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Telling the Stories of Conflict Affected Children in Northern Nigeria

In times of armed conflict, children are especially at risk for a variety of dangers that rob them of their childhood. Children may be enlisted to participate in warfare or to serve in support jobs, disrupting their access to healthcare and school. But through radio programs, young people residing in conflict affected areas in Northern Nigeria are changing their narratives.

During times of conflict, children are particularly defenceless and suffer crippling effects. In today’s world, the fundamental rights of millions of children – to be protected, educated and to live their lives free from trauma – are increasingly violated. The psychological effects of war and war-related trauma may be severe. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may result as the effects of vulnerable and impressionable on children can be worse than on adults. Many children cannot understand the causes of the conflict or why it is happening.

In the interim, armed conflicts are often situated in impoverished regions or states that already have insufficient infrastructure, health or educational services. Political and military elites are those commonly profited from warfare, competing for power and resources, and enhanced the vicious circle of poverty and structural violence in local regions / populations. The number of refugees fleeing from terrors in their home country (or being forcefully displaced in their own country) has been increasing recently, rather reluctantly becoming an important agenda in developed countries politics. Sexual exploitation and gender-based violence have become parts of the reality in conflict zones, while the landmines and unexploded ordnance pose problems decades after the fire have ceased ( see De Jong 2002, Dupuy and Peters 2010, Machel 1996, Machel 2001). As of 2018, 357 millions children (nearly one in six children in the world) were living in conflict-affected contexts. The effects upon children of living with violent conflict are numerous, devastating, and not always obvious.

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Correspondingly, Boko Haram fighters have slaughtered civilians in villages and towns, abducted thousands of people, forcibly marrying of women and girls to their fighters, and conducted mass-casualty terrorist attacks against mosques, markets, and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2022,”an estimated 9.3 millions people, including 5.7 millions children, are affected by conflict in northeast, northwest and north central of Nigeria. Of these, more than 2.9 million people are displaced, while 1 million live in inaccessible areas. “Thousands of displaced people lack access to food, health facilities, shelter and clean water, with children more vulnerable,” a United Nations (UN) agency report said in 2021.

Transforming ordinary children into stars

With conversations on conflict, child protection, resilience, education, health, among others in Northeastern Nigeria children between the ages of 9-17 years are changing their narratives by telling their own stories through radio programmes. The North East Nigeria comprises six states: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. These zones have been the most severely affected by conflict as any zone in Nigeria over the last decade.

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Sa’id Sa’ad, a Writer and Communication for Development (C4D) Professional. He is the winner of Peace Panel Short Story Prize and NFC Essay Prize 2018. Sa’id works as a mentor at Da Rarrafe Yaro Kan Tashi, the first Child-Led Live Radio Programme in some northern states, where children are trained in radio presentation and storytelling to weekly engage in conversations on a Live Radio Programme around issues concerning children in their communities. Da Rarrafe Yaro Kan Tashi is a Hausa proverb that translates to “It is from crawling that a child learns how to walk.Hausa is one of Africa’s most commonly spoken languages after Arabic, French, English, Portuguese, and Swahili. It is a lingua franca and a language of trade in West Africa.

How are these children telling their stories? ” I would like to take us back to my first engagement with children. Honestly, it sets all the foundations for what I am currently doing now. Of course because initially, I wasn’t this person that enjoyed being close to children, perhaps because working with children is very tasking and maybe I wasn’t as patient as I am now. My engagement with children began some 4 years ago with a Peace Building Organization that I worked with where I was tasked to support the mentorship and growth of these children – who are mainly PLWD – in radio play production.

Therefore, using storytelling, we have created a set of children that grew beyond challenges to tell their own stories through creative means. Since then, I got trapped into working with children. However, that is not so much different from what we did (and doing again) in the most recent Da Rarrafe Project implemented by my host organization GOALPrime Organization Nigeria (GPON) and UNICEF Nigeria. I lead the project where with the support of all the stakeholders, my colleagues and the caregivers, we were able to mentor and create a generation of confident, presentable and vibrant children that were able to lead Public-Live conversations with Policy Makers on issues concerning children,”says Sa’id. “For six months, we changed the narratives and created the first-of-its-kind Child-Led Live Media Programme in Northeast Nigeria. So far, its the best project I am privileged to lead.”

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In Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, kids were trained to become star anchors and discuss topics like children’s rights, policies, opportunities, development, and even the future on live radio each week. The story of Fatima Usman, 14, who survived Cholera, a bacterial disease causing severe diarrhoea and dehydration, usually spread in water, in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, is one of the most intriguing ones that have been shared thus far. By developing their skills, knowledge, and talents, these kids have already begun on the path to a brighter future.

Sa’id, 27, observes that the most interesting thing about this project’s theme is that it allows room for innovation and expansion. “Maybe because we are dealing with children, which means ‘rigidity of ideas and subjects’ doesn’t always work, but that makes it what it is. Yes, we understand that one of the most important aspects in the lives of children is education, but we didn’t limit their narratives to that. ”

With violent conflicts and widespread insecurity are part of everyday challenges, for millions of people in Nigeria. From limited access to education, healthcare and health rights, basic survival services. The threats to human insecurity, sexual violence or being used as an instrument of war.  Also, missing childhoods outlines how the conflict is exerting a heavy toll on children in Nigeria and across the region in an increasing number of ways. Borno was the first state to experience Boko Haram, school kidnapping in Chibok, where hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted. Recently, two of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls have escaped after spending nine years in Boko Haram captivity. “Out of the 276 abducted Chibok girls, 57 girls escaped in 2014 while 107 girls were released in 2018. Three girls were recovered in 2019, two in 2021 and 9 were rescued in 2022, bringing the total of 178 girls out of captivity and 98 remaining in Boko Haram captivity,” says Colonel Obinna Ezuipke, the head of the Intelligence Unit of the Joint Military Task Force, Operation Hadinkai. He gave the number of the remaining Chibok girls in captivity as 98.

“We have had episodes on Career Choices, Children’s Rights, Education, Nutrition, Politics, Sports and very different subjects. This was to allow them to broaden their thoughts on these subjects and that has done well in their mentorship.”

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“Measuring impact for Da Rarrafe is not something I find as easy as that which people quote figures. Because every single day we measure impacts and it keeps on coming,” he says when asked the effect of this scheme in Northern Nigeria. “Yes, we were able to reach 3 million listeners including a good number of children through the programme, but that is not the only ‘measurable’ impact.” It keeps growing, expanding and skyrocketing every day, Sa’id explains.

“Our trained children are now engaging in physical conversations with other children, attending physical functions and speaking. Whereas, parents – more than ever – are now interested in getting their children to pass through the same programme.

“The positive impact is immense and I am sure it will keep on growing. What we intend to do, at least for me, is creating a generation of young people that will speak and act to things that matter to them and their communities, and I don’t know of any programme so far that is doing that beyond Da Rarrafe.”

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