While most children without limbs lost to gunshots or bombings in the North-east may have had their dreams dashed, a few have been given a new lease of life, including prosthetics and the opportunity to get educated by Stanbic IBTC Bank. Martins Ifijeh writes
“To kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats.” These were the venomous and repeated message by Radio Mille Collines in Kigali on the eve of the Rwanda genocide, resulting in the hacking to death of over 300,000 newborns and children from Tutsi, the country’s minority tribe. This led to a global outrage, as children, ordinarily should be sheathed from such conflict, which in the first case was started by adults.
About two decades after, but subtly, children from Nigeria’s North-east have been among the worst hit from the conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and the Nigerian state, with several thousands of children, including newborns, sent to their early graves, as they have randomly been hacked to death at different locations including schools, market places and even homes. A situation that could be termed annihilation of the younger generation.
For the lucky ones, the tale is almost as horrible as those who have lost their lives. With more than triple the number of dead children said to be orphaned by the activities of the insurgents in recent years, according to reports, several others have become disabled, disfigured or incapacitated due to the direct impact of the insurrection, while majority are orphaned and displaced with no known relatives to fall back on.
But very few children with disabilities from bombs and guns would be able to bounce back to life due to interventions from kind-hearted individuals, stakeholders and corporate bodies like the Stanbic IBTC bank, which has decided this year to offer limbs and set up an education trust fund dedicated to children without limbs occasioned by gunshots or bombs from Boko Haram activities in the North-east.
One of such children is Alhassan Abdullahi, a seven-year-old indigene of Kaleri ward in Maiduguri metropolitan area of Borno State, who out of sheer luck and divine providence escaped the sledge hammer of Boko Haram but not without gunshot injuries to his right leg. Although his parents were not as lucky as him to live through it, he however managed to limp to safety from the scavenging eyes of the sect members on mission to kill and maim innocent citizens. His parents, unfortunately were unlucky and died in the attacks.
On the faithful Saturday night in Kaleri ward in 2013, when Alhassan was just four years old, Boko Haram insurgents stormed the community, killing everyone in sight, including children and pregnant women. “It was sudden, so my parents could not run, but as I was running out of the house, they shot me, and then thought I was dead because I was bleeding and couldn’t move at all,” explained the seven-year-old, who had someone interpreting in English for THISDAY reporter who doesn’t understand his local language.
Alhassan, who was then taken to Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for treatment, reeled in pain for several months as efforts to revive his right leg was fruitless. The leg was subsequently amputated in order to save his life. “That was how Stanbic IBTC discovered him and then provided prosthetics for him so he can walk again and fulfill his life’s dreams,” said the Branch Manager, Stanbic IBTC, Maiduguri, Abubakar Ibrahim, who was instrumental in identifying Alhassan for the gesture from the bank through its #togetherforalimb project.
Alhassan, has been provided with an education trust fund as well so he can resume the education he suspended three years ago. He will be able to live a normal life again and then aspire to be whatever he chooses in future.
Also lucky to be a beneficiary of the gesture is Mohammed Goni Bukar, a 14 years old resident of Jajeji ward of Maiduguri metropolitan, who was a student of Lamisula Day Secondary School before the unfortunate incident happened to him.
While narrating his ordeal, Mohammed wondered why children like him were targets from the sect because at the time he was attacked along with his parents and other people in Jajeli community, he was just 11 years old, as he posed no harm to anybody.
Like Alhassan, Mohammed was also shot in the leg while his parents died in the attacks by Boko Haram insurgents during one of their several activities in the Maiduguri metropolis. “We were home one day when we saw people scampering for safety, but it was too late as the community was already surrounded by Boko Haram. They killed everyone in sight, including my parents. Several children also lost their lives that day. While I was running away from the insurgents, one of them shot me, and that was how I fell drastically, then dislocated and broke my arm coupled with the gunshot wounds to my leg,” explained Mohammed who spoke in Hausa.
As fate would have it, he said his spirit refused to die even though the dreaded group thought he was already dead. Mohammed lost consciousness for days while being treated by the government in Maiduguri Teaching Hospital where he was taken to.
“When I regained consciousness, I discovered the dislocation was severe and I couldn’t move the hand anymore. That is why today the hand is twisted as I no longer feel sensation in it. I lost a limb as well. Unfortunately also my parents died in the attacks,” Mohammed narrated.
To save his life, in the hospital’s wisdom, they decided to amputate his leg which was fruitlessly undergoing treatment. Mohammed has been living with just one leg since then coupled with the twisted hand, said the Maiduguri Branch Manager of the bank, Ibrahim, who was helping Mohammed to narrate his story in English.
Mohammed, who became a beneficiary of the 2016 #togetherforalimb initiative by Stanbic IBTC has been provided with prosthetics that could pass for a real leg. He has also been given an education trust fund that would enable the bank take care of his education up to the university level. His prosthetics will also be changed and upgraded at intervals as he grows taller and bigger until he becomes 18 years old.
The story of Mohammed Abubakar was not any different. Like Alhassan and Mohammed, he also got a bitter taste from the activities of the insurgents who did not spare children in their attacks, irrespective of the their claim that they were never after children and women, but able bodied men, youths and government officials who do not believe in their ideology.
Abubakar was shot in the leg in Jakana village in Konduga Local Government Area of Borno State, while also running from the insurgents who stormed his village. According to him, many people lost their lives in that single attack, including his father who could not run fast enough from the dreaded sect members.
Consequently, Abubakar, like other children and adults who have suffered terrible gun shots to their limbs, had his left leg amputated when it was obvious the injury in the leg would send him to his early grave. This again truncated his plans for education, as he became handicapped, according to his explanation.
But, as Stanbic IBTC continued its search for limbless children in the North-east to benefit from its initiative, they found Abubakar, whose sorry tale could cause an emotional breakdown, since according to him there were a lot of aspirations he hoped to fulfill in life which were being truncated by Boko Haram activities, leading to the amputation of his leg. The death of his father was also a big blow to him.
Along with a prosthetic, which will be upgraded and changed every time until he grows up to 18 years, Abubakar will also be sponsored all through to the tertiary level of education, courtesy of #togetherforalimb initiative by the corporate social responsibility arm of the financial house.
Also being supported by the initiative is little Aliyu Usman, who is about two years old. He lost one of his limbs when a tricycle, popularly known as keke Napep, failed brake and rammed straight into the home of Usman, and then severely injuring the a limb of little Aliyu.
A prosthetic has however been fixed on him as he now walks normally. He has also been awarded an education trust fund from primary school up to tertiary education. Aliyu was also given a cheque of N1.5 million by the bank.
Fatima Abubakar, a 15-year-old was not also left out of the gesture. Hers was a congenital deformity of the foot, which led to the use of only one of her legs for movement. A prosthetic was provided for her in addition for an education trust fund up to the tertiary level.
Speaking during the sensitisation walk in Abuja recently for the support of children without limbs in the country, the Deputy Managing Director, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Dr. Demola Sogunle, said this was part of the bank’s way of supporting the society as well as efforts of the government towards its citizens, adding that the gesture was in line with the three pillars of the bank’s corporate social responsibility, which he said were: education, health and economic empowerment.
“On #togetherforalimb initiative, which started last year, we have tried to combine our three pillars for the beneficiaries; they have been provided with prosthetics, which is very important for them, we are making available education trust fund for all the children benefitting from this initiative, and we have decided to continuously change their prosthetics as they grow older until they clock 18 years, which again is very important, because as they grow older, the present prosthetics might not fit any longer,” he added.
He said this year, the initiative was particularly focused on the North-east because of the devastation that has happened in the region courtesy of the Boko Haram crisis, adding that of the eight beneficiaries for the year, six were from the region, while the remaining two were from other parts of the country.
“For children to lose their limbs can be very devastating, so on our part, we just want to make sure they get their lives back, go to normal school, play normally and then aspire as any other Nigerian in terms of fulfillment of their dreams.”
According to him, 17 people have so far benefitted from the initiative from 2015 when it started. “Last year nine persons benefitted and this year eight persons. We are also trying to cover the different regions of the country. Last year beneficiaries were mainly from the Southern part of the country, so this year we had to move to the North. This is especially unique because majority of them this year became limbless as a result of the crisis in the region.
“For these children, it was like their whole future has been extinguished in a split second. So when you provide these supports, you have succeeded in restoring their hope, aspiration, self worth and happiness. It is like giving back to them what has been tragically taken,” he explained.
He said now, the children would have equal chances with other Nigerian children to becoming governors, ministers and presidents in future. “We may not see the benefits now, but 20 to 30 years down the line when they become beneficial to their communities, they will reflect back and say if not for this opportunity that was given to us to grow normally and be educated, we may not have been where we are today,” Sogunle said.
Also lending her voice, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mrs. Aisha Buhari has lauded the initiative and thanked Stanbic IBTC for putting smiles on the faces of the children.
Mrs. Buhari, who was ably represented by the wife of the Governor of Zamfara State, Hajiya Asmau Yari, said a new lease of life has been given to the beneficiaries, adding that this will put them at a great advantage to be whatever they so wish in the future.