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Former child soldiers fighting bigger battle than Boko Haram
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.”