More than 300,000 children lost their lives in the last 12 years because of the insurgency ravaging the North East region, the latest statistics released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed.
This is just as the Nigerian military said the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), a rival terrorists’ organisation has started massive recruitment of jobless youths into its fold to continue wreaking havoc.
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The latest statistics released by UNICEF also disclosed that over one million persons have been displaced within the period under review.
It said no fewer than 5,129 out-of-school children were currently battling mental health challenges as a result of the conflict in the North.
When one of our correspondents attempted to get more information on the factors responsible for the death of 300,000 children, the UNICEF Media Contact in Maiduguri said that the deaths were a summation of direct and indirect attacks on children.
He said, “Children killed in crossfires, Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs), children used as suicide bombers, children killed by malnutrition among others.”
Salihu Bakhari, who is a retired security officer, said he was not surprised by the figures released by UNICEF.
“We are just coming to terms with the reality because the attention in the past was on the frequency of attacks and destruction. We paid little attention to the humanitarian crises including how children were affected.
“I believe more figures would be reeled out in the coming months but the most important thing is for various stakeholders to start thinking on how to address the challenges.
“There are many children that are missing; some have been stolen and others are in the hands of terrorists. They are nurturing them to become fighters.
“So, while we frown and lament the killing of children, there must be a deliberate effort to save those in captivity and make life meaningful for them,” he said.
Attacks against children must stop
UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, advocated that every stakeholder must ensure attacks against children stop immediately.
He said his organisation and the European Union (EU) were working together to provide community-based psychosocial services.
He said, “The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children. Too many children in North East Nigeria are falling victim to a conflict they did not start. Attacks against children must stop immediately.
“In the meantime, we are committed to working with our partners to provide psychosocial and other support to conflict-affected children, so they can regain their childhood and restart their lives.”
Hawkins said that the EU-funded Support to Early Recovery and Resilience Project, implemented by UNICEF, was aimed at improving the mental health of 5,129 out-of-school children in Borno State.
He also said that stress and violence had been linked to poor brain development, depression and poor self-esteem and children exposed to conflict and violence were at risk of long-term mental health and psychosocial issues.
The UNICEF chief said that the conflict-affected out-of-school children in the state, which cut across six local government areas were receiving services including mental health support in safe spaces to strengthen their well-being, resilience, literacy skills and self-reliance.
The project, according to him, also supported vulnerable children across Borno with protection and health services, vocational and basic literacy skills, access to justice and security, under a holistic humanitarian intervention.
He said the intervention had so far provided 15,552 out-of-school children with vocational training; 1,610 out-of-school children with literacy and numeracy skills and 5,194 children enrolled into integrated Qur’anic schools across focus LGAs.
On his part, the EU Head of Cooperation, Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, said, “Addressing the psychosocial well-being and development of children and teachers in conflict situations is an important part of re-establishing education provision and enabling children to re-enter schools safely.”
Daily Trust reports that apart from the huge number of children who were killed during the twelve-year conflict, thousands of adults also lost their lives while many properties including schools, markets, hospitals, electricity and many other social amenities were destroyed.
Governor Babagana Zulum recently said over 100,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram, amplifying what his predecessor, Kashim Shettima said in 2017.
‘ISWAP begins mass recruitment of terrorists’
Meanwhile, despite efforts put in place by relevant security agents to stem the tide of the challenges, terrorists loyal to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) remained relentless in their campaign.
Spokesman of Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Onyeama Nwachukwu, said yesterday that members of the outlawed group were in a massive recruitment drive.
He advised members of the public to be on the lookout within their immediate environment, saying it was very important to engage the media to block this recruitment.
Nwachukwu stated this at the headquarters of the Theatre Command, Operation Hadin Kai, during a tour to Maiduguri, Borno State.
He said, “I will like to mention that the ISWAP, very recently, has been depleted by the surrendering of their members, as well as a conflict between them. They have embarked on what I will call a massive recruitment drive and I consider it very important to engage the media to block this recruitment.
“The Boko Haram insurgents have been surrendering. People have questioned the authenticity of the surrendering of these insurgents and why they are surrendering at this time.
“There are also questions on the reintegration of these insurgents. Another question is what the plight of the victims of the insurgency is.
“That is the essence of this tour. The military is not resting on its oars in the fight to end insurgency and insecurity in the country,” he said.
He said troops fighting insurgency in the North East were recorded successes.
“At some point, the insurgents almost took over the three state capitals of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in the North East. Some three years back, Boko Haram was advancing towards the Federal Capital Territory. Today they have been boxed into the Timbuks (islands in Lake Chad region).”
On his part, the Theatre Commander, Operations Hadin Kai, Maj.-Gen. Christopher Musa said military operatives were doing their best in handling the issue of Boko Haram within the international laws.
Musa said that the theatre of operation had sustained the tempo of its operations to root out the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists from the zone, adding that tremendous achievements had been recorded since he assumed office and since the assumption of Lt.-Gen. Farouk Yahaya as Chief of Army Staff.
According to him, the operation started in 2009 and quickly added there must be issues whenever any operation lasted for over a decade.
“It is the intention of the chief of army staff to see that they put an end to the menace. A lot of innocent lives have been lost and developmentally, the region has gone backwards many years and it will take a long time before it can recover,” he said.
Experts: Govt must restore civil authority in ungoverned territories
Speaking on this, the chairman of one of the humanitarian agencies in Maiduguri said the federal government must fully restore civil authority in what he called “ungoverned territories.”
He said, “Why we come this long with the Boko Haram crisis is that there is a wallowing gap in the security architecture.
“Whenever the military…I am talking about the army, air force and in some places navy restored peace by killing or arresting terrorists, they have to move to other areas and this is where the problem lies.
“Ordinarily, the police, civil defence, customs and immigration should quickly step in and establish civil order but this is not the case. And once you don’t have civil authority, it is a matter of time for the terrorists to move in again.
“So, while the military is massively sacking the terrorists, sister agencies should step in and state governments especially in the crisis-prone areas should support local government authorities to function well,” he said.