Nigeria, 07 July 2015 – The teenage boys in St Theresa’s camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) are enthusiastic about sharing their dreams about what they wanted to do when they grow up.
“I want to be a doctor one day,” said one boy. “I want to be a soldier,” said another. Another quips, “I want to be the President of Nigeria so I can help the poor and elderly, and support the markets in my village.”
Some of the boys, aged between 12 and 17, are unaccompanied minors. The children comprise 57 per cent of the circa-1.5 million-strong IDP population in North-East Nigeria displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
While much has been published in the media about the horrific ordeal of girls and women abducted by Boko Haram, less is known about the boys who escaped death, or forced recruitment by insurgent groups.
The boys were participating in focus group discussions facilitated by the Information Feedback Task Team. The Task Team has been set up by OCHA and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), and is now run by the Adamawa State Ministry of Information with support from OCHA, to ensure IDPs make informed decisions.
The Task Team comprises government and NGO partners who are committed to ensuring IDP voices lead the humanitarian response in Adamawa.
Most of the teenage boys who remain in the camps come from districts or local government areas such as Michika and Madagali in Adamawa, and in Borno state, where the security situation is volatile. In many of the villages in these districts, several public buildings such as clinics and schools have been destroyed and essential services are non-existent. Many homes have been demolished or burnt to the ground.
“I want to find my father”
“I do not know where my father is. I want to find him,” 16-year old Jacob* told the Task Team, shyly. Shifting uneasily on his chair, with his head bowed, he told the story of how he was separated from his father during their escape from the insurgents. He was captured by Boko Haram, and brought to a camp with many other boys his age. They were later trained to hold guns. He managed to escape when he was ordered to fetch water. He hid for hours and then walked for miles, until finally a group of Nigerian soldiers rescued him. Amongst the boys, Jacob’s was a common story.
The teenagers are settled in camps where they are provided with food and temporary shelter by the National Emergency Management Agency, church congregations, or charitable host communities. The boys made appreciative note of the school supplies and toys given to them by aid agencies. They all long to go back to school and their family trades. They long to go home.
These young boys have borne witness to the violence inflicted on their families and communities, and have developed a sobering understanding of the causes and effects of conflict.
When the Hausa-speaking facilitator, Bashir, asked them, “What causes conflict?” The boys answered with remarkable maturity, “Lack of trust”, “argument”, “jealousy”, “stealing”, and “inequality”.
Ibrahim*, aged 15, asked the group, “How should people stop themselves from lying so we can build back trust?”
Despite their ordeal, the boys hold tightly to their dreams, and believe that one day they can become a reality, if they study hard at school while helping out their parents in the family trade. They never want to hold a gun again.
All names have been changed.
Christie Bacal is an OCHA Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) Officer based in Yola, Adamawa.