The health of Nigerian children calls for a great concern over Boko Haram-induced violence in the North-east of Nigeria.
Whether openly or obliquely involved, children across the country are susceptible to the sweeping brunt of terrorists’ attacks.
A number of Nigerian children are going through stress likewise their parents. Evidence is that at the end of a week-long visit to Nigeria, the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy to Nigeria, Leila Zerrougui representing the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Children and Armed Conflicts, observed that children budding up in North-east are in need of security from ruthlessness and ailment.
In Yola, after meeting with displaced people from the conflict-affected areas, Zerrougui, said, “I witnessed people’s shock and disbelief at the devastation suffered by their communities. I saw trauma in children’s eyes. The scale of the suffering is way beyond what I anticipated to find. The people I met demand and deserve urgent protection.”
The UN envoy further exposed that over 900,000 people, many of them women and children, have fled their homes in the North-east; over 300 schools have been rigorously destroyed, and hundreds of children killed, injured or abducted from their homes and schools.
There is palpability that many children and young people are separated from their parents and families in any attack. For example, in April 2014, Boko Haram abducted over 200 schoolgirls at Chibok that are yet to be found. Many children have been dislodged, kidnapped, killed, wounded, and made to be orphans, assaulted sexually, and others because of ghastly attacks by Boko Haram. The disgusting aspect is that some children who have language barrier do not comprehend with what to do when terrorists attack. Children with pre-existing mental health problems, attacks worsen their situations. Caseworkers or doctors and others are often aloof to attend to emergency.
Aliyu Ndajiwo who’s a medical student in West Indies in a contribution made available to Nigerian audience last year, argued that many Nigerians are paralyzed by fear of Boko Haram. Ndajiwo’s anxiety was that unremitting fear has disadvantageous effects on health, particularly in children, with heightening of several stress chemicals in the body.
“The release of such stress chemicals or hormones like adrenaline (as well as noradrenalin) and cortisol is essential for survival. Prolonged release of one of those hormones, cortisol, can have long-term effects on the body by suppressing immune response, altering the function of some neural systems and causing damage to certain brain structures such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and the amygdala,” Ndajiwo reported.
Examining the adverse effects of terrorism on Nigerian children last year, a nine-year-old Nigerian girl, Miss Splendour Joe Abisoye who resides in Abuja with her parents, wrote a book titled, “Effects of Terrorism on Children”. What the intervention of the girl through a book meant was that her mental stability was exposed to the severe stress that Nigerian children are developing in addition to psychological symptoms over terrorism.
Many children like Abisoye are pronto experiencing mental health challenges – intellectually or irritatingly – with the attendant incessant terrorists’ attacks that leave scores of people dead and numerous property destroyed. Children in the country came to the awareness of terrorism after the terrorists’ atrocious acts on the New York City World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Nigerian children are vulnerable as news of disasters continues to filter into the air.
The worse is that there are scarcity of pediatricians-volunteers at hand to serve as expert advisors to local children across the 36 states of Nigeria. Ndajiwo would say, “Children and adolescents inflicted with trauma are more likely to show suicidal tendencies and some of them eventually end up committing the act.”
Nigeria’s lackadaisical approach is not the same in the USA, where different associations like the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, National Center for PTSD, American Psychological Association, National Institute of Mental Health, Center for Mental Health, Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, American Academy of Pediatrics and others, are ever ready and on ground to counsel children in order to balance their mental and psychological states over disasters.
Since this is rarely in place in Nigeria, many children are recruited into terrorism and many others think that it is nice to be a terrorist. The aftermath is that Nigerians have been experiencing situations where children are used as suicide bombers and what not, in the hands of unrepentant Boko Haram fighters. It is evident that Nigerian children do not get the right answer they deserve after a terrorist attack, hence they suffer emotionally.
Zerrougui said that in 2014, the armed conflict in the affected areas in North-east was one of the world’s deadliest for children. She wept, adding, “The beginning of 2015 brought again relentless violence with the appalling suicide bombing committed by a girl allegedly as young as ten, killing several people in a market in Maiduguri, as well as what some organisations have termed as Boko Haram’s deadliest attack in Baga.”
Psychologists have said that children who hear the news of disasters suffer more than the people that were injured or killed. This is the reason in a country like the USA, the Mental Health Association NSW prepared hand books solely to help people living with the trauma of terrorists’ attacks and other human-made disasters.
“The information aims to address the anxiety that can affect people in the face of impending terrorist attack, and what to do after such an event,” reported D’Arcy Lyness, PhD, in January 2014.
Unlike in Nigeria, the source added, “The attacks on the US, Bali and London, together with other terrorist incidents in recent years, have caused many of us to think about our personal safety and the risk of terrorist attacks.”
Conversely, when there is a terrorist attack in Nigeria, children who are not with their parents or loved ones do not have a telephone counselling service, such that obtains in the USA at “Kids Helpline”, “Young Diggers”, “local community organisation”, “local service clubs”, “local council” and others. The true nature is that when there is a terrorist attack in Nigeria, individuals offer help to others, before any disaster emergency units would arrive hours later.
There are often unreliable news sources with the government saying a different thing from the situation on the ground. In short, there is always conflicting reports. Local Members of Parliament are even farfetched to ask questions. It is appalling that there is no record telling Nigerians the number of children that are undergoing the following: Numbness, shock, traumatic stress, flashbacks and nightmares, grief, loss; anger, despair, sadness, hopelessness and others in this era of terrorism.
Many children in Nigeria invariably walk in fear with a feeling that they could be the next to be attacked. According to Ndajiwo, “On the other hand, excessive and prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system could lead to what is referred to as toxic stress. This type of stress can hinder healthy development in children by affecting the child’s cognition and behaviour, and can also alter the expression of stress regulatory genes, thereby increasing the risk of stress-related physical and mental ailments later in life.”
The authorities in Nigeria could learn from the USA, which after the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attack, has been in pursuit of best way to talk with her children about disaster and potential threat. Although, Erlanger A Turner Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist in Houston, Texas, said in a forum, “These conversations are not easy and may cause some children and adults to worry about their safety. In children, increased worrying or anxiety can also cause difficulties functioning with daily activities such as school.”
Onwumere, a Poet/Writer; wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State