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For­mer child sol­diers fight­ing big­ger bat­tle than Boko Haram

Weekly Trust - - Front Page - Shehu Abubakar, Maiduguri

Af­ter the fall of Sam­bisa For­est, which sym­bol­ized the be­gin­ning of the end of ter­ror­ist sect Boko Haram, a ma­jor prob­lem that still lingers is the in­flux of young­sters, male and fe­male, who were trained and armed by the group as fight­ers, into com­mu­ni­ties of Borno State. Wan­der­ing unac­com­pa­nied, these for­mer ‘child sol­diers’, mostly teenagers, have ei­ther been en­gaged in at­tack­ing and raid­ing com­mu­ni­ties, killing in the process, among other vi­o­lent crimes.

Mam­man, 16, is one of the known for­mer child sol­diers of Boko Haram, and he be­came pop­u­lar along Baga Road in Maiduguri be­cause of sev­eral gun­han­dling skills he demon­strates, from how to han­dle them, to un­cou­pling and as­sem­bling them. He is also skilled at ma­neu­ver­ing and is a dogged fighter. In demon­strat­ing these skills to the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of sol­diers who ad­mit that some of his skills were ac­tu­ally mil­i­tary-like, Mam­man said he learnt them dur­ing in­ten­sive train­ing he had re­ceived at the bor­der be­tween Nige­ria and Chad when he was a Boko Haram fighter.

“My fa­ther is a lorry driver. I was a con­duc­tor of an­other man’s ve­hi­cle and we car­ried goods des­tined for La­gos when the in­sur­gents who blocked the Maiduguri-Da­maturu road in­ter­cepted us and took me to their camp at a bush not too far from Maiduguri. I soon be­gan to ac­com­pany the in­sur­gents to raid vil­lages in Marte and Dikwa lo­cal gov­ern­ments,” Mam­man said.

Mam­man told Daily Trust that his main duty then was to help the in­sur­gents carry weapons and other equip­ment onto trucks, and as­sist in cart­ing away goods when they loot any com­mu­nity. “One day, sol­diers opened fire at us when we went to raid a vil­lage. The armed in­sur­gent near me was shot dead and his corpse fell down with his gun near me. I was ly­ing on the ground. When the shoot­ing stopped, I took his gun and ran to join the fray,” he said.

Mam­man said the in­sur­gents were pleased with how he han­dled the sit­u­a­tion, so he was al­lowed to keep the gun. When they re­turned to camp, he soon be­gan to re­ceive les­sons on marks­man­ship, firearm man­age­ment and oth­ers. “A few months later, I was sent to a train­ing camp in the bush near a vil­lage in Chad where one Arab and two white peo­ple taught us how to han­dle guns, over 100 of us,” he said.

Mam­man, who is now roam­ing the streets of Maiduguri with friends of ques­tion­able char­ac­ter af­ter re­lo­cat­ing from his par­ents’ home, is not in school or prac­tic­ing any trade.

The case of Ya­bani, 13, and Hudu, 9, who were re­cov­ered from a Boko Haram camp by a fos­ter mother, Aisha, is yet an­other sad one. She told Daily Trust: “I was at an in­sur­gents’ camp where I was held for over a year, when the mil­i­tary stormed the camp one af­ter­noon and se­ri­ous bat­tle en­sued be­tween the in­sur­gents hold­ing us and the sol­diers. I was hid­ing be­hind a large tree when I saw this 9-year-old boy, Hudu, drag­ging a gun on the ground cry­ing. I didn’t know him, but I beck­oned at him to drop the gun and come to me, which he did.”

When Hudu came, Aisha says she per­suaded him to stop cry­ing and both of them crouched low to avoid bul­lets, which were fly­ing around. “Not long af­ter, as the bat­tle was rag­ing, I again saw an­other boy, about 13, called Ya­bani and he was hav­ing prob­lems with the gun he held on to, as it was ob­vi­ously too heavy for him. He was cry­ing too, and I asked him to drop the gun and come to me. He dropped it, and came and hid be­side me and Hudu. When the sol­diers ad­vanced to­wards where we hid, I stood up with the baby I was nurs­ing and raised up my hands. I told them we were ab­ductees. They evac­u­ated us along with other vic­tims and brought us to Maiduguri. The two boys still can­not trace their par­ents and have since been stay­ing with me.”

Nar­rat­ing his or­deal, Ya­bani said he was ab­ducted by in­sur­gents af­ter his mother and fa­ther were slaugh­tered be­fore him and his 15-year-old sis­ter wait­ing to be given out in mar­riage was taken

away. He was taken away in a dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cle from the one that took away his sis­ter. “I have not seen her since then,” he said, tear­fully.

“I do not know for how long I stayed with the in­sur­gents, but I know that it was be­fore the rainy sea­son. For sev­eral months they have been try­ing to teach me how to use guns, along with about 60 other young­sters. But I don’t like guns, and when­ever one is fired near me, it ter­ri­fies me greatly. That be­came a prob­lem, be­cause they would as­sault me any­time I refuse to fire a gun. When­ever a gun is shot near me I feel ter­ri­fied,” Ya­bani told Daily Trust.

Ya­bani said on the day troops at­tacked, he was scared, but the Amir (Com­man­der) shared guns and also gave to him. “When our mother (Aisha) saw me, I was cry­ing be­cause the gun was too heavy for me and I was con­fused by all the spo­radic gun­shots.”

But the case of Hudu, who is younger, is more touch­ing. Aisha said a day af­ter res­cu­ing him, he could not re­mem­ber his own name “I named him Hudu,” she said, a deep sad­ness in her eyes.

When Daily Trust probed Hudu about how he was ab­ducted by the in­sur­gents, he said, “I re­call that I was sleep­ing when I started hear­ing gun­shots. It was dawn, and when I opened my eyes, there was no sin­gle mem­ber of my fam­ily at home. They had all fled. I came out of the house cry­ing, when the in­sur­gents saw me and took me away to the for­est. I can­not re­mem­ber the name of my par­ents and I can­not also re­mem­ber the name of my vil­lage.”

Both Ya­bani and Hudu have been en­rolled into a pri­mary school in Maiduguri, where they are deal­ing with their trauma by mix­ing up with other kids.

Aisami Ba­malum, 58, is a dis­placed per­son from Abadam lo­cal gov­ern­ment now liv­ing at the Teach­ers Vil­lage In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons (IDP) camp in Maiduguri, the state cap­i­tal. He told Daily Trust that the for­mer child sol­diers of Boko Haram have no sense of di­rec­tion. He also said many rapes of mar­ried women and ex­e­cu­tion of young girls, boys and the aged were car­ried out by the young­sters while Boko Haram held sway.

With­out par­ents or fig­ures of au­thor­ity to guide them, they have been co-opted to com­mit vi­o­lent acts, as far as mur­der, Ba­malum said. “I was in Malam Fa­tori when it was taken over by the in­sur­gents. Ma­jor­ity of those who were rap­ing women and killing peo­ple in­dis­crim­i­nately were the young­sters, mainly teens from 13 to 17, armed by the in­sur­gents to fight.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ba­malum, Boko Haram’s child sol­diers were par­tic­u­larly dreaded, be­cause they kill with­out ask­ing ques­tions, with noth­ing more than a dis­tant look in their eyes, no doubt drug­in­duced. “All they know how to do is pull the trig­ger and kill,” he said.

The chair­man of the State Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (SEMA), En­gi­neer Ahmed Al­haji Satomi said there are sev­eral such chil­dren un­der the care of the state gov­ern­ment, cur­rently un­der­go­ing de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion and coun­sel­ing, just as some of them are in IDP camps and at the host com­mu­ni­ties.

Satomi added that it is in­deed nec­es­sary to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion. “Gov­ern­ment alone can­not han­dle ev­ery­thing. In­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions should key into the pro­gram to as­sist,” he said.

For­mer child sol­diers fight­ing big­ger bat­tle than Boko Haram Aisha said a day af­ter res­cu­ing him, he could not re­mem­ber his own name “I named him Hudu

(L-R) Ya­bani, fos­ter mom Aisha and her own baby, and Hudu.

Ya­bani: “My par­ents were slaugh­tered be­fore my eyes, then I was taken away by in­sur­gents.”

Hudu: “I can’t re­mem­ber the names of my par­ents or vil­lage.”

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