees in neighbouring countries.
A chat with a few of the orphans revealed the pathetic story of many of them while also teaching that a coordinated strategy must be fashioned to deal with the time bomb.
There was a beautiful young girl around 10 years old wearing a black hijab, the type that cascades from head to torso. She stood with an empty stare into space, betraying no emotion. One of the camp officials said “oh that girl? Her name is Hauwa; her head no correct again” meaning that she had become psychotic. He then went ahead to narrate to us Hauwa’s story. Terrorists invaded their community and were going from house to house killing the occupants and torching their houses. They got to Hauwa’s home and ordered her father to be on his knees. She watched from a corner as her beloved father was slaughtered like a ram by the insurgents while her mother was raped in turns and later killed while the girl was watching. She later joined scores of other orphaned children and few women to trek all the way to safety.
Moved by this horrifying story however, a reporter approached Hauwa and spoke with her. He called her name and asked if she would take a picture with him; and that did it. The positive answer came in the form of Hauwa nodding her head, still not betraying any emotion. Photograph taken, the ice was broken and the following dialogue ensued between him Hauwa in Hausa language:
Journalist: How are you?
Hauwa: Am not fine
Journalist: Why? Are you sick?
Journalist: Are you hungry?
Journalist: Then what is it?
Hauwa: (after a long silence) I saw them killing my father and my mother…
Apparently, the poor little girl whose ‘head is no longer correct’ was still traumatised by the experience of seeing her beloved parents killed in the most cruel manner thus triggering psychological disorder now manifesting in unstable and sometimes anti-social behaviour. Her situation highlights the need for governments and the relevant stakeholders to arrange for psychologists and counsellors to be embedded in IDP camp managements.
There is also the young boy Baba who was forced to trek 75 kilometres from Bama to Maiduguri in order to escape rampaging terrorists who killed both his parents along with many others in his community. Wearing an oversized and dirty white and green jersey of the Super Eagles, the about seven year old boy was busy scavenging for survival by asking for help from visitors.
There was also little Nana Kashim. Nana is said to be seven months old. Her father was slaughtered by insurgents but her mother who was then heavily pregnant with her managed to escape. She, along with some others trekked 75 kilometres from Bama to IDP camp in Maiduguri. Two days after, she made it to the camp. She immediately went into labour and gave birth to Nana. A day after she delivered her baby, she died. Nana is still hanging on at the camp where caregivers are taking care of her. She has been adopted.
There is also the case of the woman quoted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees who picked up a child by the road as she fled terrorists. According to her “I live in Doro Baga, Nigeria. As I fled, I picked up this boy crying beside his dead mother. At 6am we heard the sounds of guns, When they arrived for us an hour later, we started to run. They came after us and killed many people. I saw the boy and took him with me and my children, onto my husband’s small canoe out into Lake Chad. We stayed on a small island for three days, with nothing to eat, until hunger forced us to leave. I know the family of the child. I know the father but I do not know where they went or what happened.”
But the question is what will happen to these ones after Boko Haram is defeated and camps are dismantled. There is the need for Nigerians especially from zones not affected by insurgency to cater for these children by adopting some of them.
Many years ago, I came across the hostel built by late Chief Lawrence Omole in Ilesa, Osun State housing indigent young men and women, which he was caring for educationally and socially. It is a mode that other wealthy individuals and corporate organisations interested in philanthropy could adopt.
The state governments involved could also establish an agency to take care of these children as even as many children are themselves currently taking care of their younger ones in the various camps.