For a decade that the North-east crisis has raged, many children have died and many others have been recruited between both lines of war, an anomaly which the United Nations Children’s Fund and Search for Common Ground have waded in, Michael Olugbode reports
Although man is born with one thing; an instinct to survive, babies on the other hand are born helpless as their survival depends on other people. They can make their distress known to others, by crying, thrashing, and so on. They are born with it and throughout life, men and in fact all animals, instinctively response to threat of survival.
According to the instinct theory of motivation, all organisms are born with innate biological tendencies that help them survive. This theory suggests that instincts drive all behaviors. Instincts are goal-directed and innate patterns of behavior that are not the result of learning or experience.
Instinct, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is the way people or animals naturally react or behave, without having to think or learn about it. These are some of the very basic, lowest level human instincts: Survival instinct (Self-preservation instinct), Killer instinct, Territorial instinct, Sexual instinct, Reproduction instinct, among others.
Thus when the Boko Haram terrorists laid siege on Borno State and especially the capital town of Maiduguri, the response of many was to flee and for those that could not flee, they had to take up arms against the threat. Among those that took up arms or assisted those that took up arms against the insurgents were minors (persons below the age of 18).
Many of these minors had to join up with the emerging reactionary group, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to suppress the common threat, Boko Haram.
Recounting his experience and the reason he joined the reactionary group, Ali Bukar (not his real name), said: “I hate the Boko Haram, that was why I joined the CJTF. They (Boko Haram) were killing innocent people that was why I hate them.”
He further narrated that: “I have people close to me that they killed, they killed my uncle and a friend to my father. Though I know I cannot take them up but I knew that I can support those fighting them. I was just 12 years old then, so I decided to join the CJTF in our area to dislodge the Boko Haram. I was deployed into fetching water and sweeping by the CJTF, I was also sent on errands. I was also an informant.”
Ali added that though he would have loved to carry arms against the insurgents and avenge the death of his loved ones and to defend himself against the threat of the insurgents, but “at no time did they teach me how to use arms, I only carry stick. Few times I was part of those that beat up arrested Boko Haram members”.
On how he was able to mingle with the CJTF, he said: “When my parents saw me with the CJTF, they spoke against it, but because I hate the sound of gunshots and I wanted to stop it, I deferred their instructions and sneaked out to join up with the CJTF. I always come home late and told lies about my whereabout.
“But they later found out I was lying when I was consistently out of the house and was given excuses, they however did not take any action even after they knew I was always with the CJTF but they kept on advising me against it.”
He said though he was passionate about working for the CJTF, but he had no time enjoyed those things he was doing with them.
Ali is now 14 years old and lives with his family in Maiduguri. There are 15 people in Ali’s family, during his time with CJTF, he also work at a market near his community helping fish sellers in order to gain extra income.
Another of the minors that instinctively worked with the CJTF is Halima Bulama (not her real name though). Halima is now 17 years old and lives with her 11 family members in Maiduguri. She grew up attending Islamic School. She participated in CJTF for three years, according to her to protect her community; serving as a messenger, preparing tea, and searching for females entering the mosque.
On how she came to link up with the CJTF, Halima said: “I was tired of the bomb blast in the community and decided to join the CJTF. They were happy to receive me because they have few females and they needed us to search the women within the community because women were predominantly carrying bombs and being used as suicide bombers.”
She further said: “I have not personally caught one, but I have suspected some and two of them were caught with bombs. I am always scared of doing this for the bombs could go off at any time, but we kept them at a distance and ask them to shake their garments, take off the hijabs, those with bombs are always adamant and jittery. Most of the strangers who come into the community we suspect and we check.
“While with the CJTF, I was attending Islamic school. My parents initially never wanted me to join the CJTF but they later had no reservations.”
Halima, on times in CJTF, said: “I never saw a bomb detonated in my time there. We forward the suspects to the older members of the CJTF who subsequently called the soldiers to take charge.”
New Lease of Life
All that seems to be in the past as with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the military, CJTF and UNICEF, minors were outlawed from taking part in the armed conflicts in the North-east, and Ali and Halima had to be excused and with the support of Search For Common Ground, Ali returned back to school and was given a back to school kit to assist his education.
He also participated in Trauma Awareness and Resilience Training and found the self-care techniques helpful to increase his well-being.
Ali on his new experience has this to say, “I was dissociated because of my age. I am happy that I am out mainly because I am now enrolled in school, I was never attending any Western education school, I was not equally attending Islamic school when I was in the CJTF but now I do not have link with CJTF at any level and I am now enrolled in school.
“ I am now in Primary 3 and would not want to exchange my present situation for any other thing. I hope one day to become great and even become the President of Nigeria, then I would send soldiers to the troubled North-east to end the Boko Haram once and for all.”
Halima, on her part after she was released from CJTF, was supported with her socio-economic reintegration by Search For Common Ground. She participated in Trauma Awareness and Resilience Training where she learnt about the impact of trauma.
Halima also attended business training and was provided with a seed grant to set up her own tailoring business which she now runs with friends. She has this to say on her new experience, “I decided to become a tailor so as to get income to support myself and my family. I currently attend High Islam and would want to further my education, I am not presently interested in marriage.
“ I felt sad initially when I was compelled to dissociate myself from CJTF until I attended business training organised by Search from Common Ground. I enjoyed it because it offered me an opportunity to take care of my family. I even came to realise that to putting an end to Boko Haram was beyond me and even now that I am almost 18 years old, I am not considering reuniting with CJTF.
“I was not always happy while with them for I can recall the verbal attacks when I was still with them from people, particularly those that stay in my community who felt that I do not need to search them. And now I made an average of N350 daily from tailoring and I have an opportunity to be educated.”
MOU Barring Minors from Armed Struggle
Ali and Halima, are part of the hundreds of children who in May 2018, were excused from the CJTF after a MOU barring minors from armed struggle in the Northeast was signed and Search for Common Ground (simply called Search) began implementing the UNICEF-funded project “Supporting the Socio- Economic Reintegration of Children Associated with Armed Groups in North-east Nigeria.”
The essence of the project is to ensure that children verified and separated from armed groups in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), Jere, and Mafa Local Government Areas (LGAs) receive a comprehensive child protection package including psychosocial support and socio-economic reintegration, and that their communities understand the importance of their separation and reintegration.
Search worked closely with the children, their families and communities, to address the psychosocial, educational and economic needs of the children and to influence the attitudes of communities and groups so they understand the negative impact of associating with armed groups on children, and prevent further use of children.
The cornerstone of all Search’s projects is the Common Ground Approach, which brings people together across dividing lines to understand each other’s differences and to work collaboratively around shared interests. Search’s unique approach cultivates dialogue and collaboration among actors in divided communities.
Conflict sensitivity and ‘Do No Harm’ principles are built into this wider approach by continuously assessing risks and the changing conflict dynamics at the local, regional, and national level. Additional core guiding principles for the project include the Best Interest of the Child (BIC), and the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children formerly associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups which promote an inclusive and community- based approach to reintegration.
The United Nations Security Council resolution 1261, adopted unanimously on 25 August 1999, is the first resolution to address the topic of the use of minors in armed struggle. The council condemned the targeting of children in armed conflict including the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
The Security Council was informed prior to the adoption of the resolution that 300,000 children from the age of seven or eight were serving as soldiers, guerrillas or supporting roles in armed conflicts in more than 30 countries around the world. It was also told that wars within the past decade, armed conflicts had killed 2 million children.
Children does not need to get into war based on instinct, neither do they need to live their lives running even in conflict situations. They are angels that we should not demonise with our conflicts, struggles and hatred. This is what Search and UNICEF have done in the case of Ali and Halima, and hundreds of other children engaged in war that was never theirs.