Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos), Sola Ojo (Kaduna), Gyang Bere (Jos)
Twenty-two-year-old Isa heaved a huge sigh relief when he arrived in Lagos early in 2015. The months preceding his sojourn in Lagos had been chaotic and emotional for him. A frail Isah claimed he lost his parents and three of his siblings in two consecutive Boko Haram attacks that rocked his village in 2014, leaving him to cater for two of his surviving younger siblings. This task, according to him, was highly hectic and burdensome as he had to take his two siblings with him wherever he went until they were separated by yet another attack later in the year.
“Many people were killed during the attack. I searched for my two brothers for weeks without any success and then, I resigned to fate, concluding that they must have been killed during the last attack,” Isah said.
A twist was, however, added to the story when in 2017, Isah ran into a friend, who like him had migrated to the South after surviving series of attacks, and was informed that one of his two siblings might still be alive. “He told me he saw one of them on a number of occasions before leaving for the South.”
This revelation was bittersweet news for the young Isah, who until then had regarded himself as the only surviving member of a family of seven. “ I don’t consider going back to look for him is a better option considering the fact that the area still remains as volatile as it was. I used to know many children who were orphaned by similar circumstances and who survived it. So, I believe if it is the will Allah for him to survive, he will surely survive,” Isah concluded.
Perhaps Isah’s missing brother is one of the over 50,000 orphans that currently roam the streets in the northern parts of the country. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, had recently raised the alarm over the growing number of children orphaned by Boko Haram in the North, warning that the development could portend a more serious consequence for the region in future if nothing was done to ameliorate their plights.
The Sultan said: “Governors must see that they do more to address insecurity, just imagine that there are 50,000 orphans. They would be worst than Boko Haram if allowed to grow without proper care.”
The Kaduna State Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Dr Joseph Hayab expressed concern over increase in the number of orphans in the North due to activities of insurgents and bandits.
According to him, “the insecurity in different forms has tripled the number of orphans we have in the North and the fact is that, when the children in this category grow up, they will ask questions about their parents. You can imagine how they will feel when they cannot get convincing answers.
“We need to do something about it. We need to develop trauma healing in our schools and places of worship to help these children learn how to forgive. Some of them who knew what happened to their parents are still living with that pain. They keep a lot in their mind.
“That is why we are calling on the government to do something meaningful about these faces of insecurity to prevent brewing bitter souls who will grow to add to our many problems.”
A traditional leader, Bunun Zazzau, Alhaji Tijjani Mohammed, threw his weight behind Sultan on his fear about the upsurge in the number of the orphans as a result of insecurity in the North.
According to him, “one can agree with the Sultan on the issue of the effect of the insurgency in northern Nigeria and the concern will be more pronounced if there is no plan to mitigate the negative effects of this act.
“The North is already battling with high level of poverty with a serious number of orphans as a result, the effect is something to watch out for. As a result of this something needs to be done and to watch out for.”
Also the Coordinator, Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development, Yusuf Goje, expressed worry over the development, describing children as the biggest losers of insurgency activities in the region.
“Children are the biggest losers in the ongoing insurgency; in addition to losing their parents, they suffer from the psychological effect of the conflict, with many of them becoming hopeless and angry at the system for not protecting them.
“Many of them have been displaced and out of conventional school system for a very long time, with many losing interest in furthering their education.
“The government needs to intensify social protection interventions that is targeted at these vulnerable children, this has to start by having a comprehensive and disaggregated data”, he said.
The fear of a possible backlash arising from this unfortunate development partly informed the visit of Governor Simon Lalong to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian with a view to making a case for such children and other victims.
Lalong had requested the ministry to beam its searchlight on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Plateau State with a view to providing succour for them.
The governor had also encouraged children in the state, particularly the orphans to engage themselves in useful ventures that can impact positively on the society.
Similarly, the Plateau Peace Building Agency has also prioritised the plights of orphans and widows in the state in terms of providing succour and other palliatives to ameliorate their suffering.
Instructively, the first batch of the 200 orphans and vulnerable children from different parts of Plateau State departed Jos to Benin Republic to study at Ecole Superieure Sainte Felicite University, Cotonou on scholarship sponsored by a charity organization based in Jos, Zazzaga Foundation. The students were selected from the 17 local government areas after applying for the scholarship through an online platform.
Founder of the Foundation, Dr. Saleh Abduallahi, noted that the scholarship is for first degree and the programmes range from Arts, Social Sciences and Pure Sciences such as Medicine and other specialized science programmes.
He explained the scholarship is also aimed at giving the orphans and vulnerable children in the society hope and a brighter future by creating opportunities for them to acquire university education in various disciplines of their choice.
“The foundation has already paid the tuition fees for the students. The gesture is aimed at assisting the orphans and vulnerable children to acquire western education that would empower them to be better and responsible people in the society rather than roam the streets hopelessly, and become merchants of violence. This is because these merchants of violence often take advantage of their situation to use them to achieve their own selfish and mischievous mission in the society,” he said.
One of the beneficiaries, Nanrit Dabit, said that she heard about it through a family friend and upon applying she was given the scholarship. She described the gesture as unprecedented in the nation.
Dabit who is 18 years said that she would be studying International Relations at the university, stressing that the foundation did not discriminate against anyone whether on the basis of religion or ethnicity because the selection process was transparent.
She promised to do her best to make the founder proud, as well as making her family and the nation at large proud.
Chairman of the Parents Association, Zazzaga Educational Scholarship, Emenike Mathew Isiwu, called on the government to collaborate with the foundation to boost education in the country, especially for the vulnerable and the less privilege in the country.