Sunday Magazine

Abductions: Coping with trauma of survivor students

Mental health specialists, including psychologists, psychiatrists and social health workers, among other professionals, have warned that the victims of Nigeria’s kidnapping spree, especially those of underage school children being abducted and released at will under the watch of Nigerian government and its security operatives, may suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). They also argued that the children might become a threat to the country, if they are not properly evaluated, treated and followed up until they become mentally stable. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, IFEOMA ONONYE, DANIEL ATORI and BABA NEGEDU report

 

I don’t know my child anymore –Parent cries

• We passed different villages, saw people but no one to help us –Victims

• I thought it’s the end, when we lost Hayatu, says deceased’s sister

• ‘Nigeria gradually grooming mentally unstable youths’

• Victims’ lives’ll never be same again, may suffer posttraumatic stress disorder –Psychologists

 

 

Under the watch of the Federal Government of Nigeria and its security operatives, kidnapping for ransom has become a menacing crime ravaging the peace and security of the country and impoverishing the country with lean resources.

 

In the recent times, security operatives have been brought to their knees with the incessant kidnapping of innocent young Nigerians from their respective schools, especially those of under-aged pupils, who have been exposed to terrorism’s horror and nightmare at their different formative ages.

 

Consequently, kidnapping of these underage school children, who have become endangered species, is currently done with impunity by their captors, whether bandits, Boko Haram or herdsmen, as the government has not shown any genuine interest in confronting this corrosive crime headlong.

 

Expectedly, there is no week that comes and goes without Nigerians hearing the heartrending news of school children kidnapped from their schools, regardless of their ages and how psychologically they are affected and traumatized in, and after, their captivity, which has also recorded a number of deaths among the children directly or indirectly.

 

There is no doubt that there might be cases of suicides and suicide attempts among these children as an aftermath of their experiences in the kidnapping hideaway, if they are not properly evaluated and followed up collectively and, perhaps, individually by mental health experts until they are mentally stable.

 

As part of their ordeals in the hands of these rampaging terrorist groups, many of these kidnap victims are indoctrinated, dehumanised, tortured and sexually ravaged by their abductors as evident in the cases of some of the released Chibok girls, who, per chance, were kidnapped as virgins but returned home as mothers .

 

More so, while their parents may be recounting their losses, paying through their noses, selling plots of land, houses and borrowing money to secure the release of their children, the children are paying the ultimate price, going through the psychological trauma, which many of them will live with for the rest of their lives if their systems are not receptive to their recovery therapy.

 

What the children of Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina, in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, who were kidnapped and released a few days ago went through in their 88 days in incarceration is better imagined than experienced.

 

The harrowing experience will follow them to their respective homes. It would be recalled that about two of the Islamiyya School’s pupils died directly in the kidnappers’ den while others were freed with different level of mental torture and anguish to fight all through their lives after spending about 89 days in unknown hostile environments.

 

One of the released students with this nasty experience, Zuwaira Isa, said the main reason he was still in shock was the way they trekked for over four days in the forest before reaching their final destination with several floggings and without food.

 

“We passed different villages, saw people but everyone minded his or her business. No one came to our aid because we could not even shout for help. It’s a crime to talk or cry out for help.

 

The little ones amongst us were lifted on the bandits’ motorcycles throughout the movement,” the victim said. Another released pupil, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph, Hauwa Musa, said: “They usually beat us and threatened to kill us and dump our bodies in the bush if our parents did not pay the ransom. I thought that was the end, especially when we lost Hayatu.”

 

Hauwa also said the bandits were giving them small food and one sachet water to be shared between two persons in a day. Sequel to this, parents of the released children said their worries were being compounded by the mental health challenges of their children as some of them showed inability to talk or walk because of swollen feet and scarred bodies as a result of torture.

 

One of such parents, Hadiza Isah, said: “We are currently worried about the children’s mental and physical state. Most of them can stay up to two or more hours without talking to anybody. Even my daughter could stay for over one hour without talking to anybody.

 

“She keeps mute to the extent that when she is pressed, she doesn’t talk; she just stands and ease herself and then returns to the room. For me, it’s strange because it is as if I don’t know my child anymore. I think the children need some sort of psychological help.”

 

The Proprietor of the Islamiyya School, Mallam Idris Musa, who lost a child out of his five children abducted, said the trauma of his children was more, even as he fears that there may be signs of health problems. “I’m sure their shock is when they remember how their brother, Hayatu, died without help in the camp and they could not do anything. It is obvious they behave strangely,” he added.

 

Reflecting on the new behaviour of her son, Rabi Abubakar, another parent, who received his son with a mixture of happiness and sadness, said: “My only son has swollen feet and scarred body; he easily gets agitated and emotional. Honestly, he is truly traumatised both physically and psychologically.”

 

The head teacher, Alhassan Garba Abubakar, told Sunday Telegraph that he had received different types of complaints from the parents, ranging from swollen feet, body scars, malnourishment, lack of blood, and inability of some of them to express themselves well. He said: “I can imagine the psycho-social effects of the children living with bandits for close to three months.

 

They were flogging them, pointing guns at them and feeding them with little food. That alone can really make them stay without talking. But with time, I pray they will re-adapt.

“One thing is certain. These children are at their formative ages of between 4 to 15 years and they must have been forced into harsh treatment of the bandits, who always instructed them to keep quiet.”

Sunday Telegraph learnt that when the children arrived at Minna, the Niger State capital, after their release and journey from Birnin-Gwari in Kaduna State at about 7.30pm on Thursday, they looked malnourished and feeble as some of them could hardly walk.

 

Recounting her own personal experience when she was abducted and sexually assaulted in her early 20s, a 45-year-old mother of four, Blessing Ibe, said the children will go through serious mental trauma in future, if not properly rehabilitated.

 

She said some of them will be scared to close their eyes to sleep with fear that they will open their eyes and find themselves back in their abductors’ den, saying that it may be too traumatising for some of them to speak about what they went through, while others will wake up from traumatising dreams.

 

“Being a captive for several weeks must have affected these children more than imagined. Something must have been broken in the minds of these young ones, especially being subjected to situations they never knew human beings could witness.

 

The truth is that these children’s lives will never be the same again,” she said. “One of the Chibok girls that were kidnapped seven years ago came back with two children. It would be imaginable what she would feel like, coming back with two children.

 

She wouldn’t wish to face her mates, peers who have gone far with their lives and academics,” she added. Chibok to date:

 

A litany of woes

 

For the sake of records and positive actions towards ending these incessant abductions meted at school children, who are being released days, months and years after their incarceration in the kidnappers’ dungeons, Sunday Telegraph went down memory lane to April 14, 2014, when about 276 mostly Christian female students aged from 16 to 18 were kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Government Girls Secondary School at Chibok in Borno State.

 

About 57 of the schoolgirls escaped immediately by jumping from the trucks on which they were being transported, while others were rescued by the Nigerian Armed Forces on various occasions. Hope was raised that the 219 remaining girls might be released. However, some girls are believed to be dead. Amina Ali, one of the missing girls, was found in May 2016.

 

Barely four years after the attack on Chibok, insurgents took their onslaught to Yobe. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, confirmed that 110 students were kidnapped after Boko Haram invaded the Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, on Monday, February 19, 2018.

 

Although most of the students have reunited with their families after they were released on March 21, 2018, by their abductors, Leah Sharibu is yet to be freed by the gunmen for her refusal to convert to Islam.

 

On Friday, December 11, 2020, bandits  took 303 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, into captivity and a week after, their abductors released them. More so, less than two days after the kidnapped Kankara students’ release, some gunmen abducted over 80 Islamic school students in the same Katsina State.

 

The pupils were quickly rescued by security forces after a fierce gun battle, according to the police. This took place in Dandume, about 64 ki-  lometres from Kankara, the town where the earlier kidnapping of schoolboys occurred. Again, gunmen invaded a school in Niger State on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, kidnapping 41 persons.

 

The gunmen raided the Government Science College Kagara, Shiroro LGA of Niger State, capturing students, teachers, and their family members from the school. In total, 27 students were among the abductees.

 

Less than 10 days after the bandits raided Kagara, gunmen kidnapped 317 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe in Jangebe, Zamfara State. The incident happened on Friday, February 26, 2021.

 

The Afaka kidnapping took place on March 11, 2021, when gunmen attacked Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi LGA, Kaduna State, and kidnapped 39 students just weeks after a similar attack in Jangebe, Zamfara State. The abducted comprised 23 females along with 16 males. Security forces were able to rescue 18 staff and students the next day.

 

On April 5, 2021, the government of Kaduna State announced that five of the 39 people abducted from the Afaka School have been released. On April 8, 2021, another five students were released, leaving 29 still in captivity. On May 5, 2021, the state government announced that the remaining 29 students had been released after spending 55 days in captivity.

 

Next in line was the Greenfield University kidnapping, which took place on April 20, 2021, when, at least, 20 students and two staff were kidnapped in Kasarami village, Chikun LGA, Kaduna State. The kidnappers demanded N800 million ransom. Unfortunately, on April 23, 2021, the kidnappers killed three of the students.

 

On May 29, 2021, after 40 days in captivity, the remaining 14 students were freed. Their parents also said they paid a ransom of N150 million and gave eight brand new motorcycles to the bandits.

 

On May 30, 2021, an armed gang abducted dozens of students from an Islamiyya School in Niger State. One of the school’s officials disclosed that the attackers initially took more than 100 children, “but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old.”

 

The latest was Thursday, June 17, when a mass of heavily armed bandits struck at Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Yauri Local Government Area of Kebbi State. Bethel Baptist School’s pupils were also abducted and released 56 days later.

 

Reaction trail incessant kidnap of children

 

Sequel to this abduction of minors and release after a long period of time, a Clinical Psychologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Charles Umeh, said the lives of teenagers released from kidnappers’ den without proper psychological intervention and follow-up was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

 

He noted that forceful separation of these minors from their respective families, led to threat to their lives, saying that one cannot be tortured without being beaten down emotionally.

 

Corroborating Ibe, the Psychologist affirmed that Nigeria would be gradually grooming future mentally unstable young people if proper measures were not put in place to evaluate the mental health of these children kidnapped and released at will. He said: “We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to follow up the lives of these children being kidnapped and released from kidnappers’ den.

 

Now, they are with their parents after being released and the burden of what they went through will be on their parents. But in future, the burden will be on the society and Nigeria, if nothing is done to rehabilitate them.

 

“These parents may not know the necessary steps to take to ensure that these children’s mental health is well taken care of. What the children went through is not normal.

 

It’s forceful separation; it’s incarceration of minors and what this leads to is threat to lives. “One of the consequences of these abnormal treatments on the children is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One of the situations that will occur in the future if these children are not helped to live with the sadness is that the trauma can become anger in future. “It can lower their level of functioning.

 

The bottled up anger may lead to blaming themselves, asking themselves questions like why me? Why was I not protected by society and the government? If I’m not safe in my country, what is my future?

“Answers to these questions can set these children off more into depression (and then suicide). Some may grow up with this anger, wanting to get back to the society which abandoned them.

 

We pretend that all is well, that these children have been released but that is where we are wrong. “Some of these children may not get over what they went through in the near future. Many of them will wake up in the middle of the night with seizures and traumatised dreams. Some may recoil into a shell never to come out and this will affect the society in future.

 

“One way or another, these children will want to find happiness and may end up depending on hard drugs to be able to face their situation. Already, two out of every 10 teenagers are drug users. Most of these young people believe they cannot function without drugs. “It will become an avalanche of mental health disorders among young people if something is not done to follow up on their mental health. Some may have lower self esteem, which may degenerate into depression and then suicide.

 

“Some may get aggressive and fall into crime, thereby giving up on the morals their parents instilled in them before being kidnapped. My advice is that these children should be identified by the government and assigned professional psychologists to follow up on them until they are mentally stable.”

 

A Counselor and psychologist from the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU) Lapai, Asmau Musa, advised parents not to handle the traumatic situation of the children with levity, saying that the children need psychosocial support to regain themselves.

 

According to her, these children were separated from their parents, relatives and their environment for about three months. Some of them sustained injuries; they were all cut off from fundamental services like clean water, good food, healthcare and education and are forced to adapt to a new environment.

 

She said: “At this stage, after their release, they are bound to experience some levels of depression and other stress-related problems that threaten their ability to grow up healthy and happy. Trauma can take a lifelong toll on their social, emotional and mental health.

 

“I advise the parents and in fact, the government to get counselors and psychologists for these children to help them remediate.” Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Medical Social Services, LUTH, a social worker and psychologist, Titilayo Tade, said if these children did not get enough help, quite a number of them may have been indoctrinated into the beliefs of some of their captors.

 

“They may be back with their families but their minds are somewhere else. You may find out that a child that was not overly religious before he or she was kidnapped may start being overly religious. So, if they do not get enough help, they may one day, get up and look like minded people to set up another bandit group,” she said.

 

Tade also pointed out that the longer people stayed in captivity; they develop what is called Stockholm Syndrome, whereby the person or people start relating with their abductors, captors or kidnappers.

 

They may start believing that their abductors are fighting a good cause and may be brainwashed into joining them. “Being kidnapped comes with a lot of hopelessness and helplessness. While some will resign to their fate, others may continue looking for an escape route.

 

The ones constantly looking for a way out are the ones likely to get into trouble and no one knows what their punishment would be,” she said.

 

She continued: “They will undergo assessments as everybody will have different reactions. Some may feel guilty; others may feel sad and very depressed. Some may recoil into their shells. Some may have feelings of numbness – oh, it has happened, it may happen again.

 

There is nothing special in this life. If they come tomorrow, we have no option than to follow because no one can save us. These children will have to do a lot of therapy. “While group therapy will work for some, others may require individual therapy. There are those that might need years of therapy to recover. “Some may feel more comfortable speaking with other children that went through similar situations.

 

“This is where the government can create a support group for these children to talk and heal from what they went through. The support group will be for children who are willing because some of the trauma can reoccur as simple or aggressive events can trigger it.

“You see, someone that has been doing well because of therapy relapsing; this may be because he or she witnessed a robbery attack or heard a gunshot, and then years of therapy to get over what happened to them in the past would be ruined. Any event can trigger the trauma and the person goes back to square one.”

 

Meanwhile, parents of the released Bethel Baptist School’s pupils are demanding immediate compensation from the Ministry and the school to enable them to treat their children, saying that their children now exhibit strange behaviours after the government had abandoned their wards.

 

This was also as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State chapter, said many of the students kidnapped and released by bandits in the state are suffering traumatic experiences.

 

CAN chairman, John Hayab, said that they are worried about the health status of the children and have decided to do something about the situation. Hayab told Sunday Telegraph on the telephone that the children were in serious need, health wise, medical wise and food wise. Even if they (bandits) give them (students) something to eat, it is not something to count on.

 

“A child, who has been living in school with some level of comfort but now has to be in the bush, cannot be in a good condition,” he said. Also, he said they are trying to organise trauma sessions for those that have been released, adding:

 

“Apart from the trauma that their parents are going through, the children are also going through pains in the bush. We have had a trauma session with those that were released and some of the testimonies are quite scary.

 

Some of them told us that when they go to the market, the mere sight of a food flask scares them.” Also, Chairman of the Forum of Parents of Kidnapped but now released students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization; Afaka in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Mallam Abdullahi Usman, had recently called on the Federal Government and the college to do something about the state of the students.

The parents, who accused the government of neglect, noted that after the release of the students, most of whom have been exhibiting some abnormal psychological behaviours due to lack of proper medical checkup and trauma counseling necessary for their rehabilitation.

 

“We, the parents have received no inkling of hope from the Ministry or Institute for any compensation over the psychological damage inflicted on the children during their 56-day encounter with terror. Yet, the Ministry and the Institute seem insensitive to their plights.

 

“Accordingly, we, parents of the released students, hereby categorically demand immediate compensation from the Ministry and the Institute to enable us to treat them of their trauma.”

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