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A tale of Yobe’s abandoned orphans

 E leven-year-old Waziri Goni looked sad and forlorn as he sat outside the Pompomari Camp established for displaced persons in Yobe State. He did not…

 E leven-year-old Waziri Goni looked sad and forlorn as he sat outside the Pompomari Camp established for displaced persons in Yobe State. He did not move, even as this reporter approached. He appeared to be unaware of events happening around him.

On enquiry, it was gathered that Waziri’s parents were killed when insurgents attacked their village. When this reporter moved close to him and started chatting, he was mute at first, but after a while, he relaxed. He said he watched a group of Boko Haram fighters behead his father and shoot his elder brother to death. Goni, who has two sisters; Aisha, 10 and Hajja, 8, said, “My mother died earlier of high blood pressure.” He has taken on the role of parents to his siblings in the camp. He said he watched over his sisters to ensure that they did not suffer.

Recalling his father’s last words, he broke down in tears. “If they kill me, take good care of your siblings. Never feel alone, I leave you in the hands of God,” he quoted his father as saying. “We were about to run away when two militants intercepted us. They beheaded my father and shot my elder brother. They also set our family house ablaze. They left me because of my age. At first, they wanted to kill me, but one of their leaders came and released me. “I then ran into the bush, where I met another set of the attackers. They brought me back to a square, where we watched them slaughter 52 people, mostly youths. When they finished, the leader of the insurgents turned to me and asked, “Where is your father?’’ I replied that he was killed along with my brother. He stared at me and said, “You will be killed if I find out that you are lying,” he said. Waziri is one of the many kids whose parents have been killed and are living in camps spread across the state.

 Daily Trust on Sunday observed that some of the children seem to be unaware of the situation as they were seen playing. However, nine-year-old Amsatu Ahmadu of Ngirbua village, also in Pompomari Camp, is fully aware of her condition. She said the militants killed her father in a night attack and her mother died of brief illness in the camp. She is now mother to her five siblings, Zarah, Tuja, Zahra, Bukar and Goni, who are between the ages of two and eight. “The camp officials take care of us. Our grandmother is alive but she is very old. I am the one taking care of her. We don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

 Amina, who is six years old, was seen sitting alone under a tree; and three boys who were fabricating a toy tricycle, using parts of vehicles destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents, said, “She has been that way since she lost her mother.” Three-year-old Zainab was found alone in the streets of BuniYadi town. “We don’t know her father, and her mother is dead. She is now under my care,” one Mohammad Usman said.

When our correspondent visited Buni-Yadi, Goniri, Katarko and Gujba communities, he observed that most of the orphans and other vulnerable children had no access to education and good health care system. Sixty-year-old Ibrahim Maikayan Miya, who relocated to Buni-Yadi recently, said he had 18 orphans under his care. They were crammed in a six-bedroom flat, with his mother, two wives and eight children. He expressed concern over the fate of the children.

He lamented that schools in Gujba and Gulani councils had been closed down for over two years. “The orphans are better off at the IDP camps because they have access to education, health care and food. Life is not easy for them here; even feeding is difficult, “he said.

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that most of the orphans could not remember their names or those of their parents. According to a research conducted by the Centre for Research and Capacity Development on Humanitarian Studies (CRCDHS) of the Yobe State University in 2016, there are 3,093 displaced children across the state, out of which 1,216 were identified as orphans, 1,727 separated from their parents, while 150 are unaccompanied children.

The director of the centre, Malam Ali Haruna, said most of the caregivers didn’t know what to do with the orphans as insurgency gradually comes to an end. “Many caregivers said because of the economic hardship, they would hand over the orphans to the government and community leaders. Three hundred and forty nine caregivers said they would return them to community leaders, while 726 decided to take them to government,” he said. He said most of the caregivers could not take care of their immediate families, let alone the orphans.

On his part, the executive secretary of the Yobe State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Musa Idi Jiddawa, said only 34 orphans were under government’s care in the Pompomari camp, adding that most of the children were adopted following the closure of other camps in the state. “But the state government is very mindful of the welfare of all internally displaced persons, especially the orphans,” he added.

Bukar Makinta, the village head of Ambiya Tasha, who is currently living in the Pompomari IDPs Camp, wondered what would happen to the orphans, especially with the recent pronouncement by the government that the only IDP camp in the state would soon be shut down. “What do you think will happen to these orphans? People are living in abject poverty. Who do you think will give them food and take care of their studies? I want the government to have a rethink on the matter,” he added.

One of the teachers in the camp, Sergeant Sunday Akin, told our correspondent that the children improved during their stay in the camp and that the camp closure would deal a big blow to their educational development. Similarly, Halima Joda, president of the National Council of Women Society, Yobe State chapter, expressed sadness over the return of the children to the liberated communities, “It would have an adverse effect on their education, especially the girls. We advise government to look inward on possible ways to educate the children,” she said.

The executive secretary of SEMA, Musa Idi Jidawa, said the state government, in collaboration with development partners, was working hard to set up a standard educational system for children in liberated communities. “Already, renovation works are ongoing in schools destroyed by the insurgents for the teachers and students to have a conducive learning atmosphere. “Parents and caregivers were supported by the government. The Bukar Ali Resettlement Camp was officially closed by the government, and each household got a cash donation of N20,000 and other items to enable them rebuild their lives, ” he said.

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