Africa

Boko Haram insurgency tearing Nigerian families apart

  • 3 October 2014
  • From the section Africa
Media captionBoko Haram survivor: "Right in front of me they burnt my mother alive"

At a camp for displaced people in the north-eastern Nigerian city of Yola, survivors of the recent attacks in the north of Adamawa state are scarred by what they have witnessed.

This war is tearing families apart.

"When Boko Haram attacked [the town of] Madagali they rounded us up and then shot my father," says Rejoice, 19, a student.

"Then right in front of me they burnt my mother alive."

Rejoice was freed and subsequently spent weeks on the run, hiding in the bush and crossing rivers.

Traumatised teenager

Along with others from Madagali they survived by digging up yams from hastily abandoned farms.

Image caption Displaced people range from the young...
Image caption ... to the old, such as this 80-year-old woman

"I could hardly eat because of what I saw and even now in the camp I don't feel like eating food," the traumatised teenager says. She is now alone with no relatives.

There are many children who have lost contact with their parents, as well as mothers and fathers who have no idea what has happened to their sons and daughters among more than 4,500 displaced people here.

Desperate for news

"There was panic in Michika as people heard that Boko Haram were coming," says Sauki, recalling the day in early September when the jihadists captured another town near the Cameroonian border.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has announced a caliphate in areas that the militants control
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Government troops are battling to defeat the well-armed insurgents

"We all ran but my mother did not want to leave."

Her eyes welling up with tears, Sauki is desperate for news of what happened to her.

"I met a woman who told me she saw my mother when they were hiding in the fields and my mother begged her for some food which they shared.

"But I don't know where she is now. I've no way of reaching my mother - she doesn't have a phone," Sauki tells me.

There is a dire need for help with tracing relatives but with so many areas too dangerous to reach as the war rages on, Sauki and other shattered families can get little help for now.

"I want to believe that where their parents are hiding now is very difficult terrain," says Haruna Hamman Furo of Adamawa State's Emergency Management Agency.

"They are on top of mountains and some have crossed over into neighbouring countries of Cameroon and Chad so communication is very difficult."

Image copyright Ayo Bello Visual
Image caption Many of the displaced have been uprooted several times
Image copyright Ayo Bello Visual
Image caption The short-term chances of displaced people being able to return to their homes are slim

Mr Furo says that the task may be easier "at the end of the day when things settle down".

For several years people have been running from the brutal Boko Haram attacks and then - when possible - returning home as soon as they feel it is safe.

But the situation has now changed. The jihadists are holding territory so entire communities have run away and have no idea when they can return - hence the need for these camps in cities like Maiduguri and Yola.

Many of those fleeing have been uprooted over and over again. Amos Amthe says that Boko Haram members overran Gwoza town in August, moving into his home and forcing his family to run from the guns three more times. Sometimes they fled with the soldiers.

Captured military hardware

"I saw a group of soldiers running out of Michika, some on motorbikes and other vehicles," he says.

Image caption There are regular new arrivals to camps for displaced people

"I asked one of them what was happening and he told me it was tough at the other side so I said: "Soldier do I have to relocate?" He said I'd better so I had no other choice than to follow."

A video shot by Boko Haram as they captured Gwoza shows the size of the arsenal at their disposal.

Among the military hardware captured from the army are armoured personnel carriers and even a tank.

A cameraman zooms in on what appear to be several Nigerian soldiers being shot at as they run into the rocky hills that surround the town.

The insurgents can then be seen looting the armoury by torchlight at night.

There have been many instances of soldiers complaining that they have not had the resources to take on Boko Haram fighters but the government says that is being fixed.

Psychological support

"The equipment to help them is on its way and some of it has come - that is what has helped them to make their advances," says Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The military has recently prevented Boko Haram from capturing Konduga, near Maiduguri, and there are reports of heavy losses amongst the jihadist fighters.

The finance minister visited the camp this week, promising more help for the displaced, especially the children.

"We have to solve this problem. Recently our army has been scoring some successes so we need to push on on that front but while that is being dealt with, we can't just wait - we have to act with all these children here," she told the BBC.

Some very basic classes have just started. It is better than nothing and more resources have been promised, including volunteer teachers, counsellors and computers from Yola's American University of Nigeria.

The local emergency authorities say children have been getting some much-needed psychological support.

"There are nasty stories and you shed tears. I remember vividly the first day the children came here, they saw an aeroplane flying and they were running for their dear lives saying: 'Look they are coming to shell us'," recalls Mr Furo from the state emergency authority.

Children growing up in the north-east have been force-fed a diet of violence. Right now in the areas controlled by Boko Haram that continues.

In the latest video released by the jihadists, a man is shown buried up to his neck. He is then seemingly stoned to death for adultery. Many children are among the large crowd watching on.

As the war rages on, the impact on these children will be felt for years.

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