Lost Childhood: The Trauma of growing up in Nigerian IDP camps

Samaila Abdulrahman, 14, poses beside his aged grandmother who is now his only guardian. They both trekked 30 kilometers from Gwoza, Borno to Yola, Adamawa State.
By Nelly Ating

Fourteen-year-old Samaila Abdulrahman arrived Malkhoi Camp in 2014 tucked by the side of his aged grandmother, both saddled with all their worldly belongings after a journey of 30 kilometres from Gwoza, Borno to Yola, Adamawa State. The teenager had just witnessed the death of his father who tried to flee from Boko Haram dressed as a woman. Provoked by his audacity to outsmart them with a feminine camouflage, he was killed.

Samaila recounted how he and his grandmother escaped death, his eyes filled with tears as he relived the memory.

Life since then has gone ahead for a boy who was forced into an internal displacement shelter at nine, leaving behind his hometown, family and friends.

Despite his loss, he is determined to start afresh with no parent.

"I want to become a doctor, so I can help wounded people," he said, with his eyes fixated on the Junior School Certificate Examination (JSCE) past question papers in his hands as he prepares for his upcoming examinations.

Before Covid-19 took the world hostage, education had become a safe space to birth big dreams and hopes for children displaced by Boko Haram. It was where ambitions of becoming soldiers, doctors, air force pilots, engineers even big dreams of becoming a superstar like famous Nigerian artiste Naira Marley.

Out of 400, 000 children who arrived at various camps in Maiduguri, Yobe, Gombe, and Adamawa at the ages of 8,9, 10 many had dropped out of school to either marry, used as suicide bombers, or were forced into labour.

Since 2009, the terrorist organization has launched a series of attacks on education; over 1000 schools have been destroyed in the northeast and about 2900 teachers and students affected

Abuja-based Clinical Psychologist Folajaiye Kareem explains the various ways children who experience conflict react to a post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They have outbursts from crying to becoming rebellious," and with COVID-19 lockdown where routines were disrupted, "this consequence created a double dose of vulnerability to children on lockdown, and then with no parents to shield them." For the children in camps, Covid risk is amplified many times over.

Hilda Lawerence, a secondary school teacher at Malkohi said she noticed the children from the camp often band together and withdraw from other kids in school mainly because they could not communicate in English. In response, the teachers had to devise a one-on-one focus teaching approach per child.

"You will notice some days they showed up, some days they won't. I ensured one boy who was sent to Lagos by his father to hustle was brought back to school after I threatened to report the case to the state government."

In 2003, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Child Rights Act into law, to preserve the rights of children and protect them from exploitative labor. 17 years later, the Child Rights Act is yet to be fully enforced expressly held back by factors such as conflict, poverty, illiteracy and religious prejudice and most recently the rise in unemployment rate propelled by the Covid-19 lockdown.

The National Bureau for Statistics' recent data reveals that Nigeria's unemployment rate has climbed to 27.1%, showing that 13.9 million Nigerians lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Some young boys have taken up farming as a means of livelihood besides education. 15-year-old Abdurahman Abba earns about N15,000 equivalent of $38 a month.

He and his six siblings have to work as labourers in farmlands to get paid enough to provide daily meals for the family while his mother supports with sales from her small business.

Abdurahman arrived the camp at age nine together with his family, including his father who left the camp and moved to Lagos in search of greener pastures. He later passed on. The news of the death came just before the lockdown was announced. So, they did not have the chance to say goodbye.

While children in Lagos State public schools were provided alternative learning approaches using TV, Radio, and smart devices. Although some families unsuccessfully benefited from the Lagos State government due to lack of the necessary resources to ensure their children connected to their digital classrooms. This was not the same for forcefully displaced children living in crowded camps with parents who are uneducated – This has added to the plight of displaced children during the Covid lockdown who were completely out-of-school for 6 months.

"During the lockdown, outside of the Covid sensitization programme, some children were engaged in skills acquisition training to keep them busy until school resumes," says the National Emergency Management Agency, Head of Yola Operations, Midala Anuhu.

He attested to the growth and development of the children since they were registered in camp four years ago. "Some couldn't speak English when they arrived, now they can communicate. We are a witness to their development."
Aisha Idrisa, 15, fled from Gwoza, Borno State with her grandmother and younger ones when Boko Haram killed her father in 2015.
Attacks on education from the effect of Covid and conflict have set the motion for increased gender-based violence and early marriage for many school girls. According to UNICEF, 44 per cent of Nigerian girls are married before their 18th birthday. Aisha Idrisa, 15, fled from Gwoza, Borno State with her grandmother and younger ones when Boko Haram killed her father. Between 2014–2015, Gwoza town was seen as the headquarters of Boko Haram. For Aisha, living in the camp for the last five years has exposed her to abnormalities such as early marriages, watching her mate's betrothed and dropped out-of-school. Aisha has celebrated birthdays in camps and believed lack of education will deprive her of the ability to seek a better future of becoming a medical doctor.

A research World Bank shows that for every 10 additional fatalities in a 5-km radius from a child's village during the previous academic year, the child's enrolment probability is reduced by one percentage point. UNICEF warned that internally displaced children–including in Nigeria - are among the world's most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

War Child in its report states that children who voluntarily desire to join law enforcement agencies usually stem from two forms, the "pull and push" factor. The pull factor is possibly because of the incentives such as offering protection for loved ones. While the Push factor roots from the desire for vengeance probably exposed to maltreatment or injustice.

Umar Maikif, 16 wants to become a soldier. His brother Ahmadu sacrificed his education for Umar to go to school because he stands a chance of having a better life than he does after losing all his documents while fleeing. Ahmadu his brother hid in-between houses for five days when Boko Haram was looking to convert young men into the sect. While in his hiding place, the family took turns to deliver food to him so he would not die of hunger. Umar wants to serve Nigeria to ensure peace and stability returns to places such as Gwowza. Only a few have tarried this far to ensure that despite what the insurgents Boko Haram represent, they would reclaim their future with education


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