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A bridge where ritual killers, diseases beset Maiduguri kids

There have been cases of suspected ritual killings around the area with bodies of children found. The latest prey was a 16- year old boy,…

There have been cases of suspected ritual killings around the area with bodies of children found. The latest prey was a 16- year old boy, Mustapha Bako Ali whose corpse was discovered barely two weeks ago by the ‘stream’ bank, a day after he was reported missing. The private organ of Mustapha was removed, while his hands and legs were chopped off. Abba Muhammed, a friend of the deceased said it was routine for himself and the late Ali to go swimming in the river till late hours, but that he did not go with him on the day the incident happened.

Children, comprising boys and girls, as well as some male and female adolescents, always swim in the ‘stream’, taking turns to dive in and out with the area always busy from morning till night. Grown up girls also visit the place to wash their clothes and take their bath. Almajirai (non-formal Islamic knowledge seekers) and formal school children, who visit the place when they are supposed to be learning in school, appear to be most prominent guests.

When Kanem Trust visited the place last week, young boys and girls were seen swimming in the filthy stagnantwater while old women were seen washing clothes by the river. One young girl was seen fetching water while two other girls were trying different swimming skills. Our correspondents also observed the presence of a block industry in that area which also benefits from the river. A big pumping machine was pumping water out for use at the block industry.

Interestingly, some men were also seen scooping the filthy water into their jerry cans. They however refused to speak on what they intended to use the water for when they were approached by our correspondents. But it is believed that the water is used in the process of local bricks which are used in the construction of mud houses, which are cited in the area.

The water, which is greenish in colour, is stagnant and decorated with animal and human fasces since the place also serves as toilets to lots of passersby. The water body at some point is filled with polythene bags, sanitary pads, rags and all sorts of filthy materials, which are stuck in the water. A walk around the environment exposes one to all sorts of unbearable odour.

The children, Kanem Trust learnt come to swim at the river from other areas too. Some of the boys who spoke to our correspondents said they lived in Sabon Layi, Gwange, others at Maidokori, close to the Monday Market, and even from around Custom. Muhammed Lawal, a 14- year old boy said he came from Abuja Talakawa, an area located in the outskirt of Maiduguri along Damboa road to swim at the make-shift river. When our correspondents asked him why he had to come from such a far distance to swim there, he said: “I come to this place every day because I enjoy swimming at the river. My father is aware that I visit this place and he doesn’t complain because I don’t stay for long periods like the other kids. But some of us come here and stay all day long. In fact, there are others who come even at nights to enjoy the chilling sensations of the water on their body.”

Musa Muhammed an 18- year old boy of Maimasari Junior Secondary School who also comes to the river often to swim said, “I come to this place every day from Layin Bole Gwange.”

He recalled that some weeks ago, he and some other boys saw a mutilated body of a boy with his private organ, hands, legs and tongue removed around Maidokori river bank. According to him the boy got drown during the day and it was suspected that ritualists took advantage of the unclaimed body to perpetuate their dastardly act, because the different parts of his body were only discovered missing in the early hours of the second day. He added that even though he saw the mutilated body, it would not make him change his mind about coming to the river, because according to him, “if you are destined to die, you would die even if you don’t go to the river to swim.”   

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A young girl who simply identified herself as Sadiya said the reason why they came to wash their clothes and take their bath wass because of water shortage in their area. “We are always told by our parents to come and wash our clothes here and also take our bath because one 25 liter gallon of water is sold by the vendors at N20.00. Because we are poor, we cannot afford to buy the water to wash our clothes. Instead, we come to use the river water to wash our clothes and buy the little we can for drinking,” she explained.

Bulama Mala, the Ward Head of an area close to the place, popularly referred to as Forestry, said the elders in the area have made concerted efforts to stop the children from going to the river to swim but all their efforts have not yielded any result. He said, “We have tried our best to dissuade them from going there but they remain adamant. At times we use whips to chase them but they run away pretending to be scared and return afterwards. The problem is beyond our control and it is time the government does something to discourage these children who come and spend the whole day in the filthy surrounding. I believe the problem might have been caused by the dense population in the areas like Gwange, Fuori, Maidokiri, and this makes it difficult to control them.”

He also chided parents who do not monitor the movement of their children. “I will also blame the parents who don’t even care about the whereabouts of their children. At times, when the boys from Sabon Layi, Gwange want to engage in gang fights, they use the area as a war zone, engaging themselves in violent scuffles, using knives and other dangerous weapons, and end up injuring themselves.” he noted.   

Young lads patronizing that ‘stream’ not only face threats of being kidnapped by suspected ritualists but also risk contracting diseases.    

Our correspondents gathered that the source of the stagnated water is waste pumped out from Allo Dam in Kodunga Local Government. Its tributaries meander through the popular bridge on Lagos Street, said to have been constructed in the early 80’s during the administration of Alhaji Mohammed Goni as governor of old Borno State.

Liquid wastes from sewages and gutters constantly flow into the ‘stream’. Aside from that, children also defecate and urinate in and around the water body with animals drinking and walking through the water.

Environmental experts have said that because of its stagnant nature and its composition, the water is capable of causing water borne diseases like bilharzias, typhoid and cholera, all of which are deadly diseases, that can terminate the lives of children at tender ages.

With the enormous dangers that the ‘stream’ portends observers have expressed concern on what government and security authorities are doing to prevent any mishap around the area especially recalling that beside the area surrounding the filthy ‘ stream’, cases of suspected ritual killings have been recorded in other filthy areas like the Lagos bridge. Kanem Trust reports that in February, 2010, a headless body was discovered by children playing around Maidokiri situated adjacent to the Maiduguri Monday market. The body appeared to have been burnt first, before the hands and legs were chopped off. His chest had been torn open and his bowels removed.

Despite admitting in the know of happenings around the bridge leading to the killings of these young kids and the impending danger that awaits those who go to places like the ‘stream’ around the Lagos bridge, security operatives in the state are yet to unravel  the situation. Regarding the two recent ritual killings, the Borno Police Command says investigations are ongoing.

The Borno State government, whose responsibility it is to protect its citizenry has not really made any effort to deter the children from going to the river, considering that even school children, in their school uniforms are constant visitors to the ‘stream’. The Borno State Commissioner for Information however said while speaking to news men some weeks ago that government has executed several projects to tackle the problem of the environment like combating problems of drought, environmental pollution solid waste management and disposal.

He also said that the Ministry of Environment recently undertook environmental sanitation within the state capital and Jere Local Government Area where evacuation and rehabilitation of drainages were carried out.

Also, the state Commissioner for Environment, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abubakar had announced that public toilets would be constructed along bridges in the metropolis to discourage indiscriminate and uncontrolled defecation by residents in public places. But this is yet to materialise.

Bulama Mala, ward head in charge of the filthy ‘stream’ suggests that government deploys security operatives to guard the area and cordon it, so that the children can be discouraged from patronizing the area. “They can create barriers along the banks to prevent any intrusion by the children. And once they arrest any offender, it is their responsibility to prosecute him. I think the people have been left uncatered for, for too long,” he said.

Some respondents have argued that if any of the mutilated bodies often dumped around the ‘stream’ were to be that of family members of influential persons, tackling environmental problems in the state would have been given the priority it deserves.

With the intense heat in Maiduguri, it is not likely that this swimming trend can easily be discouraged without some form of coercion, because most of the children found at the riverside said they enjoyed the chilling sensation of the water on their body. Observers have also said that government needed to take necessary steps to bring perpetrators of these dastardly acts to book and remedy the situation to prevent future occurrences. Many have also expressed the fear that with political activities around the corner, it is unlikely that the last has been heard of ritual killing.

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