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Bittersweet Tales Of Innocent Children Orphaned By Boko Haram Insurgency & Comforted By Fate

Bittersweet Tales Of Innocent Children Orphaned By Boko Haram Insurgency & Comforted By Fate

Innocent children orphaned by Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country have found succour in a children home in Abeokuta, Ogun State. But the memories of how their parents were brutally murdered by the insurgents remain an open wound years after.

Adiza Jacob, a native of Maiduguri in Borno State, can never forget the day she gathered the remains of her father killed by Boko Haram insurgents inside the church while she watched helplessly from hiding.

Adiza, 18, and other children, who found solace in Stephen’s Children Home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, still nurse the pains of losing their parents brutally several years after.

Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, and battles by the insurgents and security forces continue daily. In some quarters, victims were seen as targets of religious violence.

According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the number of displaced children in the North-East region was put at 1.4 million. UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Manuel Fontaine, said in a statement, that “Each of these children running for their lives is a childhood cut short.”

Narrating her story with teary eyes to PUNCH correspondent, Adiza, whose recall of events in the early hours of July 27, 2008, was breathtaking, said it was a traumatising moment that had refused to fade from her memory. She said,

“On July 27, 2008, Boko Haram struck in Maiduguri (Borno State). That night, I told my mother that I want to urinate and she said I should go alone but I told her I was scared. When I eventually went outside, I heard some people discussing. I rushed back to the house to inform my mother that some people were outside. But as she was about calming me down, we heard a loud bang like a bomb from the direction of a nearby church known as EYN.

“We ran out of the house immediately and at that point, heavy rain started. Unfortunately, my mother and I went different ways. She went with my younger sister and fortunately, my father appeared and took me to the church where he hid me. Not too long after then, Boko Haram members entered the church premises and started throwing something that looked like explosives.

“I saw how they entered the church and slaughtered my father. They cut off his hands and he was begging them. But they didn’t answer him. They later slit his throat and cut off his head. They started playing with his head. When they left, I started crying over his dismembered body. I wept all through and later saw other dismembered bodies in the church.

“I was lucky the insurgents were not killing young girls because when they came back and found a few of us in the church trying to gather the dead bodies of our beloved ones, they took us away with a firm warning that we had become their wives.

After following them for some hours into the bush, I summoned the courage to escape but not without deep knife cuts in my hand and back. This was late in the night. As I was finding my way back to the town I fell on several corpses too until a soldier found me and took me to the barracks where other lucky victims were kept.”

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Adiza added that when she got to the barracks, she saw her mother who was happy to see her alive. She added,

“I told her how my father was slaughtered but she did not believe me initially until another girl who hid around the church premises confirmed what I said. We were not fed in the barracks. My mother later became unconscious. It was after a while that they released us from the barracks and told us to return home.

“When we got to Maiduguri, all hopes were lost. But by luck, we found the Stephen Centre in Maiduguri and that was how I was brought to Ogun State. I learnt how to speak English at the centre because in the school I was attending in Maiduguri, we were only taught in Hausa.

“I still think of the horrifying moments I passed through. Because of what I went through, I am now afraid of the dark. I cannot walk alone in the darkness. I still see my mother whenever I go home during the holidays. She was happy I found my way to the centre. I want to further my education. I felt those who killed my father should pay for their action but somehow I have learnt to forgive those who killed him.”

Pathetic tales of young B’Haram victims

James Sunday from Barkin Ladi LGA of Plateau State was fortunate to be alive after seven members of his family comprising father, mother and five siblings were slaughtered in his presence.

Gunshots by the insurgents outside Sunday’s home during the midnight of July 13, 2010 would have claimed his life but he managed to escape. 17-year-old Sunday said,

“That day, we were about to sleep when we heard gunshots. My father rushed out of the house to see what was happening but he did not return. After a while, the gunmen came close to our house and started shooting indiscriminately. They later poured petrol on the house and set it on fire. We initially got trapped inside but later escaped through one of the windows when the roof caught the fire.

“We were nine in the house and by the time we got outside, they killed my parents and siblings with machetes and guns. In all, they killed seven, while my brother and me managed to escape.

“They pursued and caught up with me and inflicted a sharp machete cut on me. I guess I passed out at the time and they felt I was dead. They carried my body back to the burning house and left. I still managed to crawl out to the front of the house. It was in the morning that some rescuers saw that I was alive and took me to the hospital.

“I spent one week in the hospital but nobody came to identify me. It was during the second week that one of my aunties traced me to the hospital but she also could not recognise me because I was almost running out of blood. She only recognised me after I was given blood. After some months when I became a little bit strong, I was brought to Stephen Centre in Abeokuta. I have been in this home since 2010.”

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James said he had forgiven those who killed his parents, but would not forget the encounter at the centre that changed his life.

“The time I realised that my parents had been killed by the Boko Haram insurgents, I was in serious pain. There was nothing I could do as I was struggling to survive. I felt pained by their death. I still think of them but I have learnt to forgive those who killed them in my heart. I have gone through different surgeries,” he added.

For 12-year-old Timothy Barry from Kanke council area of Plateau State, watching the insurgents pluck off the eyes of his younger sister was a terrible scene which  he often tries not to recall.

According to Barry, sometime in August 2016, Fulani herdsmen entered the community around 8.00 p.m. and by the time they were done, they had wreaked havoc. He narrated:

“They came to our house around 8.00 p.m. that day; they started killing people in the community going from house to house. When they got to our house, my father put up some resistance and they shot him on both legs and that was how they overpowered him and gained entry into our house.

“On entering, they shot him. They proceeded to the rooms where they killed my mother and extended family members that were around. They also killed my younger sister who was our last child. The shot my sister in her eyes and removed the eyeballs and her nose.

They shot everywhere and thought I was dead. In all, they killed six persons in our house. I was in pain. I was the only survivor. I was 10 when the incident happened.”

Also, 4-year-old Eunice Adi from Baga LGA in Southern Kaduna, Kaduna State, was left crying when insurgents attacked her community. Adi was two when the incident occurred but one of her teachers who narrated the event to our correspondent said she would be told the story when she became mature.

The teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said in 2017, Boko Haram extremists came to the village and killed many people including Adi’s parents. The teacher said,

“Then she was still being breastfed and she was left on bare floor without clothes. Later some of the villagers that ran away were on their way back and saw the little girl. They sent messages around  the village because they didn’t know who her parents were.

“The insurgents poured gunpowder on her before leaving and it had started having an effect on her when the villagers saw her. Somehow, she was later transferred to the University of Jos Teaching Hospital and that was how we found her and brought her to Abeokuta. The grandmother was later able to trace her to the centre. She is presently in Nursery 1.”

The anguish of Kumzwan Jerry from Lantang North LGA of Plateau State was intense as the 25-year-old graduate said  he knew those who murdered his mother. He said,

“I lost my parents in 2002. One day, we were told by our headmaster to leave the school that there was chaos in the town. I left the school with my younger ones and went home. I was in primary one then. When we got home, I told my mother what the headmaster said but she told us to wait till my father returned. We waited till evening, but my father didn’t return.

“In the process of waiting for our father, my siblings and I were in the backyard playing when we saw some men with weapons. We ran to tell our mother and she asked us to prepare to leave the house immediately. A few minutes later, we saw that our neighbour’s house had been set ablaze. We ran into the bush and we saw some other neighbours.

“We stayed in the bush till night and by next day, I thought we could go home but that was not the case. Suddenly from nowhere, we saw the insurgents appear from one side of the bush and ordered us to come out. They asked us to line up and redirected us to the bush. In the process, they started contemplating what to do with us after separating mothers from their children and they later agreed among themselves to kill us. I understood the languages they spoke.

“I suddenly heard a gunshot from behind and that was how we started running. I noticed a bullet hit my mother and she started bleeding. My younger siblings were not hurt. We stayed in the bush for some days trying to survive. We didn’t know where my daddy and elder brother was.

“After two days we met with some persons trying to escape and we decided to join them. But at that point, my mother had lost much blood. She couldn’t move any further and I decided to stay with her while the other continued the journey.

“News filtered in later that my father had been killed while we were  in the bush. We managed to find our way to the premises of the Galadima of the village (village head) we walked into. The galadima came out with a machete and pistol. He threatened to kill my mother. I fainted after he hit me.”

Jerry told PUNCH that he later found out that a religious war was ongoing at the time and the galadima felt they were part of the assailants. He said by the time he became conscious, his mother and two siblings were dead. He added,

“I was rescued by my uncle and that was how I found myself at the centre. I was brought to the centre in 2006 and completed secondary school in 2013.”

Jerry, who later got a scholarship to study Microbiology at the Landmark University,  Kwara State, stated,

“I completed the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps in Katsina State last July. I am currently unemployed and I hope for the best.”

Giving hope to the hopeless

Many of the kids, some of whom have graduated, were admitted into the Stephens Children’s Home by Mr Isaac Newton-Wusu, an ex-missionary worker with the US-based The Voice of the Martyrs.

Newton-Wusu, who died on June 18, 2019, at 66, was said to have enrolled over 400 children into the home in the twilight of Boko Haram war in which many children became orphans.

Newton-Wusu’s wife, Yetunde, said her late husband started running the centre  in 2000. Yetunde said whenever there was a crisis in the North, her husband would rush to the area to provide relief materials and send his report to the international headquarters of the NGO he was work for at the time.

She added that later he observed that there were increasing numbers of homeless children. Yetunde added,

“One of the first children he rescued and brought to the home was given birth to in his presence. The girl has graduated now from the university. He said he was moved to see children without parents  roaming about when they should be in school. He rescued some of these children in areas where the centre has offices.

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“He took some of the kids whose relatives could be traced and offered to bring them to Abeokuta for proper upbringing and schooling. Some of them still have their mothers alive while all of them have lost their fathers. He rented a small apartment when he first brought eight of the homeless children to Abeokuta in 2000.

“The children were between ages six and 15. He started a small school and employed two people to teach them and at the same time take care of them. By the time he returned to the North when there was another disaster, some mothers approached him to take their children to Abeokuta. He brought another six, from then to 27 and that was how the number kept increasing.

“At that point, he got a bigger apartment and started a foundation of his own. His idea was to shelter the children, give them a good education to compete well in society. By 2003, they were 48 children and it was at that point he leased the property.”

She stated that when she met her husband in 2008, the rescued children were 300 and later increased to 400 within two years, adding that it was at that point, they knew they could not admit more.

She disclosed that The Voice of the Martyrs was initially responsible for the upkeep of the children but when her husband quit the NGO, other missions stepped in and so far many of the kids had been trained up to university level.

“My husband got The Voice of the Martyrs involved and they were giving us $25 per child for every quarter, but all that stopped five years ago because he stopped working for them. Since they stopped, other missions stepped in.

“There was a family of six brought to the centre some time ago; they have all graduated and left the home. The David Oyedepo Foundation has been of help because it awards university scholarships to some of the kids. So far, it has given scholarship to eight of them, ” she said.

Home, sweet home

Yetunde, who now runs the centre, said the children return to their homes every July to spend three months holiday with their surviving families or extended relatives.

She appealed to local and international donor agencies to look further into the plights of homeless children in the North who had become orphans as a result of insurgency. She said,

“The children normally go on holiday in July to meet with their mothers and relatives. They spend three months before coming back.

“There are over 400 victims; these are the ones we could cater for. We are appealing to international and local bodies to intervene because there are children roaming streets in the North without support.”

Issues fuelling unending crises

Crises fuelled by religion, politics and economy continue to affect peace in the country.

On religious crises, Chairman, Christian Social Movement of Nigeria, Solomon Asemota (SAN), during a programme to mark the International Day of Religious Freedom, said a small group within the country was using religion to divide and weaken other part to retain absolute control.

Asemota said the crisis in the country was caused by the manipulation of religion for cultural and political domination, adding that Nigerians were not fighting one another, but that some mall persons were using religion to weaken other parts to gain control. He said,

“We acknowledge, very sadly, that our country has been thrown into needless conflicts and bloodshed due to religious intolerance. A lot of innocent lives have been lost ; an atmosphere of insecurity pervaded the nation, ethnic rivalry and suspicion have escalated to the point of threatening to disintegrate the country.

“After observing the situation, we have concluded that the problem of Nigeria is not Muslims versus Christians, North versus South, military versus civilians, neither is it unemployment, illiteracy or desert encroachment.

“The crisis in Nigeria is fuelled by the manipulation of religion for cultural and political domination. Nigerians are not fighting one another but a small group within the country is using religion to divide and weaken other parts so that it can retain absolute control. We condemn this attitude and urge all Nigerians to rise and resist this manipulation of religion to promote ethnic supremacy.”

Also, a former Chairman of the Northern States Christian Elders Forum, Mathew Owojaiye, told Sunday PUNCH that there were positive teachings in churches and mosques , wondering where oppressive and destructive emanated from. Owojaiye noted,

“The truth is that we are hypocrites. When one teaches a child from a tender age that killing someone who is not of one’s religion is not a sin, one has sent a wrong signal into that child’s psyche from a young age. When the child goes about killing people who are not in his religious circle and they are not arrested, others will see it as the norm.

“To make kids imbibe religious tolerance,  we must ensure that everyone obeys the same rule. Whosoever breaks the rule should be prosecuted and convicted if found guilty convicted. That way, it will serve as a deterrent to others.”

However, a Deputy National Secretary (South) of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Adam Abdullah Idoko, called for caution, saying fanaticism should be discouraged. He said,

“People must understand the teaching of their religion and abide by its rules and regulations. They must shun fanaticism. Fanatics are unable to digest the proper meaning of their religion because they just pick a verse from a section a book and just start using it without understanding the reasons for it.

We should not deprive people of their rights and their religion. When you do that you will encourage fanatics to take the law into their hands.”

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